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Meet-Commissioners

Message from the Chair

 Welcome to the Commission for Children and Families!

Established in 1984 at the same time as the Department of Children and Family Services, the Commission has long served as advisor to the Board of Supervisors on matters affecting at-risk children, youth and families. In order to carry out our mission and make recommendations in the best interests of children, we gather information on a broad range of issues, seek data and research to inform decision-making, and work with community, faith-based and philanthropic partners to identify and develop innovative approaches to strengthen our county’s complex network of public and private service delivery systems. We are proud that Commission meetings have served as a safe space for community voices to be heard and look forward to additional opportunities to hear how people are working together to create safer and more secure futures for all of our children. I hope you enjoy our website.

Dr. Jacquelyn McCroskey

 

Biographies
  • District 1
  • District 2
  • District 3
  • District 4
  • District 5
  • Executive Director

 

 

Maria Brenes

 

 

Maria Brenes is the Executive Director of InnerCity Struggle. Maria began her activism over twenty years ago as a high school student living along the U.S./Mexico border during a time when state legislation was proposed that criminalized immigrant families and youth. This hostile environment resulted in Maria and her fellow Latino schoolmates being removed from their schools. Despite the discrimination she faced, she completed her studies and later earned degrees from UC Berkeley and Harvard University. The experience taught her the importance of lifting up her voice through collective action to ensure disadvantaged students have access to a quality education.

Maria has organized for educational justice through various campaigns and initiatives. For the past thirteen years, as a leader of ICS, she has spearheaded an expansion of the influence of students and community residents in decision-making about L.A.'s public schools, mobilizing thousands of Latino parents and students.

Maria's work with ICS has resulted in a wide range of improvements within Eastside schools as well as schools throughout the Los Angeles school district. In the last few years, Maria's leadership has helped win several breakthrough victories; new schools for the Eastside, a district-wide policy focused on preparing all students for college, increased funds for schools, smaller learning environments in Eastside high schools and an expansion of school-based health services. After years of ICS demanding that all students be prepared for college, the tide is changing. Graduations rates in the Eastside are rising and more students are informed about what is needed to succeed.

Maria was recognized as a Grassroots Leader to Watch by the Liberty Hill Foundation and has received various other leadership awards, including from the newspaper La Opinion, UC Berkeley’s Chicano/Latino Alumni Association of Southern California and the Latina Lawyers Association. Maria serves on the Community Advisory Board for the leading Spanish-language publication La Opinion. Most recently, she was appointed as a Commissioner for the Commission for Children and Families by County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. She is also a proud mom of two young children that attend LAUSD schools.

 

 


Wendy Garen

 

 

Appointed to the Commission in 2015 by Supervisor Solis, Wendy has played an integral role in the life of The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, becoming President and CEO in 2008 after working for the Foundation in increasing levels of responsibility for more than 20 years. The Parsons Foundation is a quiet leader in philanthropy, investing about $20 million annually in local nonprofits. She was a founding staff member of the children’s nonprofit Crystal Stairs and headed the Los Angeles Child Care and Development Council. She was on the founding board of the Broad Stage, has served on the board of The Trusteeship, and was a Senior Fellow at the UCLA Luskin School, where she received a master’s in urban planning. She currently serves on two government commissions: Volunteer California (appointed by Governor Brown in 2016) and the County Commission for Children and Families. She also serves on the California advisory board of the Milken Institute. In January 2014, Wendy was elected board chair of Southern California Grantmakers, a regional association of more than 300 individual philanthropists, and private, independent, operating and community foundations as well as grantmaking nonprofits and government grantmakers. SCG is a leadership hub for members to connect with each other, improve their grantmaking and amplify their independent efforts through collaborative work. Wendy is a frequent speaker at local and national meetings in philanthropy.

 

 

 

 

Hon. Candace Cooper (Ret.)

 

 

Hon. Candace Cooper (Ret.) has nearly three decades of judicial experience and has earned a reputation as a highly accomplished judge with a common sense approach to resolving disputes. Justice Cooper brings an ideal temperament and a wealth of legal expertise in handling complex, often highly publicized cases. She served for nine years on the California Court of Appeal, Second District, most recently as Presiding Justice of Division Eight from 2001-2008, and as a Superior and Municipal Court judge prior to that. Justice Cooper has also served on the Los Angeles Superior Court for 12 years, handling a variety of assignments, ranging from court management, civil master calendar and civil trials to felony criminal and death penalty trials to juvenile dependency and delinquency.

During her noteworthy career, Justice Cooper has also made tremendous contributions to the legal community through her dedicated involvement in educational and professional associations. She served as president of the California Judges Association from 1988-1989. She was the second African-American, as well as the second woman, to head the nearly 2,000-member voluntary professional association representing all judicial officers throughout the state from the California Supreme Court to the remaining Justice Courts. Justice Cooper also served as a faculty member for the Continuing Judicial Studies Program, the Judicial College and the New Judges Orientation, teaching courses in evidence, jury selection, fairness and elimination of bias.

 

 


Sydney Kamlager

 

 

Sydney Kamlager is a resident of the 54th Assembly District who has dedicated her career to expanding communities' access to resources using empowerment and capacity-building strategies. Ms. Kamlager has over 20 years of broad-based experience in the non-profit, entertainment, and policy sectors. She is currently Assemblymember Holly J. Mitchell's (D-54) District Director. Before joining the district office, Ms. Kamlager worked on Assemblymember Mitchell's 2010 election campaign as a key consultant on Mitchell's strategy team. Prior to working for the Assemblymember, she was Director of External Affairs for Crystal Stairs, a child care development agency. Ms. Kamlager has also held positions as the Development Director for the Cieluna Co., where she worked with actor Delroy Lindo as a producing partner, and as a member of the leadership team at the Social and Public Art Resource Center where she secured millions in city and private funding for the creation and maintenance of public art in each of the city council districts. Ms. Kamlager has spoken before local, national and international audiences on issues that impact working families, cultural sustainability and political disenfranchisement. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California and Carnegie Mellon University, and a member of Zeta Phi Beta, Sorority Inc. She is an alumna of the Southern California Leadership Network and the Los Angeles African American Women's Public Policy Institute. Ms. Kamlager grew up in Chicago as the child of a social worker and actress. She is a proud resident of Crenshaw Manor, where she lives with her two rescue dogs and a very wild, but drought tolerant garden.

 

 

Carol Oughton Biondi

 

 

Appointed to the Commission in 1999 by Zev Yaroslavsky, Commissioner Carol Oughton Biondi has chaired and served on several Commission committees that focus on the issues of “crossover” youth, youth that move from dependency to delinquency. Commissioner Biondi’s contributions focus on children and juvenile justice issues through organizations in Washington D.C., New York City and Southern California. She currently serves on the boards of the Children’s Defense Fund, United Friends of The Children, New Visions Foundation, Homeboy Industries, and the Loyola Law School Center for Juvenile Law and Policy. She has also served on the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council, the L.A. Conservation Corps, the Universal Pre-School Advisory Committee, the Leake and Watts Child Care Agency Board and was appointed by Governor Davis to the California Child Welfare Re-Design Stakeholders Group. Over the past several years she has worked to develop a best practices model at Camp David Gonzales, a probationary camp for juveniles run by the L.A. County Probation Department. She was appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger to the Corrections Standards Authority (formerly the California Board of Corrections) in February 2006.

 

 


Dr. Jacquelyn McCroskey

 

 

Jacquelyn McCroskey, the John Milner Professor of Child Welfare and Co-Director of the Children’s Data Network at the USC School of Social Work, focuses on structure, financing and performance improvement in and across the child welfare, juvenile justice and early care and education (ECE) systems in Los Angeles County. Recent scholarly interests include prevention of child maltreatment, improving access to ECE services for at-risk families, and cross-system collaboration. Dr. McCroskey was appointed to the Los Angeles County Commission on Children and Families in January 2016, representing the 3rd Supervisorial District. She has served on the Policy Roundtable for Child Care and Development since its inception in 2001. In 2003, the California Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers named her the California Social Worker of the Year.

 

 


Dr. Wendy B. Smith

 

 

Appointed to the Commission in 2015 by Supervisor Shelia Kuehl, Wendy Smith is associate dean for curriculum planning and assessment and a clinical associate professor at the USC School of Social Work. In her role as associate dean, she leads the reaccreditation process, including assessment of student-learning outcomes. She has taught classes on theory and practice with children and families, and on social work practice with transition-age youth. She is a faculty fellow at the university’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and has expertise in mentoring in the area of classroom and virtual instruction.

Smith is active in community organizations, serving on the boards of United Friends of the Children, a nonprofit dedicated to bettering the lives of foster youth, and Venice Family Clinic, where she chairs the behavioral health and child development committee. She is a volunteer advocate with Human Rights Watch, working on juvenile justice issues and serving on the advisory committee of its Children’s Rights Division. She also sits on the board of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and is a founding member of the board of the National Foster Youth Institute.

A licensed clinical social worker, Smith is the author of Youth Leaving Foster Care: A Developmental, Relationship-Based Approach to Practice (Oxford University Press, 2011), which integrates multidisciplinary research to provide a new approach to working with youth who have been in the foster care system. The book gives a comprehensive overview of the challenges foster care youth face and how their developmental paths affect their needs as they leave the system. Smith’s bio-psycho-social perspective can guide programs, policies and services that will help youth to transition successfully into adult lives. Her relationship-based approach emphasizes understanding attachment experiences and disruptions, as well as the impact of unresolved trauma and loss.

 

 

Wendelyn Nichols-Julien

 

 

Wendelyn “Wende” Nichols-Julien is the CEO of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Los Angeles, a non-profit organization that mobilizes community volunteers to serve as advocates to children who have been victims of abuse and neglect. Wende has two decades of experience in nonprofit leadership, joining CASA after serving for four years as the Executive Director of the California Conference for Equality and Justice (CCEJ), a non-profit human relations organization dedicated to eliminating bias, bigotry and racism through education, conflict resolution and advocacy. Wende is an attorney, but a facilitator by trade. She practiced land use and government law at the Los Angeles law firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips and worked and volunteered for two years with Public Counsel’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, specializing in representing victims of domestic violence and trafficking in their immigration cases. Wende started her career as a community organizer in Arizona and later in Long Beach, California, supporting residents with environmental and economic justice and dismantling systemic oppression.

Wende has a law degree from the University of Southern California, a Masters in Public Administration and Certificate of Nonprofit Management from Arizona State University, and Bachelor degrees in Regional Development and Political Science from the University of Arizona. She is a certified mediator with significant experience in conflict resolution and restorative justice practices. Wende is a biological, foster and adoptive parent with a passion for mentoring young people. She speaks fluent Spanish and has worked as a court-certified simultaneous interpreter.

 

 


Amy Howorth

 

 

Manhattan Beach Mayor Pro Tem Amy Howorth is in her second term on the Manhattan Beach City Council, having first been elected in 2011. She was the Mayor in 2014. She also served 8 years on the Manhattan Beach School Board.

In March of 2017, she was appointed to the Los Angeles County Commission on Children and Families by County Supervisor Janice Hahn. She was elected in 2017 and 2015 as a delegate to the California Democratic Convention. Prior to that she was an appointed delegate of Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi and served as Congresswoman Jane Harman's Proxy.

In July of 2016, she was a Clinton Appointee to the Rules Committee of the Democratic National Convention.

She ran unsuccessfully for State Senate in 2014.

Her political priorities include regional transportation issues, the environment, innovation in education and the economy, and increasing participation in the political process.

She enjoys watching Game of Thrones and Veep with her family, exploring Los Angeles, and going to Bruce Springsteen concerts.

Prior to elected office, she was a professional photo editor and worked at WGBH in Boston before becoming the original photo editor of Wired Magazine in San Francisco. Amy grew up in Ohio, and graduated from Ohio University. She has two sons, two dogs, and one husband.

 

 


Candace Allen Nafissi

 

 

Candace Allen Nafissi is has earned a Master’s in Public Administration from California State University, Long Beach. She is an Education & Policy Manager for the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce. In this role, she explores how the business community can be supportive in advocating for greater investments in early learning in the LA region. Candace sits on the LAUSD Ad Hoc Early Education Committee and in 2017 she was appointed by Supervisor Janice Hahn to the LA County Children and Families Commission.

Candace has been a Historical Commissioner for the City of Redondo Beach for four years and takes great pride in preserving the historical aspects of her city. In 2017, she was appointed by Councilmember Bill Brand to serve on the General Plan Advisory Committee in Redondo Beach. Nafissi also serves as a member of the Southbay Sierra Club, an organization dedicated to open space and the environment.

Prior to the L.A. Area Chamber, Candace worked for Pediatric Therapy Network’s federal early head start program as a Community Partnership Manager. In that role she assisted low-income families access to much-needed services in the community. Nafissi established memorandums of understandings with vital community partners, organizations and government entities in order to ensure maximum collaboration and services attainment for these less fortunate families.

Candace was a former South bay district representative for Assembly Member Ted Lieu. She covered issue areas such as senior citizens, early education, business, public safety, and children. She was the liaison between the Assembly Member and 450,000 residents, and often worked with local South Bay Council Members on state issues governed by Caltrans and the Coastal Commission.

In addition to the above, Nafissi was chosen to be 1 of 15 students to participate in the “Sacramento Semester” program. This six-month, intensive and academic program set the foundation for her career and is where she discovered her passion for the civic process.

Nafissi is active in our children’s lives serving as PTA member for Tulita Elementary School and is a Hands on Art docent. Candace is living happily ever after with her husband Joe, an LAPD Officer and her two sons, Kian (5)and Kamran (2) and their poodle, Mahi.

 

 

 

Patricia Curry

 

Appointed to the Commission for Children and Families by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, in 1995, Commissioner Patricia “Trisha” Curry has served five terms as Commission Chair and one term as Vice Chair. She has chaired or served on numerous Commission committees which include the Committees on Maclaren, Group Homes, START (Crossover youth), Emancipation, Relative Care, Permanency, Placement, and the Mental Health Committee.

Trisha represented the Commission for Children and Families, as a Commissioner, on First 5 L.A. when it was being created; she is currently representing the Commission again as a Commissioner on First 5 L.A. She also represented the Commission on the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) Stakeholder’s Systems Leadership Team (SLT) and co-chaired the County MHSA Stakeholder’s Planning Committee for Transition Age Youth. She was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to the Foster Care Blue Ribbon Committee formed by the Board of Supervisors.

Much of her work has been focused on the issues facing Transition Age Youth (TAY) and the challenges they face moving out of foster care. She chaired the Emancipation Committee and was a member of the Emancipation Program Partnership (EPP) both created by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (Board) and she is currently serving on the Self Sufficiency Committee, the Youth Development Services (YDS) Redesign Committee, and the ILP Budget Committee also created by the Board.

In addition to her work on the Commission, Trisha has been invited to testify at State hearings on issues related to children in foster care and invited to participate as a panelist at conferences on foster care. These include the Children’s Defense Fund Conference, the Juvenile Court Partnership Conferences, the Little Hoover Commission Hearings on Foster Care, Statewide Judicial Conference for Dependency Courts, the State hearings regarding confidentiality of minors in the dependency system, and the State Hearings for youth with a dependency or delinquency status.

Trisha was a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children) volunteer for 10 years and in 1996, honored as the CASA Volunteer of the Year. Other honors awarded to her include the Superior Court Volunteer of the Year Award and in 1996, the Los Angeles County Volunteer of the Year Award. She was chosen to receive the Community Leadership Award by Public Counsel in 2001, the Mentor Award from Optimist Youth Homes and Family Services in 2010, and was honored by Los Angeles Magazine in 2012 as one of the Top 50 Influential Women in Los Angeles.

 

 


Genevra (Gene) Berger

 

Following college and graduate school, where her concentration was English Literature, Gene accepted a job as a social worker with the Philadelphia Department of Social Services which became her first exposure to child welfare. After a year, she moved to Los Angeles where she worked for a short time as a Juvenile Probation Officer and then transferred to the Department of Public Social Services, initially as a social worker and later as a supervising social worker on adult and family caseloads. After seven years providing direct family services, she moved to administrative positions which varied over the next ten years from an analyst position in the early phases of computerized services to fiscal analysis to policy and systems development in the Bureau of Family Services (BFS). In 1984, she transferred as a manager with BSF to the newly-created Department of Family Services, later to be re-named the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

During her 22-year management tenure in DCFS, Gene created the Quality Assurance Division, which was one of the first comprehensive audit disciplines for children's service provision, in the nation. As such, she developed protocols and operational policy to review social workers and county contractors for compliance with federal, state and county mandates, for fiscal and contract compliance and for social service delivery for effectiveness and quality, with specific emphasis on child safety. During these years, she also enlarged and refined an investigatory function for children re-abused while already in foster care, worked closely with the State in developing regulatory policy for a myriad of legislative changes and collaborated with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in their development of federal child welfare review policy and protocols. Gene's 39-year career with the County ultimately combined a wealth of knowledge and experience in all facets of child welfare, from its legislative history to the social and drug related phenomena that expanded its perimeters in the 1970's, from its funding strategies to its fiscal allocation methodologies, from its direct service programs to the several major philosophical shifts in service delivery which occurred over this time period. After she retired in 2005, Gene consulted privately on child welfare matters in Florida, Texas, Illinois, California and, most recently, with L.A. County DCFS.

 

 


Liz Seipel

 

 

Appointed to the Commission in 2014 by Supervisor Antonovich, Liz attended the University of Minnesota, where she majored in Elementary Education, earning her Bachelor’s Degree and teaching credential. Later, Liz went on to earn a special education credential and a Master’s Degree in Organizational Psychology. In 1976 she and two other ladies started the “St. Stephens Special School”, known today as the Child & Family Center, a non-profit organization. In 1980, she became the Executive Director of the St. Stephens Special School. The agency’s central mission has always been to serve children and their families, particularly those with emotional and behavioral challenges, by working to increase appropriate behaviors and successful development. Due to the agency’s programs and outreach to the community, as well as the tremendous support of Supervisor Antonovich, over the years the Child & Family Center became a contract agency for the Los Angeles County Depts. of Children and Family Services, Mental Health and Probation. In 2002, after a successful capital campaign and a year of construction, the Child & Family Center opened its own site on Centre Point Pkwy; a dream come true for its founders. After 32 years with the Child & Family Center, Liz retired in September 2008.

Liz is married to Jim, and they have 4 adult children, and 7 grandchildren. She remains actively engaged in volunteer work in the community and in her church. She serves on the Auxiliary and the Advisory Committee for the Child & Family Center. She has been a member of the Santa Clarita Sunrise Rotary Club since 1992, and is currently serving as its president. She also loves to travel, read, garden, do crossword puzzles and Sudoku, and takes “power” walks to keep active.

 

 

Tamara N. Hunter, MSW

 

 

Tamara has worked to improve the lives of the most vulnerable among us for more than a decade. After obtaining a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree in 2003, Tamara began working for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, where she focused largely on macro-level social work practice. Tamara has extensive experience in public child welfare; having managed programs, administered internal operations, and led cross-sector collaborative teams. Her recent experience includes work on various initiatives in the areas of foster care, foster youth education and community based services. Tamara also teaches undergraduate courses in the social sciences, and has published work on cross-sector collaboration and social welfare policy. Tamara began her work with the Commission for Children and Families in 2015.