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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 is a diverse group of individuals with a broad range of experience and expertise, appointed by the Board of Supervisors to advise them on matters affecting at-risk children, youth and families. We gather information on issues, policies, and services, seek data and research to inform decision-making, and provide an arena for community voices to be heard. We work collaboratively with partners in the community, in public and private sectors, and from faith-based and philanthropic groups, to identify and support innovative approaches that can strengthen our county’s complex network of public and private service delivery systems. We invite you to join with us in our mission to enhance the opportunities for children and families in Los Angeles County to grow and thrive in safe and supportive environments.

Dr. Wendy Smith

 

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.

 

 

 

Vacant

 

 

 


Vacant

 

 

 


Vacant

 

 

 

 

 

Gale Caswell

 

Gale Caswell awoke to a life of service in her freshman year at college when she volunteered to be a counselor at Uni Camp, UCLA’s camp for inner-city, blind, and diabetic youth. The ten days she spent with her unit of twelve girls from the city, and the subsequent years of counseling blind and diabetic children has shaped her place in the service community. With a degree in English from UCLA, Gale has been a life-long educator, with experience in kindergarten through twelfth grade. Her passion for theatre led her to explore the variety of ways in which the study of acting, directing, and playmaking can uplift and inspire.

Gale serves on the board of directors of The California Educational Theatre Association and is the liaison to The California Association of Teachers of English. She is the adjudication coordinator for the CETA High School Festival, which annually serves more than 70 high schools.

Gale was named an outstanding senior at UCLA and was a 2001 Los Angeles County Teacher of the year. In 2018, she was awarded the prestigious Medallion by the California Educational Theatre Association.


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 Distinguished Continuing Scholar in Child Welfare at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Previously, she served as associate dean of curriculum planning and assessment, guiding the School’s reaccreditation process. As an associate clinical professor, she taught classes on theory and practice with children and families, and on social work practice with transition-age youth. She was 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 Venice Family Clinic, where she chaired the behavioral health and child development committee, and of the National Foster Youth Institute. 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. Previous board affiliations include United Friends of the Children and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

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 immigrationa 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.

 

 


Tiffany Boyd

 

 

Tiffany Boyd is a former client of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. She spent 10 years in care and has spent the following 10 years since then traveling and advocating for reform of the child welfare system. She is a resident of Long Beach California, where she provides care for her schizophrenic mother and a full-time Public Administration major at California State University Dominguez Hills projected to graduate with her bachelor’s degree May 2018. She was appointed as a Commissioner on the Citizens Oversight Committee for Proposition HHH. She is working on starting her own non-profit organization geared towards training and mobilizing emancipated and post-transition age foster youth to assist youth who are still in care and transition age foster youth navigate the system successfully.

Tiffany is a member of the National Foster Youth Institute’s Leadership Corps (NFYI), has participated on the Alliance for Children’s Rights Youth Council, and was a member of California Youth Connection (CYC). Tiffany spent the summer of 2017 working on Capitol Hill as a summer intern for Senator Kamala Harris as part of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship program. While on the Hill she lobbied for foster care reform, wrote and published a policy report regarding quality of care for system involved youth, and presented her policy recommendations in briefings to several members of Congress and the White House Domestic Policy Council.

 

 


William Bedrossian

 

 

Bill has served as the CEO of Covenant House California (CHC), since 2014.  Committed to doing more to deal with the crisis of youth homelessness in CA, in that time, Covenant House has grown from a site in Los Angeles and Oakland, to now four sites between LA County and Alameda County, with new sites in development in Berkeley, Orange County, and Los Angeles County, as well as site expansion projects in Oakland and Hollywood.  Covenant House now serves close to 4,000 youth experiencing homelessness, each year in CA.

With just about 25 years of child welfare and homeless services experience, Bill’s passion for working with youth, came from his parents, who have been foster parents for 30+ years and who adopted 8 of his 11 siblings through the child welfare system.  Bill began his career in social work doing street outreach, residential care and behavioral modification therapy in Chicago, Illinois, in the mid-1990s. He subsequently spent 13 years with the L.A. County Department of Child and Family Services, as a Children’s Social Worker, Supervising Children’s Social Worker, Assistant Regional Administrator, and finally, as the agency’s South County Regional Administrator.  In 2010, Bill left to become the Executive Director at Olive Crest, Los Angeles, and was subsequently appointed as ED of Olive Crest’s Southern California operations in 2012; providing mental health and family support services, as well as foster care, adoption and residential care, in LA, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego Counties.

Bill has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Finance from Taylor University, a Masters of Social Work from Loyola University, and has served as an adjunct professor in USC’s Graduate School of Social Work since 2012.  When he’s not leading Covenant House CA’s movement to end youth homelessness in CA, you will find Bill spending time with his lovely wife, chasing after his two young sons in Long Beach, CA, and rooting on any sports team from his hometown of Philadelphia!

 

 

 

 

Dr. Jeanette Mann

 

 

Appointed to the Commission in 2018 by Supervisor Barger, Dr. Jeanette Mann’s adult life has been devoted to serving children and young people. Jeanette’s journey is solidly rooted in education. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Missouri, Columbia, with three degrees in English. Upon completing her doctorate, she accepted a faculty position at Northern Illinois University. While there, she spent a year as a Rockefeller Fellow, receiving extensive training and experience in ways to diversify predominately white universities. In 1976, she was appointed Special Assistant to the President for Equity and Diversity at California State University, Northridge, where she worked to diversify the faculty by revising campus policies on recruitment, tenure and promotion. She also developed national models for preventing and resolving allegations of sexual and racial harassment and discrimination.

Jeanette was the first woman elected to the Board of Trustees of Pasadena City College, serving eight terms, including six as Board President. In 2005, she was elected to the Board of Directors of California Community College Trustees Association, serving ten years, two as President. In addition, she was President of the Community College League of California and represented locally-elected trustees on the California Community Colleges Student Success Task Force.

As co-founder and Chair/Co-Chair of the Foster Care Project (FCP), a ministry of All Saints Church, Jeanette has enhanced the lives of foster, homeless, transitional, and incarcerated children and youth. Using a model of recruiting volunteers for programs and services through local agencies, FCP has established partnerships with 37 agencies serving at-risk children and youth. Each year FCP recruits upwards of 140 volunteers to serve as mentors, tutors, special friends, or personal shoppers to more than 1000 young people. Through the Birthday Club and Angel Tree Program, FCP also provides birthday and Christmas gifts to another 1000+ children in foster care. In 2016, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors identified FCP’s family reunification program, Family Connect, as a model for the County. In 2016, working closely with community organizations, social service agencies, parents of foster children and youth, and staff at Pasadena City College, FCP’s Public Policy Committee petitioned the Board of Education of Pasadena United School District to establish a Foster Youth Advisory Council. This Council gives parents and guardians of children and youth in foster care a voice in their children’s education. Jeanette also has advocated for fundamental changes in the foster care system. Much of her effort has addressed the challenges faced by youth transitioning out of foster care. She advocated for extending the age that youth in foster care could receive services from 18 to 21, for density bonuses in housing for transitional-aged youth, and for providing services and support for transitional-aged youth in public colleges and universities.

In 2008, Jeanette was honored as “Woman of the Year” for the 21st District by State Senator Jack Scott. In 2010, she received the Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of her professional accomplishments from the University of Missouri, Columbia. In 2012, she received the Pasadena NAACP’s President Award for improving the quality of life in the community. Upon her retirement from the Board of Trustees at Pasadena City College in 2015, she was honored by the College through the designation of the Jeanette Mann Foster Youth Center. Jeanette has three adult children and three grandchildren. Her late husband Dr. Kenneth Mann was employed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a Senior Scientist.

 

 


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.

 

 


Shimica Gaskins

 

 

Shimica Gaskins is the Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund–California (CDF-CA), a state chapter of the national child advocacy organization founded by Marian Wright Edelman. CDF-CA believes that California’s long-term prosperity depends upon all children having the opportunity to thrive and succeed; the organization champions programs and policies that ensure a level playing field for the most vulnerable children and youth in the state – focusing in particular on expanding opportunities for youth to grow up in safe neighborhoods, access comprehensive health care coverage, and be educated in positive learning environments.

Before joining the CDF-CA, Gaskins worked in law and public policy specializing in legislative, regulatory, and policy issues associated with criminal justice reform and children’s rights. She formerly served as the Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) where she worked to develop and implement innovative policy initiatives in areas such as criminal justice reform and issues affecting children with incarcerated parents.

Prior to joining the DOJ, Gaskins was in private practice at Covington & Burling LLP where she managed complex civil litigation. She clerked for the Honorable Roger L. Gregory on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and the Honorable Victoria A. Roberts on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Over the course of her legal career, Gaskins has worked to find ways to generate change in underserved communities. She has provided hundreds of pro bono hours representing indigent clients, worked as an advocate for children and kinship caregivers at the Children’s Law Center in Washington, D.C., and served on an advocates’ board for people affected by homelessness and poverty.

Additional, she has taught as an adjunct professor at the Catholic University of America and the Charles Hamilton Houston Preparatory Law School Institute, and has published law review articles on sentencing laws, child welfare, and voting rights. Gaskins serves as a mentor to many law students and young lawyers. In 2016, she was honored with the National Bar Association’s “40 Under 40 Best Advocates” Award.

Born in Lake City, South Carolina, Gaskins earned her Bachelor of Arts cum laude in philosophy from the Catholic University of America and her Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center. Most recently, she served as the Director of Policy and Outreach for The Fair and Just Prosecution Project—a program supporting newly elected prosecutors committed to innovative criminal justice reform policies.

In her spare time, Gaskins enjoys reading various genres of fiction and baking homemade treats for her family. She has also completed two breast cancer walks—one 60 miles, the other 39 miles. Gaskins lives in Altadena, California with her husband, James Perez, Esq. and their two children.

 

 

 

 

Tamara N. Hunter, DSW

 

 

Tamara Hunter has worked to improve the lives of the most vulnerable among us for more than 15 years. In 2015, she became the Executive Director of the Commission for Children and Families, which serves as an advisory body to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on matters involving at-risk and systems-involved children, youth, and families, and works to strengthen the County’s continuum of care for this population.

Dr. Hunter, a macro-practitioner, has extensive experience in child welfare and public administration; having managed programs, administered internal operations, and led cross-sector collaborative teams. She has published and presented on these topics, taught courses on social welfare policy, and is a Network for Social Work Management Policy Fellow.

She holds a doctorate in social work from the University of Southern California.