Current Focus Areas

Please use the toggle below for more information on each of our current focus areas.

Foster Care

Foster Care

“Foster youth don’t vote, you have to make this commitment from the heart.”
— Johnny Madrid, former foster youth

Background

One quarter of all of California’s foster children are living in Los Angeles County.   Research shows that children entering the foster care system are at risk for mental health issues and substance abuse problems and too often end up in the criminal justice system.  Federal and state legislation sets the policy framework for child welfare services and foster care in California. The Everychild Public Policy Committee advocates on behalf of Los Angeles County’s foster children and transitioning foster youth (those who have turned 18 and are no longer necessarily eligible for state provided care and support).  Helping foster children not only alleviates their suffering now, it avoids future social costs that result from their neglect.

 

Public Policy Committee Work in This Area

1.  Legislative Support

2010:  Policy Committee Members successfully wrote letters and made phone calls on behalf of the California Fostering Connections to Success Act (AB 12).  This bill extends benefits to eligible youth aging out of the foster care system.  Foster youth will have the option of staying in care until the age of 21 with increased foster care placement options. This bill was signed into law in 2010.

2008:  Policy Committee Members supported the Federal Fostering Connections for Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, which provided federal dollars to allow foster youth to remain in care until age 21.  Everychild President, Jacqueline Caster, was part of a group of national experts who convened at Chapin Hall, University of Chicago, to consult with Senator Barbara Boxer, the bill’s author, on the mechanics of the legislation.  After this bill became law, each state was required to pass legislation to match the federal dollars.  AB 12, signed into law in 2010, was the California bill.

2007:  Policy Committee Members supported state legislation that eliminated the required county match for state funding of the Transitional Housing PLUS program.  THP Plus provides housing and services for aging out youth, and many counties had to previously forego badly needed state funds when they were unable to provide the matching dollars.

2.  Policy Network and Coalition Building: The Policy Committee has identified key people who are advocating for foster children in Los Angeles, including foster care groups and legislative representatives, and is building and maintaining long term alliances with foster care providers and advocacy groups.

3.  Data collection:  The Policy Committee has compiled data on health, education and other issues affecting foster children.

4.  Educating Members:  The Policy Committee has worked with the Everychild Member Salon to sponsor salons and workshops on foster care issues.


Ongoing and Future Initiatives

1.  Continued Support for Federal and State Legislation

  • California AB 181:  Foster Youth Mental Health Bill of Right.  This bill will provide additional rights to foster youth relating to mental health services and would require that the Office of the State Foster Care Ombudsman provide materials explaining these rights to foster youth.
  • U.S. Senate 420:  Foster Care Mentoring Act of 2011 (sponsored by Senator Mary Landrieu and Representative Karen Bass).  This bill will provide funding for mentors to connect children in foster care with responsible caring adults.

2.  Awareness Raising:  Become content experts and publish articles/blogs, expand social media exposure and sponsor salons and workshops.

3.  Support of Community Service Projects:  Help establish a health data base for foster children so that their medical history follows them during transitions.

4.  Collect and Correlate Objective Data To Show That Outcomes Are Worth Supporting

Homeless Youth

Homeless Children and Youth

… my Dad had cancer and stuff. He was the man of the house, so when he passed away, I needed to step up and, you know, take his spot. And I did…then another male figure, you know, tried to step in the picture and I got moved out”.  – African American, Male, Age 17*

*(No Way Home, published 11/20 by Hollywood Homeless Youth Partnership, page 29)

 

Background

The Everychild Foundation Public Policy Committee has been studying the issue of homeless youth in Los Angeles since late 2009 when it became apparent that the population of unaccompanied homeless youth includes children from the underserved populations Everychild cares about:  foster youth, abused and neglected children, and marginalized youth.  Homelessness was adopted as a Policy Committee focus area in January 2010, and the Policy Committee has worked to connect with local service providers, interested funders and elected officials to bring greater attention to the needs of unaccompanied homeless youth.

 

The Problem

Each year Los Angeles County is home to nearly 9,500 unaccompanied homeless youth, most between the ages of 12-24.  Unaccompanied homeless youth include children who have been forced from their homes or are attempting to escape untenable living conditions, such as parental substance abuse, mental, physical and sexual abuse, “emancipation” from foster care and other similar conditions.  Most homeless youth have insufficient life skills, resources, community support or the emotional support necessary to deal with the stresses of young adulthood.  Years of abuse and neglect compound mental health distress, often manifesting in symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, suicidal ideation, substance abuse and other behavioral health issues.

Once on the streets, the need to survive and to cope cause youth to compromise their health and well being through high-risk behaviors including prostitution, increased substance abuse, illegal activity and violence.  In turn, they are at greater risk of continued victimization and contracting life-threatening diseases.  They often engage in disruptive behavior thereby increasing the likelihood of juvenile detention and incarceration.  These crippling effects severely compromise the health and well-being of homeless youth and jeopardize their efforts to reconnect with society and succeed at education and employment.  Without appropriate and compassionate intervention, homeless youth are destined to enter an irreversible cycle of chronic homelessness, total dependence on welfare, and permanent aversion to society.

General Statistics
(drawn from www.myfriendsplace.org)

• More than 1.3 million children in the United States are homeless at some time each year.
• In 2004, child protective services agencies reported that an estimated 872,000 children were victims of child abuse or neglect.
• 12-17 year olds are at more risk of homelessness than are adults.
• Nearly 20,000 foster youth age out from foster care each year.
• In California, 65% of emancipated foster youth lack stable housing, end up on the streets, and later fall into chronic homelessness.
• Almost half of homeless school-aged children have witnessed domestic violence and 44% of homeless youth report that one or both of the parents had at some point received treatment for substance abuse or psychological problems.
• Prior to leaving home, 43% of youth report being beaten by a caretaker, and 25% have had a caretaker request sexual activity.
• Almost half of homeless school-aged children have witnessed domestic violence.

Committee Work in This Area

1.  Los Angeles Homeless Funders Group:  In 2009 the Policy Committee accepted an invitation to attend a meeting of the Los Angeles Homeless Funders Group, a network of local philanthropic foundations and government agencies.  The Homeless Funders Group’s goal is to develop and implement strategic, coordinated regional investment to end homelessness in Los Angeles County. After approving the mission and focus of the group, the Policy Committee appointed a permanent representative to the Homeless Funders Group  and has played an active role in the meetings.  The Policy Committee has acted as a voice for homeless youth and has been instrumental in bringing the homeless youth issue to the forefront of the discussion, especially as it relates to long term, chronic homelessness.

 

2.  Building a Policy Network Around Homelessness in Youth:  Much time is being spent building relationships, attending workshops and conferences and increasing the Policy Committee’s overall understanding about the systemic failures that lead to youth homelessness.  Policy Committee Representatives are seeking to raise awareness in the funding and policy communities around the need to improve services for homeless youth.

 

3.  Hosted Workshop for Funders:  In September 2010, the Policy Committee held a workshop at The Rand Corporation to educate its members and other local foundations on the issue of homelessness youth. This workshop focused on the current issues and policies as well as programmatic and service gaps.  Panelists from My Friend’s Place, Los Angeles Youth Network (LAYN) and Public Counsel Law Center provided insight into the nature of youth homelessness, the lack of stable shelters and housing to support homeless young people and the need to broad the partnerships between the public and private sectors to leverage existing practices and resources to better solve the homeless youth crisis.

 

4.  Homeless Youth and the LA Public Library:  In November 2010, Policy Committee Members facilitated a meeting between representatives from Everychild, the Teen’Scape Center of the LA Downtown Public Library, Public Counsel and LAYN to discuss the increasing usage of the Library as a safe place for homeless youth.  During the course of this meeting it was learned that homeless youth were often unable to access public computers due to a lack of a library card.  After a series of discussions in May of 2011 the LA Downtown Public Library announced that temporary cards would be made widely available for homeless youth.  Policy Committee Members also facilitated a presentation at the quarterly meeting of librarians on barriers facing homeless youth and some ways librarians can help.  To better assist the librarians in accessing services for these youth, the Policy Committee is preparing a directory of service providers for librarian use.  It is expected that it will be distributed in 2012.

 

Infants and Toddlers

Infants and Toddlers Ages Zero to Three

“It is a rare public policy initiative that promotes fairness and social justice, and, at the same time, promotes productivity in the economy and society at large. Investing in disadvantaged young children is such a policy.”

— James Heckman, Nobel Laureate in Economics

Background

The Everychild Foundation joined the Los Angeles Partnership for Early Childhood Investment (or its precursor entity) in 2006 and quickly learned how important investment in the early years is to the life outcomes of children, especially those at risk due to poverty, neglect, abuse, disease or cognitive condition.  Soon after its formation, the Public Policy Committee (PPC) adopted the arena policy directed at children ages zero to three as one of its first focus areas.  Since that time the PPC has maintained a strong commitment to alleviating systemic challenges to providing needed support to local infants and toddlers by developing relationships with local funders and educating others about the critical needs of our youngest population.

Why the Early Years Are Critical

The early years are critical for a child’s learning, skill acquisition and physical and emotional health.  Neuroscience demonstrates that disrupted or unhealthy early relationships negatively impact brain development, while other research has shown that a child’s lifelong emotional resiliency and ability to form relationships based on appropriate emotional attachments are harmed by significant life stressors to infants and toddlers.  Research shows that emotional development including the ability to manage one’s own behavior, express emotions appropriately and establish and maintain healthy relationships is uniquely dependent on the experiences of early childhood.

Risk factors that negatively impact a child’s brain development and emotional health include a lack of nurturing relationships, foster care placement, abuse and neglect, poor quality child care and poverty.  Poverty in infants and toddlers is also associated with other risks to age-appropriate development including poor health care for children and expectant mothers, greater risk of birth-related problems, poor nutrition, and chronic health problems such as asthma and diabetes.  Other significant risks to children under the age of three include: teen parents; pre and post-natal exposure to tobacco, drugs and alcohol; chronic illness; physical, emotional or cognitive disabilities; and exposure to environmental risks such as poor air quality (increasing susceptibility to asthma and other respiratory problems) and lead paint (which may reduce brain function).

LA’s Zero to Three Population

More than 575,000 children under the age of three live in Los Angeles County.  According to researchers, adverse early environments are strong predictors of failure in school and in adulthood, and the return on investments in human capital is highest for the early years.   Yet a significant number of Los Angeles children aged zero to three live at or below 185% of the federal poverty line.   Infants and toddlers suffer alarming rates of abuse and neglect:  these young children are more likely to be removed from their homes and placed in the Los Angeles foster care system than other age groups and are more likely to be spending months in foster care in multiple placements.  Slum housing risks as well as other early exposure to toxic environmental substances (such as alcohol, drugs, lead, pesticides and other toxins) disrupts brain development and can result in disabling conditions with some lasting throughout a child’s life.   Local infants and toddlers who have physical, social or cognitive disabilities too frequently do not receive early identification and intervention programming needed to dramatically improve their life outcomes.

Committee Work in This Area

1.  LA Partnership for Early Childhood Investment:  In 2006, Everychild joined the precursor organization to the LA Partnership for Early Childhood Investment. The mission of the partnership is to increase investment and promote positive change in life outcomes for local children ages zero to five. The partnership has three focus areas: promote investment in family strengthening models, pursue and support local strategies that leverage public financial support of local children, and seek to engage the business community in the support of early childhood issues.

In 2007 Everychild’s member representative (who was also the chair of the Public Policy Committee) was invited to join the steering committee of this collaborative of public and private funding entities and in 2011, she assumed the role of chair of this important organization.

2.  Baby Futures Conferences:  Everychild participated in the 2007 Baby Futures Conference and was on the organizational and planning committee for the 2008 Baby Futures Conference. These conferences featured national and local speakers who spoke to local elected officials, business and philanthropy leaders about brain science, early childhood and the economic and political rationale for increasing investment in the early years. Everychild’s Public Policy Committee Chair was the featured policy speaker at the conference.

3.  Policy Network and Coalition Building:  Much time has been spent building relationships, attending workshops and conferences and increasing the Public Policy Committee’s overall understanding about the systemic barriers to providing much needed support to our youngest children and their caregivers.

4.  Hosted Workshops:  The Public Policy Committee hosted advocacy training on how to “Be a Voice for Babies” and other infants and toddlers policy issues such as briefings on adoption, early identification and intervention for children with disabilities, and the unique needs of young children who are placed in the foster care system.  The PPC also assisted in the organization of an Everychild Member Salon, which featured speakers from the national organization Zero to Three.

Ongoing and Future Initiatives

1.  Continue to ensure that children’s policy discussion includes the unique needs of infants and toddlers.

2.  Work to establish a countywide mechanism to provide better support to infants and toddlers in foster care.

3.  Monitor state and local legislation and educate members about bills that improve early childcare, nutrition and health.

4.  Raise member and community awareness about the unique and critical   needs of infants and toddlers.

Juvenile Justice

Juvenile Justice

“For too long, America has chosen to play politics by enacting so-called ‘tough on crime’ slogans such as “three strikes and you’re out” or “you do the adult crime, you do the adult time”. As appealing as these policies may sound, the impacts of codifying these sound bites range from a negligible reduction in crime to an actual increase in crime”
— U.S. Representative Bobby Scott (VA)

Background

     In 2010, 185,867 juveniles were arrested in California. Nearly eight out of ten of those arrested were referred to county juvenile probation departments. Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the country, has the largest number of juvenile arrests—over 49,000 in 2009 —and the largest juvenile justice system of any county in the country.

     Although the goal of California’s Division of Juvenile Justice is to provide education and treatment to California’s youth offenders, unfortunately Los Angeles County’s efforts to realize this state goal have fallen short. Investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice beginning in 2001 into the conditions at County juvenile halls revealed violations of the incarcerated youth’s constitutional rights. In 2008 the U.S. Department of Justice launched another investigation, this time into the conditions at County probation camps, and found youth were not being adequately protected from harm in several camps.

     The Los Angeles County Probation Department is working with the Department of Justice to implement reforms and recommendations, and has undergone several leadership changes, but daunting challenges remain and progress has been slow. California’s realignment plan adds a significant amount of uncertainty to the picture, and makes even more crucial the Everychild Public Policy Committee’s efforts to focus policy makers on effective strategies to intervene before youth end up in the juvenile justice system, and to educate and treat youth offenders once they enter the system, not simply warehouse them under minimally tolerable conditions, which often lead to recidivism.

Committee Work in This Area

1.  The Missouri Model:  In an effort to introduce a more therapeutic, rehabilitative juvenile justice model to Los Angeles County, Policy Committee members organized and led a trip of 25 County officials and academics to the state of Missouri to observe its renowned juvenile justice model. Missouri’s system has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the nation and does so at costs of one-third of Los Angeles’s cost per child. Carol Biondi, Everychild Member and Probation Commisioner, and Jacqueline Caster, Everychild President, have been part of a committee to help Los Angeles build a new prototype facility based upon the Missouri system. Funds have been secured (over $40 million in State and County dollars) to construct the project at the site of the current Camp Kilpatrick that is slated for demolition.

2.  Vocational Training:  Committee Member Barbara Moore is actively involved with bringing a first-of-its-kind vocational training program from the Pipe Fitters and Plumbers Union to the incarcerated youth at Challenger Memorial Youth Center in Lancaster.  They will learn fundamentals of these lucrative trades, receive a certificate of completion, and be given a pathway into the field of work as an apprentice.  Comprehensive training programs such as this provide an opportunity for the youth to develop skills that can be used to enhance themselves, their families and their neighborhoods after reentry into the community.  Such opportunities are essential to help prevent recidivism.

3.  Active Involvement on Commissions and Boards:  In an effort to substantially affect the direction of Los Angeles County with regard to its treatment of youth, Public Policy Committee members have joined numerous public and private committees and boards to enhance the influence of their work, including; the County Education Reform Taskforce, Probation Commission Inspection Committee, Library Committee, Probation Education Committee, and the Adoption Center Board, to name a few.  Their impact has helped to improve conditions at the juvenile camps and halls in areas of personal hygiene, access to services, vocational training, program enrichment, and education reforms.

4.  Advocacy:  The Policy Committee has been involved in advocacy on behalf of the Youth PROMISE Act, a piece of federal legislation authored by Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia which would provide states with funds to be used at their discretion for programs which prevent youth from entering the juvenile justice system. Ms. Caster has visited the White House for the purpose of advancing this bill as well as to urge the current administration to make juvenile justice reform a priority. She has also joined the board of the national organization, Campaign for Youth Justice, based in Washington, D.C., whose mission is to stop the practices of housing children in adult prisons.

5.  Youth Sentencing:  The Policy Committee has been a strong voice in the movement in California to end the practice of sentencing minors to life without the possibility of parole. The United States is the only nation in the world with such a practice. The Committee was very active in recruiting State legislators to vote in favor of SB 9 that banned the practice in California and was signed into law by Governor Brown in 2012. The Committee is now supporting common sense reforms of youth sentences that may not be literal “life” sentences but are in actuality (i.e. 80 years).

6.  Diversion:  In addition to the current Everychild $1 million grant to Centinela Youth Services which is allowing the Inglewood Court to direct first time offenders into support services (mental health, academic, etc.) in lieu of having their cases adjudicated, Ms. Caster has been involved in setting up a second program with Centinela. This new project is funded with Federal dollars and will allow the Los Angeles Police Department in the 77th and Southeast Districts to divert first time offenders directly off the street. The program is slated to launch Fall 2013.