Pastor Geremy Dixon believes that supporting foster care children could “reduce the homeless population, prison population, human trafficking population, and those who are drug addicted.”
By Ayanna Bonds
Over 30,000 children are in Los Angeles County’s foster care system in any given month, which is nearly 40 percent of the children in California’s foster care system.
“L.A. County has a larger population of children in foster care than some entire states have children in foster care,” said Center of Hope L.A. Pastor Geremy Dixon, whose church is located in Inglewood.
Dixon and his wife Adrienne have fostered children, and he has formed partnerships with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to bring awareness to this issue.
This partnership with the DCFS includes five other local Black churches (Holman United Methodist Church, First AME Church, West Angeles Church of God in Christ, City of Refuge, and Crossroads United Methodist Church) who have formed the Faith Foster Family Network. They held their first major event in 2017 to show the importance of Black communities to be active participants in the foster care system.
“We wanted to bring about a lot more awareness about the children in the foster care system,” Dixon said. “Specifically the disproportionate amount of children of color in the system, and to also try and truncate the processing of families who want to become foster parents.”
Black children make up about seven percent of Los Angeles County’s youth population, but about 24 percent of the children who receive services from the DCFS.
Because of unstable homes and a lack of resources, many children in foster care fall behind education wise and have behavioral issues as they become adults. According to the Alliance for Children’s Rights, by the third grade 80 percent of children in foster care have repeated a grade; only five percent of them are proficient in math; seventy-five percent of young women in foster care report at least one pregnancy by age 21 compared to only one third of their peers who are not in foster care; half of young men aging out of foster care have become fathers by the age of 21 compared to 19 percent of their peers who were not in foster care; nearly half of all children in foster care have learning disabilities or delays; only 58 percent of young people in foster care graduate from high school; only three percent graduate from college; and half of all young adults who age out of foster care end up homeless or incarcerated.
“I almost feel like we can significantly reduce the homeless population, prison population, human trafficking population, those who are drug addicted, if we could fix foster care,” Dixon said.
Dixon made it clear that the DCFS is not the problem.
“Not the agency,” he said. “Meaning that the agency is not doing these things to these children. But if a child is displaced from a stable home, and is moved through various homes, and has no continuity of care when it comes to what all of us need, that will feed into these various social ills. If we can decimate this pipeline by putting children into loving, stable, progressive, safe homes, it will significantly reduce.”
One of many issues that Dixon sees is that there are not enough foster care families, and many of the adults who have participated over the years are starting to get older, but the younger generation of adults is not picking up the slack.
“Those who are in the baby boomer classification were super active when it came to foster care,” he said. “That’s a big population of people who were fostering. And they were faithful and committed. What’s happening is that as they’re aging, they just can’t do what they’re used to doing. The heart and the passion is there, but they’re limited now. As they were aging, we weren’t filling in fast enough with younger people.”
One major initiative of the Faith Foster Family Network is to encourage younger Black adults to become foster families.
“Children of color seem to get the worse shake,” Dixon said. “It was astounding to hear that the hardest child to place is a little Black boy. So we’re recruiting more foster families, and also we’re supporting those who are already in the system.
“The agency (DCFS) is working very aggressively to raise awareness and to recruit new parents. As people are getting older, that next generation has to backfill. If we’re having an issue where we’re not having enough, that means that more than likely, our generation hasn’t been engaged.”
Through the Faith Foster Family Network, Center of Hope L.A. is educating community members about the process of becoming certified to foster and adopt children, and what the experience is like to be a foster parent.
The Faith Foster Family Network is also building a support system for foster families. Dixon says that a foster family should not have to bare all of the responsibility of raising a foster child, but that the community should get involved to support that family. He has encouraged many of his church members who do not have a foster child to help out those families who are fostering children.
“If we give them that support, it gets the whole community involved,” he said. “A few people are actually foster families, but all of us are actively engaged in the well being of these children.”
People can donate supplies to the church and to foster families. Dixon said that some families do not have an extra bed or clothes, and many of the children need luggage.
“There are children who go from home to home with nothing but a trash bag,” he said. “I don’t want a child to have to move three times, but I want that child to have dignity if they have to.”
For more information about how to support contact Center of Hope L.A. at (323) 757-1804. Or visit their website at www.go2hope.com. Visit DCFS’ website at dcfs.lacounty.gov.