South L.A. residents and advocates called on L.A. County Director of Children and Family Services Philip Browning to prioritize kinship care at a town hall meeting Monday. Specifically, attendees wanted Browning to promise to relocate one of the L.A. County Kinship Resource Centers from its current location in Culver City to one in South L.A.
Kinship, or relative, care is the arrangement by which a person takes care of their family or friend's children. In 2011, approximately half of the minors in the child welfare system were under relative care, 25 percent of whom were local to South L.A., according to the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services.
About 100 relative caregivers and representatives from relevant advocacy groups attended the meeting, many of whom expressed concern about the inaccessibility of the current resource center's location as well as its lack of resources.They seemed eager to have their questions answered and to hear Browning's speech.
"I agree this has been a long time coming," Browning told the audience. "And its not here yet."
The announcement was bittersweet for attendees, who were also promised a new resource center by the previous DCFS director. While Browning said he is committed to relocating the resource center to South L.A., he added that he does not know where and when the move will take place.
The meeting was hosted by the Community Coalition, a political agency which supports people in South L.A. The coalition offers various services, including hosting regular meetings for relative caregivers.
"We feel like there is definitely progress in the right direction," said Joseph Devall, director of organizing and kinship at Community Coaltion. "But we definitely would like a stronger commitment from Director Browning to see the process from start to end."
Doris James is a relative caregiver who started taking care of her 12-year-old grandson, Sirron, when he was just two weeks old, after his mother was found with crack cocaine in her system. She explained that he has ADHD and that she has struggled figuring out his treatment options.
"Raising Sirron has been a challenge," she said. James, who first visited the resource center last week, said she was mad that she had not heard of the resource center sooner than she did. However, she was disappointed upon touring it.
"Overall the resource center just seemed sad," James told the audience. She explained that the building was largely empty, with few employees and no families present when she toured the facility.
James and several other relative caregivers explained the features they would like to see at the new resource center, including space for meetings and workshops, mental health services and activities for the children. Both the caregivers and Browning seemed to agree that the new resource center must be an improved version of the one in Culver City.
"We want to be a first class operation to assist relative caregivers," Browning said. He added that he wants the new facility to have tutoring, internet access and counselors available to support caregivers' needs.
The county continues to look for a location for the new resource center with the community's support. However, Browning declined to specify his budget for the new building.
"Anytime we locate a piece of property and the landlord knows the county is interested, the price goes up," he said.
Even without a resource center, James said she knows she can get support at the Community Coalition's center.
"Whatever challenges I face, I know I have a group that backs me up," she said.