Watts Campus Hosts USC's Center for Health Journalism Fellows

July 19, 2022
Emily Win

Children’s Institute (CII) was thrilled to welcome University of Southern California’s (USC) Center for Health Journalism Fellows at our Watts Campus on Wednesday.

Award-winning journalists from across the country were given grants to fly to Los Angeles and learn about different health services.  Because USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism recognizes CII as a cornerstone in wrap-around social services, they asked CII to host their fellows so the journalists could learn more about the vital work we do across LA.

The group of 26 journalists met at our original Watts campus to observe our Community Schools Summer Program, where they got to see a volunteer CII staff member read The Rainbow Fish aloud to students who asked questions to the guest reader and wished them well in a group cheer. Mary Brougher, Senior Director of Community Schools & Experiential Learning, explained how we work with schools near our campuses to provide academic enrichment, health services, and social-emotional skill-building resources.

After observing the Community Schools program, CII staff escorted the journalists to the new Watts campus where they were invited to observe Toddler Socialization, a program designed to bring parents and families from our home-based early education programs together to form a support system and develop social skills. Vice President of Early Childhood Services, Ana Palacios, explained that Home-Based Services allow our Home Visitors to meet with families in their homes once a week to provide socialization, nutrition and wellness skills, or assist with obtaining any other resources the family may need.

Then, CII hosted two presentation panels: one consisting of staff and one made up of current clients. President and CEO, Martine Singer, gave a brief overview of CII’s services and spoke to the benefit of our two-generation approach. She shared that chronic absenteeism—missing more than 10% of the school year— is a major issue affecting children and families, especially due to the pandemic.

Vice President of Head Start, Justine Lawrence, explained how our Early Education Program works within this two-generation model to provide wrap around services and trauma-informed individualized treatment plans for children and families enrolled in our Head Start and Early Head Start programs. She also described CII’s Conscious Discipline Program which educates teachers in self-regulation and co-regulation with their students.

Vice President of Behavioral Health and Wellness, Jesus Parra, explained the need for early social-emotional and cognitive development, answered questions about the psychological benefits of early childhood brain stimulation, and the need for consistent, healthy caregiver relationships.

Vice President of Strengthening Families and Communities, Danette McBride, provided an overview of our larger programs such as Project Fatherhood, Individualized Transition Skills Program (ITSP) for foster youth, and family preservation programs. She also touched on our unique relationships with police. This is particularly pertinent, given that our new Watts campus is home to the Watts Gang Task Force—formed nearly 15 years ago to broker peace in the community—along with the LAPD’s Community Safety Partnership, a nationally recognized model for relationship-based policing.

The morning concluded with a panel of community members involved in CII’s programs. Jenifer, a recent graduate and foster youth, spoke about her development through CII’s foster youth program. With the help of CII, she was able to apply to college, build a resume, and learn how to manage her finances and save enough money to purchase her own car. She wanted the media to know that everyone goes through different hardships and that many of these issues would be better if people had the right support systems.

Anjelica, mother of two in our early childhood education programs, spoke to the benefits of therapy and how she was connected to therapy through CII’s two-generation approach. She wanted everyone to know that therapy can be life changing for many families if it was just destigmatized in our communities.

Isaiah and Rodrigo, both participants in Project Fatherhood, shared emotional testimonies about their growth as father figures in their children’s lives. Isaiah was proud to tell the group that his twin daughters are national cheerleading champions. Furthermore, he wants the journalists to know that the system is often not in favor of fathers and many families, especially fathers, would be better supported if custody and Child Protective Services processes were just clearer and more accessible.

Rodrigo echoed what the other parents mentioned: he didn’t realize parental custody and switching children off between parents, particularly at the police station, was more common than he thought. Through his own journey in Project Fatherhood, he agreed with Anjelica that therapy is a necessary healing tool.

Hosting this engaged and innovative group of reporters offered an excellent opportunity to showcase our services and the integral work of CII’s frontline staff. We hope these USC Center for Health Journalism Fellows take what they learned from CII and use it to inform their reporting on communities where investment is needed most.