L.A. Child Protection Shakeup as Questions Over Recent Child Death Swirl

Brandon Nichols has been a senior administrator with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services since 2012. His departure was announced August 26. Photo: DCFS

As news headlines continue to chronicle emerging details regarding the suspicious death of 4-year-old Noah Cuatro in July, the second-in-command at the Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is stepping down.

DCFS social workers and staff received an email on Monday announcing the departure of Chief Deputy Director Brandon Nichols, who has been a senior administrator for the department since 2012. The email sent to DCFS staff indicates that Nichols is transitioning to another department in the county, where he is expected to take a senior leadership role, according to county staff.

“Brandon has served the County with great integrity and we are so glad he is remaining in the County family,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change.

In April 2016, Nichols was appointed chief deputy director. After former director Philip Browning resigned in December 2016, Nichols stepped in as interim director until current director Bobby Cagle came on board in December 2017.

“In the various roles that he has served at the Department of Children and Family Services, Brandon Nichols has provided invaluable strategic counsel and guidance to our staff, clients and partners,” Cagle said in a statement emailed to The Chronicle. “I remain indebted to Brandon for the support he has given me since I arrived, providing a greater understanding of Los Angeles County and the operations of the department.”

Prior to joining DCFS leadership, Nichols worked for the Office of County Counsel for more than a decade, where he was often responsible for providing legal advice to DCFS as well as the Board of Supervisors. While in that role, Nichols was the lead attorney in the Katie A. v. Bonta lawsuit, which dealt with the availability of mental health services for children in or at risk of entering the foster care system.

DCFS has been under heavy scrutiny by the Board of Supervisors and the media since 4-year-old Noah Cuatro died under suspicious circumstances in July, the third in a string of high-profile deaths to occur in the county’s Antelope Valley region in recent years. A major question that has remained unanswered is why caseworkers failed to remove the boy from his parents’ care despite a court order directing them to do so.

There has been some speculation that Virginia Pryor, who served as Cagle’s chief of staff when he ran Georgia’s Division of Family and Child Services, could be on the short list to replace Nichols. Pryor served as interim director in Georgia after Cagle left, but just months after Cagle’s departure, Pryor moved to L.A. to work as a consultant with Casey Family Programs, one the nation’s most prominent and influential child welfare funders.

When asked about Nichols’ departure, Pryor declined to comment for this story.


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Sara Tiano, Staff Writer, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Sara Tiano, Staff Writer, The Chronicle of Social Change 124 Articles
General assignment reporter for The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach her at stiano@chronicleofsocialchange.org.