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New program aims to prevent foster kids from repeating their parents' mistakes

Lola Bell entered California's foster care system at age 2. As foster children age out of the system, they're often left without support networks--which can be especially difficult for those who have children themselves.
Lola Bell entered California's foster care system at age 2. As foster children age out of the system, they're often left without support networks--which can be especially difficult for those who have children themselves.
Courtesy: Alliance for Children's Rights

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Tuesday on funding a program targeting foster kids who are pregnant or raising babies and aims to stop the cycle of abuse and neglect.

The costs for the two-year pilot program would total about $202,000 and would be paid from funds set aside from birth certificate fees.

The program, run by Imagine L.A., a nonprofit that works with homeless families, would target young parents who age out of the foster care system at 21. It would pair the parents with at least five volunteers who could do anything from providing tutoring and helping to open up bank accounts, to picking up kids from soccer practice.

Harvey Kawasaki of the Department of Children and Family Services said many young adults depend on their parents to help with those kinds of things when they have children of their own. But these youths, who are aging out of foster care, don't necessarily have that relationship. 

"Having a family-mentoring service is creating a surrogate family," Kawasaki said.

He said the idea is unique in L.A., as most DCFS programs deal with either responding to reports of child abuse or preventing it from reoccurring. This project would target the children of former foster children, something that hasn't been done before. An estimated 200 foster youth in L.A. County are parents themselves.

"In some sense, this project is trying to test out whether or not this family-mentoring model will prevent intergenerational child abuse," Kawasaki said.

Participants in the pilot could also receive federally funded rental assistance vouchers, if they qualify based on income and background checks. 

Kawasaki said the plan is to evaluate how the program is working from the start, then pitch an expansion if it works well. He said a nonprofit research group has already offered to do the monitoring for free.

The initial pilot will target families in a 15-mile radius around Hollywood, which is where Imagine L.A. has run similar programs geared toward homeless families in the past.