Police arrested her on an outstanding drug possession warrant, and soon she was in jail. When she got out, she had no money for the bus. "I was thinking that I was going to get me a trick."
The man took a pocket knife and tried to slash her neck, she said. She fended him off, but the knife slashed her hand, leaving a deep red wound across her palm
"At the hospital," she said, "they give you a pregnancy test before giving you the pain medication. That's when I found I was about three months pregnant."
She returned to the vacant lot and continued using crack, despite the danger to the baby.
She considered abortion, she said, but couldn't follow through after seeing an ultrasound image. Her brother helped her get into drug treatment. She was sober when she gave birth to Jontay, she said, but relapsed twice afterward.
After Compton acknowledged the second relapse to her drug treatment counselor, a social worker arrived at her faded pink apartment building on Figueroa Street.
The woman announced she would be removing Jontay, based on a computerized assessment of the risks to his safety. Compton would be eligible to get him back on a trial basis in a matter of months -- a far more rapid schedule than had been in effect with her older children. If the reunification didn't work, the department could pursue adoption.
The mother quaked with emotion, seemingly torn between despair for her child and fear for her own livelihood.
"How am I going to pay my rent?" Compton asked. "What will happen to my check?"
She turned to Jontay, then 11 months old. "Give me some love," Compton said, pulling him close to say goodbye.
In Los Angeles County, the effort to make fractured families whole began more than a decade ago.
Between 1997 and 2007, the Department of Children and Family Services reduced the number of children in foster care from more than 52,000 to fewer than 25,000.
Still, the department wanted to do more.
"Once children got in foster care, they never left," said David Sanders, the former director of the county department who is now executive vice president at Casey Family Programs, a nonprofit child advocacy organization. He saw a need for an approach "that actually led to the outcomes we want, children in safe, permanent families," either reunifying children with their original families or, when that wasn't possible, lining them up for adoption.
Since the new program began in 2007, the number of foster children in L.A. County has dropped to 19,911.
"I think everyone in the country is looking at Los Angeles County for the innovative work we're doing here to move children to permanency," said Trish Ploehn, current director of the county's family services department.
"There is no doubt in my mind that children in Los Angeles County are safer," she said.