Saturday, July 07, 2007

Anti-meth campaign is an attempt to keep families together

Anti-meth program offers help, hope
Muller, Heath. Erkeka Reporter, June 27, 2007.

Methamphetamine affects everyone, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors was told Tuesday during an update on the county’s anti-methamphetamine campaign, sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services.

And “everyone” is the target group of a series of TV, radio and newspaper advertisements announcing the number of a new methamphetamine hotline.

“We’re reaching family members who have a loved one with a problem,” said Leslie Lollich, DHHS public education and outreach officer. “We’re reaching users who are calling for treatment options, neighbors who may have a lab down the street and are calling for solutions and people who are concerned about children being exposed.”

Radio ads began in April, with TV ads rolling out in June.

Lollich said the volume of calls to the hotline is increasing — and confirms that the campaign is reaching a broad audience.

Craig Hill, senior program manager for the county’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Programs, told the board calls have come in from Arcata, Eureka, Ferndale and McKinleyville, with callers seeking treatment, Neighborhood Watch information, support and referral information for friends and family and assistance in contacting child welfare services.

One caller simply thanked campaign organizers for their efforts.

“I don’t have any problems with meth, but I know it’s just destroyed a lot of families,” stated a transcript of the call. “It’s a huge problem. Thank you for the ad.”

Mike Goldsby, program manager for Health Education, said the visual imagery of the advertisements was carefully chosen.

“There are many disturbing images associated with methamphetamine addiction, and we did not use that imagery,” he said. “We wanted to avoid glamorizing the use of methamphetamine, and we wanted to avoid stereotyping users. Many methamphetamine users do not fit the stereotypes.

“We hope that this effort gets people to realize that we are all affected by methamphetamines, directly or indirectly, and we can all get involved in the solutions.”

Lollich said an “average-looking” family was chosen for the TV spots, to convey the message that methamphetamine problems can happen to anyone, and that recovery is possible.

Despite the devastating effects of methamphetamine on communities, families and individuals, the message of the campaign is ultimately optimistic.

“We want to encourage youth,” Goldsby said. “If you haven’t used meth, don’t start. We want to encourage adults. If you’ve started using meth, get help and stop now.”

Hill reiterated the message in his closing remarks to the board.

“Thank you for your support and encouragement in letting the community know that there is help and hope for those affected by methamphetamine.”

The number for the methamphetamine hotline is 707-476-4054.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Ventura needs to support youth aging out of foster care

Agency helps foster kids ease transition
Emancipating youths receive financial assistance

Wilson, Kathleen. Ventura County Star, July 5, 2007.

Photos by Dana Rene Bowler / Star staff Arturo Vargas, left, independent living program coordinator for Ventura County, helps Sam Shorter move into his Oxnard apartment Thursday. The county Human Services Agency is giving the emancipated youth a hand.

Sam Shorter is getting a hand up as he ventures out.

He's 18, the age by which the law expects foster children to leave care and support themselves. Some wind up homeless amid the county's high housing costs, but officials now have the money to help a handful put roofs over their heads for up to two years.

"This is the first time we have had specific money to go out and rent housing for them,"
said Debbie Barber, spokeswoman for the county Human Services Agency.

The money can go toward utility bills, deposits and food, as well as rent, Barber said.

The agency has $223,000 to aid five foster youths emancipating from the county system. About 50 youths leave care each year after turning 18.

Shorter moved into an apartment in Oxnard on Thursday. Two more are due to move into apartments in Oxnard this month. Two others will be able to stay with their foster families after emancipating, and the money will be used to offset government subsidies the families will lose.

It's not an easy transition, Shorter said.

"I can deal with it," said the young man, who lived with an aunt and in a group home after his mother's death in 1998. "It's more like you gotta do what you gotta do."

Shorter, a high school graduate who had been living in transitional housing in Thousand Oaks, said he will be looking for a job. The emancipated youths are expected to find work and start contributing to expenses within six months, Barber said.

Human Services Agency Director Ted Myers says there's growing awareness that foster kids need help when they move out on their own.

The state has recently begun putting more money into the cause, with legislators removing a requirement that counties provide a local match for the special housing funds.

But an effort to triple state funding from $4.8 million to $15 million failed in the budget breakdown last week between Republican legislators and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"It would have been great," Myers said. "We are very disappointed."

Still, the county has the money to start the program this year. The Interface agency in Camarillo offered housing subsidies in the past, but the program ended with a cut in federal funding a few years ago.

Myers said most kids aren't ready to live on their own at 18, let alone those who have been in foster care. The youths usually come from homes in which they were abused or neglected, plus they have lived under the restrictions of foster care.

Many, for example, lack driver's licenses because foster parents don't have the time or fear the liability of teaching them to drive. Others lack job experience because they don't have transportation.

Myers said the Ventura County youths will get counseling in how to become independent, plus subsidies for the housing that's critical to becoming adults.

"When they're having trouble finding housing, it's also correlated with them having trouble finding employment, access to medical care, financing an education," he said. "A home is crucial to all our transition to adulthood. This would give them that base."

Woman held in foster child's death
Perry, Tony. Los Angeles Times, July 4, 2007.

SAN DIEGO — San Diego police arrested a 47-year-old woman Tuesday night on suspicion of killing a 2-year-old foster child in her care.

Linda Coleman, who lives in the Mountain View neighborhood, was booked into the Las Colinas women's jail on one count of murder, police said. She surrendered voluntarily, police said.

Malachi Roberts-McBride died Friday at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego. He had been rushed there Wednesday night by paramedics. An autopsy Sunday revealed that the child suffered several bruises to his body and a "devastating" brain injury, police said. The cause of death was listed as blunt-force trauma.

Homicide detectives, after interviewing Coleman, concluded the child's injuries "were inconsistent with the version of events she presented," police said.

The initial investigation was conducted by child-abuse detectives. When the child's death appeared to be imminent, the case was switched to the homicide division.

San Diego County has more than 6,000 children in the foster-care program, second only to Los Angeles County. The average child waits three years before a permanent home is found.

San Pasqual Academy grads happy to receive gifts on wheels
Richardson, Darcy Leigh. San Diego Union Tribune, July 4, 2007.

ESCONDIDO – For some high school graduates, getting a car from mom and dad is an expectation.

For four foster teens who graduated from San Pasqual Academy last week, receiving brand-new cars was a step toward achieving their goals for the future.

The graduates don't have their driver's licenses yet, but to them, learning to drive is just one more challenge to overcome before they start college in the fall.

San Pasqual Academy is a residential school for foster teens who are dependents of the San Diego County Juvenile Court system. Students attend classes, play sports, organize social events and do chores in the residences.

For the second year in a row, New Alternatives, the nonprofit that administers the academy's residential program, presented cars to outstanding graduates chosen for their citizenship, leadership and academic excellence. New Alternatives partnered with Drew Ford and Drew Hyundai of La Mesa to provide cars for four graduates and one alumna of the academy. New Alternatives also is paying for one year of auto insurance for each recipient.

“In California, a car is essential to survival,” said Barbara Waldon, program director for the academy. “A car is a necessity, not a luxury. For these kids who don't have the support of a family, it's very difficult for them to have the financial means to buy a car.”

John Cauthron, 18, will drive a red Ford Focus to San Diego State University, where he will attend summer school and become a full-time student in the fall. John has been in the foster care system since he was 7 months old.

San Pasqual Academy is a residential education campus in Escondido for foster teens. The academy provides foster teens with a stable home, individualized education and the skills needed for independent living.

The campus opened in October 2001 and can accommodate 135 students between the ages of 12 and 18.

There are 27 graduates in the Class of 2007. Eight will attend four-year universities and 10 are enrolled at community colleges.

For information, go to

“I want to study biochemistry because my aunt's partner had AIDS and died,” John said. “I want to do research and be influential in developing medications.”

John lived with a foster family in Ramona, but when he was 15, the family decided to move to Texas. Since John has a younger brother in San Diego County, he did not want to leave the area and started high school at San Pasqual Academy.

“Every graduation is usually emotional; I see it as the beginning of the end,” John said. “Now the true test begins. I am very independent, but I am thankful for the help I received to make college possible. My heart started pounding really fast when I was handed the keys.”

Ashley Rapp, 18, has attended San Pasqual Academy since October. She described receiving her purple Hyundai Accent as “a shock.”

“You should have been there to see my face,” Ashley said. “I still can't get over how excited I am. This summer I'm going to get a job and start classes at Palomar in the fall.”

Ashley wants to be a physical therapist. She described her senior year at the academy as “stressful but good.”

“Growing up was hard,” Ashley said. “I've been in the (foster care) system since I was 12 because my mother abused us. My younger brother and sister are able to be close to me because they go to San Pasqual Academy, too.”

Linh Quang, 17, will attend Palomar College to study kinesiology. Linh's maroon Hyundai Elantra will be her transportation to work, so she won't have to rely on others for rides anymore.

She said she begged the residential managers at school for a car as a graduation present, but didn't expect to receive one.

“When I first came (to the academy) I didn't try that hard,” Linh said. “But I've learned that you have to think before you do anything and that you just have to work hard and stay focused on what you want.”

Linh has attended San Pasqual Academy for three years. She said it was difficult to concentrate and get good grades before she came to the academy.

“I've been in the foster care system since I was 10,” Linh said. “My stepdad used to beat us.”

Ortisha Jones, 17, graduated from San Pasqual Academy with her older brother, Michael Fields. She plans to study kinesiology at Cal State San Marcos in the fall because she loves sports.

Ortisha had planned to take the written exam to receive her learner's permit June 28 so she could practice for her driving test in her white Hyundai Elantra.

Ortisha has been in and out of the foster care system since second grade. Growing up, she was responsible for her younger sisters.

“Having a car is great,” Ortisha said. “I thought I might get a laptop for graduation, but I'm happy with a car. It'll make things a lot easier.”

Nicole Peterson, 20, the alumna who received a tan-colored Hyundai Elantra, is in the academy's transitional living program for graduates who need assistance after high school.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

LA Youth Workshop Seeks Volunteers

The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company is seeking volunteers for upcoming youth performance workshops in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Volunteers will help underserved kids from foster care and the juvenile justice system write and perform an original play.

The company is seeking professional actors for staged readings of workshop plays, a one-day commitment. Other volunteer opportunities include mentor artists who will oversee an entire 6-12-week workshop, tech staff, and front of house assistants. All volunteers must attend an orientation and undergo a background check.

Upcoming workshops will take place at Narbonne High School in Harbor City (Jul. 10-Aug. 18), Camp David Gonzales in Calabasas (Jul. 21-Sept. 29), Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility in Chino (Aug. 29- Nov. 3), and Pacoima Elementary School in Pacoima (Sept 11-Oct 20).

To volunteer, email your résumé and cover letter to Kristen at or fax to (310) 558-3190.

For more information, please visit:

"There Are No Gangs Up Here on this Stage"
A Los Angeles theater group helps kids in the juvenile-justice system and foster care create dramas of their own design.

Baedeker, Rob.

"I was locked up in a juvenile-camp facility," says "D.," a seventeen-year-old former resident of the Los Angeles County Probation Department's Camp Gonzalez, in Calabasas, California. "The Unusual Suspects came to the camp and did a presentation. It was an improv, and I thought it was funny. I like humor. I was interested."

D. signed on for the program of intensive workshops with the Unusual Suspects, a nonprofit organization of professional artists in Los Angeles that works with young people, ages 12-21, in the area's foster-care and juvenile-justice systems. For three months, D. and eleven others at Camp Gonzalez met twice a week with volunteers and teaching artists from the Unusual Suspects to develop, write, and rehearse an original play. Last May, they performed their own sci-fi gangster thriller (about 1920s bootleggers who meet a chicken-zapping warrior android from the future) for the other youths at the detention facility, and then for a public audience.

"During the show for the other minors that were locked up, we were nervous and didn't stick to the script -- we had to make up some of the lines," D. says. "The next day, we did it for outside people, and our lines were on cue."

"It was the best show they've seen at Camp Gonzalez," says Sally Fairman, executive director of the Unusual Suspects. She explains that for many of the kids in the juvenile-detention system (and in the foster homes the Unusual Suspects coach), the experience of performing can be transformative.

"They go through an intense experience in twelve weeks, and when they come out the other end, people watch their play and stand up and cheer," Fairman adds. "You see the kids standing there, receiving positive energy from the community -- and these are marginalized teens -- and now they're thinking, 'Maybe I can be part of this community.'"

Because the Los Angeles County Arts Commission approved the Unusual Suspects's curriculum and it meets the state's education standards for the visual and performing arts, participants in the juvenile centers can receive community-service credit to reduce their probation time. But Fairman says the purpose of the program is much broader.

"We're providing not only the academic skills -- by meeting state standards, and through work in theater education, literacy, and public speaking -- but we are also targeting anger management and social skills," she explains. "We're teaching the kids to rely on themselves and others, and to set goals and achieve them. We're working to increase social consciousness. We're working with kids from different races and gang affiliations. All of those things are happening while they're getting these academic skills. That's why this program is successful."

Race to the Stage
Racial tensions were the catalyst for the group's creation, says founder and current board chair Laura Leigh Hughes.

"It came out of the riots in Los Angeles in 1992," she says. "I wanted to try to do something about racial tension and racial intolerance. I've always felt that youths were affected the most by these issues, and I wanted to find a way to empower them and give them a voice."

Hughes, an actress, rallied friends in the industry and created the Unusual Suspects, mounting the troupe's first show with a group of teenagers in the foster-care system.

A friend subsequently connected her with LA's Central Juvenile Hall, which, Hughes says, introduced the Unusual Suspects to a group of high-risk male offenders and what she calls a "whole new world" of gang and racial tensions.

After the group's first show at Central Juvenile Hall, Hughes explains, one of the young performers took the microphone and addressed the other incarcerated youths in the audience. "He said, 'There are no gangs up here on this stage. We're a family. We've done some things we regret, and we have to stop killing each other.'

"We were working with rival gang members," Hughes adds, "and racial tensions dropped after we worked with them."

D. also spoke about how creating and producing a show affected the racial dynamics in his group. "There was a situation where we were all in a circle of chairs, talking about the play in general," D. says of one of the first production meetings. "All of the Unusual Suspects staff was on one side of the circle, all the blacks were on another side, and the Hispanics were on another side. I stood up and said, 'Everybody move.'"

No one noticed that they had segregated themselves, but the group became more integrated at each subsequent meeting. "At first, it was kind of shaky," D. recalls. "We really didn't get along. It was a different and diverse group of people. Toward the end of play, we may not have all been best friends, but we were getting along."

Jamie Diamond, a journalist who has volunteered for several productions, says groups often show a marked transformation during the twelve weeks they're together. When a new group is being formed and has its initial meeting, she says, "twelve to fifteen boys walk into a freezing-cold gym with no windows, wearing orange uniforms, not looking at us, and hitting each other. And we do theater games with them."

But three months later, after they've performed the show, Diamond adds, the kids know they can work as a group. "There's a spirit of 'We've done something together -- we came every week and we pulled this off,'" she says. "They may not pull off school or reading, but they pull this off. It's kind of an alternate grid upon which they can succeed."

The Plot Thickens
As the Unusual Suspects celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this year, Fairman says the organization, funded through a combination of donations, government grants, and contributions from its partner facilities, is experiencing tremendous growth.

"We went from two programs a year in 2004 to ten this year, and we think we're reaching a tipping point," she says. "We're predicting demand will double." Fairman adds that LA city officials have recently called for alternative approaches to dealing with increasing levels of gang violence in the area. "We are a leader in this field,” she says, "and the attention is on us."

The organization's plans include a pilot program with fifth graders from an area where many kids are exposed to gangs by the age of nine. And this fall, the Unusual Suspects will begin a new program at Orange County's Camp Glenn Rockey juvenile facility, where they'll collaborate with teachers there by spending time in the classroom during the school day. This is a first, as theater productions at other detention camps for juveniles have traditionally -- and strictly -- been extracurricular.

Another goal of the Unusual Suspects is to expand its alumni program -- a network of kids mentoring each other and coaching each others' transition back into the community. One alumnus who has stayed closely tied to that network is Richard Morgan. In 1998, after visiting a friend in a foster-care facility where an Unusual Suspects's workshop was under way, Morgan joined the program and soon performed in his first show.

"My high school did not have an arts program -- there was no theater, no space to dance, and no place to really write," Morgan says. He remembers that when he saw what the Unusual Suspects were up to, he got hooked the first day.

Morgan now works as a paid program coordinator for the nonprofit organization, and after performing in several productions and working on many more, he has begun to see some patterns emerge.

"A lot of the kids are shy, or some have a little chip on shoulder, for whatever reason," Morgan says. "They don't know what to expect. What's great is seeing them come in with an attitude of 'I don't know why I'm here, and I don't care,' and then take on the responsibility of a whole show they wrote. It transforms them into leaders."

Rob Baedeker is a writer and performer living in Berkeley, California. He is a former college English instructor and the author, with the Kasper Hauser comedy group, of SkyMaul: The Catalog Parody.

Monday, July 02, 2007

LA County's child care system slammed by grand jury
San Jose Mercury News, June 30, 2007.

LOS ANGELES—Los Angeles County is putting some abused and threatened children at risk by diverting money from a prevention program and failing to share information about kids in custody, a grand jury concluded.

The civil panel issued its annual report on county services Friday, which cited perceived shortcomings of the county's child protection system.

It said the Department of Children and Family Services diverted money from an abuse-prevention program to pay for a 17-percent jump in employee pay and benefits.

Some money also was used to pay increased fees for foster-care agencies and foster parents—and also to pay federal fines over late inspections of foster homes.

The grand jury also concluded that the system by which agencies share information about children in county custody "is not adequate, and, indeed puts some children unnecessarily at risk."

The panel also said it was concerned that the number of children killed in the county rose from 15 in 2003 to 53 last year.

The 2003 deaths involved children killed by family members or foster parents and that figure was down to just four in 2006 but the other deaths were mainly attributed to gang-related shootings, said Trish Ploehn, director of the Department of Children and Family Services.

Photo from
Former foster-care child ready to change system
Snapp, Martin. Contra Costa Times, June 30, 2007.

NIETZSCHE SAID, "Whatever does not destroy me, makes me stronger."

Nobody embodies that maxim more than Lily Dorman-Colby of Berkeley. She was dealt a hand you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy -- in and out of foster homes since she was 12.

At one point she was in five different homes in just two years, and one of those foster "mothers" made Cruella De Vil look like Mary Poppins.

She forced Lily to make appointments to use the bathroom and refused to sign her tests to show that she'd seen them.

When Lily was 14 she persuaded the authorities to let her take care of herself. She wore hand-me-down clothes from her friends and learned to feed herself on only $100 a month.

Despite these obstacles, she graduated from Berkeley High in 2005 with a straight-A average and a perfect 800 on her math SAT. But she was much prouder of the 690 she got on the verbal section, because she's dyslexic.

She was also a star on the wrestling team and was named the sixth-best female wrestler in the country.

You'd think the other students would be jealous, but Lily is so sweet and down-to-earth, they just rooted for her instead. They elected her to represent them as the student member of the Berkeley School Board.

The adults on the board fell in love with her.

"State law forbade us from counting her vote," said board member Nancy Riddle. "But we had such respect for Lily's judgment, we listened very carefully to everything she said."

She got scholarship offers from the top schools in the country, including Harvard and Princeton. But she turned them down to go to Yale because the students there reminded her of her friends in Berkeley.

So how did she do it? Lily would say she had a lot of help along the way, including a loving woman named Zada Flowers, who runs a small church in East Oakland; a wise and generous foster mom named Melia Bosworth; and a kindly math teacher named Mr. Dozier, who offered to sign her tests when the bad foster mother wouldn't.

"Just call me Uncle Dozier," he said.

But the truth is that the person who rescued Lily was Lily herself. In fifth grade she was in danger of flunking out after missing 52 days of school. But during the summer she realized it was either sink or swim. So she decided to swim.

The next year she missed only two days and won an award for most improved student.

Now that she's finished her sophomore year at Yale, she's going to take a leave of absence for a year to help other youths in her situation. This summer, she's setting up a pilot project and writing a handbook to teach children in foster care how to apply to college. Only 3 percent of foster children ever go to college, and Lily intends to change that.

Then she'll return to Berkeley for a year to mentor disadvantaged students at Berkeley High. Only 600 of the 900 students in her high school class actually graduated, and she intends to change that, too.

She calls her foster-children project Children in Placement, under the aegis of an umbrella group called the City Wide Youth Coalition. If you'd like to help, tax-deductible donations can be sent to City Wide Youth Coalition, P.O. Box 354, New Haven, CT 06513. You can find out more by visiting

Typically, Lily doesn't want any money for herself. Like Franklin D. Roosevelt, she's one of those rare people whose own suffering has made them more sympathetic to the suffering of others.

The comparison is apt. Like FDR, she's a natural leader. After graduation, she intends to change the foster care system -- first in California and then throughout the county. And I wouldn't bet against her.

But the haunting question is: How many other Lilys are out there in foster care, falling through the cracks in the meantime?