The Danger of Sleeping in Bed with Babies


Hoping to raise awareness about the dangers of parents sleeping in the same bed with their babies, child advocacy organizations have launched a major educational and marketing campaign throughout Los Angeles County.

The statistics are chilling: every five days, a baby in Los Angeles County suffocates while sleeping. Over the last four years, 278 babies in the county have died from sleep suffocation — more than all other accidental deaths of children under the age of 14.  These deaths are silent and quick—and completely preventable. Sleep suffocation is most common among Latino and African-American families.

The Safe Sleep for Baby Campaign, which is also in Spanish and was created by the Los Angeles County Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect and First 5 L.A, encourages parents to share a room, not a bed and to place the baby in a crib or bassinet. Parents are also advised to lay babies on their back, without pillows, blankets, bumpers or toys.  Accidental suffocation is the greatest risk for babies under the age of one.

Here are some answers for common questions on safe sleeping techniques:

  • Is it safe to put a baby to sleep in a car seat or stroller?
    No, because of the way the baby is positioned in these carriers. Babies should always be placed on  the  back to sleep.
  • Can I swaddle my baby?
    Yes,  but be sure to use a light receiving blanket , as other kinds, such as San Marcos blankets, can be too heavy and warm for infants. Once babies reach 5-6 months, swaddling is no longer needed and parents can simply continue to dress their baby in a onesie or sleeper. 
  • What if I am breastfeeding?
    Breastfeeding is encouraged and  nursing mothers should place their baby in a crib or bassinet after nursing. 
  • What if my baby likes sleeping on his stomach?
    The safest way for babies to sleep is on the back. When babies sleep on their stomachs  or sides , they can  more easily choke or suffocate.
  • My baby has trouble breathing – what’s the best way to put my baby to sleep?
    If your baby has a medical condition, talk to your doctor about any special care your child may need.

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Autism Research to get $10 Million Grant

Lareka Killebrew, 40, of Glendale knew very little about autism when she gave birth to her son, Justice. But when he stopped talking at the age of 2, she immediately  knew something was wrong. “He wasn’t talking, he was crying, holding his ears, twirling in circles, starring into space, screaming a lot, and would only let me, my mom, husband, and daughter hold him,” she said. “He was a different kid.” It took two years, an occupational, psychologist and speech doctor and two pediatricians to diagnose Justice,  now 7, with spectrum autism, typically characterized by social deficits, communication difficulties, or repetitive behaviors and interests and in some cases, cognitive delays.

Knowing how much work it took to get her son diagnosed,  Killebrew was on hand at a recent event to discuss  the award of  a $10 million-grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund a genetics  study of African American children to be conducted  by renowned autism scientist and researcher, Dr. Daniel Geschwind.

The research from Dr. Geshwind’s study at UCLA is intended to help moms like Killebrew  have  their children diagnosed early so that intervention against autism can begin promptly. “I think this grant would have helped my son,” said Killebrew.  “I would have sought intervention immediately.” The event was coordinated by the Special Needs Network, an autism advocacy organization and included Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, Assemblymember Holly Mitchell and the pre-school advocacy group, First 5 Los Angeles.

“Autism is nothing short of an epidemic. We must ask ourselves not just what can be done but what we must do,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “We must focus on early intervention, we must focus on reducing disparity, we must focus on investing, support and doing more and more research.”

 In particular, the grant will allow Dr. Geshwind, to study African American families who have a child diagnosed with autism.  As part of the five year study, children with autism will be observed and their parents will be interviewed about their child’s developmental history.  The Centers for Disease Control  recently reported an increase in the rate of autism  from 1 in 88 to 1 in 50 children— affecting more than one million children across the country.  As a rule,  African-American and Latino children are diagnosed two to four years later than their non-minority peers ,  and often   they have more difficulty accessing  essential diagnostic and intervention services.

“The goal is to recruit 750 families with two parents and a child with autism and find the genes among African Americans that lead to autism,” said Dr. Geshwind.  “The study will be the first to identify the gene of African ancestry that will give will us power to detect a number of genes that increases the risk for autism.”

Dr. Gershwind’s hope is that in five or 10 years, by knowing all the genetics, children can screened early on and identify those that are at high risk and put them into early intervention.

“That would be my dream and goal of what I want to accomplish with this study- to change the trajectory of their life so instead of being destined to have autism we find them at age 3 or 6 months,” he said.

From Foster Care to Advocacy

Grand opening of the CYC Los Angeles office

Tiffany Boyd considers herself one of the lucky ones. When she was a child, her mother had a nervous breakdown and Boyd was sent to live with her grandmother. Her six other siblings, however, were not so fortunate. They ended up in the foster care system in group homes and, she says, have suffered as a result.

Although she also had her share of difficult times, Boyd is now dedicated to helping others in the foster care system. She is one of dozens of young people who help other foster care youth through the California Youth Connection, an advocacy organization.

“I am dedicated to this cause,” said the 25-year-old. “It is great to have an organization that allows me to advocate and take what we learn and bring it back to my peers.”

CYC, which has branches in 32 counties across the state, has been instrumental in supporting key legislation affecting foster youth, including the passage of AB 12, which gives youth the option of staying in care until the age of 21. The organization also has worked on bills that help improved education, permanency planning, group home care and Independent Living Program regulations. Through a motion sponsored by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the board approved a five-year agreement between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and CYC that allows the organization to have an office in Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard.

The office opening was also made possible through the generous support of both the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation and Foster Care Counts in partnership with the DCFS Youth Development Services.

“It is critical that these children receive the support they need into young adulthood,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “CYC offers scholarship advice, college guidance and mental health referrals so that these youth can thrive and become the best they can be.” As part of her advocacy work, Boyd was recently chosen to testify before the state legislature on a bill that would allow foster care youngsters evaluate the system before they leave so that necessary changes can be implemented. She spoke for two minutes and spent the rest of the day “shadowing” House Speaker John Perez.

“We value the voice of foster youth and they should have a say in the policy that affects their lives,” said Joseph Tietz, executive director of CYC.

Boyd can also attest to the challenges of living without parental guidance. For most children in the foster care system, moving on to adulthood can be overwhelming.

At CYC, Boyd said she has received the support she needs, including guidance on how to apply for college for her master’s degree. She hopes to attend California State University, Dominguez Hills in the fall and major in public administration and nonprofit development.

But life often throws her little glitches. When she was selected to go on the trip to Sacramento, she realized she didn’t have the right clothing. She could only turn to her mother, who has struggled with mental illness all of her life.

“My mom had to pawn her necklace and then take me to the thrift store so I could buy my clothes,” said Boyd. “It takes a certain level of confidence to ask others that are not family.”

In June, she is planning on visiting Washington DC with CYC.

“I used to be a young lady who was going, ‘why me?’” she said with a smile. “Now I say, ‘why not me?’”

Metta World Peace Talks Mental Health

Metta World Peace has been talking about mental health issues for several years now, speaking from the heart to young people at schools, sharing his personal trials during childhood and discussing the role that counseling has played in his life. Slowly, he says, he is seeing the effects of his openness on the topic. Where once fans mostly approached him to discuss the Lakers, now, almost daily someone will approach him to share how they have been inspired to seek mental health services.

While walking in Westwood, he recently recounted, a man approached and asked to shake his hand. Although this happens every day to the 6’7” forward, the conversation that followed took an unusual turn. Instead of asking for an autograph or photo, the man — a convicted arsonist with severe mental health issues — told Peace he had convinced him to seek counseling.

“He came up to me and said ‘you made it easier for me to get help. Thank you,’” Peace recounted before speaking at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting. “I just wanted to bring awareness to this issue; I didn’t even know that I had the potential to make a difference.”

Mental illness affects one in five people nationwide, and those who suffer from its effects are far more likely to become homeless, incarcerated and hospitalized than the general population. Currently, Peace is leading the Los Angeles County Mental Health Department’s “Talk It Out!” campaign, which runs through the month of May with billboards and posters on MTA shelters, depots, buses and trains in public transit areas around Los Angeles County that urges people to call a 24-hour-hotline if they need help.

The posters feature Peace holding a basketball and encouraging people to talk about their issues, and have a bright, lime-green-colored background for a purpose, said Marvin Southard, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

“We want to spread the message and put it in the limelight,” said Southard. “People with mental health issues have a sense that they are looked down upon. We know if we exclude them, we harm them.”

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who commended Peace as well as longtime mental health advocate Stella March for their activism on Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting, said there is no shame in dealing with mental illness.

“The lack of awareness and the stigma pose barriers to effective treatment,” he said. “We need to make sure that the people who need help, get help.”

Peace has had his own very public issues with anger management and depression. It has been a tough experience going through his challenges in front of the television cameras, but his fame has also helped him.

“People get to know you. They have seen me through bad times and good times and seen me grow as a person,” he said. “This is a lifetime of work.”

He has also seen his siblings and other relatives suffer from mental illness, and Peace says that although he is vigilant about watching his four children for signs of emotional stress, mainly he is focused on letting his kids “just be kids.”

Nonetheless, even though Peace has seen some positive effects of his public campaign, he still believes many people don’ t realize they have issue s that could be resolved with counseling and treatment.

“I got through it with help and support,” he said. “Everything in life is not perfect. You just never know if something can tick you off. You don’t realize that these things can scar you. Once you understand that about yourself, you can address those issues.”

The county has also created a 24/7 hotline in English and Spanish, that encourages young adults to seek help if they need it (1-800-854-7771).

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Raising Awareness for Food Assistance

Hundreds of low-income families in Los Angeles County are eligible for food assistance, and many don’t even know it. To let more people know about the availability of monthly food stipends, county, state and federal agencies have teamed up with local grocers, farmers’ markets, food banks and school districts for a campaign to spread the word about the CalFresh program. CalFresh provides a maximum monthly allowance of $176 to low-income individuals to buy food at various markets and stores throughout the county.

According to the Department of Public Social Services, as of March, 1.1 million Los Angeles County residents receive CalFresh benefits. An estimated 1.1 million additional individuals, however, are potentially eligible to receive assistance. The mission of the campaign is to increase the number of participants in the program, reduce hunger, promote good nutrition and remind the public that assistance for food is available. To jump start the campaign, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas made a presentation before the board to support the effort.

“One of the highest priorities of the Department of Public Social Services is to reduce food insecurity in Los Angeles County,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “This year’s campaign will place a heavy focus on the nutritional benefits of CalFresh.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the number of nationwide homes lacking adequate food more than tripled in the last four years. Studies suggest that household hunger negatively impacts the intellectual, physical and emotional development of children. In addition, poor eating habits increase the risks for obesity, diabetes and other diseases.

“While the local economy continues to improve we know there are many residents that are in need of food assistance,” said Los Angeles County Director of Pubic Social Services Sheryl Spiller. “Hunger is an issue that affects us all. We want to make sure that no child goes to bed hungry.”

Hoping to ease fears among hopeful recipients of the CalFresh program, officials confirm that receiving food assistance does not affect a person’s immigration status nor will any recipients be reported to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

To learn more about the CalFresh program and to view the CalFresh community events calendar, please visit:

Homeless Advocate Named Woman of the Year


[raw]A hearty congratulations to Marsha Temple, executive director of the homeless advocacy agency, Integrated Recovery Network, who has been selected as the Second Supervisorial District’s Woman of the Year.

Temple was chosen by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas for her outstanding work helping homeless people reclaim their lives by finding housing, health care and jobs.

Temple, who is an attorney, has been an advocate for the homeless and homeless issues for years. In her work at the Integrated Recovery Network, she has championed the need to help mentally ill people released from the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, finding them housing, mental health services and addiction management so that with counseling, they can address the substance abuse and other issues and that threaten their stability and risk a return to jail.


She will join seven other women, selected by other members of the board of supervisors, who will be honored for their work bringing about social and economic change at a luncheon sponsored by the Los Angeles County Commission for Women on March 11.

“It is a huge honor to be chosen to represent the Second Supervisorial District as Woman of the Year for my work with the Integrated Recovery Network. So many people are working to find housing for people who are homeless, to provide access to medical and psychiatric care, to reduce recidivism rates, to help people who have been homeless find jobs,” said Temple.

“I dedicate this award to the staff of the Integrated Recovery Network. My colleagues work alongside me every day, creating opportunities for life-altering transformations of people who might not otherwise have the chance to lead dignified and productive lives.”  Temple has also served as past president of the Board of Directors of Homeless Health Care Los Angeles, the Board of Governors of Marina del Rey Hospital, as chair of the Board of Directors of the Venice Family Clinic and she is currently on the Board of Governors of Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital.

As an attorney for 20 years, Temple represented hospital clients in a variety of liability actions including medical and psychiatric malpractice, breach of contract and defended allegations of elder abuse.

The LA County Commission for Women champions many causes including employment, gender equity, promoting access to health care for women of all ages, ending violence against women and supporting legislation that positively impacts the lives of women.

“Marsha Temple exemplifies the selfless and tireless work that it takes to help the most challenged people in our society get back on their feet,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “She and her staff understand the importance of giving all human beings a chance to live a decent life and she richly deserves this honor .”

Supervisors Approve $15 Million More for Affordable Housing

Epworth Apartments on Normandie Avenue.  Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County.

Epworth Apartments on Normandie Avenue. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County.

The preservation and creation of affordable housing has been a longstanding goal of the county and its 88 cities, but the demise of redevelopment agencies delivered a blow to low-income residents struggling in one of the nation’s most difficult housing markets; the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is $1,447 — far more than one-third of take-home pay for 40 percent of Angelenos.

Acting on a joint motion by Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina, the Board of Supervisors unanimously reaffirmed the county’s commitment to providing permanent housing for low-income residents, recently approving a motion to transfer $15 million to the Community Development Corporation for affordable housing in Los Angeles County.

Supervisors Molina and Ridley-Thomas had urged the board to set aside $75 million for five years, $15 million of which would be allocated this year, but voted to postpone allocating the remaining $60 million until the annual budget process begins — just a few weeks.

Both Supervisors Molina and Ridley-Thomas urged the balance of the board to dedicate the total amount available to affordable housing.

“I am advocating for and committed to affordable housing having top priority consideration for the use of these resources,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “On any given night in Los Angeles County, over 50,000 homeless individuals live on the streets. The majority have untreated illnesses or disabilities, so affordable housing can and must be the priority. It has implications for our communities and workforce dynamics.”

“I think what’s important is that this is not money that should be allocated in a different direction…I’m hoping we’re not going to layer this with all kind of other competing interests,” said Supervisor Molina.


Hope Street Family Center courtesy of Abode Communities.

Affordable housing advocates cheered passage of the motion, noting the significant challenges they face since the dissolution of redevelopment agencies.

“The loss of redevelopment housing funds has had a significant impact on the production and preservation of affordable housing,” said affordable housing developer Robin Hughes, the president of Abode Communities committed to affordable housing communities in Los Angeles.


In October of last year, acting on a joint motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved $11 million in funding for affordable housing projects that is expected to result in approximately 176 new units. Through the Community Development Commission’s work, the county has created over 10,000 affordable units.

“This funding is critically important to low income communities and people with special needs,” said Dora Gallo, chief executive of A Community of Friends, a nonprofit agency that develops affordable housing. “While other cities and counties are still trying to figure out what to do with the loss of redevelopment funds, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Molina have taken action.”

Sex Trafficking in Los Angeles

Human trafficking survivor and advocate, Nola Brantley, educates Los Angeles County employees.

It is estimated that hundreds of girls as young as 12 are the victims of human trafficking every year in Los Angeles.

This is how it happens. Often, she is as young as 12. She doesn’t have a family. She longs for love and safety. She meets a man who sweet-talks her, promises her love, protection and money, buys her favorite brand of sneakers or splurges on an iPod. Except nothing is free. He will then coerce her with threats and violence and force to her make a quota of $500 to $1,000 a night by selling her body to men up to three times her age.

She is beaten and starved if she doesn’t make her quota – day after day of statutory rape. She doesn’t get to keep the money and has no refuge. Her best option is to get arrested.

That’s the world of child commercial sex trafficking, a growing problem in Los Angeles County.

“Selling children has become more profitable than drugs,” said Nola Brantley, co-founder and executive director of the Oakland-based advocacy group, Motivating Inspiring Supporting & Serving Sexually Exploited Youth or MISSSEY. “It’s an issue that impacts people all over the world. Here, children living in poverty, children in the foster care system are at a huge risk.”

Brantley has been visiting Los Angeles as part of an education and outreach effort to help elected officials, law enforcement, social workers, probation officers, judges, and others understand the horrors of child sex trafficking and what can be done.

“The trafficking, abuse and sexual exploitation of children is abhorrent and it must be stopped,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We must stop looking at these children as criminals and instead view them as victims. We must crack down on the pimps and the customers that are making this one of the greatest human rights problems of our time.”

Throughout Los Angeles County, significantly more girls are arrested for prostitution compared to the number of pimps and consumers. With the passage of Proposition 35 last year, which increases prison sentences and fines for human trafficking convictions and requires convicted human traffickers to register as sex offenders, the number of cases against pimps and traffickers has at least increased.

However, cases against consumers are rarely prosecuted as felonies and are normally sent to the city attorney’s office as misdemeanors. Officials are finding the profile of a consumer covers a broad spectrum ranging from blue collar workers up to men of influence.

The first step in combating this problem, said Brantley, a nationally recognized expert on the subject, is understanding that a sexually exploited and trafficked child should not be viewed as a prostitute.

“There is no such thing as a child or teen prostitute,” she said. “Prostitution requires consent. Right now, this is considered a victimless crime. We have to change that.”

In Los Angeles County, the Probation Department has largely led the effort to recognize when a child is being trafficked. Currently, there are several county programs including the Department of Children and Family Services’ Compton Teen Task Force, which helps identify at-risk youth, the district attorney’s diversion program and a collaborative court program to help sexually exploited teens re-enroll in school, get counseling, receive advocacy services from other survivors and shelter.

Sometimes, obvious signs are missed as a result of a lack of knowledge, said Michelle Guymon, Director of Los Angeles’ Probation Department’s sex trafficking project. For instance, in workshops Guymon now stresses the importance of looking for signs of trafficking even if the cases are related to weapons or drug charges because many times, those suspects are also pimps. One giveaway? Too many seemingly underage girls hanging around.

“Human trafficking is what happened to kids in other countries. When I realized the kids I had worked with my whole career were actually victims of exploitation I said “Wow, how did I miss that?’” said Guymon. “You think you have everything covered and then you ask yourself ‘how did I not see what was staring at me right in the face?’”

They are also learning how pimps terrorize and control their victims. One chilling tactic that Brantley has noticed in Los Angeles is the tattooing of girls on the face so that if they escape, they are easily identifiable on the street and retrieved by their pimps. It is difficult to prosecute pimps and the consumers in part because the girls are scared of the consequences or are sometimes afflicted by Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological phenomenon where captives identify with their abuser.

Another tactic used by pimps is called “guerrilla pimping,” where an unsuspecting girl is snatched off the street, raped, drugged and then enslaved into sex trafficking.

The good news, however, is that Brantley and other advocates rely on survivors of sex trafficking as mentors and counselors to help victims out of the life. In Los Angeles, more than 60 girls are actively involved in survivor leadership programs. Being a survivor of sex trafficking herself, Brantley understands the power of turning her life around and then helping others heal.

“There is a lot of love out there. I love mentoring other survivors. It is a community we have developed,” she said. “It has been great and very rewarding.”

Homeless Count 2013

As the stars began to shine in the night sky Thursday, more than two dozen volunteers gathered around the table in the education room at Holman United Methodist Church in the West Adams neighborhood, eagerly waiting to hit the streets.

“We’re gonna get this done tonight, are we not?” said their site trainer Carolyn Fowler.

“Yes!” the group cheered.

The group was among the 5,000 volunteers who turned out in late January to participate in the 2013 Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s (LAHSA) biennial homeless count , which seeks to locate and count the men, women and children living in cars and tents, makeshift shelters or sleeping out in the open. During the four-day event, volunteers fanned out throughout Los Angeles County and covered more than 1,400 census tracts, making it the largest turnout ever in the biennial count’s fifth year history. Volunteers, who received training on how to identify homeless people and count them correctly without making assumptions about people who happened to be loitering or near makeshift shelter, were given pre-determined census tracts to canvass.

The count is essential for understanding and tracking how many people are living on the streets and what kind of services and housing will best help them in secure permanent shelter. In 2011, the effort revealed that more than 51,000 people in the county are homeless. In recent years, there has been a concerted effort by cities and the county to improve homeless services and become pro-active in getting people the help they need, said G. Michael Arnold, executive director of LAHSA.

“Local cities are really stepping up and trying to understand homelessness in their communities,” said Arnold. “They are trying to find solutions.”

Individuals, like Holman Senior Pastor, Rev. Kelvin Sauls, are also stepping up.

“We want to be with our brothers and sisters who happen to be homeless,” he said before the group began the count.

Ashley Wilson, who is making a documentary about the homeless, noted that homelessness is not a faraway concept in our society.
“It can happen to anyone,” she said.

Indeed, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas , who joined the group of volunteers in West Adams and Leimert Park, reminded volunteers that being homeless does not diminish a person’s right to compassion and care, saying, “We share a common belief that the dignity and worth of all people matters. They are God’s people and created in his image and likeness.”

The volunteers then fanned out across South Los Angeles until midnight, blanketing the area, using flashlights and maps to try to find homeless people living in parks, cars, trailers or alleys. Remnants of belongings, blankets, clothing, tents, bottles of vodka or beer, often were giveaways for encampments that had been temporarily abandoned. But by midnight, dozens of homeless people would appear in Leimert Park seeking safety in numbers under the brightly lit park palms.

As the Supervisor stood in night shadows of Leimert Park, an area that had suffered a long period of neglect but was redesigned when he was on the Los Angeles City Council in the 1990s, he noted the poignancy of seeing former classmates from his school days at Manual Arts High School, on the streets. Drug and alcohol dependency, mental illness or misfortune such as a health crisis or losing a home, play a large role in the downward spiral of many who never expect to find themselves sleeping out of doors, he said, adding, “It doesn’t get more real than this . These are members of our family, friends and associates, black, brown, yellow, red and white. This is sobering.”

As he ventured out of the park, a man who identified himself as A.J. approached. A.J., it turned out had been chronically homeless years ago and someone who Jeanette Rowe, director of homeless services for LAHSA, had met on the streets 20 years ago in Venice and Santa Monica.

Rowe, who was accompanying the Supervisor on the count, spoke of the long effort to help A.J. transition to indoor living.
“I tried so hard to get him into a shelter,” she recalled. “He told me how much he hated it and I said, ‘OK, you go back there and tell me tomorrow how much you hate it.’ After 90 days in the shelter, it is really hard to return to the street. You’ve lost your step.”

Today, A.J. has an apartment and is living with government assistance. He was selling recorders in the park and seemed to be doing well.

“Years ago, he was a mess,” said Rowe. And then as he walked away, giving her his telephone number, she smiled. One less person was on the street. She had done her job. “It is very rewarding to see that.”