'Little April' short film powerfully examines how systems fail youth, offers inspiration
"Little April," a newly released short film, offers a powerful and inspiring twist on an unfortunate reality. It also provides a strong launch point for important conversation — for which the National Center for Youth Law is proud to help lead — surrounding how children are treated by the systems entrusted with their care.
"Little April," available to view here (via kweliTV), examines the foster care-to-prison pipeline by following the real-life story of April Grayson — from her introduction to the foster care system at birth, to the abuse she suffered throughout childhood, to the 20-year prison sentence she received at 19 years old. The nearly 8-minute feature imagines a reality in which young people are supported and nurtured instead of punished and blamed for the trauma they endure.
Grayson is now a policy advocate with the Young Women's Freedom Center and both starred in and co-produced "Little April." She was among the participants in a panel discussion that followed the film's Sept. 8 premiere in Los Angeles. Also serving on the panel were Kate Walker Brown, a Senior Director at the National Center for Youth Law; Kia Dupclay, Executive Director of Free 2 Dream Big; and Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón. The panelists discussed the disproportionate impact the child welfare and carceral systems have on young Black girls and ways to create more resources to support system-impacted survivors.
Key to the discussion was California's AB 124 (the Justice for Survivors Act) — signed into law last year — which requires judges to consider survivors' trauma throughout the court process. The National Center for Youth Law advocated for the law alongside the Justice for Survivors coalition, including the Young Women's Freedom Center, California Coalition of Women Prisoners, Free to Thrive, Survived and Punished, Black Futures Lab, Represent Justice Ambassador alumni, and members of the Council on Criminal Justice Task Force on Long Sentences, among others. Integral to this coalition were the survivors, including Grayson, who helped craft the bill.
Despite this advocacy, as noted in the film, key pieces of the legislation were amended out. The Justice for Survivors Coalition will introduce follow-up legislation during this next session to ensure survivors like April will be recognized as survivors and afforded remedies like vacatur to clear their record and move on with their lives. We remain confident that by continuing our legislative efforts, California, and other states, will achieve the reality that "Little April" envisions.
Grayson, in addition to her role with the Young Women's Freedom Center, also sits on the Advisory Board of the California Child Welfare Council’s Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) Action Team. The Advisory Board is a 10-member body of lived-experience experts who improve the identification, services, and supports for youth impacted by CSE in California. The Action Team researches and identifies promising prevention and intervention practices, collaborates with survivors, and provides guidance to state, county, and community partners. The National Center for Youth Law was instrumental in the Action Team's creation, and has staffed and served on its leadership since its establishment in 2013. NCYL also staffs and helps facilitate the Action Team’s Advisory Board alongside WestCoast Children’s Clinic.
"Little April" was co-produced by Grayson and Represent Justice, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to turn stories into action to change the justice system. It also stars Andre Royo (“The Wire”) and James Eckhouse (“Beverly Hills, 90210”), introduces Zakaiya Purnell, and is directed by Ben Lear.
Teaser for Little April
Photos from the premiere