When Jerry* was nine, he was living with his alcoholic mother. All four of his siblings had already been removed from the home, but, somehow, Jerry was still there. Everything changed when, left home alone one summer day, the house caught fire and burned to the ground. As a result, Jerry was remitted to the child welfare system.
Over the next five years, Jerry rotated through a succession of foster homes, until finally he met Shirley, an experienced foster parent with another foster child already in her care. Shirley became his final legal guardian and provided his first stable home.
The match was rocky at first. For help, Shirley reached out to a nonprofit organization called the Children's Institute, Inc. (CII).
Active in two of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles – Watts and Central L.A. – CII provides comprehensive services to help families with children suffering from physical or sexual abuse, neglect, gang association, or involvement in the foster care or juvenile justice systems.
Demonstrated success in helping people like Jerry and Shirley help CII win a Social Innovation Fund award. Through the joint federal-philanthropic grant from the Social Innovation Fund and Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, CII will leverage at least $5 million in private funding over three years and expand to serve an additional 2,000-3,000 young people ages 9-24.
Every hour, approximately 18 incidents of suspected child neglect or abuse are reported to LA County's child abuse hotline. Police respond yearly to 43,000 reports of domestic violence, many involving children. Demand for CII services has jumped 20% over 2010 alone. Indeed, domestic violence, substance abuse, child maltreatment and neglect are not minor problems.
To help counter such problems, CII provides young people with clinical and mental health services, family support and parenting education, arts and recreation enrichment, and, for those who are parents, early education services for their children.
Through various studies, CII has shown that its evidence-based programs reduce the impact of traumatic life events, discourage gang involvement, raise academic performance, improve school attendance, and promote family reunification and preservation.
Though coping with the effects of Jerry's past was a significant challenge for both Shirley and Jerry, she worked with one of CII's trained therapists who joined her in refusing to give up on Jerry. CII worked to support Shirley too, teaching her how to help her family resolve disputes, deal with issues arising from each child's traumatic past, and bond together.
Though gradual, Jerry progressed in the therapy program. He began to participate in photography, filmmaking and performing arts courses that built his social skills. By the time he entered his senior year of high school, he had found a new level of confidence. He was even chosen as the student speaker at his graduation.
Now attending community college in Santa Monica, Jerry is focusing on his studies, a job, and a new girlfriend. Jerry likely has future hurdles to clear, but now he knows that he is capable and that he has the loving support of Shirley and the Children's Institute.
*Name changed to protect the privacy of the child.