17 Feb National Caregivers Day
By Marsha Mitchell, Director of Communications
These two warrior women were integral to positive policy change for Black and Brown families in South Los Angeles and throughout California.
The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) was created in 1984 and began with a caseload of nearly 35,000. The dominant policies of the time favored removing children from their homes rather than looking for opportunities to help families stay together. By the late 1990s, the number of children removed from their homes and placed in other care peaked at 52,000. This was not just a local phenomenon. The statewide rate of children in foster care grew to nearly 110,000 by the end of the decade and over half a million children nationally.
Families suffered from the instability caused by their communities’ massive unemployment, addiction, and incarceration. Yet, rather than help stabilize these families with drug treatment services and job programs, the adults were incarcerated, and their children were taken away.
African-American and Latino children were dis- proportionately affected by this approach. While African-American children comprised 10% of the L.A. County population, they accounted for more than 40% of children removed from their homes. Over 80% of all children in foster care in Los Angeles were either African American or Latino.
As the number of children removed from their homes swelled, the system was quickly overwhelmed and could not sufficiently manage and monitor its caseloads. Sadly, a significant number of these children placed in foster care were permanently scarred and damaged by their experience in the system, which could not “guarantee the safety of the children” in their care, according to a blue ribbon task force at the time. By 2000, a grand jury charged with investigating a series of tragic deaths and abuse cases of children in foster care in Los Angeles declared the system “broken.”
In 2000, Community Coalition launched the “Family Care Not Foster Care” Campaign to stop the fragmentation of South L.A. families and to challenge the inequity in the foster care system. The Community Coalition identified relative caregivers as a unique and essential alternative to the foster care system and a strategy to stabilize families and communities in South Los Angeles. Relative caregivers are grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and other adult family members who take primary responsibility for their young relatives when the children’s parents are unable.
For the past two decades, relatives have made up over 50% of those caring for children who have been removed from their homes by the Department of Children and Family Services.
The “Family Care, Not Foster Care” campaign raised awareness about kinship-care families’ issues and shifted public resources to families to improve outcomes for the thousands of children living in relative care. It also organized South L.A. relative caregivers into a powerful, vocal constituency. Through this campaign, service providers initiated an intense outreach drive to recruit their clients to participate in efforts to challenge DCFS policies and push for increased support of kinship services.
- Between 1999 and 2004—Our groundbreaking Family Care, Not Foster Care campaign resulted in greater recognition for caregivers in Los Angeles County, led to improvements in the County’s hotline and kinship center for relative caregivers, and eventually led to South LA’s first kinship center combining direct services and leadership development for relative caregivers.
- 2006—Relative caregivers partnered with then-Assemblymember Karen Bass to conduct legislative visits in Sacramento and secure $82 million in funding for foster care reform – with $36 million dedicated to kinship support statewide.
- 2009—Relative caregivers’ advocacy results in an additional $2 million for South LA in Prop 63 Mental Health Services Act funding for wellness programming and treatment services
- 2011—Kinship members’ efforts secure assurances from DCFS Director Philip Browning to move L.A. County’s Kinship Resource Center to South LA – where most of the region’s caregivers live.
- 2012—Community Coalition is awarded one of seven Federal Kinship Navigator Grants to pilot a model which combines education and resource navigation services, group therapy, and leadership development for relative caregivers. The IRB-approved program generates data on family well-being and family needs for kinship families in South LA, resulting in one of the most rigorous studies conducted with caregivers in the local region.
- 2014—Caregivers mobilized and testified to Los Angeles County’s Blue Ribbon Commission for Child Protection and won vital recommendations in the final approved overhaul of L.A. County’s child welfare system.
Last year, Deborah Lee and Sylvia Hull both passed away. Although they are no longer with us, their legacies live on through their tireless efforts to support our families. They worked hard to ensure that “care” was part of the caregiving system, and we are infinitely grateful for their leadership and commitment.