Breaking the Foster Care Cycle, One Young Family at a Time

By Giving List Staff   |   November 2, 2021

The Children’s Law Center of California is the nation’s largest nonprofit law firm exclusively representing children – including those who are part of Los Angeles County’s complex and intimidating dependency courts, where judges make life-altering decisions. The firm represents a mind-blowing 35,000 children and youth. 

CLC’s skilled lawyers represent children in some of the highest stakes proceedings in American jurisprudence, such as whether or not a child will be severed from or reunified with his or her biological parents.  

Since its launch in 1990, CLC has expanded its work beyond straightforward representation, pioneering the concept of “multi-disciplinary advocacy teams” that include clinicians, social workers, peer advocates, and educational and mental health specialists to ensure that the children, youth and families the firm serves are wrapped with the support they need. 

“Rather than a child welfare system that keeps children from their families in the name of ‘protection,’ we envision one that strengthens families and communities so children can remain safely in their homes with their parents. That is what is best for our clients, their families, and society at large,” says CLC’s veteran Executive Director Leslie Starr Heimov. 

CLC was also among the first, if not the first, law offices in the nation to hire former foster youth to serve as peer advocates. They help older kids still in the system with critical life tasks such as filling out financial aid forms, locating housing or getting a job. 

The specialized Child Advocacy and Resource Effort Program, or “CARE” teams, serve hundreds of high-need foster care youth who are victims of trafficking, have been arrested, are parents themselves, or have complex mental health needs. Their attorneys have greatly reduced caseloads and work alongside survivor and peer advocates, case managers and mental health experts.  

“It’s an extremely expensive service delivery model, but if we want to be successful with the kids that have the most challenges in front of them, we have to put the resources into them so that they can heal and move forward,” Heimov says.

CLC’s CARE Team for Expectant and Parenting Youth (EPY), which began as a pilot program two years ago, seeks to break the multi-generational foster care cycle. Half of children born to mothers in foster care will enter the child welfare system by their second birthday, according to a 2018 study in the Journal of Pediatrics. 

“That’s not because they are bad parents,” Heimov stresses. “It’s because every move they make is scrutinized by someone, and they do not have access to the same resources, tools and support that other parents do.”

When Jewell, a new teen mother, met CLC’s attorneys and case managers at the age of 16, she was “going through a lot.”

“I didn’t really have anything so the Children’s Law Center helped me get the things that I needed for me and my daughter as well,” she says.

Today, with that support, Jewell is attending college, provides for her daughter and calls her new outlook “amazing.”

With the odds stacked against young parents in foster care, CLC realized it needs to invest in them with love, support and supplies before and after the birth so that they can become the family they desire.

“It really is an investment in the next generation, it’s breaking the cycle and it’s extremely effective,” Heimov says.


Children’s Law Center of California

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Development Manager: Stephanie Talavera


Children’s Law Center of California (CLC) provides legal representation for children and youth impacted by abuse and neglect. We advocate for our clients by supporting families; fighting for reunification, permanence, educational opportunity, health, and mental health wellness; and empowering and strengthening children, families, and their communities. Our informed approach to advocacy makes us a powerful voice in local, statewide, and national child welfare system reform.

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The Family Support and Advocacy Center helped my small family with legal advice and got our DCFS case closed. Parent Support Case Manager Christopher Fry and attorney Maria Griglio were super supportive, friendly, and consistently checked in on me to see how they can help with finding resources or even directing me in the right direction. They gave me updates consistently throughout the duration of working through my DCFS investigation and helped put my mind at ease. I would recommend FSAC to any family in need of support because they are a great team.
Marilynn F.

Help Give Youth a Voice in Their Own Lives

Children’s Law Center of California is working to help youth raise their voices and be heard. 

CLC is expanding its multidisciplinary approach by launching a youth advisory council made up of former foster youth. The council will be comprised of young people who have had a variety of experiences in the system, such as being reunified with their family, being adopted, or aging out of the system. 

Through this council, young people will have the opportunity to inform and inspire a reimagining of the child welfare system based on their experiences.  The council’s honest reflections will help CLC to  meet their goal of continuous quality improvement and ever greater impact.

A gift of $2,500 will help seed the creation of the youth council and ensure that the youth members have the support and resources they need to meet the goals they set.

Key Supporters

Friends of CLC
American Business Bank
Benjy Grinberg
and Ellen Goldberg
California Community Foundation
Chay and Kim Lapin
Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
Dara and Conan Barker
In-N-Out Burger Foundation
Joseph and Jean Mandel
Neal Kaufman, MD, MPH
Pritzker Foster Care Initiative
Ralph M. Parsons Foundation
Reissa Foundation
Samuel and Helene
Soref Foundation
The Barry and Wendy
Meyer Foundation
The Durfee Foundation
W.M. Keck Foundation
Good+ Foundation
The Walter S. Johnson
Matt Groening