Community care: A child welfare system reaches at-risk families
Across the street from a city park and kitty-corner to a community center, a rooster crows long after dawn already has broken, its racket beating against an apartment window protected by burglary bars and draped with a Mexican flag.
Near the intersection of two wide boulevards clogged with traffic, the old Academy Theater is easy to spot because of its slim cylindrical tower. A church moved into the one-time movie house years ago, offering healing, deliverance and miracle services.
Where once stood burned-out hulls of buildings destroyed during the 1992 riots, signs of rebirth are evident. But harsh realities impede community progress.
The community of South Los Angeles sprawls across several neighborhoods and a handful of cities, the most recognizable of which are Watts and Compton. Three in every 10 households in South Los Angeles live in poverty. Three in every 10 adults over age 25 have less than a ninth-grade education. The high school graduation rate is 35 percent. More than 300,000 crimes are committed in a year.
The South Los Angeles community also has a high number of child welfare cases. In 2009, nearly 25,000 children in the community were the subject of a child welfare referral, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. Those referrals led to 2,220 children being removed from their homes. At any one time, about 3,600 children in South Los Angeles are in foster care.
The ultimate obligation of child welfare systems is to protect children from danger. But that is not accomplished solely by reacting to child maltreatment that already has occurred. To ensure the safety of America’s children and build stable families, the condition of the communities in which they live must be addressed.
An innovative program is under way in South Los Angeles that may signal the future of child welfare in the United States.
It’s a future where children are kept safe because their families have received the help they need before any abuse or neglect takes place. It’s a future where families receive the support and learn the skills they need so that children can be raised safely and successfully at home – and within the communities they call home. And it’s a future where communities can thrive by drawing strength from the children and families they serve.