LA nonprofit that helps traumatized youth expands

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As social welfare programs get the axe, a century-old Los Angeles nonprofit just broke ground on a 48,000 square foot center just west of downtown L.A. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez says the agency provides mental health and trauma services for young people.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: The five children in the Sanford household in Compton are at school, so it’s quiet in the house. But show up at 8 in the morning, says Carolyn Sanford, and you’ll hear something completely different.

Carolyn Sanford: Just as you think you have one child ready to go out the door, there’s another child that’s absolutely haven’t done anything, and you’re thinking, 'Why aren’t you ready, it’s time to go.'

Guzman-Lopez: Fifty-one-year-old Carolyn Sanford married 61-year-old Joseph Sanford eight years ago after both had brought up separate families. Four years ago they became loving legal guardians to the kids after authorities took them away from their parents.

Carolyn Sanford: My brother and the mom were involved as high school sweethearts a long time ago. They had a child together and after that the children kept coming. And she had 10 children, not all by my brother of course. Years later things happened to her and her family which resulted in the children being taken.

Guzman-Lopez: The oldest was 7 years old, and the youngest, 9 months old. The second oldest would throw three-hour temper tantrums. When he was six years old he threatened to kill himself. Their therapist, George Sachs, says these children faced more trauma in their first few years than many people do in a lifetime.

George Sachs: There was physical abuse and emotional abuse. There was abuse by older siblings. These children are one of five, of 10 children – there was reports that the mother was using drugs, they were homeless for a period of time. And then there was a house fire which caused the death of one of the 10 siblings.

Guzman-Lopez: Sachs works for the Children’s Institute, a founded 103 years ago by L.A.’s first female probation officer. These days it serves 15,000 young people in L.A. County. The Sanfords say the center’s free in-home therapy and parenting classes have turned around their kids’ behavior. Private donations and grants paid for the services.

Children’s Institute operates four L.A. County facilities with a $34 million budget. The organization’s in the process of doubling the number of children it serves.

Colleen Bell: Today at this ceremonious groundbreaking, the shovels that all of you hold are not held in your hands but in your hearts.

Guzman-Lopez: Colleen Bell, a Children’s Institute board member, spoke to donors and public officials gathered to launch the $21 million rehab of a cluster of buildings near Temple and Alvarado streets. When it’s finished in a year, the center will offer free or low-cost therapy and enrichment classes for children and parents.

Many children in this and other high-poverty neighborhoods need psychological services, says L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services medical director Charles Sophy. Budget cuts are forcing his department to cut services. He says the Children’s Institute may plug some of those holes.

Charles Sophy: That’s what we’re hoping, that a lot of our private providers have enough of their own resources that they can kind of close those budget shortfalls for us and be able to not have a big gap in the continuum of service delivery.

Guzman-Lopez: Sophy says neighborhood access to those services is crucial. Unless they’re located within walking distance of where a child lives, the best care and counseling won’t do much good.