Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas on receiving the National Foster Youth Institute’s 2017 Champion of Children and Youth Award

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas with foster youth and Rep. Karen Bass, founder of the National Foster Youth Institute at its 3rd Annual Evening of Learning and Celebration, hosted by former City Councilmember Wendy Gruel and Dean Schramm. The nonprofit organization  mobilizes grassroots support to reform and strengthen the child welfare system, and to create a brighter future for America’s foster youth and their families. All photos by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors.

“Thank you Congresswoman Bass for that warm introduction and for this honor. I also want to thank Wendy and Dean for hosting this event and welcoming us.

“It has been my distinct pleasure to support and partner with this organization on behalf of the thousands of youth in Los Angeles County who are in, or have exited, the child welfare system.

“When the Board of Supervisors convened the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection in 2013, we learned how important it was to a child’s well-being for all involved stakeholders to work in a complementary manner to achieve the same goals. The Board approved the Commission’s recommendations in 2014. That same year, the National Foster Youth Institute was founded by the Hon. Karen Bass. We’ve been running on parallel tracks ever since, taking on issues of substance, and working in a complementary manner to achieve the same goals.

“We have worked to dismantle the commercial sexual exploitation of children – CSEC – and its disproportionate impact on foster youth. Sixty percent of all child sex trafficking victims have histories in the child welfare system. Let me repeat that – 60 percent. This is unacceptable. NFYI has been working with policymakers to pass legislation aimed at protecting these youth. In the County, we have prioritized the identification and recovery of youth who are being trafficked by establishing the First Responder Protocol, which decriminalizes young people who, in the rest of the nation, are being arrested for prostitution. Make no mistake: there is no such thing as a child prostitute.

“NFYI is also taking on the critical need for permanent and stable housing for current and former foster youth in order to combat homelessness, the defining moral issue of our time. An average of one out of every four youth in foster care will become homeless within four years of aging out of foster care. LAHSA reports that 48 percent of young people experiencing homelessness in the County self-identify as having been involved in the child welfare or Probation systems. The County’s Homeless Initiative and Measure H will be instrumental in providing housing and supportive services to this population. As many of you know, the Measure H ¼ cent sales tax went into effect last Sunday. This will provide $5 million this fiscal year for services for transition-age youth, and $19 million next fiscal year. Over the next 5 years, Measure H is expected to house 45,000 people and prevent another 30,000 from becoming homeless.

“Lastly, NFYI is investing in and lifting up our greatest asset: the youth themselves. In Los Angeles County, current and former foster youth organized by NFYI are weighing in on important matters that directly affect them. They are helping to write the County’s Foster Youth Bill of Rights and form a Foster Youth Advisory Council to DCFS, presenting recommendations to the Commission for Children and Families and the Board of Supervisors.

“One of the best ways for us to champion youth issues is for us, as adults, to step back and give voice and power to our future generations, and this organization is getting that right. In closing, I want to thank the Board of Directors and staff of NFYI, and all the partners here tonight fighting for vulnerable youth across LA and across this country. And most of all, I salute every young person who has survived the trauma of being removed from his or her family. We owe it to them to do everything in our power to ensure they have the brightest of futures. Thank you again for this honor.”

Rep. Karen Bass, founder of the National Foster Youth Institute, addresses the audience at the 3rd Annual Evening of Learning and Celebration.