Child protection commission proposed by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
By Christina Villacorte Staff Writer
June 23, 2013 7:38 PM
Following the shocking death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy allegedly tortured by his mother and her boyfriend, the Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on whether to create a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection.
“We need to take a step back and do a rigorous analysis of the entire child protection system,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-authored the motion, which calls for scrutinizing not just the county Department of Children and Family Services but several other agencies, including the Sheriff’s Department.
“It is incumbent upon us also to pinpoint why past recommendations have not been implemented successfully so that we ensure that these children, the most vulnerable among us, are safe.”
DCFS had received numerous complaints that Gabriel Fernandez was being abused, but its social workers dismissed them as unfounded.
The Sheriff’s Department had also been aware of the allegations.
In their motion to create an independent commission with 10 board-appointed members by July 1, Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Ridley-Thomas described the child welfare system and its manner of investigating child abuse cases as “dysfunctional.”
They said many reforms had been proposed over the years, but attempts to implement them were “unclear or arguably inadequate.”
Under the plan, the commission would have access to the personnel records of county workers involved in the case “to the fullest extent allowed by law,” and evaluate the cooperation among DCFS and the District Attorney’s Office; the Sheriff’s, Mental Health and Public Health departments; Dependency Court; and other agencies.
It is to submit recommendations by the end of the year.
DCFS Director Philip Browning would not comment on whether or not he supported the creation of a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Welfare, but listed a few of the reforms currently under way at the department.
“We are revising the training program for new social workers,” he wrote in an email. “The new program will have a much larger experiential learning component, including having trainers work closely with new social workers in our regional officers, similar to a ‘teaching hospital’ model.”
“We are taking increased advantage of available technology, such as providing iPhones to our emergency response social workers,” he added. “One advantage with these phones is they have a ‘talk to text’ capability that assists the social workers with completing necessary documentation.”
Browning said the department is also streamlining its policy manual and cutting back transfers in its high-turnover offices.
The last blue ribbon commission created by the board was the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, which investigated allegations of deputies beating inmates at county jails last year. It recommended such critical reforms as appointing an Inspector General to provide independent oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, which is now in the process of being implemented.
In their motion to create a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, Ridley-Thomas and Antonovich criticized DCFS’ handling of Fernandez’ case.
The boy died in March after sustaining a fractured skull, broken ribs, burns and other injuries that the coroner’s office suggested may have been caused by torture.
His mother, Pearl Fernandez, 29, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 32, have been charged with murder and a special circumstance of torture.
The supervisors also questioned DCFS’ treatment of 6-year-old Dae’von Bailey, beaten to death in 2009 after a social worker dismissed allegations that the boy’s mother’s ex-boyfriend abused him, and of 2-year-old Erica Johnson, who was also beaten to death at home.
“When the lives of children are at stake, we simply cannot stand by and hope that reforms take hold,” Ridley-Thomas said in a news release announcing the motion.
“The hope is that this commission will examine the actions, or inaction, that have led to the deaths of innocent children and develop a true action plan “” not a Band-Aid solution.”