Children’s Law Center of California: Empowering youth with HopSkipDrive
Written by Karen Sampson
HopSkipDrive recently partnered with Children’s Law Center of California (CLC) to arrange transportation services for a youth empowerment event for children impacted by abuse and neglect. CLC provides legal representation for children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned that come under the protection of the Los Angeles, Sacramento or Placer County Juvenile Dependency Court systems.
Kids from all over Los Angeles attended the Let’s Roll Empowerment Skate Party, which was held at Pigeon’s Roller Rink in Long Beach. In the past, children haven’t been able to attend CLC’s empowerment events because of transportation challenges.
We spoke to Children’s Law Center of California Staff Attorney, Alexandra Lohman, to learn more about CLC, the work they do and the empowerment event HopSkipDrive recently partnered with them on.
Tell us about the empowerment event you recently hosted.
So the empowerment event is a longstanding event we host for our youth specifically involved in our specialty court, which is the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) division. We call it DREAM (which stands for Dedication to Restoration through Empowerment, Advocacy, and Mentoring) court.
When we were planning for the empowerment event to engage the girls in pro-social activities with court partners and community providers, we knew that historically transportation has always been an issue.
So one of our lovely administrative professionals said, “Let me reach out to HopSkipDrive and just see if they can help support us, maybe cut us a break on the rate.” We reached out, and HopSkipDrive came back and said, “We’ll take care of this for you,” which was amazing. It’s the first time that has ever happened for us.
How many kids attended the event?
I think in total we had about 10 kids. The girls had such a good time — and they got to be there because they had transportation. They got gift bags, they went skating and In-N-Out provided lunch.
It was just a day to pamper them, which is especially important for these young girls who have worked in an industry where you are only good for what you look like and what you can give to others.
What kind of impact do you think HopSkipDrive’s involvement had?
Having HopSkipDrive bring them to this event was like: Now here’s a day where we’re going to tell you that you are wonderful the way you are, and this day is all about you. And I think the kids felt really important. They were like, “Oh, someone is coming to pick me up and take me to this event.” It was like they were VIPs for the day!
In this line of work particularly, those days are few and far between so when we get to have them, they’re so important. And having HopSkipDrive to rely on was such a huge stress reliever for us. So overall, just a huge thank you to HopSkipDrive!
Can you tell me how the partnership for this event with HopSkipDrive came about?
Actually at CLC, we utilize HopSkipDrive a lot. We’ve used HopSkipDrive to help kids get to court or set up school transportation. If one of my clients in foster care gets removed and is having barriers to keeping their school of origin in place, we always look to HopSkipDrive to see if we can set up reliable transportation so at least that part of our kiddo’s life is not disrupted.
Another example: I had a young woman come in to testify in court in June. It was a really long drive for her family, and the only thing she has that she’s really proud of is school. She adamantly said, “I cannot miss school in the afternoon.” So HopSkipDrive came and got her from court and made sure she got back to school on time.
Can you talk about instances where you’ve seen transportation be a barrier in terms of accessing opportunities, like this event you just did?
Honestly, transportation is a barrier I have to figure out every day for every client in a whole host of capacities. DCFS is a little bit more inclined to try and figure out school, but they are also limited in the resources they have. Two days ago, I was trying to get transportation for a young woman who’s in extended foster care. She needed to go from Lancaster to L.A. to interview for housing, and it took three different teams within CLC and negotiating with DCFS to get her a ride so she could have housing so she wouldn’t be homeless.
Every day it’s a problem getting our kids to court, and I think what we’re missing here is that transportation and housing are two basic necessities. When you’re working with really vulnerable families — not only emotionally vulnerable but also financially and all of that — basic things like making sure you can get to court or making sure your kid can get to school are challenging. I had one young woman who was taking two or three buses to get to school. She would get up at five o’clock just to make sure she could get to school on time. She was amazing but it’s also just sad that that’s where we’re at.
In Florida, where I practiced before I came to L.A., we had nothing like HopSkipDrive. Often, I was the one picking up kids from the juvenile detention center to go enroll them in school or take them to a doctor’s appointment. No one else could take them, so I’d say, “Get in the car, kiddo. I’ll take you.” It’s a national problem. It’s a huge problem in L.A., too, but it’s just amazing that we have something like HopSkipDrive here in Los Angeles.
How important do you think the work that HopSkipDrive does is and why?
There’s not even a price tag that can be put on what HopSkipDrive does. It’s not right when a kid has to spend all morning in court doing something a child should not have to be doing — testifying in open court about something that happened privately in their family — and then the only thing that kid is thinking about the whole time is, “How am I going to get back to school?”
As an attorney, when you ask kids to give over so much you want to give them a little something back. And so being able to walk my client outside the courthouse door and have a car waiting that has a little HopSkipDrive sticker, and being able to say, “Hey, kiddo, you’re going to school.” It’s just so important, not just for youth but for families overall.
I wish it was a constitutional right, transportation. I wish that every state and every county had a contract like this, because then it wouldn’t be us begging for $100 to pay for an Uber so a child is not homeless.
I’m just at a loss for words to say how important something like this is because it’s instrumental in so many ways. Companies like HopSkipDrive are little rays of light in a very difficult job. It’s like, “Oh, thank God someone saw the issue I saw.”
Tell me a little more about CLC, the work you do and the kids whose lives you impact.
CLC is a nonprofit. Kiddos in the State of California have a constitutional right to a lawyer. And so we work with government agencies like DCFS, but we are a little bit separate as a nonprofit.
The little successes really matter. I think being able to put little victories into perspective is amazing. I always make deals with my kids. I’ll say, “If you go to school for a week, I will find a way to pay to get your hair done.” And some kids are like, “Okay, fine,” and then they don’t do it. And then other kids are like, “Miss Alex, I went to school for a week!” So it’s little things like that. And I also think we are in such a cool position to do things creatively as lawyers that it sustains me.
The kids are the best though. You will often hear us say, “This is such a sweet kid who was just dealt a bad hand.” The kids just make it worth it.
Children’s Law Center of California advocates for its clients by supporting families; fighting for reunification, permanence, educational opportunity, health and mental health wellness; and empowering and strengthening children, families and their communities. Their informed approach to advocacy makes them a powerful voice in local, statewide, and national child welfare system reform.
Learn more at https://www.clccal.org.