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Lorna Little, MSW is President and CEO of St. Anne’s, the Los Angeles social services agency focused on the most vulnerable population of moms – those in the foster care system, or who have faced homelessness.
According to research, teenage girls in foster care are 2.5 times more likely to become pregnant by age 19. They are also more likely to suffer physical and emotional abuse and lack close family connections. Additionally, once a woman ages out of the foster care system, she is more susceptible to experience financial hardships, including the inability to pay rent or other household necessities, heightening the probability that her own children will be placed into the foster care system, or even leaving many woman and their children homeless. St. Anne’s goal is to help young women and children recognize their own value and potential, while breaking the cycle of abuse, neglect, and poverty.
In her own words, Little shares her passion for social work, commitment to women and children, rising against the odds and the significance of being the first.
The helping profession was a natural extension of my personality. I have always been, even as a child, a natural social worker — always the person helping and mediating on the playground when I was in school. More specifically, I have been interested in advocating and fighting on behalf of women, children and families, while also working in the field of diversity and inclusion. Having the personal experience of becoming a mother at 18 – knowing what it felt like in the school system, and needing resources myself, provided me with a strong understanding of what tools a young parent would need to be successful. I was determined to go the opposite direction and not be a statistic.
From pregnancy to parenthood – you can do it. From childhood to adulthood, there is a way to provide support and care for someone from 0-80 and at St. Anne’s we have touch points to help people along the way. We are a part of the solution, we are not just talking about what happens. The organization serves young women and families through evidence-based programs such as Residential Treatment, Transitional Housing, Permanent Affordable Housing, Early Childhood Education, Workforce Development, Mental Health and Wrap-Around services.
Resilience is key. As a foster parent myself, I try to provide hope-filled words and model that success is possible. We cannot change what has already happened, but how these young women take this circumstance and move forward is going to make a difference for them and their child for years to come. It is very personal. I believe resilience is key. Their past and the trauma that they have gone through has impacted and sometimes impaired their ability to bounce back. We help cultivate and encourage by giving them chances to do well. I do not think people realize how important it is to have that successful moment – it empowers them to see that they can have another one.
You have to figure out what works for you. Just imagine if these young women didn’t have the housing and all of the supports. We have all been through and experienced different things. Some people heal with time and some people do not. We all want to be successful, but one’s image of success makes the difference. At St. Anne’s, we allow the young people to spread their wings and soar. Our program allows them to have an opportunity to fail and not be broken when they do. I like to engage with them and ask them questions, as I am not going to allow any one of them to live under other people’s standards. And, I always say — never make permanent decisions for a temporary situation.
Parents are our best resources. We need to give parents opportunities to be successful – to show them that their child can do well. If we provide that newborn child with a healthy start from day one, they are born in a better place. Our program allows that young person to be able to go to school and to gain an education. We give them an opportunity to spread their wings in a safe and supportive environment.
We have to be carefully taught. People can sometimes have a mentality [especially for a young person that has a child] that they will automatically learn how to care for that child, and that’s not often the case. It is learned behavior. At St. Anne’s, we teach them how and the staff works hard to do that. They are teenagers afterall, and it is not always easy — the shame that is there because of a stigma is heavy sometimes. We pride ourselves on facilitating the opportunity for each young woman to feel confident and capable.
Never forget why you started. When you remember why you began to do your good work, it keeps you grounded. Regardless of the level and the role, it is important. I have always cared about the people that I work with and my staff equally. They are the ones that have to carry out the work daily.
When we are united, we are stronger together. I grew up as an only child. Sisterhood and camaraderie mean a lot to me. United we stand, divided we fall and I think we need to do a lot more work in terms of building each other up as women in the community. It’s evident that we have power and strength – we need to claim it.
Being the first is significant. I know that being the first black woman to lead this organization and same for my prior agency is significant. It means a lot. Another young woman from our program could possibly be the President and CEO. Somebody else has the potential and I truly believe that. You do not live down to anybody’s standards, you live up to the high standards. For me I might be the first, but I won’t be the last. There is still a barrier out there in the system. Racism and sexism is still alive. You have to be strong and resilient to move beyond the various forces that may come up against you, that may want to challenge your credibility, or your right to have a seat at the table.
Direct and lasting impact is powerful. At the end of my life if I can continue to empower and impact lives for the better, I’ll get to hear my “well done thou good and faithful servant” and hearing that is worth more than all the gold.
Without confidence, intelligence and resilience, she knows that she would not be able to achieve the success in the various roles outside of executive leadership; as a successful author of the book Mum’s the Word!, media personality, therapist and motivational speaker.