LOS ANGELES – Children in the county foster system often have a history of trauma and more intervention is needed to break a cycle that leads to the juvenile justice system, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley- Thomas said Tuesday.
“Many of these youth have been victims of serious trauma, and getting caught up in the justice system only traumatizes them further,” Ridley- Thomas said as he previewed a motion calling for more programs and funding to keep foster kids out of juvenile halls and probation camps and help those already in the system.
“Half of dual status youth in the county are struggling in school or not attending regularly. Too many may end up languishing in juvenile hall due to insufficient community-based placements,” he said. “We can and must do better.”
“Dual status” or “cross-over” youth, who fall under the jurisdiction of the dependency courts and deliquency system, are particularly vulnerable, Ridley-Thomas said. A 2016 report by Cal State Los Angeles found that roughly 75 percent of those kids have a mental health diagnosis and one-tenth had attempted suicide.
“There are few children more in need of our collective hard work and commitment than those who are been impacted by both the child welfare and criminal justice systems,” Probation Director Terri McDonald said. “We believe that by strengthening our partnership and resolve, we can improve the lives of young people who have experienced far too much trauma and often neglect.”
Intervention in the early years can save taxpayer dollars, as four in five such youth rely on public welfare benefits in early adulthood, according to a 2011 study by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
Ridley-Thomas’ motion is scheduled to be heard by the full Board of Supervisors next Tuesday. It would direct the Office of Child Protection to lead efforts to develop a plan for cross-over youth, and those at risk of ending up in the justice system, which would include making sure kids have access to high-quality health and mental health care, as well as housing, education and employment services.
The motion seeks to minimize placements in juvenile halls and probation camps, although it has proven difficult to find families willing to host dual status youth.
Ridley-Thomas said that collaboration across departments has faded and a lack of funding has also put pressure on programs.
He pointed to 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, the supervisor said, 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.
The county’s newest director of Children and Family Services offered support for the motion.
“Having worked in both probation and child welfare, I can tell you from firsthand experience that these youth have experienced trauma and need all the support we can provide,” Director Bobby Cagle said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues across county departments to ensure these youth have caring adults in their lives to provide them with a safe and loving environment.”