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LA County child welfare system 'in crisis,' commission says

LA County's child welfare program is being called a 'system in crisis' by an evaluating commission.
April 22, 2014 2:01:50 PM PDT
Los Angeles County's child welfare program is being called a "system in crisis." A commission spent eight months evaluating the Department of Children and Family Services following the death of a young boy. The commission is calling for a major overhaul.

It's been nearly a year since the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who was allegedly beaten to death by his own mother and her boyfriend, even while DCFS had been called to investigate allegations of child abuse several times.

In response to his case and others, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors formed the Blue Ribbon Commission.

"Law enforcement and DFCS failed," said Dan Scott, a retired L.A. County sheriff's sergeant, who is part of the commission.

Scott and others on the commission presented their recommendations Tuesday. The 144-page report is designed to make sure a child in the system never dies again.

"Each department, was doing their own thing with very little crossover, very little concern for anybody else," said Scott.

The commission cited inefficient use of resources and lack of accountability, training and communication as reasons children fall through the cracks.

The commissioners called for an Office of Child Protection to hold various entities responsible, including law enforcement, social workers and mental and public health workers.

"I think it's time to say enough. That's why, in my view, I consider this a breakthrough moment," said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Despite the mostly positive feedback from supervisors, some expressed concern there are not enough new ideas, and disagreed with strategy.

"Of the 40 or more recommendations that were made by you all, all but one of them, in one iteration or another, has been made before, at least one time," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

"Our job was to look at the current system and come up with a set of recommendations as to what would keep children safer," said Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, a member of the Alliance for Children's Rights and a member of the commission. "If half of our recommendations were made before but not implemented, then that's the problem."

DCFS Director Philip Browning says the department has already hired hundreds of new social workers and implemented new training programs.

"There are a number of these recommendations that we will be able to implement," said Browning. "In actuality, we've already started implementing many of these."

The Board of Supervisors will now take the next few weeks to look over the entire report thoroughly and discuss them further at the next meeting on May 20.


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