Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Protect Children in Foster Care

L.A. Times columnist Tim Rutten is outraged at the number of deaths of children in the L.A. County foster care system. So am I.

With a $2 billion budget, more than 7,000 employees and the highly experienced Trish Ploehn, Director of Dept. of Children and Family Services, overseeing the agency, where’s the safety net for kids? The tragedy of childhood death is a larger social issue, addressing individuals in their environment with layers of poverty, addiction and domestic violence.

Parents have a duty to protect their children from harm. Children enter the child welfare system unprepared for the onslaught of social workers, police officers, mental health professionals, lawyers, judges and others. Their role is to protect the child. Child welfare practitioners and policymakers must be more responsive to the communities they serve. Private caregiver agencies must be monitored with more frequency and closed for even minor infractions.

I want social workers to be more aggressive in investigating and removing children from parents, foster parents and other caregivers with the first sign of abuse. And, I want child welfare workers and parents to access family support services and reunification where a positive outcome is possible.

L.A. County Dept. of Children and Family Services reduced staff and cut support services due to the budget crisis. The Board of Supervisors need to rescind the order for budget cuts. The county needs to hire more social workers, lighten the case worker load and provide more staff training before another child dies.

I’ve worked with foster youth who’ve had a positive experience with a social worker. As the publisher of L.A. Youth, the newspaper by and about teens, I’m extremely proud of our special project giving youth in the foster care system an opportunity to tell their personal stories. Through the Foster Youth Writing and Education Project, which began in 2003, we provide foster youth an opportunity to reflect on their experiences and a forum to voice their concerns, while also informing readers about the system and the challenges foster youth face every day.

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