DCFS director discusses agency reforms following fatal Antelope Valley child abuse cases

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018
DCFS director talks reforms following fatal child abuse cases
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The Department of Children and Family Services director faced tough questions by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday and then delivered difficult answers.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The Department of Children and Family Services director faced tough questions by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday and then delivered difficult answers.

"One of the frustrations that we have is that we have no known interventions that can be 100 percent effective 100 percent of the time," Bobby Cagle said.

Merely eight months into his tenure as the director of the agency, Cagle was faced with a barrage of questions on the heels of a county report demanding answers and DCFS reforms. This follows the death of 10-year-old Anthony Avalos and the 2013 death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez.

Cagle, who experienced how DCFS works as a child, met with Eyewitness News exclusively following the board's vote to move forward with the report's recommendations for reform.

"Numerous recommendations - one of those is around caseloads. It is essential to have sized caseloads that allow our social workers to do good assessments with families and to do good interventions. To do that, they have to have time," he said.

The state also weighed in on mandating an audit of DCFS to determine if the agency is doing enough to protect children.

"Certainly, we'll communicate with the state and cooperate with that audit. I think it's really important for us to examine ourselves, to have others examine us. I think that's a healthy process," Cagle said.

Cagle said he's ordering an internal probe of DCFS cases, including those involving Anthony and Gabriel. DCFS investigated numerous allegations of abuse at both the victims' Antelope Valley homes.

Anthony died in June, and his mother and her boyfriend were charged with murder and torture. Gabriel's mother and her boyfriend were convicted of his murder.

"We're reviewing over 1,000 cases. We have focus groups with frontline staff to hear from them about what it is that they may need that they're not getting," he said. "We also have multidisciplinary teams that are being formed using relationships with law enforcement and other county agencies. We're already enacting some training changes, including changes around how you interview children."

The county report concluded that DCFS appears to have done as much as it could - conducting more than a dozen investigations into allegations of abuse at the Lancaster home of Anthony, including providing the boy's family counseling and other services. The boy's family and protesters demand social workers involved in the case face criminal prosecution.

"I'd say we want justice for Anthony as well, and I understand the desire to know exactly what happened on the end of government. We're trying to get to that. I think we're developing a good understanding, and I think the blame - the true blame - needs to be placed where it is. It is with those people that are being prosecuted. We were not able to prevent that, but we will work every day to do that."

When asked if more manpower and resources would have prevented Anthony's tragic death, Cagle had this response:

"I think the conclusion we all came to is that we can't say that any one factor would have made the difference in this case," he said.

Members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors demanded that DCFS provide them a progress report within 90 days.