A coalition of Los Angeles County racial justice advocates, lawyers for parents in the child welfare system, reproductive rights groups and community-based organizations is calling on elected officials to implement wide-ranging reforms to the local foster care system.
The demands presented Monday to the county Board of Supervisors draw on national advocacy efforts. They include a moratorium on removing children from home due to poverty-related neglect and domestic violence, an end to mandatory drug-testing of birthing mothers and newborns, and better protection of parental rights for those who are incarcerated.
The Reimagine Child Safety Coalition aims to “break down the family regulation policies in Los Angeles that target and harm Black and Indigenous families,” according to a letter delivered to county officials.
Thirty-five organizations back the effort, including Black Lives Matter LA, the ACLU of Southern California, the Los Angeles chapter of the Court Appointed Special Advocates, Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers, the Movement for Family Power and the Right Way Foundation.
Organizers say too many Black families are needlessly investigated for relatively minor issues by LA County’s Department of Children and Family Services, which is overseen by county supervisors. Foster care placements designed to be short-term interventions to protect children’s immediate safety too often end up severing all family ties, causing lifelong trauma for parents, children and communities, critics say.
“Ultimately, DCFS getting involved with families often ends up causing more problems than it solves,” said Chris Martin, legal team director of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and a leader of the Reimagine Child Safety coalition.
Responding to the coalition’s demands, a spokesperson for the Department of Children and Family Services said the agency values the perspectives of community members and will respond to the issues presented Monday.
“We are on a continuing journey to reconcile anything that does not align with our organizational values of equity, diversity and inclusion,” a department spokesperson wrote in a statement to The Imprint. “We are proactively taking steps to examine the root causes for disproportionality and are developing strategies to safely mitigate disparate outcomes for children and families of color.”
Stark racial disparities exist among the more than 38,000 children a year who are supervised at home or placed into foster care by the department. Black children comprise about 7.5% of the child population in LA County, but make up more than 27% of foster children, according to the California Child Welfare Indicators Project.
Nearly 60% of Black children in LA County will experience at least one investigation by child protective services by age 18, according to research published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“For Black children in Los Angeles County, enduring all the trauma of an investigation is not the exception — it’s the rule,” Charity Chandler-Cole, CEO of CASA Los Angeles, said in a Monday news release.
Formed in the aftermath of the nationwide outcry over the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, the Reimagine Child Safety coalition has been critical of partnerships between the Department of Children and Family Services and local law enforcement agencies. A petition launched by the group last year that calls on the DCFS to end its working relationship with local police departments has attracted more than 3,400 signatures.
Amid heightened focus on racial injustice, some leading scholars and activists have called for governments to abolish agencies responsible for investigating child abuse and neglect, and replace them with resources to aid vulnerable families. Los Angeles County activists list “guaranteed basic income” for all families as their 11th demand.
The Reimagine Child Safety Coalition calls for legal counsel to be provided for low-income parents at the onset of a social worker investigation, instead of later, once a petition has been filed in dependency court. Similar “pre-petition representation” programs have been implemented in New Jersey, Detroit and Iowa in recent years.
Activists also want Los Angeles County to implement reforms that have been introduced in New York City and state that would guarantee parents Miranda-style rights at the onset of a child maltreatment investigation. Reforms that curb drug testing of parents and babies in the city’s public hospital system without written consent have been passed.
Despite white women’s similar rates of drug use, Black women are far more likely to be tested for drugs before or immediately after childbirth, according to federally funded research published in the Journal of Women’s Health.
To make its case for reforms, in its Monday news release, the coalition highlighted the traumatic journey of one local couple, Kayla Love and Khari Jones, and their newborn daughter, Fari Love Jones.
The first-time parents living in university housing told NBC News in July that they nearly lost their baby hours after she was born at home on June 27. After experiencing post-birth complications, Love was taken by ambulance to the University of Southern California/Los Angeles County Medical Center in Boyle Heights.
But when the couple declined to permit the hospital to draw blood from their daughter — saying that they preferred to work with their private health care provider — they said hospital staff became hostile and summoned a police officer and social worker.
Later that night, after the family returned from the hospital to their student housing at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles Police Department officers accompanied a Department of Children and Family Services social worker to the couple’s apartment for a “welfare check.” Police handcuffed Jones while they interviewed Love, officers confirmed in a statement published July 27 by the Los Angeles Sentinel.
Love, a biochemistry doctoral student at the USC, said a hospital administrator later sent them a letter of apology, and the DCFS case was thrown out. The family remained shaken, but intact.
“The goal should be how to keep families together, not how to divide them,” Love said in an interview with The Imprint. “There are many unethical ways children are being pushed through the pipeline from the medical system to the foster care system.”