South LA child's death shows challenges of protecting kids during pandemic

Calls for suspected child abuse are down in Los Angeles now that teachers and others don't see signs of suspected mistreatment.

Friday, August 14, 2020
South LA child's death shows challenges of protecting kids
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Calls for suspected child abuse are down in Los Angeles now that teachers aren't with kids to spot signs of suspected mistreatment.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Los Angeles detectives are gathering evidence on a South Los Angeles mother suspected in the death of her own 4-year old daughter.

As witnesses are interviewed, Eyewitness News has obtained exclusive information about similar child deaths across LA County.

Neighbors say they heard no disturbance from inside the South Los Angeles home - and saw nothing that would make them suspect that a child was in danger.

Then came the ambulance.

Eternity Smith, 4 died at the hospital Wednesday.

Her mother Akira Smith, 34 is in custody facing a felony charge.

The incident comes as the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has seen declining calls to its hotline. In part, that may be because children have not been in school where teachers can see signs of abuse.

Eternity's mother, who has three additional children, had been on the radar of child social workers.

Her daughter's death is not an isolated case.

According to ESCARS, the county's Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System, there were 11 child fatalities in 2018 in which the suspect had a prior history with DCFS. The number went up in 2019 to 20 similar child fatalities.

And this year there were six from January, in addition to two child deaths in June with no links to DCFS known at this time and four with no known links in July. The latest death in South LA does have a DCFS link.

The LA County child protection system has been under a microscope since the 2013 death of Gabriel Fernandez where there were documented failures to properly investigate the home.

Now it is COVID-19 that has hampered home visits vital in checking children's welfare.

DCFS meantime reports that hotline calls were down 40% in April, showing some improvement to be down only 21% in July.

The agency continues to urge the public to report suspected child abuse.

Akira Smith and her four children had only lived at the home on the 9600 block of Hobart Avenue for six months. It was the hospital that called police when doctors noted suspicious injuries.