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UCLA Pritzker Center Brings Campus and Community Together to Help Children and Families in the COVID-19 Crisis

From its inception, the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families has aimed to enhance collaboration across disciplines at UCLA.  One of the key elements built into the new organization’s DNA was to break down the walls between UCLA Schools and Departments and to connect them with the larger Los Angeles Community.

“When we first started to see how we could assist children and families in need, people across campus talked about the need to talk with each other, to share ideas and resources and find ways to collaborate. There were a lot of great people doing really interesting work that could be helpful, but sometimes no one else knew about it,” Tyrone C. Howard, Ph.D., UCLA Education Professor and Director of the UCLA Pritzker Center said.  “While we were and are very focused on the issues that confront children and families, breaking down those barriers often times caused by inequality, and building connections across campus and the community became fundamental to the work.”

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, those efforts are paying off as leaders across UCLA and the greater Los Angeles community come together with the UCLA Pritzker Center to address the needs of children and families.

As the COVID-19 crisis escalated in March, representatives from units across UCLA have joined the UCLA Pritzker Center COVID-19 Response Team.  Faculty, staff and students from the Department of Psychology, the Law and Medical Schools, the Luskin School of Public Affairs, the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, UCLA TIES for Families, the Center for Community Schooling, and the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools, among many others have joined hands to provide expertise to both the community and one another.  

“Already, the impact is greater,” says Audra Langley, Ph.D., UCLA Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences Professor and Co-Director of the UCLA Pritzker Center said.  “We are stronger together. The insight from our colleagues across campus has allowed us to take informed action and make thoughtful links between experts at UCLA and the challenges facing L.A. County.  Children and families need support across all areas – from equitable education to housing, food to mental health and wellbeing, we’re working to make sure UCLA’s expertise creates the access families need.”

The work was quickly organized into key areas of focus including: Education, Law, Social Work, Mental Health, Public Policy and Health/Public Health. Chairpersons from across the collaboration have been assigned to lead work in each area. At the recommendation of the Response Team, a month-long speaker series was formed, addressing a range of topics from special education to juvenile justice. A robust resource library was created, social media has been amplified, and students were mobilized to provide remote assistance to L.A. County agencies. 

Going forward, the Response Team will support the distribution of informative resources through the LAUSD Grab & Go Centers, form a tutoring network, and film video resources for quick distribution on social media. The UCLA Pritzker Center is also compiling policy recommendations for local officials, and sharing them to address critical concerns relating to children and families.

“In times of crisis, children often bear invisible and unspoken burdens. In L.A. County alone, the child abuse hotline normally receives 1,000 calls a day. Due to school closures, the hotline is receiving about 400 calls a day. Through the Response Team, we’re able to push out child abuse prevention ideas into the community in new and remote ways,” Taylor Dudley, Administrative Director of the UCLA Pritzker Center said. 

Excitement about UCLA Pritzker Center effort and participation in it is growing. On April 9 at noon, the group launched a COVID-19 Community Speakers Seriesfor Children and Families, with 281 remote attendees. The first session focused on meeting the needs of students in special education. The second session on Tuesday, April 14 will address child abuse prevention in partnership with the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services and UCLA Luskin School. The sessions are free, open to all and offered in Spanish, and will aim to provide relevant helpful information to professionals in the field, caregivers, youth and families.  

“The COVID-19 crisis is impacting families in unimaginable ways. From parental job loss to school closures, children in poverty are especially vulnerable,” said Dr. Moira Szilagyi, Professor of Pediatrics and Interim Division Chief, General Pediatrics at UCLA. “As a pediatrician, I’ve observed the far-reaching impact of crisis on children’s health and well-being. It’s more important than ever to lend a hand to struggling families, be creative in our solutions, and work across disciplines in service of others.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the inequities that have so long plagued our community.  The great danger is that the pandemic will make them worse,” Howard concludes. “The need is so great and there is so much to do.  But there are a lot of talented people at UCLA and across our community with ideas, expertise and resources.  The UCLA Pritzker Center can help bring them together to make a difference.”  

The UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families was launched in January 2018 as a UCLA campus-wide initiative focused on the needs of children and youth who are disconnected from traditional pathways to success, with a particular focus on foster youth. The UCLA Pritzker Center was made possible by a generous gift from the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation. It is an interdisciplinary venture that brings together a wide variety of UCLA resources and expertise – the UCLA Department of Education, the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, the UCLA Department of Social Welfare, and other units across campus – to address the complex needs of foster youth and to create better prevention systems for families who are at risk of losing their children to the foster care system.