Former Long Beach foster child interns for Kamala Harris, writes foster care policy paper
Tiffany Boyd may be “the lucky one” of her seven siblings, but she doesn’t like that label. She’d rather every kid in the foster system be supported and have someone in their corner.
The 29-year-old Long Beach woman served as an intern for Sen. Kamala Harris this summer, and as part of that work, has written a portion of a 74-page policy paper advocating for a national standard for quality of services for foster youth. The paper, penned by a dozen former foster youth across the country, was recently presented to members of Congress, staff and child welfare advocates.
“At what point do we get to quality of care as far as having a normal experience as a child and not a foster child?” Boyd said in an interview. “Normalcy is what you needed as a child, what your children need and what every child needs, whether they’re in the system or not.”
Boyd, who is finishing her bachelor’s degree in public administration at Cal State Dominguez Hills, wrote a paper titled, “Simply Put: We Deserve Quality.” In it, she advocates:
• Establishing an expert panel in the Department of Health and Human Services with researchers, program directors, parents and youth to reassess the review process of state child welfare services.
• For Congress to examine the outcomes of the state review process and develop incentives for states that exceed the standards in quality foster care.
• For Congress to require each state agency to create a commission with stakeholders in the foster care community, including current and former foster youth.
Growing up in the projects
Boyd spent her early years in the Carmelitos Housing Project in North Long Beach. Her father died when she was 5, and her mother was diagnosed schizophrenic.
Her mom was struggling to provide for Boyd and her six siblings, so she contacted a county program designed to help families in need, asking for bunk beds. When a social worker came to the house, Boyd’s mom was deemed unfit to care for the children, and they were taken away.
Boyd, who was 9 at the time, said that decision sent her mom spiraling into a nervous breakdown. She was unable to regain custody.
“My mother needed help, she didn’t necessarily need her children taken away, in my opinion, but I’m not a social worker,” Boyd said.
Neil Zanville, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, could only speak generally about the process of removing children from a home. He said that the decision is never made lightly.
“It’s all about safety,” he said. “And even that can become very dimensional.”
Zanville added that the system is better equipped now to offer support for children and parents with mental health issues than it was 20 years ago when Boyd was going through it.
At the time, she was placed in custody of her grandmother, where she would often stay anyway before the separation. But her grandmother wasn’t able to care for all of her siblings, and they were eventually placed in group homes and other foster care facilities.
Boyd said these were extremely difficult years; in elementary school, she said she practically had her own desk in the principal’s office. In junior high, she had some run-ins with the law and was arrested a few times.
“She had that unconditional love that I needed and she didn’t really have the energy, at her old age, to be the disciplinarian that I needed in many cases,” Boyd said.
In her junior year of high school, Boyd said she started to get her life together — “at least a little bit.” She began turning her grades around, joined clubs and got involved in youth leadership programs. Boyd became the first in her family to graduate high school, and is now almost finished with her college degree.
But not all foster kids get there. While half of foster kids graduate high school and 20 percent attend college, only 2 to 9 percent actually obtain their bachelor’s degree, according to the Legal Center for Foster Care and Education.
And according to the Alliance for Children’s Rights, half of foster youth who have aged out of foster systems end up in jail or homeless.
Boyd hopes to change that. She works with foster kids every week at the National Foster Youth Institute, a support program. She wants to eventually start her own nonprofit organization focusing on the more at-risk foster kids. Boyd says it can take a long time to build trust with any foster youth, but especially the ones who come with a history of discipline problems.
As one of those tough kids herself, Boyd credits several mentors throughout her life who took the time to build her trust and supported her when she needed it most. She met one of those mentors, Wende Nichols-Julien, at a youth leader development program when she was 15. Nichols-Julien, who is the chief executive officer of the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Los Angeles, said Boyd is the reason she’s in her line of work and became a foster parent herself.
“Tiffany has a really intelligent and thoughtful view about reform of child welfare,” Nichols-Julien said. “… What her policy is about is making sure that the right voices are being heard in making these decisions — at the federal level, the state level, at the local level. If we don’t listen to people that are actually affected by these laws and the way that the laws are enacted, we’re not doing the right thing.”
In her policy paper, Boyd argues that current and former foster youth, legal guardians, parents, and state agency representatives should be the ones setting the standards.
That also extends to other issues, like homelessness. Boyd also serves on the citizens oversight committee for Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure to pay for homeless and affordable housing in L.A., but she says that out of the seven people on the committee, she is the only one who has ever been homeless.
Her mentor at the National Foster Youth Institute, Donna Brown Guillaume, says that this experience gives her a unique perspective on the issue.
“I think that when you are someone that’s coming from the community that you’re trying to change, you have a leg up in terms of understanding what’s going on and what needs to be fixed,” said Guillaume. “I would follow her leadership anywhere.”
Despite the turmoil growing up, Boyd is close to her family today. Her grandmother died several years ago. Tiffany and her sister now live together, where they care for their mom and her nieces and nephews. She says her siblings take turns caring for their mom, and right now it’s her turn.
“For me, I consider it to be a privilege, because I would rather be the stressed-out-overworked daughter than the orphan child who lost both her parents,” Tiffany said. “And she definitely deserves love and deserves someone to be there despite her illness and I’m in a position to be that person now.”
On – 18 Aug, 2017 By