SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Hillary Clinton’s mother began supporting herself as a housekeeper at age 14. At 8 years old, her parents had sent her away to live with her grandmother because they just did not feel like being parents anymore.
The presidential hopeful related her personal story of familial abandonment to staff of the Community Coalition during her visit here May 24. She pledged her commitment to working with local agencies to improve foster and family care, issues that are important to the South L.A. community.
When she walked into the coalition’s headquarters on Vermont Avenue, she was introduced to Debra Lee, a longtime member of the organization who is raising her 7-year old great-granddaughter.
Clinton emphasized the importance of family care over foster care, and said that in instances where a family member is willing to care for a child if the parents cannot, then they should receive support from the community and government.
Her visit resonated with Jose Ramirez, an organizer with the coalition, who was raised by his grandmother after his mother died while trying to save him and his brother during a fire.
“My grandmother didn’t receive any money because she was not a foster parent,” Ramirez said. “At times, it was hard for her to provide for us.”
Clinton said that if she became president she would work closely with elected officials like U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson to collaborate with area churches to build a safety net for kids being raised by someone other than their parents, according to Ramirez.
The support system would also help them once they aged out of foster care, and help end the “foster-care-to-prison pipeline,” Clinton said.
As of 2014, more than 400,000 American children were in foster care, 24 percent of which were African-Americans, which is double their percentage in the U.S. population. After the kids age out of the system, one in five will become homeless and only half will be employed by age 24, according to the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a national organization that works to ensure that youth in foster care make a successful transition to adulthood.
During her visit to the Community Coalition, Clinton also discussed providing cooperative housing for foster families and relative caretakers and building on the Affordable Care Act to make health care more accessible to those types of families, according to Tylo James, 23, a community organizer with the Coalition.
James, who was raised by her grandparents, said she thought Clinton’s visit was “a humbling experience,” for herself as well as the other relatives caring for family members who shared their experiences with the candidate.
“We got to know her more intimately, [she is] coming from a genuine place,” James said.
James introduced the former secretary of state by telling her own story, how she lived with her grandparents while her dad was in and out of prison.
“By middle school, I started to feel abandoned by my parents and thought my mom had chosen drugs over me,” James said.
At age 12, James tried to end her own life, a fact that she had never shared aloud before, she said.
But her grandparents’ attentiveness and kindness put her back on track. Now, she credits them with her graduation from UCLA.
“Because of my grandparents, I could just be a kid,” James said. “Relative care-givers are the unsung heroes of the African-American community.”
Clinton has long demonstrated interest in children and family issues. After graduating law school, she worked at the Children’s Defense Fund, which aims to end child poverty and give children of all backgrounds a healthy start in life.
As first lady, she worked to enact the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, intended to move children in foster care more quickly into permanent homes, and the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999, which provided states with funding to help children transitioning out of the system.