The Kinship Caregiver Council advises the Step Up Coalition and advocates for relative caregivers statewide to ensure that their needs are fully considered in legislation, policy, and child welfare practice.
SYLVIE DE TOLEDO
Sylvie de Toledo is a licensed clinical social worker. In 1987, she founded Grandparents As Parents, a non-profit organization focused on helping relative caregivers. Sylvie co-authored the book Grandparents As Parents A Survival Guide for Raising a Second Family. A second edition of the book was released in June 2015.
Sylvie and her work have been featured in national and local press to advocate on behalf of relative caregivers, who account for more than half of all those caring for children who have entered foster care.
She has received numerous awards having to do with her work on behalf of relative caregivers for over 30 years, and continues to work with Grandparents As Parents in the capacity of Clinical Director and Board Member. Sylvia lives in Sherman Oaks with her husband of 21 years and their two daughters ages 20 and 17. They have been caregivers to several children through the years.
BOBBIE JO DEAN
Bobbie Jo Dean holds a B.S. in Mathematics from California State University, Northridge, and is a licensed CPCU who has worked at 21st Century Insurance for 27 years. She became a “big sister” through Big Brothers/Big Sisters in 2003. Her “little sister” lost her grandmother, who was her primary guardian, at which point Bobbie Jo became her primary caregiver. She says the process of going from “big sister” to being a single mom was difficult, but so worthwhile. Since then, she married and her husband brought his two children into the family. Today, they live on 3 acres with 20 chickens and all three kids. Bobbie Jo and her husband also took in her daughter’s young nephew for several months when he was detained into foster care. The family spends their time playing sports, fixing up their home, and scuba diving.
Kavita Eng and her husband took in two nieces and a nephew after they had been placed in foster care and could not remain in their initial placement. At the time, she did not yet know them very well, although she suddenly found herself their primary parent. At first it was a struggle to address their needs and navigate the complexity of their circumstances. Today, she says that becoming their parent has made her a bigger person. She believes strongly in lasting commitment in helping abused and neglected children recover and thrive and says that she wants only that the children grow into happy and successful people after enduring so much at an early age.
Mary Lee has been a relative caregiver for more than twenty years. Mary was given custody of her eldest granddaughter in 1991, shortly after she was born. At the time, Mary was pressured to adopt, and told that unless she adopted her granddaughter, the child would be removed from her home and put up for adoption. Subsequently and as a result of that experience, Mary worked with representative Karen Bass and a group of caregivers in Sacramento to get AB 298 passed, stating that relative caregivers could no longer be forced to adopt their relative children.
Mary has two other granddaughters, one for whom she became legal guardian, and one who was placed with another relative and eventually entered foster care and experienced multiple placements.
Mary has been a foster youth advocate for many years and produces newsletters for caregivers to educate them about changes in the law. She also participates in caregiver support groups including Grandparents as Parents. She volunteers with LAUSD representing foster youth on the Parent Advisory and the Community Advisory, and serves as a surrogate parent for the school district. Her hope is to reach other caregivers and support them in navigating the foster care system.
Linda Leighton is raising two granddaughters. She did not expect to be the primary caregiver for her granddaughters, but family tragedy unexpectedly led to a situation in which the family was pressured to take legal guardianship and told that if they did not, the girls would be adopted by strangers. Now, 12 years later, she continues to raise the girls, and together they have overcome numerous life obstacles and challenges. The family lives in Auburn, California. In her professional life, Linda works with mentally ill patients in crisis and serves as a Kinship Parent Partner thru Lilliput Family. She looks forward to retirement and living the RV life and volunteering for causes near and dear!
Several years ago, Ana and her husband unexpectedly became relative caregivers to their three nieces and nephew. They were taken aback by the lack of support and difficulty they experienced in the foster care system, including challenges in accessing college financial aid, Medi-Cal, mental health treatment and other benefits for their nieces. Two years later their youngest niece was placed under Ana and Carlos’ guardianship and their nephew reunified with his father in Mexico.
Since then Ana has participated in Advisory Meetings with Casey Family Programs. In 2017 Ana and Carlos attended the GrandRally in Washington, DC where they advocated for relative caregivers. Today they are readily available to provide guidance and support to the children whenever they need it. The family resides in Chula Vista, California. Ana graduated from the University of California Berkeley and is currently working in Trust Services. During her free time, Ana enjoys hiking. She is also a member of MANA de San Diego, an organization that empowers Latinas through education, leadership training, advocacy and community service.
Aubrey Manuel has been living in the South Central Los Angeles area for over fifty years, through various tumultuous periods in his community. After high school, he earned three college degrees, and has had a long and successful career in business.
Aubrey has over thirty-five years of experience in the field of child welfare, as a mentor, tutor, and leader in various youth organizations. He is a licensed foster parent and Group Home Administrator through the State of California Department of Social Services. He has also worked as a patrol officer for the Los Angeles Police Department.
Aubrey is currently a professional caregiver with a particular commitment to young men grappling with issues including substance abuse, gang activity and juvenile delinquency/probation involvement. He is committed to providing a stable home for those who have been through multiple foster care placements. Aubrey is also an instructor for continuing education courses for foster parents through L.A. Community College at the Compton/El Camino and West L.A. sites and an education advocate, for youth with special needs. He serves as president of the Los Angeles County Resource Families Coordinating Council, president of the California State Care Providers Association and a member of the California Child Welfare Council. He was also the Regional Vice President and Treasurer for the National Foster Parent Association.
Imrith Rode’America and his life companion, Reyna, have two daughters, Judith, and Zion, and they are the relative caregivers for Imrith’s younger siblings Ricardo, Angel, and Esli.. Imrith is actively involved in his sibling’s academic achievements and he is a passionate advocate for all those who have experienced foster care. Imrith is a founding member of Proyecto Vecindad (Project Neighborhood), a grassroots collective focusing on utilizing the arts to empower the community. Imrith also works closely with Inside Out Writers. The mission of Inside Out Writers is to reduce the juvenile recidivism rate by providing a range of services that evolves to meet the needs of currently and formerly incarcerated youth and young adults.
Bob Ruble has been the primary caregiver for his niece since she was 8 years old. At the time, he was told that if he decided not to step up and care for her, his niece would be sent to live with a stranger in foster care. With little guidance on how to proceed on his own, Bob’s kinship journey began.
Bob eventually became his niece’s guardian and has helped her to grow and recover from trauma. In addition to attending support groups with his niece, Bob also took the initiative to seek out other vital supports: including parent classes and trauma training from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
Today, Bob’s niece is 23 and attending college, and he is proud of the young woman she has become. Bob has also become an important voice for kinship families in his local area through his work with Children and Family Services and organizing kinship recognition events. Bob founded his own nonprofit to provide support for other kinship caregivers. He is also the President of the National Kinship Alliance and serves on the Step Up Coalition, representing relative caregivers in policy discussions.
Cherie Schroeder has twenty years of experience as a service provider and expert in early childhood and foster and kinship care with particular focus on the impact of trauma and loss on a child’s development. Her life’s work is training and supporting families willing to open their hearts and homes to abused, neglected and abandoned children. Cherie has a graduate degree from UC Davis and completed a 2-year Advanced Transdisciplinary Mental Health Practitioner program in the fields of Infant/Family and Early Childhood through WestEd and sponsored by First5 Yolo. She and her husband, Ken, are approved resource families, and they have taken in many teens and several non-minor dependents.
Marcelina Valenzuela, who was in foster care herself, has been a relative caregiver for the last five years, providing for her brother, who is 14 years old, and her 18 year-old sister. She works at Children’s Law Center as a case manager.
She joined the Kinship Caregiver Council in order to work with other relative caregivers and collectively advocate for the needs of those who might follow in her shoes, especially sibling caregivers. She says she wants relative caregivers to know that they are not alone and have a community to back them up.
Cherie Weatherall was born raised in Los Angeles. She married and raised six children, spending much of this time as a single parent. Cherie is a former insurance account executive and a fitness instructor!
Cherie ran a non-profit youth sports organization in the West LA area, and has served as a board member on behalf of emerging charter schools. She is employed by the Senior Citizen Section for the City of Los Angeles, working on community engagement for seniors.
Cherie has been the “Super-Grandma” to her four year-old granddaughter whom she is now raising, an experience that she says brings her unspeakable joy. Cherie worked with the Alliance for Children’s Rights when she required advocacy in order to access benefits through DCFS to help her meet Jasmine’s special needs. Today Cherie is committed to partnering with the Alliance and other advocates to ensure that foster and relative caregivers continue to benefit from legislative improvements.