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County Promises To Address Inequalities In Foster System, Especially Among African Americans

Share Harris of the People's Alliance For Justice speaks outside the county administration building downtown, July 1, 2020.
Roland Lizarondo
Share Harris of the People's Alliance For Justice speaks outside the county administration building downtown, July 1, 2020.

The County of San Diego is partnering with The People’s Alliance for Justice, promising to address inequalities in the foster care system.

"Here in San Diego we stand for all of our children, and today marks a very important milestone in now further making progress in the lives of all children," said Nick Macchione, the county's health and human services director.

County Promises To Address Inequalities In Foster System, Especially Among African Americans
Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.

The county has entered into a memorandum of agreement (MOA) that promises they will join the People's Alliance For Justice in recruiting families of color to join the foster system and provide them with the necessary resources to do it.

"We need to get African American children, and every other child, back to their families," said Shane Harris, who leads the People's Alliance for Justice. "The goal of child welfare was never to keep children running in the cycle of instability, but it always to rebuild stability."

Only about 5.5% of San Diegans identify as Black or African American, yet 20% of children in the foster system are Black.

"Disproportionately represented," Harris said.

VIDEO: County Promises To Address Inequalities In Foster System, Especially Among African Americans

Harris was a part of the foster system himself, and said many African Americans are not placed with family members, disparities he has seen first-hand.

"13 years in our county’s child welfare system, 8 different placements, losing both of my parents — this is not a partisan issue — this is a painful issue," Harris said.

Three town halls are also planned to recruit volunteers and foster parents in the next year.

"There’s about 3,000 foster children on any given day in and Promises2Kids one way or another touches almost all the kids," said Tonya Torosian, CEO of Promises2Kids.

Torosian says it is important for foster youth to have role models that look like them, and they are working to diversify.

"Our case managers have to look and relate culturally, ethnically to our youth," Torosian said.

Officials say the community can help.

"Nonprofits are grappling with the issue of how do we address systemic challenges when it comes to system-wide racism or bias," Torosian said. "And so any support the community can provide in guiding us and joining with us to make sure that we can tear down those barriers is appreciated. This is something we can’t solve alone, but something that we have to solve as a community."

Torosian says right now the pandemic is making it especially tough for foster youth who are aging out of the system.

"What we’re finding is because all of the schools have been shutting down, they’re left without family support like a lot of other children may have," she said.

As part of this new county partnership with the People’s Alliance for Justice, officials are looking to diversify their own staff.

"Having more service providers, therapists who can serve our parents and children of various races and ethnicities — making sure we have mentors for our youth," said Kimberly Giardina who leads the county's child welfare services department.

The first community recruitment event will happen virtually in August.