A half-dozen years ago, Amanda Hernández was 18 and about to leave the foster care system. She lived in a transitional housing program and got up early nearly every morning to go to her job at Carl’s Jr.
Like thousands of young adults in a similar situation each year, Hernández didn’t know what her next move would be after her time was up. Self-described as shy and quiet in those years, her younger siblings were the sole constant in her life.
Then a call came from Los Angeles County: Hernández had landed an internship with the county’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. Two years later, the trial run became permanent, with a full-time position as the department’s intermediate clerk and later senior typist clerk.
“I keep going,” Hernández said in an interview with The Imprint. “Even if I get promoted today, it’s like, all right, I’m promoted. Now, what’s the next step to take?”
This trajectory made her a top candidate for Los Angeles County’s new Youth Commission. Appointed by Supervisor Kathryn Barger, she is one of five initial members of the commission, created in response to advocates’ calls for more youth involvement in public policies that impact them.
Last week, 10 more commissioners were named — youth between the ages of 18 and 26 with experience in either the county’s foster care or juvenile justice systems. Their task is critical to the well-being of young people in the nation’s most populous county — giving recommendations to officials considering youth-impacting policies, monitoring the outcome for youth serving county departments, and creating an annual report on various youth-oriented departments. Members have clear authority. They can also audit county budgets, and have direct access to county supervisors and their staff.
Growing up in the Los Angeles County foster care system between multiple homes, Hernández said she was a role model for her three sisters and a brother. When named to the commission, they were on her mind.
“It was just a tremendous honor to me to get that recognition, to get there, and for my sisters to recognize that and know we’ve been through the same thing,” she said, “to show them that if I went through it, and I’m this far, there are no excuses for you guys.”
The Los Angeles County Youth Commission was initiated in February 2020 by the Board of Supervisors. Most of the commissioners will be young adults who have experienced foster care or the juvenile justice system.
Hernández’s goals are quite clear. First, she wants to aid former and aging out foster youth in Los Angeles county. Second, she wants the commission to push the county to create a formal office for youth services, specifically for former foster youth.
Hernández still has close ties to foster care. Both her younger sisters, ages 19 and 29, who have experienced the foster system live with Hernández in her East L.A. apartment. She also has a brother, age 11, who was adopted at 6, and she hasn’t seen him in years.
In 2018, Hernández met Supervisor Barger and would later speak at her State of the County address to share her story and experience working with the county through their career development internship. In an interview with The Imprint, Barger said she was struck by Amanda’s tenacity and resilience.
“Her whole attitude about her life was more about how she’s going to make it better for the future versus looking back and saying, you know, I’m a victim,” Barger said.
Barger shares Hernández’s approach to the issues the youth commission will address, noting that too many former foster youth can’t afford housing, and don’t necessarily have a family they can turn to. Unfortunately, she said, “foster youth all-too-often don’t have that luxury.”
Hernández found her place at the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, working in the unit for real estate investigations. She was quick to impress her supervisors.
Morine Merritt, the supervisor investigator within the department, recalls Hernández during her internship as ambitious and eager. “She started right away making recommendations on how to improve things and make processes more efficient.”
She recalls a moment of awe when Hernández started working within her unit of real estate investigations, “I remember we had just a stack of reports that we just piled in one particular area, and on day one she was like, ‘well, that won’t do. This is not an organized system,’ and she immediately set up a filing system for the records and identified a cabinet to store the records and keep them organized.”
This past month Hernández celebrated her 7th anniversary of working for the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. As she reflects on her professional advances, she looks forward to working with the Youth Commission and weighing in on the potential changes that she and the other commissioners plan to achieve.
“It’s a big, scary position if you think about how big L.A. County is and who I’m going to be representing,” said Hernandez. “But at the same time — knowing the change that I can bring and knowing that my voice will matter to the powers that be — almost ten years later, this work is still very near and dear to my heart. The foster youth community is small and knowing that the services could be better is what strengthens me.”