Putting Kids Atop Our 2020 Priority List

Kathryn Barger, chair of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, has identified helping at-risk youth as the No. 1 focus of her tenure.
Photo by Rafael Najarian

As chair of the Board of Supervisors for 2020, I have asked our county agencies to make youth success a top priority. My vision for my tenure is “Our County, Our Children, Our Commitment.”

More than a catchy phrase, this effort is a challenge to all our departments to identify new and promising initiatives, strategies and approaches that will amplify our mission to support and uplift youth. 

More than 2 million children call Los Angeles County home. While every county department touches the lives of youth in some capacity, there is none more linked than the Department of Children and Family Services.

This is the nation’s largest child-welfare agency, and it is responsible for the safety and well-being of all youth in our care. At any given time, the department has 35,000 open cases, of which more than half are children who have been removed from their birth parents and for whom the county has become their de facto parent.

It’s my goal to build on the success we have had with our community partners, who are instrumental in the effort to serve vulnerable youth.

For example, our work with “Friends of the Children L.A.” identifies at-risk children and dedicates resources to provide mentors who support them through their entire childhood. Through a consistent connection with mentors from the moment youth enter kindergarten until their high-school graduation, we can change the trajectory of their lives for the better.

This program has proven to break the cycles of involvement in the child-welfare and juvenile-justice systems by giving youth someone they can depend on, and equipping them with a consistent, reliable person to provide support and guidance. 

We cannot lose sight of those who age out of our system, often with no family or support system. Ensuring self-sufficiency for transitional-age youth must remain a top priority, and we must bolster our collaboration between the Department of Children and Family Services, the Office of Child Protection, and Departments of Mental Health, Health Services, Public Social Services and Probation, along with partner agencies and faith-based stakeholders.

We’re currently building an online portal to assist transitional-aged foster youth, their caregivers and social workers in navigating the resources that are available to them throughout the county, such as job training, housing, tutoring and health services.

We also believe that improving access to meaningful employment for underemployed and unemployed foster youth is vital. This year, we will implement tangible workforce development efforts in collaboration with our education partners. With our K-12 schools, colleges and adult-education programs, we are creating a robust training system to fill the gaps in fields that directly serve our kids. If we instill the importance of child-centered jobs from a young age, our youth will see value in pursuing careers as teachers, social workers and caregivers.

Our commitment to improve how we serve youth becomes more resolute as our county continues to face one of the largest crises of homelessness. Many young people are dealing with serious mental illness, drug addiction and trauma. It’s time we help them change direction with proactive intervention, care and hope. We cannot let our youth fall into this devastating cycle.

Ending homelessness begins with ending hopelessness. My colleagues and I supported expanding the number of apartments available for transition age youth last month. We need to equip our young adults with a firm foundation and launching pad to become self-sufficient.

In all these initiatives, partnership is critical for our county’s success. This takes all of us —our city officials, business leaders, educational institutions, service providers, community-based organizations, non-profits, faith-based groups, and each of the 10 million residents we serve.

I know that working collaboratively, we will accomplish these goals. We must work harder for our kids — and we must do it together.

Kathryn Barger, whose Fifth District includes South Pasadena, is chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.