6 People Making a Difference in Honolulu
Meet a few people making Honolulu a better place for all of us.
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For the more than 300 underage teens in Hawaii’s welfare system, life can be hard. According to the nonprofit EPIC Ohana Inc., 25 percent of Hawaii youth transitioning out of foster care will be homeless at some point, only 6 percent will earn any sort of college degree and more than 81 percent of the males will get arrested.
“Our mission is to transform child welfare,” says Laurie Tochiki, EPIC’s CEO. “The court system is about punishment, rather than rehabilitation. I think that what we’re trying to accomplish is more humane, more connected, more restorative than punitive.”
Tochiki founded the organization in 1997 with Arlynna Livingston, and, when Livingston retired in 2012, Tochiki left her deanship at the William S. Richardson School of Law to helm EPIC.
The acronym stands for Effective Planning and Innovative Communication—an apt summary of Tochiki’s philosophy. “I don’t know why the criminal justice system seems like such a black hole, but we try to do these things in silos. And whenever you can break down the silos and have people partner and collaborate, you get better results. That’s our goal: To break down the barriers between the social worker, the family, the DOE—to make better connections.”
Among EPIC’s programs are voluntary meet-ups that bring families together with Child Welfare Services and other service providers to talk about what each family needs. The Ohana Finding program scours databases and the Internet to find possible relatives for children in foster care (EPIC then helps bring everybody together for counseling).
Susan Chandler, director of UH Mānoa’s Public Policy Center and a board member at EPIC, says that, in the old days (about 10 to 15 years ago), the system was bogged down with secrets. “It used to be that somehow you weren’t allowed to tell the family that you were making decisions, or where you were taking the kids in foster care.”
Because of the work Tochiki and her team at EPIC Ohana have achieved, “You don’t do that anymore,” says Chandler. “Everything is just more open and transparent, and families feel that they are getting help, that they’re part of a collaborative process. It’s a rule and a practice, but it’s very profound.”