Children’s Court May Make Trials Public

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageProtestors outside Children’s Court in Monterey Park on Tuesday want access to the hearings taking place inside.

Some came to the courthouse steps from Occupy LA, pitching two tents in the spirit of the downtown protest. Advocates, including several children and many parents, brought signs: “Children are also the 99%,” “DCFS, give us back our children” and “Community Heals: open children’s court” among their messages.

They say the courts that split up children and their families need to be accountable to the public. Right now, these cases aren’t seen by anyone but the people present – and according to protestor May Hampton, that means courts aren’t really seeking kids’ best interests.

“A lot of the public is not aware of what goes on, just like I wasn’t aware,” Hampton said. See, some of the children aren’t getting the help that they need. So they’re crying out. They’re calling to you, they’re calling to me. They’re calling all over the United States, maybe all over the world.”

Hampton wants people to see cases like hers. She helped her longtime friend Brittany care for her daughter from, literally, the day she was born. Brittany died last year. Her daughter took Hampton’s last name and began living with her full time. But the court barred Hamilton from the trial that sent the child to distant cousins in San Francisco.

Then, last month, Hampton lost her visiting rights. She still writes letters to her would-be daughter, but she’s not sure they’ll ever see each other again.

“I don’t have the words to express how we feel,” Hampton said. “I was shocked, because I thought Children’s Services was one of the best things, that they were there to protect children. But I see different.”

Judge Michael Nash, who presides over the county’s children’s courts, has already proposed a blanket order to open hearings.

Critics say opening courts isn’t the way to ensure accountability. After kids have already suffered, making their stories public will only traumatize them further.

The Department of Children and Family Services has not taken an official position on opening these courts.

South LA coalition pushes for foster care improvements

imageThere were about 15,600 minors living in out-of-home placements in Los Angeles County at the end of last year, according to the Department of Children and Family Services. This means that these children are living in group homes, foster homes, shelters or homes of relatives or non-relative extended family.

Nearly half—about 7,600 total—are living with extended family, in formal Relative Care, placements that allow children and youth to remain in the care of an extended family member.

Most of these minors living in foster care reside in South Los Angeles, According to the Community Coalition of South LA, (CoCo), with about 25 percent of these minors in the care of relatives reside in South LA, though it comprises around 10 percent of the county’s population. CoCo has been running a campaign called Kinship in Action, to get more support for these caregivers, as they make everyday sacrifices to take in the children and are an integral element to stabilizing their community, said CoCo community organizer Doniesha Young.

Young said Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) doesn’t give enough financial support to relative caregivers, even though they take on a large part of the foster care system’s burden and are instrumental in providing the best care for the children.

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