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LA County wants to expand options for at-risk youth

File: Founder of the gang rehab program, Father Boyle and homies at Homeboy Industries, Thanksgiving 2012.
Homeboy Industries
Father Boyle and homies at Homeboy Industries, Thanksgiving 2012.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe wants to change county funding models for at-risk youth, saying some of the most innovative, successful youth treatment programs don't fit into the traditional system the county has grown accustomed to using.

The board on Tuesday approved his and  Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas' motion to explore ways to modernize the county's competitive bid process to give a wider range of treatment programs a chance to win county contracts.

About 1,500 juvenile delinquents are released from Los Angeles county youth camps each year and the county spends at least $11 million annually on rehabilitation programs, according to Knabe's office.

Most of the money goes to traditional "fee for service" programs where a juvenile offender is referred to a specific rehabilitation program after release from camp. Knabe referred to those programs as "square pegs" that fit the county mold because it's easy to track which services were provided.

He said other successful programs that help troubled youth turn their lives around are left out.

"These are not square peg issues," he said. "They are issues that have to be met with head-on services," he said. "And you have to look at all the different models that may be out there."

He pointed to Homeboy Industries, an iconic program in East Los Angeles that has been rehabilitating gang members for more than 20 years. Homeboy has come into financial difficulty recently, in part because government funding has dropped over the years.

Knabe wanted fund Homeboy last year, but discovered the county couldn't because it doesn't work off of referrals. Rather, gang members voluntarily come to the program, which makes for a more complex funding and tracking process.

Knabe said the county needs to find a way to do that, in light of Homeboy's proven track record for rehabilitating gang members.