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On Nov. 19, HBO entertainment president Sue Naegle, Ziffren Brittenham attorney Clifford Gilbert-Lurie and Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo hit Hollywood’s Le Cordon Bleu cooking school to help 18-year-olds who have recently “aged out” of the Los Angeles County foster care system learn how to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner. Many of the 50 kids were frequently moved around, growing up in environments where a holiday dinner was not something they could count on.
The event has been an annual tradition for the Alliance for Children’s Rights, which since 1992 has provided advocacy and free services for 26,000 L.A. kids who have been removed from their biological families by court order. It also facilitates adoptions, advocates for the special educational needs the children require and provides mentoring for teenagers who’ve left the system.
“What really surprised me is how many kids go through the foster care system that never find families and are never adopted,” said Alliance board member Naegle, as the teenagers learned to fold cloth napkins into the shape of turkeys. “Then they turn 18, and they’re pushed out of the system.”
Many of the “pushed out” teenagers have no clue about acquiring the skills they need to be independent adults. Many can’t even locate their birth certificate. Fewer than 4 percent graduate from a four-year college.
“Imagine, you get removed from your home, then you get bounced around the system from Lancaster to Long Beach,” said Alliance president Janis Spire. “Studies have shown these kids experience twice the rate of post-traumatic stress as war veterans.”
What the Alliance — which also counts WME’s Sean Perry, Warner Bros. Television executive vp Craig Hunegs, entertainment litigator Daniel Petrocelli and Angie Harmon as board members — tries to do with its $3.7 million annual budget is to get the county to provide legally required medical and financial support for children placed with foster families. Their legal teams, largely industry and downtown lawyers doing pro bono work, complete one-third of all foster care adoptions in L.A. “We get millions worth of work by gifted lawyers donating their time,” said Gilbert-Lurie, also a board member.
Spire said the organization has helped move forward thousands of adoptions in L.A. She sees permanent placement as the best way to fix the foster care system. “When you ask kids who are aging out what the number one thing they want is, it’s always the same answer,” she says. “They want to belong to a family.”
The Alliance for Children’s Rights can be reached at kids-alliance.org.