Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Foster care in LA: Stories the Los Angeles Times doesn’t want you to hear (presumably)*

            This morning, Margaret Prescod devoted her entire morning program on KPFK FM in Los Angeles to the stories of families whose children were needlessly taken by child welfare agencies.

            You can  hear the program online here.

            The program begins with excerpts from a documentary produced by DHS-Give Us Back Our Children, an excellent grassroots group in Philadelphia – the only one of America’s largest metropolitan areas that takes children at a rate even higher than Los Angeles.

            Then come the stories of three families, one from Santa Cruz, and two from Los Angeles.

            Perhaps most moving was the story of May Hampton.  A young woman in Hampton’s extended family, whom Hampton had raised and for whom she was legal guardian, was killed.  The woman was living in Hampton’s home and, together, they had been raising the woman’s four children.  DCFS let Hampton keep three of the children but took one, a seven-year-old girl who apparently was present when her mother was killed.

            So now this child must endure not only the trauma of her mother’s death, but also the separation from everyone else she knows and loves – they even were barred from the mother’s funeral.  During visits the child begs to come home.

            But the system still isn’t done hurting this child.  Says Hampton:

We went to court this Monday, and the child’s lawyer came to me and she said: When your children talk to [their sister] they are not to tell her that they miss her, that they would like to see her.  I don’t want them to tell her anything like that. … I’m just warning you.

            If that sounds strange or hard to believe, it shouldn’t.  Those kinds of small acts of mind-boggling cruelty are quite common in child welfare systems.

            Of course Garrett Therolf, the embattled reporter for the beleaguered Los Angeles Times, could have written about this or the other stories heard on KPFK today.  He simply chose not to.   Or he could have attended the community forum on December 11 where these families and others spoke.  He didn’t do that either. 

            And he is not alone.  Listening to Ms. Hampton I was struck by the failure as well of L.A.’s other public radio stations, where Warren Olney at KCRW and Patt Morrison at KPCC prefer to round up the usual suspects, like Therolf, – even after Daniel Heimpel, writing in The Huffington Post,  raised profound questions about the accuracy of his reporting - for dry comments from “experts” without letting listeners hear from people like May Hampton.

            So please listen to her story (it starts about 11 minutes into the program) and see if you think she, and so many others like her, deserve to be heard on those other public radio stations, and in the Los Angeles Times.

*-Pursuant to the journalistic standard set by Times Assistant Managing Editor David Lauter, who has created an exception to the Times’ code of ethics for presumptions, I am free to presume things about the Los Angeles Times.