Children's Rights

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Issues New Guidelines to Encourage Secure Sharing of Information Between Schools and Child Welfare Agencies to Better Serve Foster Youth

September 1, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SAN FRANCISCO – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced that the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Children’s Justice (BCJ), the California Department of Education (CDE), and the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) have jointly developed statewide guidelines for school districts, county offices of education, and child welfare agencies to better assist them in the secure sharing of data and information that is critical to the success of students in foster care.

“Too many foster children in California are falling through the cracks, not meeting their full potential, and ending up in the criminal justice system. Schools and child welfare agencies must communicate effectively in order to provide children the services they need,” said Attorney General Harris. “This collaborative effort between the Bureau of Children’s Justice and the California Departments of Education and Social Services is a positive step toward improving the ways we support vulnerable children, particularly foster youth.”

Under the law, foster youth are entitled to a range of services, including enhanced academic counseling regarding graduation eligibility requirements and mental health counseling.  But many eligible youth are not receiving the services they need because schools don’t know which students should be receiving additional support.  This guidance makes clear that schools and child welfare agencies can share information to keep children on track.

The guidance will help local educational and county welfare agencies by providing clarity on the scope of information which can be shared under the law, including critical information that school districts, local county offices of education, and caregivers need to identify and coordinate supports and services for foster youth.  In addition to providing clarity on the state of the law, the guidance encourages local educational and child welfare agencies to collaborate with each other to create joint data systems for the continued sharing of information regarding foster youth between and within their respective agencies.

“Providing clear statewide guidance is vital for strengthening the relationship between foster children, caregivers and educators,” said Will Lightbourne, Director of the California Department of Social Services. “This allows the focus to shift away from administrative hurdles and directly to the educational needs of each foster child.”

"Foster youth are some of our most vulnerable students," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.  "I believe this will help better serve their needs. At the California Department of Education, we know that better data collection can help students and shed light on ways to improve our services to them.”

“I deeply appreciate the joint effort by the state social services and education agencies, and the Bureau of Children's Justice, to create this guidance,” said Martha Matthews, Directing Attorney of the Children's Rights Project at Public Counsel. “It will help school districts and county child welfare agencies here in Los Angeles County and statewide to share information and work together to support foster youths' educational success, while respecting their dignity and privacy.”

“The only way we can significantly improve education outcomes for children in foster care is through strong collaboration between schools and child welfare agencies, and that can only occur when they have the ability to share essential information,” said Molly Dunn, Senior Policy Attorney at Alliance for Children’s Justice.  “The joint guidance cuts through a labyrinth of federal and state laws to provide a clear path for the communication and collaboration necessary between agencies to support the education success of children in foster care.”

“The release of this guidance is huge step forward in California's efforts to close the achievement gap for students in foster care. It answers important questions about what data may and must be shared, who should be permitted to see what information and for what purpose,” said Michelle Francois Traiman, Director of FosterEd at the National Center for Youth Law. “Effective, thoughtful sharing of information across systems is critical to ensuring that the adults that are charged to support young people collaborate meaningfully, work as a team, and put the needs of each young person at the forefront of their practices and policies so they can succeed in school.”

In February 2015, Attorney General Harris formed the Bureau of Children’s Justice, a unit within the California Department of Justice that works to support and protect children and ensure they are on track to meet their full potential. The Bureau works to enforce California’s civil and criminal laws with respect to California’s foster care, adoption, and juvenile justice systems; discrimination and inequities in education; California’s elementary school truancy crisis; human trafficking of vulnerable youth; and childhood trauma and exposure to violence.

Earlier this year, the Bureau made public its active civil rights investigations on issues related to juvenile justice, the child welfare system, and education across the state.  More information is available at http://oag.ca.gov/bcj/investigations.

Attorney General Harris’s office is leading the California Defending Childhood State Policy Initiative—a collaboration of state agencies including CDE and CDSS—in its work to address the impacts of violence and trauma on children across the state, including enhancing the secure sharing of data to inform supports and services. Under Attorney General Harris’s leadership, California was one of three states nationwide selected by the U.S. Department of Justice to be a part of its national Defending Childhood Initiative.

Attorney General Harris has pioneered the use of data to inform public policy and pushed for greater transparency and more effective collaboration and data-sharing between state agencies in order to better serve the public. She announced OpenJustice, a first-of-its-kind open data criminal justice initiative, in September 2015.  Since its launch, OpenJustice has published additional analysis and plans to release new juvenile justice data in the coming weeks.  Her office also is collaborating with the Children’s Data Network at the University of Southern California to link the administrative records of youth involved in the justice system in order to better understand their early experiences, trajectories through systems, and factors that may increase the of risk involvement, all with an eye toward preventing involvement altogether.

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Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Supports Legislation to End Juvenile Confinement

June 21, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SACRAMENTO – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced her support for Senate Bill 1143, legislation authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) that would significantly limit the practice of isolating juveniles in room confinement. 

“Subjecting young people to prolonged periods of isolated confinement is cruel, inhumane and counterproductive to rehabilitation. This unnecessary and punitive practice undermines the goal of helping this vulnerable young population become healthy and productive members of our society.  Through this legislation and other reforms, California will lead the nation in providing standards that improve the safety and welfare of both youth and staff at juvenile facilities,” said Attorney General Harris. “I applaud Senator Leno for his leadership on this issue.  I am proud to support common-sense, ‘smart on crime’ legislation that helps those currently and formerly incarcerated overcome obstacles to get their lives back on track, and meet their full potential. ”

SB 1143 would restrict the use of juvenile room confinement in facilities throughout the state. SB 1143 would limit the amount of time a minor may be placed in a locked sleeping room or cell without contact from others, aside from attorneys or facility staff. The bill expressly bans punitive, coercive, retaliatory confinement, as well as confinement used purely for convenience. It also expressly states that confinement shall not be used to the extent that the mental and physical health of the minor would be compromised. The bill then sets reasonable baselines for how long a minor may be confined prior to steps being taken to reintegrate them into the general population.

“The extensive support of SB 1143 is a testament to the harmful effects of prolonged confinement and isolation on the troubled youth in our care,” said Senator Leno. “This bill will help ensure detained young people receive the rehabilitative opportunities they need to safely reintegrate into the community. I am grateful for Attorney General Harris’s commitment to protecting vulnerable children in our state.”

Attorney General Harris created the Bureau of Children’s Justice in 2015, a first-of-its-kind bureau within the California Department of Justice to enforce children’s civil rights in education, foster care, and juvenile justice; hold those who prey on children accountable; and work with policymakers to craft and implement policies that improve outcomes for children.

In this legislative session, Attorney General Harris’s Bureau of Children’s Justice (BCJ) is also supporting a range of bills that would support foster youth and other at-risk and high-needs children. Along with SB 1143, BCJ supports the following bills related to children and youth:

  • AB 1067 (Assemblymember Mike Gipson, D-Carson)

Requires the Department of Social Services (DSS) to convene a working group to make recommendations for the Foster Youth Bill of Rights.

  • AB 1580 (Assemblymembers Mike Gatto, D-Glendale and Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks)

Creates a process for the placement or removal of a security freeze for a protected consumer, a particularly helpful tool for vulnerable children such as foster youth who have an increased risk of identity theft.

  • AB 1840 (Assemblymember Mike Gipson, D-Carson)

Requires that state agencies give preference to homeless youth and formerly incarcerated youth when hiring interns and student assistants.

  • AB 1843 (Assemblymember Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley)

Protects young people from being subjected to inquiry during the hiring process about arrests or detentions that did not lead to juvenile adjudications, arrests for which juveniles have completed probation programs, or records that a court has either ordered sealed or have been sealed automatically.

  • AB 2390 (Assemblymember Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino)

Provides a legislative fix to 2010 legislation that inadvertently removed a mechanism for juvenile offenders with good records on supervised probation to obtain honorable discharge status.

  • AB 2815 (Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach)

Promotes a culture of attendance by giving district attendance supervisors new ways to address the root causes of chronic school absenteeism.

  • SB 884 (Senator Jim Beall, D-San Jose)

Requires school districts, special education local plan areas, and the California Department of Education to document the mental health and special education services and funding provided to special education students, including data to monitor their effectiveness.

  • SB 1466 (Senator Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles)

Requires screening services under the children’s Medi-Cal Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) program to include screening for trauma.

Attorney General Harris has a longstanding commitment to protecting and supporting children, holding accountable those who exploit or harm children, and pursuing innovative legal and policy solutions to combat crime by investing in children from a young age.

In addition to launching the Bureau of Children’s Justice in 2015, under Attorney General Harris’s leadership, the California Department of Justice was one of just three state agencies accepted by the U.S. Department of Justice to be part of its national Defending Childhood State Policy Initiative. Led by the Office of the Attorney General, the California Defending Childhood State Policy Initiative brings together a cross-sector team of state agency leaders to develop shared priorities to prevent and address children’s exposure to violence.

Attorney General Harris served two terms as District Attorney of San Francisco, where she created a child sexual assault unit. She also led the San Francisco City Attorney’s Division on Children and Families and specialized in prosecuting child sexual assault cases at the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Joins Washington State in Filing Amicus Brief to Ensure Unaccompanied Minors are Guaranteed the Right to Counsel

March 11, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES - Today, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris joined Washington Attorney General Robert W. Ferguson in filing a friend-of-the-court brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case J.E.F.M v, Lynch, to ensure that every unaccompanied minor placed in immigration proceedings is guaranteed a right to counsel.

“Children are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. A child forced to navigate our complicated immigration system should be provided with due process,” said Attorney General Harris. “For these children, adequate legal representation can mean the difference between life and death. We must live up to our nation’s principles of justice, equality, and fairness, and guarantee the right to due process for children seeking safety within our borders.”

The brief argues that children are unfairly hindered by age and lack the personal and financial resources to navigate the federal immigration laws and represent themselves in adversarial removal proceedings. Given the complex nature of immigration proceedings, failure to secure counsel can effectively deny an unaccompanied minor her day in court.

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), which issued a report in July 2015 on this issue, “[t]hese children, many of whom entered the United States during the unprecedented ‘surge’ in 2014, are now facing adversarial removal proceedings opposed by experienced government attorneys, with only about 32% represented by counsel.” The ABA also emphasizes that it is extremely unlikely for an unrepresented child to prevail in immigration court without representation, citing a study which found that children represented by an attorney have a 73% success rate in immigration court, compared to only 15% among unrepresented children.

Facing deportation without adequate legal representation can easily condemn a defenseless child to prolonged detention or forced return to a dangerous country. In fact, as the brief acknowledges: “At least eighty-three deportees from the U.S. have been reported murdered upon their return to Central America since January 2014. One teenager was murdered in 2004 only seventeen days after being deported.” Such grave consequences weigh heavily in favor of mandating government-appointed counsel in cases such as these.

In 2014, tens of thousands of children fled violence and poverty in Mexico and Central America in pursuit of a better life in the United States. In response to the crisis, Attorney General Harris secured millions of dollars and over 10,000 hours in pro bono work to close the legal services gap for unaccompanied children across California. She later supported legislation signed by Governor Brown that allocated $3 million to qualified non-profits to provide legal services for unaccompanied minors. In May 2015, Kids in Need of Defense’s (KIND) awarded Attorney General Harris with the 2015 Vision Award for her work to ensure that unaccompanied minors fleeing violence and entering the U.S. are provided legal representation in immigration proceedings.

Since 2014, Attorney General Harris has convened several roundtables with immigrant rights’ advocates, legal service providers, major international law firms, and other stakeholders to discuss the ongoing need for resources and legal aid for children fleeing violence and seeking refuge in the United States. The most recent convening took place in Los Angeles in December 2015 to discuss the ongoing struggle to meet the legal and social service needs of unaccompanied children and families in California, and across the U.S.

In February 2015, Attorney General Harris created the Bureau of Children’s Justice to enforce criminal and civil laws to hold those who prey on children accountable; work with local, state, and national stakeholders to increase support for vulnerable children; and identify and pursue improvements to policies impacting children.  One of the Bureau’s core priorities is human trafficking of vulnerable youth, including foster children.

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Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, Speaker Emeritus Atkins Sponsor Legislation to Combat Human Trafficking

March 9, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SACRAMENTO – Today, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced her sponsorship of legislation to combat human trafficking, Assembly Bill 1731 by Assembly Speaker Emeritus Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego).  The bill creates the Statewide Interagency Human Trafficking Task Force, which would be a permanent collaborative entity led by the California Department of Justice in partnership with other government agencies.

“Human trafficking is one of the world’s most heinous and profitable criminal enterprises,” said Attorney General Harris.  “This legislation will help combat human trafficking by ensuring coordination between a wide range of agencies and partners.  I applaud Speaker Emeritus Atkins for fighting this abhorrent crime.”

The task force created through AB 1731 is a successor to the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery (CA ACTS), a temporary entity established by AB 22 (Lieber) in 2006.  That bill, which was sponsored by Attorney General Harris while she served as San Francisco District Attorney, made human trafficking a crime in the state, provided restitution to trafficking victims, and directed the CA ACTS to produce the first comprehensive report on human trafficking in California.

In 2012, Attorney General Harris temporarily reconstituted a Human Trafficking Work Group to publish a second report.  Both reports dramatically expanded the state’s understanding of the scope and nature of modern day slavery, and the Attorney General has since sponsored previous legislation based on their findings.

As a sponsor of AB 1731, Attorney General Harris will assist Speaker Emeritus Atkins in developing a new task force that builds on the success of California’s previous collaborative models.  This permanent entity demonstrates a long-term commitment from California to ending both sex and labor trafficking within the state.  The task force’s initial priorities will be to identify data-driven solutions to combatting slavery, improving interagency cooperation, and increasing public awareness.

“Human trafficking is modern day slavery, and it will take vigilance, collaboration, and hard work among many different sectors to end it,” said Speaker Emeritus Atkins. “Attorney General Harris’ backing of this legislation will go a long way in ensuring California develops the kind of taskforce we need to effectively battle human trafficking in our state.”

In addition to her sponsorship of AB 1731, Attorney General Harris also announced her support for AB 1730 by Speaker Emeritus Atkins, a bill to establish housing programs that provide trauma-informed mental health services for child sex trafficking victims.  Both bills unanimously passed out of Assembly Public Safety Committee last week.

Attorney General Harris has made fighting human trafficking a priority for the California Department of Justice.  Last year, the Office of the Attorney General released a Resource Guide to help companies comply with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, a law requiring large retailers and manufacturers in California to post their supply chain policies online.  In 2014, Attorney General Harris released Gangs Beyond Borders, a report that highlighted the growing role of transnational criminal organizations in the human trafficking underground economy.

In February 2015, Attorney General Harris created the Bureau of Children’s Justice to enforce criminal and civil laws to hold those who prey on children accountable; work with local, state, and national stakeholders to increase support for vulnerable children; and identify and pursue improvements to policies impacting children.  One of the Bureau’s core priorities is human trafficking of vulnerable youth, including foster children.

For more information on the Attorney General’s work on human trafficking, visit oag.ca.gov/human-trafficking.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Announces New Tools to Help Parents and Educators Improve Attendance

February 18, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Toolkit Available Online at oag.ca.gov/truancy/toolkit; Includes New Resources for Parents, Teachers, and Community Leaders to Boost Elementary School Attendance

SAN FRANCISCO – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today unveiled an online toolkit designed to help local leaders address California’s elementary school truancy crisis. The toolkit, created in collaboration with the Ad Council and with the support of The California Endowment, provides school, community, and government leaders with resources to work with parents on their children’s elementary school absences and the long-term impact that chronic absence and truancy have on academic performance.  Educators can use these tools to engage parents – including via text message – about their child’s attendance and how to reduce absences. 

“Nearly a quarter of a million California elementary school students were chronically absent in the 2014-2015 school year, with sweeping implications for our state’s future,” said Attorney General Harris. “If we want to effectively address this crisis, we need to communicate to parents and teachers about how critical early attendance is to a child’s development. This toolkit will help teachers and community leaders discuss truancy with parents and help them to ensure their children are in class every day.”

The toolkit is the culmination of a statewide study conducted with parents of elementary school students and education experts to understand barriers to attendance and how best to address them. It includes data compiled from interviews in which parents discussed their perceptions of early-grade absences and what messaging would have the greatest impact on them. It also includes tips for school and community leaders on how to communicate the impact of early school absences to parents, as well as a letter that school and district administrators can send to teachers to help them improve communication with parents of students in their classrooms.

The study found that while parents have ambitious long-term dreams for their children, such as college admission, they often do not connect early-grade attendance to later achievement. Combined with barriers to attendance such as lack of transportation or health issues, these misunderstandings can lead to children missing too many days of school and falling behind as early as kindergarten.  The study also found that parents’ most trusted sources of information are teachers, who can best help them understand what is happening in the classroom and what resources are available to help families resolve barriers to attendance.  The study found that texting is most parents’ preferred form of communication with their children’s school.

In September, Attorney General Harris issued her third annual report on elementary school truancy and chronic absenteeism in California, In School + On Track 2015. The report found that California still faces a crisis in elementary school attendance: 230,000 California elementary school students are chronically absent – missing more than 10% of the school year – and more than 1 in 5 are truant, having three or more unexcused absences. Low-income students and students of color face even lower attendance rates.

The report also outlines significant progress made in the past year in increasing awareness of the importance of attendance within school districts, tracking attendance year over year, and rethinking discipline policies that remove students from the classroom. The report is available in its entirety online at: https://oag.ca.gov/truancy/2015.

In 2013, Attorney General Harris issued the first statewide statistics on California’s elementary school truancy crisis and directly linked public education to public safety and the economy. Students who are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade are statistically more likely to drop out of high school. Annually, dropouts cost California taxpayers an estimated $46.4 billion in incarceration, lost productivity and lost taxes.  The 2014 report released updated statewide data.

In February 2015, Attorney General Harris unveiled the Bureau of Children’s Justice, a unit within the California Department of Justice that works to ensure all of California’s children are on track to meet their full potential. The Bureau enforces criminal and civil laws to hold those who prey on children accountable; works with a range of local, state, and national stakeholders to increase support and improve outcomes for vulnerable children; and identifies and pursues improvements to policies impacting children.

Attorney General Harris has worked to combat truancy since she was District Attorney of San Francisco.  In the course of investigating factors contributing to the city’s violent crime rate, she found that 94% of San Francisco homicide victims under age 25 were high school dropouts. Then-District Attorney Harris formed a partnership with the school district to inform parents about their legal duty to ensure that their children attended school, provide parents of chronically truant students with wrap-around services and school-based mediation, and prosecute parents in the most severe cases where other interventions did not work.

In addition to the Ad Council and The California Endowment, organizations that partnered with the Attorney General’s office on the attendance toolkit include the California Department of Education, California Department of Public Health, California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, California Alliance of African American Educators, Association of California School Administrators, California African American Administrators and Superintendents Association, California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators, California County Superintendents Education Services Association, California School Boards Association, California Charter Schools Association, California School Employees Association, California School Nurses Organization, California Association of School Counselors, LA Chamber of Commerce, Bay Area Council, Children Now, Fight Crime, Invest in Kids CA, La Opinion, School-Based Health Alliance, Campaign for Grade Level Reading, Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court Initiative, Partnership for Children and Youth, California Coalition for Youth, Communities in Schools-LA, LA Urban League, Youth Policy Institute, Community Coalition, Foster Ed-California, Parent Institute for Quality Education, Alliance for Children's Rights, Inter-Tribal Council of California, Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, California Family Resource Association, First 5 California, Los Angeles Education Partnership, Parent Advocate League, Children's Defense Fund, National Council of La Raza, and CDE Foundation.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Issues Statement Applauding Effort by CA Department of Education to Collect Statewide Data on Students who are Chronically Absent

February 5, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today issued the following statement applauding the California Department of Education for its efforts to collect statewide data on students who are chronically absent. The Attorney General has made the fight against elementary school truancy and chronic absenteeism a top priority. She issued  the first statewide report on California’s elementary school truancy crisis and sponsored legislation to address the issue.  

“Until now, California was one of a handful of states that did not track student attendance. I applaud the California Department of Education for taking this monumental step toward addressing California’s elementary school truancy and chronic absence crisis,” said Attorney General Harris. “I have called for this data collection since 2013 and was proud to sponsor a legislative package in 2014 that aimed to modernize California’s attendance records system and establish the support that schools, parents and communities need to ensure our students are in school and on track from kindergarten through high school. I look forward to working with our partners to build on this action and guarantee that every  child has the opportunity to succeed.”

In 2013, Attorney General Harris issued the first statewide report, In School + On Track, on California’s elementary school truancy crisis, which made a direct link between public education and public safety. Eighty-three percent of students who miss more than 10% of kindergarten and first grade cannot read at grade level by the end of third grade, which makes them four times more likely to drop out of high school. Annually, dropouts cost California taxpayers an estimated $46.4 billion in incarceration, lost productivity and lost taxes. 

The Attorney General issued subsequent reports in 2014 and 2015, reporting on the state’s on-going elementary school truancy crisis and the progress that has been made to address the issue. In School + On Track 2015 found that our state continues to face an attendance crisis, reporting that 230,000 students are chronically absent – missing more than 10% of the school year – and more than 1 in 5 are truant, having three or more unexcused absences. In addition, the report highlighted stark disparities in attendance and discipline for vulnerable students, including students of color, low-income students, and students in foster care. The report also highlighted the effects of chronic absenteeism in addressing issues such as unemployment, crime, economic development, public health and public safety. 

Each of the Attorney General’s reports stress the need to consistently and accurately track attendance data at the state level so that students do not fall through the cracks.    

In 2014, Attorney General Harris sponsored legislation to help schools, parents and government leaders effectively intervene when children are chronically absent, and improve local school districts’ and counties’ ability to track attendance patterns. The bills included efforts to assist school districts and county offices of education working with parents to address high truancy rates by giving them the tools to comply with attendance tracking requirements in the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), and a proposal to modernize the way California collects and monitors student attendance data. Two of the bills, AB 2141 (Hall, Bonta) and AB 1643 (Buchanan), were signed by the Governor. AB 1866 (Bocanegra), which would have required the data collection announced today, was vetoed.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, Children Now Announce Legislation to Provide Trauma-Informed Mental Health Services for Children

January 12, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SACRAMENTO - Today, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), and Children Now announced legislation aimed at improving the mental health of children who have experienced childhood trauma, including abuse, neglect, and community violence.  The bill would establish a four-year pilot program to assist elementary schools in providing mental health services to students, prioritizing schools in communities with high levels of childhood trauma and adversity. 

"Childhood trauma can have a devastating and lasting impact not only on our children but also on our families and our communities.   The evidence is clear that when we don't intervene, many children are more likely to be either victims or perpetrators of crime,” said Attorney General Harris. “This legislation will connect our most vulnerable children with the support they need and is a smart investment in the health and safety of our state.”

Assembly Bill 1644 will help schools and communities address the extensive impacts of childhood trauma, which can result in negative educational, health, social, and economic outcomes for children across the state.  Left unaddressed, exposure to childhood trauma can have devastating effects on children’s developing brains and leave children less ready to learn and more likely to exhibit anxiety, withdrawal, and aggressive behavior in school.  Providing trauma-informed interventions, including mental health supports, are critical to promoting healthy childhood development and addressing the root causes of crime.

“I’m excited to author AB 1644 with the support of Attorney General Harris and a stellar group of advocates in order to provide children suffering from trauma with the healing they need to survive and thrive. A child’s exposure to trauma is one of the greatest public health threats of our time, seriously compromising a child’s long-term physical and emotional wellbeing. As Chair of the Assembly Health Committee and the Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color, I’ve had the opportunity to extensively address the impact of trauma on our most challenged communities in the state, and I am confident that AB 1644 will provide our kids with the transformative support they need to heal.”

AB 1644 builds upon the former Early Mental Health Initiative (EMHI), a highly successful evidence-based program aimed at helping elementary school students experiencing difficulty in adjusting to a school setting.  EMHI awarded matching grants to local schools to fund prevention and intervention programs from 1992 to 2012, before the program was defunded in 2012.

Over 75 percent of children who completed the EMHI program showed an improvement in learning behaviors, attendance, school adjustment, or school-related competencies.  AB 1644 would provide schools that have continued to offer EMHI services with technical assistance to strengthen and expand existing programs, while also expanding EMHI services to more schools, particularly those serving students who have experienced high levels of childhood trauma and adversity.   

Children Now President Ted Lempert said, “Childhood trauma is a public health crisis that can impede emotional well-being, diminish kids’ school performance and set children up for a lifetime of problems. This bill would help kids exposed to trauma reach their full potential by helping schools provide quality mental health supports to their youngest students.”

Attorney General Harris has long been at the forefront of this issue and last year created a first-of-its-kind Bureau of Children’s Justice within the California Department of Justice to protect children and respond to the most pressing challenges facing California’s children, including childhood trauma and exposure to violence.

Under Attorney General Harris’s leadership, California was one of three states nationwide selected by the U.S. Department of Justice to be a part of its national Defending Childhood Initiative.  Attorney General Harris’s office is leading the California Defending Childhood State Policy Initiative—a collaboration of state agencies—in its work to prevent, identify, and heal the impacts of violence and trauma on children across the state. 

Attorney General Harris has spent her entire career prosecuting those who commit sexual and physical crimes against children and defending every child in California.  Attorney General Harris served two terms as District Attorney of San Francisco, where she created a child sexual assault unit and helped found the nationally recognized Center for Youth Wellness, an organization in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood working to improve the health of children exposed to childhood trauma.  She also led the San Francisco City Attorney’s Division on Children and Families and specialized in prosecuting child sexual assault cases at the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Convenes Immigration Advocates, Law Firms to Provide Legal Support to Children Seeking Refuge in the U.S.

December 16, 2015
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES -- Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today convened a roundtable in Los Angeles with major international law firms, immigrant rights advocates, legal service providers, and other stakeholders to discuss the ongoing need for resources and legal aid for children who have fled Central America to seek refuge in the United States. The roundtable was convened at the urging of immigration service providers who are still struggling to meet the legal and social service needs of unaccompanied children and families seeking refuge in California, and across the U.S.

Attorney General Harris and her office convened similar roundtables in the summer and fall of 2014, in response to the unprecedented influx of unaccompanied children arriving at our southern border from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.  These roundtables matched law firms, foundations, and legal service providers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Fresno, to mobilize geographic-based responses to the crisis.

“We must ensure that children receive due process and access to justice as they navigate our complex immigration courts and seek asylum or other forms of immigration relief,” said Attorney General Harris. “Legal representation can mean the difference between life and death for these children.  Through the collaborative and dedicated work of law firms, legal service providers and advocates, we’ve been able to help many children, but far more work remains to be done.”

“Los Angeles has the second-highest number of unaccompanied minor children of any city in the nation—and continued violence in Central America creates new refugees each day. Through our Kinship Care Program and an incredible network of volunteer attorneys, Bet Tzedek helps refugee children who are eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile status get access to shelter, healthcare, and education,” said Diego Cartagena, Associate Vice President, Pro Bono at Bet Tzedek. “Without our efforts and the support of the California Department of Justice, these children would show up in court without ever having spoken to an attorney. Bet Tzedek commends California Attorney General Kamala Harris for taking such an important stand to promote justice and to ensure that these children, and indeed all Californians, are given fair and complete access to the our judicial system.” 

“Attorney General Kamala Harris has been an extraordinary leader in the protection of children who have come alone to the U.S. in search of safety. She has showed compassion, a commitment to justice and fairness, and a creativity that is key to addressing the great needs of these children who are fleeing pervasive violence in Central America from which their governments cannot protect them,” said Wendy Young, President of KIND (Kids in Need of Defense).  “Through Attorney General Harris’s continuing efforts, many more children in Los Angeles will have attorneys to help them make their case for U.S. protection and be saved from being returned to danger. KIND is thrilled to be part of this vital effort.”

“Gibson Dunn feels honored to have had the opportunity to join California Attorney General Kamala Harris in addressing the humanitarian crisis posed by the thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America entering our country in search of safety, security and a chance at a future,” said Katie Marquart, Director of Pro Bono at Gibson Dunn.  “We have taken many of these children on as our pro bono clients over the last several years.  Each child has a unique story to tell, and our attorneys have appreciated the chance to help our clients tell their stories.   We are proud to stand with the California Attorney General, our colleagues and these children.”

“Thousands of Central American children traveling alone as well as entire families continue fleeing an epidemic of violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.  Many of these refugees are arriving in Los Angeles and face the daunting prospect of appearing in immigration court alone to navigate our complex immigration system,” said Judy London, Directing Attorney, Immigrants’ Rights Project, Public Counsel. “Public Counsel applauds the efforts of California Attorney General Kamala Harris to address this humanitarian crisis by working to insure that every child before an immigration court has counsel.  We are proud that California’s Attorney General is galvanizing the legal community to stand up for vulnerable refugees.”

In response to tens of thousands of children fleeing horrific violence and poverty in 2014, Attorney General Harris led an innovative, multi-sector response that secured millions of dollars and over 10,000 hours in pro bono work to close the legal services gap for unaccompanied children across the state.  Last year, Attorney General Harris also sponsored legislation signed by Governor Brown that provided $3 million to qualified non-profits to provide legal services for unaccompanied minors.

At today’s reconvening, legal service providers and California law firms committed new resources, including pro bono counsel, to close the legal services gap and assist children and their families in immigration-related proceedings in federal and state courts.

Over the last year, Attorney General Harris has also issued consumer alerts and hosted a number of forums across California to provide immigrants and their families accurate information about President Obama’s immigration-related executive actions and tips to avoid predatory scams that delay and, in some instances jeopardize immigration relief.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Announces Support for Senator Mark Leno’s Bill to Protect Children From E-Cigarettes

August 27, 2015
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SACRAMENTO -- Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced her support for SBX2 5, legislation authored by Senator Mark Leno to protect children and youth from the harmful effects of electronic cigarettes.  The bill ensures that e-cigarettes are included in existing laws that prevent underage smoking and mandate smoke-free spaces by explicitly defining them as “tobacco products,” in addition to requiring child-resistant packaging.

“Protecting children from a life of nicotine addiction is essential to good public health and smart fiscal policy,” said Attorney General Harris.  “I thank Senator Leno for his leadership on this issue and urge the Legislature to approve this important legislation.”

SBX2 5 will include e-cigarettes in California’s Smoke-Free Act, which prohibits smoking at workplaces, schools, daycares, restaurants, bars, hospitals and on public transportation. The legislation will also make sure e-cigarettes are covered under the 1994 Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement (STAKE) Act, which has successfully reduced illegal sales of cigarettes to children.  Tobacco use in California is responsible for $13.29 billion in health costs each year.

Attorney General Harris earlier this year launched a first-of-its-kind Bureau of Children’s Justice, with the aim of bringing together the California Department of Justice’s criminal and civil law enforcement tools to hold those who prey on children accountable, help shape and implement policies that help children, and work with a range of stakeholders to better support kids.  More info on the Bureau is available here: https://oag.ca.gov/bcj.

Diverse Legislators, National and State Advocates for Children Applaud Launch of Bureau of Children’s Justice by Attorney General Kamala D. Harris

February 18, 2015
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES— Last Thursday, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced the formation of the Bureau of Children’s Justice within the California Department of Justice.  The Bureau will increase support for vulnerable children, work with stakeholders to improve policies affecting children, and enforce California’s civil and criminal laws with respect to California’s foster care, adoption, and juvenile justice systems; discrimination and inequities in education; California’s elementary school truancy crisis; human trafficking of vulnerable youth; and childhood trauma and exposure to violence.

Attorney General Kamala Harris was joined by leaders of state and national organizations at a press conference in Los Angeles unveiling the bureau and other leaders from across the state and country are applauding this important step.

Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund:

“The newly established Bureau of Children’s Justice will help ensure that many more California children, now at great risk of entering the state’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline, will benefit from new protection and supports they need to meet their full potential and succeed in school and in life.”

Ted Lempert, President of Children Now:

“We are thrilled that Attorney General Harris is making children her top priority with this new Bureau. Given the Attorney General's past leadership and success with reducing chronic absence and suspensions in California, I’m confident the new Bureau will be very positive for children.”

Diana S. Dooley, Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency:

“I’m happy to join Attorney General Harris in shining a spotlight on the importance of safeguarding our children. We at the California Health and Human Services Agency place a high interest and priority on addressing childhood trauma and we are committed with our county and community partners to meet the needs of all of our kids.”

Dr. Robert K. Ross, President and CEO, The California Endowment:

“I commend Attorney General Harris for taking this important step to protect the youngest and most vulnerable Californians. The Bureau of Children’s Justice will watch over our state’s legal system and guarantee greater protection for our children, safeguarding their physical, social and emotional health and helping to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to grow up healthy and safe.”

Assemblymember Das Williams (D-Carpinteria):

"I applaud Attorney General Harris for investing in children and preventing them from ever becoming involved with the justice system as victims or perpetrators of crime. As the chair of the API Legislative Caucus, I am painfully aware of the threat crime poses to Asian American and Pacific Islander children, specifically when it comes to discrimination, bullying, and human trafficking.  This is a good step in the right direction to protect all of California's children."

Assemblymember Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr. (D-Los Angeles):

“It is essential that our children are protected and that we take a proactive approach to that protection.  As the Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color and the Legislative Black Caucus, I believe the Bureau of Children’s Justice will take an active role in protecting our at-risk children in California.”

Esta Soler, President and Founder of Futures Without Violence:

“The creation of this Bureau for Children’s Justice is a smart strategy that ensures our most vulnerable are protected today while also preventing crime and violence in the future. We are eager to work with the Attorney General to break the cycle of violence by helping traumatized children heal.”

Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund):

“Children are most important for the future ability of this state to thrive.  The step being announced, ensuring that there is a bureau dedicated to focusing on children, is one that will yield tremendous benefits, not only for the children who are affected, not only for their parents, but for the entire state of California.”

Jennifer Perry, Executive Director of Children’s Action Network and board member of Children’s Law Center:

“When you ask a children in foster care ‘why are you here?’, not ‘what are you doing here?’, you can bring the resources to bear on changing the future for that child.  Three percent of kids in foster care go on to complete a college or vocational education, 70% of them want to.  We should be asking ‘why?’  Why aren’t we helping those kids achieve their aspirations? I commend the Attorney General for already knowing the ‘why’ and making a huge step forward and looking at the ‘how’—how are we going to work together to make sure that all of them have the future that they deserve.”

Alex Johnson, Executive Director of California Children’s Defense Fund:

“We have to ensure that children have a healthy start, a head start, a fair start, a safe start, and indeed, a moral start in life.  That is the essence of this bureau, ensuring that children have those vital necessities that they need to succeed in the long-term.  It offers a great opportunity to address the root causes of the cradle-to-prison pipeline.  Let me thank the Attorney General and this office for its leadership in investing in children, recognizing that our moral authority as adults requires us to place children at the forefront.”

Ryan Smith, Executive Director of Education Trust- West:

“The Attorney General is building on her track record of helping students, supporting schools across the state, assuring that students have the right to an equal education.  Going forward, it’s up to all of us to work with the Attorney General to make sure that every child has the right to succeed.”

The Bureau draws on Attorney General Harris’ expertise as a career prosecutor focusing on sexual and physical crimes against children and her commitment to defending every child in California. Attorney General Harris served two terms as District Attorney of San Francisco, where she created a child sexual assault unit. She also led the San Francisco City Attorney’s Division on Children and Families and specialized in prosecuting child sexual assault cases at the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.

For more information on the bureau, click here or read the press release launching the Bureau here.