Addressing Disparities in Foster Care, LA County to Launch Office of Equity

African-American children and youth who identify as LGBTQ are disproportionately overrepresented in foster care when compared to the general population. The representation of Latino children in foster care also continues to grow. Children in foster care experience disparities related to health, education, homelessness, unemployment, early and unplanned pregnancies, and criminal justice system involvement. Given the existing disparities for children in foster care, minority children in foster care face even more difficult burdens to overcome. In response, today the Board of Supervisors approved a motion authored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, and co-authored by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, that directs the LA County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to establish an Office of Equity.

“In today’s society, some populations face tremendous disparities in virtually all aspects of life — and when combined with foster care system involvement, these disparities are compounded and magnified,” said Supervisor Solis. “Today’s action is a comprehensive effort to promote equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice so that every child and family can thrive. By taking this necessary step, we are committing ourselves to transforming the way our County supports some of the most vulnerable people in our society. It is my hope that the Office of Equity allows families to reunify faster, receive enhanced support, and heal from trauma – regardless of their background. Together, we can ensure equity for all children and families in Los Angeles County.”

For foster youth, pre-existing societal disparities are compounded by unresolved trauma, intergenerational poverty, language barriers, immigration, and other forms of oppression. In Los Angeles County, these challenges have been addressed through various initiatives. For example, DCFS created the American Indian Child Welfare Unit to provide culturally-appropriate services to American Indian children and families under the Indian Child Welfare Act. DCFS also created the Asian American and Pacific Islanders Unit, which houses social workers who speak various languages and dialects, and understand the community they serve.

Today’s motion directs DCFS to work with the County’s Health Agency’s Center for Health Equity, and the County Departments of Public Health, Mental Health, Health Services, Probation, and Public Social Services to create an Office of Equity within DCFS, informed by County data and best practices from around the nation.

“We have long known that LGBTQ youth and young people of color are overrepresented in our foster care system,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “This motion explores the creation of an Office of Equity within our Department of Children and Family Services that could oversee and manage an array of efforts designed to reduce racial disproportionality and meet the unique needs of every one of our children. We want to create the kinds of programs and systems that allow us to make the best, most culturally competent decisions we can for our 30,000 children in foster care.”

The Office of Equity will lead efforts for oversight and management of ending disparities within the foster care system. In addition, the Office of Equity will target racial disproportionality and marginalization, the unique needs of African-American, Latino, and LGBTQ youth and families, the empowerment of women and girls, the engagement of fathers, support of relative caregivers, and tackle disparities throughout all LA County communities. The Office of Equity will also identify opportunities to reduce implicit bias within the workforce, and actively engage stakeholders, experts in the field, and individuals with lived experience to inform and implement strategies to arrive at lasting change for LA County’s foster youth.