Oxy to Partner in Foster Care Reform Effort
Occidental College has joined the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles to administer a $3.1 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, an effort to improve a foster care system in which children can be subjected to frequent moves, disrupted schooling and severed ties with siblings and extended family. The Home at Last Program will last through December 2006.
The program, which started in July, will seek to implement recommendations from the nonpartisan Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care. Launched in May 2003, the commission included leading experts who sought methods to improve outcomes for children in the foster care system – particularly by expediting their movement from foster care into permanent families and to prevent unnecessary placements in foster care.
In addition to pushing for court and financial reforms, the project will support outreach and educational efforts in six states, including California, to spur action on the commission’s 2004 recommendations. One proposal is to institute loan forgiveness programs for lawyers currently practicing dependency law and those entering the field, as well as for other professionals interested in devoting their careers to children.
According to a CLC survey of 300 children’s attorneys in 43 states, more than two-thirds of respondents owe at least $50,000 in student loan debt; nearly a quarter owe $75,000 or more. The survey found that debt is a key reason many lawyers cannot afford to enter, or remain in, the low-paying practice.
Recognizing the financial and human costs associated with student loan debt, the commission recommended that Congress explore a loan forgiveness program to attract and retain competent attorneys. The commission also urged adequate compensation for child advocates, reasonable caseloads, and enhanced training as further incentives to encourage interested attorneys to remain in the field.
“If foster youth are not adequately represented and left with no voice in court proceedings that will chart their future, we are failing to meet our most fundamental responsibilities to these children,” said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Home at Last and the CLC. “We need to ensure that the 500,000 children in foster care have a committed legal voice in this process, and that we are doing all we can to assure their safety and well-being.”
“This effort will engage state partners to design work plans on how to best raise awareness and shape foster care reform efforts among federal and state policy makers, judges, community leaders, child welfare professionals and advocates, the media, and others,” added Kenyon Chan, interim president at Occidental. “The project holds promise as an effective and meaningful vehicle for social change in the foster care system.”
For more information about Home at Last, visit www.fostercarehomeatlast.org. Additional information on CLC can be found at www.clcla.org.
Occidental, which will serve as the fiscal agent for the program, plans to explore possibilities for faculty and student participation. The college has been active in the community for more than 40 years, supporting social service and educational programs that include Upward Bound, a community literacy center, and GearUp (a tutoring program for local high school students).
Founded in 1887, Occidental College is one of the oldest liberal arts colleges on the West Coast. Since winning its first Rhodes Scholarship in 1907, Occidental has consistently won national and international recognition for academic achievement. It ranks among the top 10 percent of liberal arts colleges whose graduates have earned doctoral degrees.
For more than 15 years, the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles has provided legal counsel for abused and neglected youth in one of the largest child welfare systems in the nation. Its staff of more than 185 lawyers and investigators represent about 80 percent of the 36,000 children under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles dependency court.
Based in Philadelphia, The Pew Charitable Trusts serves the public interest by providing information, advancing policy solutions and supporting civic life. The Trusts will invest $204 million in fiscal year 2006 to provide organizations and citizens with fact-based research and practical solutions for challenging issues.