CASA Leader Brings Vision to Foster Care
By Dianne Anderson
Charity Chandler-Cole, Chief Executive Officer of CASA of Los Angeles, is well aware of all the racial and social injustices that plague the child welfare and foster systems.
After all, she grew up in it. She experienced the brunt of all that it offered, and saw the maze of exploitation and profiteering off the kids.
She couldn’t wait to get out, but when she turned 18, she was denied the right to leave the facility.
“They were taking the clothing allowance, the food allowance. There was trafficking happening in and out of the group home, and drugs. I ended up AWOL-ing from my group home,” she said. Her younger sisters were also caught up in the foster system. One of them is now a social worker and was recently featured in an HBO documentary.
For as hard as life was back then, she said the experience drove her to become the advocate she is today.
Probably the most pressing racial justice issue she sees is the way kids of color enter the system. Many are poor, they’re not necessarily abused, but she said mandatory reporting is not equipped or focused on ways to address poverty.
“All of that is tied to racial injustice implications in a system that was never designed for Black and Brown kids,” said Chandler-Cole, who serves as Chair of the Board for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, and Commissioner for LA County Children & Families where she also Co-Chairs its Racial Justice Committee.
Having lived on both sides of the foster system, she said the one good outcome lately is increased awareness of the extent of injustice in the system, mostly because it’s hard to ignore. Videotaping has come a long way, and it’s not just for the police system.
“People are starting to take notice because they have to, because there is an outcry, and you have people videotaping,” she said.
Another change from the old days is that today there is more of an emphasis on injustice. Black Lives Matter has created awareness, which spurred entities like the County Board Supervisors to offer several motions addressing anti-racism, focused on child welfare for Black and Brown kids.
“Social responsibility rolled out as a result of it being in the limelight, and the media. Kids dying in foster care or being abused. Our world has been forced to see the injustice and respond to it,” she said.
However, more prevention is needed. She said social workers are overworked and unable to handle huge caseloads. Big money flows through the system, but it’s not getting where it’s needed. There is not enough communication between providers and duplication of services. She said some organizations may be well-intentioned, but not experienced.
In her own life, she feels if she had access to CASA programs to look at her life through the context of family needs, things would have been much different.
“My family was poor, we were struggling, my mother was going through mental health issues. They would have provided services for me. It would have completely changed the trajectory of my life,” she said.
Chandler-Cole has earned her Masters in Public Administration, and is currently working on her doctorate in the field of Educational Leadership for Social Justice.
It’s been a long time coming, but she said people who look like her, those with “lived experience” are no longer serving at the bottom, but leading at the top. Her vision for CASA LA is to build awareness around racial and social justice issues.
“For me, it’s expanding our volunteer base, support more youth, and really using it as a platform to inform the community on the various injustices we’re seeing. In our community, so many people don’t know about the foster care system,” she said.
As it stands, she said about 60% of calls reported to the hotline are for neglect, but the system is not training workers on how to respond to poverty issues, which is at the base of the problem.
“Our system caters to the idea that Black and Brown parents specifically do not know how to take care of their children – we don’t know how to parent, we’re abusive, but it doesn’t focus on poverty at all, and the things that lead neglect,” she said.
The system doles out millions of dollars to strangers to care for kids and provide inadequate services. She said if the funds were allocated to support the community to help kids, it could restore the community to a place of health and wholeness.
On average, CASA volunteers serve ten to 15 hours a month. They must be at least 21 years old, and pass a background test. Volunteers will learn each step of the process through a six to eight-week course.
“You don’t have to have a background in child welfare, you just have to have a heart, and ready to support a child,” she said. “It’s mainly just showing up and being present, and letting the world know this child is not to be messed with, they have someone in their corner and have their backs.”
Congresswoman Karen Bass (CA-37) said that Ms. Chandler Cole is the right leader at the perfect time for CASA/LA.
“Charity’s leadership and communications skills coupled with her background and life experiences will help CASA/LA develop strategic alliances,” Rep. Bass said. “As a woman of color who was in the foster care system herself, she is very sensitive to the needs of those who are disenfranchised, people of color, and those impacted by the foster care system. She is a visionary, who will be a tireless champion for the program and the children and families they serve.”
To learn more about CASA Volunteer opportunities, https://casala.org/