LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to reevaluate the treatment of youngsters in the county’s care, aiming to keep foster children out of juvenile halls and camps.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas championed the effort, calling for more intervention and less punishment for children who often have a history of trauma.
“If we all roll up our sleeves, we can commit to shutting down the foster care (to) juvenile justice pipeline in Los Angeles County,” Ridley-Thomas said.
He pointed to grim statistics about foster youth who cross over into the juvenile justice system, citing 2016 research by Cal State Los Angeles showing that three-quarters of “dual-status” kids have a mental health diagnosis and one-tenth have attempted suicide.
Both Ridley-Thomas and Solis noted a lack of collaboration across county departments serving children.
Julio Marcial of the Liberty Hill Foundation told the board about someone he said could serve as a poster child for the problem.
DeAngelo was removed from his family home by child welfare workers when he was 3 years old and then lived in a succession of more than a dozen foster homes before turning 14. He ran away, lived on the streets for months and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. DeAngelo repeatedly ended up in juvenile detention.
“But for most of his young life, the people responsible for helping him in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems hardly spoke to one another, much less coordinated services, because of the long-standing gulf between the two systems,” Marcial said.
DeAngelo is now 24 and behind bars.
Advocates said typical teen behavior that wouldn’t trigger legal consequences for kids at home with their families can land foster children in juvenile court.
Taylor Lytle of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition told the board she was moved into the foster care system at age 11 and was bullied and abused in her new home. She was arrested at 13 and was shuttled in and out of juvenile hall over the next two years for probation violations like being suspended from school.
“Young people in foster care need to feel safe and reach their dreams, not be criminalized,” Lytle said. “Once you enter the justice system, it is so hard to get out.”
Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-authored the motion, said it was time to turn the cycle around.
“The kids in our halls and in our camps are the same kids in our foster homes,” Solis said. “They’ve experienced abuse and neglect and need trauma-informed care.”
The board directed the Office of Child Protection to lead efforts to develop a plan for “dual-status” or “cross-over” youth, and also those at risk of ending up in the justice system, which would include making sure children have access to high-quality health and mental health care, as well as housing, education and employment services for transition-age youth.
The board’s action comes in the context of major changes in child welfare policy at the federal and state levels. Reform in California seeks to move away from group home settings, relying instead on training new foster families or letting youth live with an extended family member.
New federal legislation offers reimbursement to states for mental health services, substance abuse treatment and in-home parenting skill training related to foster care.
Inequities in the system also need to be addressed, according to the motion, with black youth and girls in the foster system more likely to become delinquent. Nearly half of the county’s dual status cases are black youth and nearly 40 percent are young women, even though young women make up only 20 percent of the probation population.
A report is expected back in six months.