The devastation that the coronavirus has piled on communities that have long suffered under the weight of racism and poverty – along with the fallout from a national uprising against police brutality – has also given rise to an opportunity for historic change in Los Angeles County and beyond, according to a new research report.
The coronavirus “continues to ravage the nation and the state, with pain and death ripping through communities with the fewest protections. Recovery will be slow, pain will be persistent, and, unless addressed, income inequality may grow,” says the report, titled “No Going Back: Policies for an Equitable and Inclusive Los Angeles. “Yet there is also an extraordinary opening,” it goes on, “as residents and leaders recognize the pandemic’s wake-up call: that our failure to act in solidarity with one another – to value Black lives, to treasure immigrant families, to declare homelessness unacceptable, to be willing to shoulder the burdens of mutual support – has left our whole region far more vulnerable than necessary.”
The report from researchers at UCLA, the University of Southern California and a new pandemic-inspired group known as the Committee for Greater Los Angeles concludes: “This moment begs of us to create something better.”
In addressing child and family well-being, the report calls for reimagining child welfare systems with the goal of healing the inequities that existed well before the coronavirus pandemic.
The primary authors, Manuel Pastor, director or the University of Southern California’s Equity Research Institute and Gary Segura, dean of the University of California Los Angeles’ Luskin School of Public Affairs, cite evidence that the foster care system is rife with systemic racism and bias against low-income parents.
In a county where 7% of all children are African Americans, they account for 25% of foster youth. And although families of color tend to have more challenges than others, the child welfare system is much more likely to rigorously enforce its rules against them than it is against white families.
The report acknowledges that there are sometimes legitimate reasons to remove children from their homes because of severe abuse and neglect. But it states, “We must disentangle poverty from genuine neglect and work to alleviate root causes of family struggle, including nutritional assistance, before resorting to child removal and exposing those children to new perils.”
Youth empowerment, such as young people’s involvement in the immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter movement, will also be key to a brighter future, according to the September report. Traditionally and at present, youth have led the call for change, such as recent calls to defund the police and divert money to social services.
The report recommends shifting funding from punitive juvenile systems to community-based supportive services, opening youth centers and funding youth-centered programs. Efforts to develop economic opportunities for youth should be expanded through community and government partnerships to provide technical training, it concludes.