On the Road with FMC

Southern California

A day spent changing the foster care narrative

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It was a hot and smoggy Los Angeles day when we pulled up to the brand new offices of KPCC, Southern California's NPR affiliate with a listenership only exceeded by that of New York. Fostering Media Connections (FMC) cameraman Eytan Elterman, former foster youth and current FMC intern Roy Flores, 17-year-old foster youth advocate George White, and I spilled out of the car. Just outside of the building we met Noelle Conti, one of the producers of the station's popular talk program, Patt Morrison.

Noelle and I had been working closely the month before, gathering material and selecting the panel who would be meeting at the radio station that day. The two panels we had put together were comprised of some of the best child welfare minds in Southern California, including: Andrew Bridge, author of Hope's Boy and the director of the Child Welfare Initiative; Trayvon Walker, former foster youth and part of the mentorship program at the Alliance for Children's Rights; Leslie Heimov, the executive director of the Children's Law Center of Los Angeles; David Ambroz, founder of Los Angeles City College's Guardian Scholars Program; the aforementioned George White; and myself.

Four guests at a time, the two panels sat with host Patt Morrison, who masterfully drove a substantive examination of four topics: how to recruit better foster parents, the challenges facing social workers, educational stability for foster youth, and their transition into adulthood. I watched the first panel through the glass separating the booth from the control room, where technicians toyed with bars and levels. Eytan steadily filmed, while Roy Flores looked on, soaking in the nuances of the video camera. Laura Faer, directing attorney of public counsel's Children's Rights Project, chatted with George White, and told him he should call Public Counsel if he ever needed help. Laura Hunt, the Communications Director for the Alliance for Children's Rights, talked to Noelle about all the kids who look to the Alliance for help in and out of court. Here, in two small rooms, encased in electronics and glass and concrete, were a handful of people dedicated to changing foster care in Los Angeles. And we were going to be sharing our plans to do so with hundreds of thousands of listeners.

The first panel ended, and I took my place along with George, Laura, and David. I have become accustomed to speaking in front of larger crowds, but surrounded by a handful of people I look up to, I was nervous. Patt quickly led the conversation to the prospect of extending foster care to 21 in California, as proscribed by the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. Knowing that AB12,* the law that would make this a reality, was close at hand in the state senate, I felt the nervousness wash away and heard myself saying that California, which holds one-eighth of the nation's foster youth, is on the cusp of unleashing a wave of positive change in child welfare across the country. Patt looked up and said that our collective take was a different one than she had ever heard before. And I felt satisfied that we are collectively changing the foster care narrative; that we are fighting a battle that we can win.

* At press time, AB12 had been signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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