For much of the first half of this year, the coronavirus pandemic has been the subject of all the news, leaving Foster Care Month unnoticed. TEDxCrenshaw, in partnership with Faith Foster Families Network, recently acknowledged the month of May with a special Zoom conference.
“Foster care is a negative side effect of a much larger issue,” speaker and social justice advocate Charity Chandler-Cole noted at the start of the conference. “Children are taken from families as a result of some trauma.”
Eddie Murphy, one of Hollywood’s highest-grossing stars, was put in foster care with his brother after his father, a police officer, was murdered and his mother became seriously ill. Ice T, who has played on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” for years, acknowledges that both his parents died of heart attacks during his childhood. After that, he was fostered by two of his aunts in Los Angeles. Basketball star Alonzo Mourning, following his parents’ divorce, went to live with a family friend who had extensive experience fostering children.
The Children’s Bureau, within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, funds the National Foster Care Month initiative each May on the Child Welfare Information Gateway: childwelfare.gov./fostercaremonth. According to the site, Foster Care is a support to families, not a substitute for parents.
“The goal, the vision is to support families and bridge a gap,” said Jessica Chandler, who was in the foster care system from ages 12-18. Today she is a children’s social worker with the Department of Child and Family Services in L.A. “Because parents cannot keep them safe, or keep them off the street, we take them. We support families and give them support tools. This year, with the pandemic, we’ve seen even more instances where the foster system can bridge the gap. That’s been really positive.”
Chandler continues to be an advocate on the national stage for children and families involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
“For me there is not exact recipe on how to create successful adults,” Chandler said. “I had internalized unworthiness. There was no one to sign off or show up on events. I was angry. Then I finally started to try and see if I could go to college and create something.”
Chandler said that the mentors she had helped through college and a master’s degree.
“The mentors that I had are still in my life now,” she said. “They’re part of my toolbox. Foster youth have to be very kind and patient in forgiving themselves. My biggest thing today is I forgave mom. I spent so much time thinking about her that I missed a lot.”
Chandler also pointed out the benefits she’s witnessed since Assembly Bill 12 (AB12) took effect in 2012. AB12 created California’s Extended Foster Care (EFC) program which allows eligible youth in the child welfare and probation systems to remain in foster care until age 21. To remain eligible for EFC, youth must meet certain participation criteria.
Most importantly, the legislation was supported by a grassroots movement which included former foster youth.
“That’s right,” Chandler said. “Nothing about us, without us.”
Charity Chandler-Cole, her sister, has experienced both the juvenile justice and foster care systems and she now serves on the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families.
“I didn’t feel supported while I was in the system,” she said. “I definitely see a shift in the system currently. The real experts are the people who’ve experienced the foster care system.”
Her sister agrees.
“We are the real superheroes of this world,” Chandler-Cole said of foster system youth. “We succeeded despite all odds. You are worthy, for one. You will be able to succeed wherever you want to. We have to prove it to ourselves and we have to prove it to the world.
“Sometimes we’ve all we got,” she said. “But sometimes you have to tell yourself you are strong. I did and I started to believe it.”
Pastor Geremy & Adrienne Dixon are attempting to lead the charge for foster care with their congregation at Center of Hope church in Inglewood. In 2016, they became certified as resource parents in LA County to provide a safe place for children.
“Fostering vulnerable children, I believe, can take care of the ills facing our society,” Pastor Dixon said. “We know there’s a pipeline into human trafficking, homelessness, and the jail system. If we want to solve those big problems, I think we need to get involved in helping give kids a place where they can be nourished. We can kill multiple birds by throwing this one stone.”
The Dixons have four biological children and have fostered three other youth.
“The reason we were able to take risks in life is because we had a family to act as a net to catch us when we made mistake,” Dixon added. “When you don’t have that net you’re more reluctant to go out and try things. We want to get kids and recreate that environment – to move them into the fullness of their potential.”
Adrienne Dixon agreed that the end goal of foster care is reunification with the parents. She admitted that being a foster parent can sometimes be brief, emotional and difficult.
“But is so much fun to watch a child grow in the stability of your home,” Dixon said. “It’s a blessing to be part of the solu