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Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Unveils Bureau of Children’s Justice

In First Action, New Bureau Sends Letters to All California Counties Reviewing Responsibilities for Foster Care System Oversight

Thursday, February 12, 2015
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today unveiled the Bureau of Children’s Justice within the California Department of Justice that will work to ensure all of California’s children are on track to meet their full potential. In the Bureau’s first action, Attorney General Harris sent a letter to officials in all 58 counties in California, outlining their legal responsibilities with regard to foster youth and urging each county to evaluate their current enforcement and oversight policies and practices.

The Bureau will enforce criminal and civil laws to hold those who prey on children accountable; work with a range of local, state, and national stakeholders to increase support for vulnerable children to prevent bad outcomes; and identify and pursue improvements to policies impacting children.

“We simply cannot let down our most vulnerable children today, then lock them up tomorrow and act surprised,” said Attorney General Harris.  “The Bureau of Children’s Justice will continue our smart on crime approach by addressing the root causes of crime, including our broken foster care system, and making certain that California’s children receive full protection under the law and equal opportunities to succeed.   One of the Bureau’s first orders of business will be to look at enforcement gaps in the foster care system and ensure that government agencies are held accountable to those entrusted in their care.”  

Attorney General Harris’ letter to counties lays out their responsibilities in protecting children in foster care and overseeing the agencies that provide direct services to these children. In the coming months, the Bureau will focus on identifying accountability and enforcement gaps in the foster system to ensure children have the support they need.

“We are thrilled that Attorney General Harris is making children her top priority with this new Bureau,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now. “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.”

“I’m happy to join Attorney General Harris in shining a spotlight on the importance of safeguarding our children,” said Diana S. Dooley, Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency. “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.”

The Bureau will draw on the civil and criminal law enforcement capacity of the California Department of Justice and build on CADOJ’s existing work on key issues affecting children. Core priorities for the newly formed bureau include

  • 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
  • Childhood trauma and exposure to violence

Attorney General Harris also announced that 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 Initiative. Through this initiative, California will work to improve outcomes for children exposed to trauma by ensuring that at-risk children are screened for exposure to violence at school, when they visit a pediatrician, or when they become involved with child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

“I commend Attorney General Harris for taking this important step to protect the youngest and most vulnerable Californians,” said Dr. Robert K. Ross, President and CEO, The California Endowment.  “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.”

The Bureau will expand CADOJ’s efforts to combat the crisis of elementary school truancy, piloting programs with school districts to improve attendance and launching a new partnership with University of California, Santa Barbara to ensure these pilots can be replicated across the state.

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.

The Bureau will be staffed by attorneys and experts on legal issues impacting children, including civil rights, education, consumer protection, nonprofit charities, child welfare, privacy and identity theft, fraud, and human trafficking.

To view the letter to counties, click here: http://bit.ly/1vHdkg7

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