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4 DCFS employees fired in Fernandez investigation

July 30, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Four employees of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services were terminated as a result of an investigation of the death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy, the chief executive of Los Angeles County said Tuesday.

The county confirmed two social workers and two supervisors were fired Tuesday. Three other employees received reprimands.

An internal investigation was launched in the death of Gabriel Fernandez, a boy who was tortured and fatally beaten allegedly by his mother's boyfriend while she was present. DCFS social workers had visited the home but did not remove the boy.

Paramedics found the boy unconscious in his Palmdale apartment in May. Detectives say he had been severely beaten. The victim's mother, 29-year-old Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, 32-year-old Isauro Aguirre, are charged with capital murder in the beating death of the child.

Fernandez's mother had been investigated six times for abuse allegations. Teachers had reported Gabriel had come to school bruised and battered, and had even written a note about suicide.

"It is clear that systems and not only systems, but individuals failed Gabriel," said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Philip Browning, the director of the DCFS, said it saddens him that Gabriel endured all that he did. Browning said the department is doing everything that it can to ensure this doesn't happen again.

"I think there are always concerns. I think anytime that you're involved with 35,000 children, there's always the possibility that something is going to go wrong," Browning said Tuesday.

"But I do believe that we have dedicated staff. We're going to have tragic situations like this, which really do overshadow the thousands and thousands of children that are protected every day," Browning said.

Gabriel's grandfather, Robert Fernandez, says although he's happy those workers are out of the system, he doesn't think it goes far enough.

"That's exactly what they ought to be doing, imposing prison time, not suspension or desk jobs," said Fernandez.

On Tuesday, Fernandez released the following statement: "We're the voice for Gabriel. We're going to try and implement different laws for the kids that go through being abused or murdered. It's a system that's not doing anything. Maybe we can hold them accountable."

Though the investigation has concluded, scrutiny of the department continues. Lawmakers in Sacramento have called for a statewide audit of child protective service agencies.

Supervisors Mark Ridley Thomas and Mike Antonovich are leading the "Blue Ribbon Coalition," which will have a panel of experts look into system-wide failures and figure out how to improve child welfare in the county, focusing on not just social workers, but also schools, law enforcement and mental health services.

"There is no good reason for children to die," said Thomas.

But it's too late for Gabriel. His grandfather says he regrets not kidnapping his grandson to get him out of danger.

"When this type of tragedy happens in a home, it's there, it's there until you die," said Fernandez.


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