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Commissioners’ Corner: New Board Members Express Their Priorities

In these brief Q&A sessions, we speak with new board members about the significance of joining the Board of First 5 LA, their priorities for the agency and their greatest concerns for young children in Los Angeles County.

This edition will feature answers on these topics from Commissioner Bobby Cagle, who joined the Board in January, and Commission Alternate Keesha Woods, who joined late last year. Click on the links above for their biographies.

What does the opportunity to become a First 5 LA Commissioner mean to you?

Bobby Cagle: First 5 is a model for the nation. I remember reading articles about the initiative back in the ‘90s and thinking to myself, “California is really on the cutting edge.” Little did I know back then that I’d be serving on the First 5 LA Commission. It’s especially meaningful for me to serve on this commission as I’ve spent my entire career working on issues affecting young children — not only from the child welfare perspective, but also as the former head of Bright Start, Georgia’s early care and learning agency. There are surprisingly few forums that bring these separate, but related, issues together and I’m excited to be part of one. I am really looking forward to getting to know and collaborating with my fellow First 5 LA Commissioners — whether from other County departments or other key partners like the Advancement Project, ICAN, the Children and Families Commission and others. First 5 LA provides a unique opportunity to step outside of our daily routines and meeting rooms and have meaningful, non-reactive debate and discussion about our intersecting work.

Keesha Woods: To be on the commission is a huge responsibility. It is one of the most serious positions one can have because we impact so many individuals, primarily babies. We need individuals who are grounded, consistent and committed. I can help bridge some of the gaps in service delivery approaches. As a commissioner, I can bring the voice of Head Start. I can bring the voice of state-funded providers working with First 5 LA so that we have a solid chain of services that are linked but not duplicated. So that, in partnership and collaboration, we are maximizing services and providing maximum efficiency to our stakeholders.

What are your greatest areas of concern among children ages 0–5 and their parents in L.A. County? Why?

Bobby Cagle: Though I’ve spent nearly 30 years in social services and correction, it was my time at Bright Start that really exposed me to brain research and the treatment of complex trauma in children and their families, particularly for young children. The importance of attachment and how toxic stress can derail healthy development. And we wonder why some children cannot adapt to “typical” challenges and transitions. Trauma-informed care is so fundamental to all the work we do. Children under age 5 make up about one-third of the children receiving Department of Children and Family Services, and they reenter into foster care at higher rates than older children, thereby experiencing repeated trauma. The good news is that it’s never too late to build new neural pathways for traumatized children, and I’m looking forward to working with First 5 LA to build on the work they’ve begun in this area.

Keesha Woods: One of my greatest concerns as it relates to our babies is those that are most disadvantaged, facing the most obstacles. Who constantly live in traumatic environments. My greatest concern about that is that we don’t necessarily have the supports that we need to support these children, and we have to be open and innovative to do that. I think that First LA is talking about that — how we serve those children. Another concern is there are so many places in Los Angeles County that families cannot afford to be a part of. I’m talking about gentrification and affordable housing. You have this huge group of individuals in poverty, and that leads towards homelessness and for kids that leads to foster care. How do we address that? My last concern is accessibility and affordability and continuity for these families. We may have a host of services we can provide for them, but we generally set up the systems so they have to come to us. We have to have supports in the community that they can access. 

What are your priorities and aspirations this year for First 5 LA?

Bobby Cagle: Being new to Los Angeles and the country’s largest child welfare system, as you might imagine, I’m busy learning about all we do and getting to know the agency landscape and many new people. With over 10 million residents and nearly 5,000 social workers spanning nearly 5,000 square miles, I have my work cut out for me. One of my most pressing priorities is getting out in the community and talking to as many people interested in children’s issues as possible. I didn’t come here with preconceived notions of what I need to do to “turn around” the system. During my short time here, I’ve heard much about the First 5 LA efforts to prevent abuse and neglect, as well as engaging families, so I’m very much looking forward to partnering in those efforts.

Keesha Woods: My first goal is to carry on the agenda of the superintendent of schools. One of those priorities is to bridge the gap to services that are accessible. Another one of those priorities is to bring more services to the schools, where families have access to them. As with many other programs, how do we partner and maximize our funding streams so that we are all sustainable organizations? I know that is one of the priorities for First 5 LA: sustainable systems. We should not supplant our resources, but layer them so that we get the best supports for our families.

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