On January 18, community activists, families, and government officials rallied on the steps of the California State Capitol in Sacramento to protest the harm done by California Departments of Children and Families Services. 

A New Way of Life, All of Us Or None Los Angeles/Long Beach, Starting Over, Inc, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and 14 additional  organizations from across the state were in attendance.

Throughout the day, individuals whose lives have been impacted by family separation shared their harrowing experiences. Many spoke on how the criminal justice system impedes them from reuniting with their families. By making their displeasure known, they listed how the system should be reformed to work with the purpose of helping these families rather than punishing them.

Representing A New Way of Life, Brian Barajas, Brian Tan, and Stephanie Jeffcoat made the journey to support those who have been harmed by Child Protective Services (CPS). As Stephanie Jeffcoat, an event organizer said, “It is important for us to come together and demand a radical transformation of the Child Welfare System including that all families have access to their children, an end to the system's practices of criminalizing poverty and seeing low-income families as neglectful.” 

The practices of CPS in conjunction with the guidelines set in place by the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), make the act of reuniting families a challenging task in an already difficult situation. 

Since the passing of ASFA in 1997, families have been torn apart and parents have been left with little to no information about the status of their children’s well-being. 

Many spoke of their own experiences with the system; whether they themselves were the child removed from their home or the parent who had their children taken from their care. 

Ashleigh Albert, a mother from Washington state shared her story. “Losing my children did turn me bitter, but I had to do the work. The internal work: forgiveness, you know, I’m learning how to self-advocate.”

There is a consensus that funds should focus on helping to rehabilitate parents and give them the necessary support they need to avoid family separation. 

Equally important, as Vonya Quarles from Starting Over Inc. points out, the majority of families impacted by this system are Black, brown or poor.

Rather than displacing children from their homes, it would be beneficial to reallocate funds used for the foster care system to these under-resourced communities. 

ANWOL’s staff attorney, Brian Barajas, said, “Instead of money going towards allowing fast-track adoptions to take place, there has to be more money in terms of helping families get the resources needed, so that they can provide for the children and are able to convince the courts that they are fit to have their children in their custody. ” 

A lack of support, services, and funds often leads to the situations that require CPS to intervene. When the focus is on rehabilitation rather than punishment for all involved, families and communities thrive. 

Senate Bill 354 took effect January 1 and removes obstacles in the foster care system that have prevented children from being placed with a relative caregiver who may have a past conviction and is a step towards ensuring children stay with their relatives. State Senator Nancy Skinner, author of the bill, and representative for the East Bay cities was in attendance.

“SB 354 ensures that children in our foster care system have a higher likelihood of being placed with a family member, a caregiver situation that is proven to help a child thrive,” said Sen. Skinner. “SB 354 also addresses the clear racial disparity that Black and Brown Californians are more likely to have a past conviction that can stand in the way of their caring for a family member.”