Caring For Babies With AIDS is a multifaceted AIDS organization located on the Culver City/Los Angeles border. It's appropriately tucked away in a residential area. One of the main functions is to house children, ranging from newborns to six years of age.
Ginny Foat has been the Executive Director of Caring For Babies With AIDS (CBA) since the first residential facility opened in 1990. We met one sunny afternoon and I was able to tour the grounds. Tours are rarely given, because as Ginny put it, "We like to keep the houses as much as a home as possible. We try to keep the interference in the children's lives to a minimum. Afterall, how many people come walking through your house?"
That day most of the children were at school, so I was able to see the open, airy and colorful houses where they live. Vivid murals by various artists cover many of the walls. The potty training bathroom has an incredible life-size mural of the Little Mermaid donated by Disney Imagineering. A large playground covered with toys, little vehicles to ride, and places to climb is in the center of the grounds. It's fitting for the playground to be in the center, as the children are obviously the focus of this agency. While the housing facilities are comfortable and spacious, the administrative offices are, let's say, a bit cramped. Fortunately for the staff of 57 and 80 volunteers, that situation should be alleviated soon with construction of an additional building.
Ginny explained the criteria for residency, "The children here are either 'at-risk' or HIV infected. To be a client, there must be AIDS/HIV present in the family and there must be a child. We get children in the program and the only thing we know about them is that their mom is positive. As you know, you can't really tell on a newborn, because they will test positive, even if they're not." (Note:
Babies are born with their mother's immune system. Over 70% of these babies will convert to HIV negative when their own immune system kicks in.)
All of the children are placed at CBA through the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services. There are numerous reasons why a child might need temporary residence. Ginny lists a few, " It's sometimes a simple reason, like mom is too sick to take care of them. Or it can be complicated, mom might be involved with legal problems, or there might be a child endangerment issue in the home."
"The kids always come under stressful circumstances, whatever the reason. It takes several days for the child to adjust & sometimes considerably more if there's been a lot of trauma in the child's life. Our program is structured so that stability in that child's life starts the moment they get here."
Stability is achieved in many ways. Caretakers are assigned to specific children. Each child has 3 caretakers in their life. Even volunteers are assigned to specific children with consistent times & days. There are nurses on staff who give medications, weekly physicals and monitor the children under the direction of the child's physician.
The children are not admitted on a permanent basis. Although, as Ginny explains, several have stayed for quite awhile. "Some of our children are here for longer periods of time because there isn't anyplace else for them to go. They're really medically involved. There is no family. There are a lot of wonderful people who foster children, but it is a major commitment to take one of these kids."
The goal of the program is to reunite the children with their families and to assist the family in obtaining all the help and services available to them. "As nice as these houses are, they're still not home with their parents." And to that end, the Family Support Services Program was founded.
Family Support Services
When the first residential facility of CBA filled up immediately, it was obvious that there were many HIV affected families in crisis. While building the second residential facility, the Family Support Services Program was initiated. The goal of this program is to keep HIV infected families together in as healthy an environment for as long as the disease allows.
Family Support Services helps fill a wide variety of needs, from obtaining the basic necessities of life such as housing, food and medical care to providing emotional assistance, mental health care and case management. Currently, 150 families benefit from the assistance of Family Support Services.
The program has gotten so large, that the new building currently in the planning stage, will house a day care center, offices and a resource center, as well as providing space for counseling and support groups.
As with so many other AIDS agencies, volunteers are a vital part of Caring For Babies With AIDS. However, volunteers who want to work with the children must make a firm commitment. In trying to stabilize these children's lives, much of the balance comes through regular hours and days on the part of the volunteers. Also, the volunteers play with the same children. They work under the direction of the Child Development Specialist who prescribes play activities based on the child's physical and emotional needs.
Other volunteer opportunities include working in the office or as a Family Home Companion to the clients of Family Support Services, helping to run errands and take care of the children. Volunteers also hold "Baby Showers" in their home and ask their friends to bring items which will replenish supplies, clothes, toys and diapers.
Many volunteers help with fund-raising events. But, look out, that's how Ginny started, and she's been there for years. "I was going to retire," she laughs.
While we were touring, an adorable, wide-eyed 15 month-old child was being brought in by a nurse and the case manager. The baby's big blue eyes were taking in all the stimulation and activity of her new home. I couldn't help but feel for the mother who, for whatever reason, was not able to take care of and enjoy this beautiful baby. The poignancy comes from knowing that this facility was probably saving this child's life.
Ginny laments, "We're just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg with family infection. We're at capacity in all of our programs. And that's not what we want to see. We have a saying that the happiest day of our lives will be the day we close the doors and say we're no longer needed." To that, I say: "Amen".
Caring For Babies With AIDS
P.O. Box 351535
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Fax: (213) 931-1440