Seven months into his role leading the nation’s largest child protection system, Bobby Cagle is facing the kind of high-profile child deaths that can drive foster care numbers up and leave political appointees like him out of work.
As director of Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Cagle is responsible for the roughly 18,000 children placed in foster care, and an agency with a budget of $2.6 billion and 8,500 employees.
The most heavily covered of two child deaths to make headlines in L.A. in the last two months is that of 10-year-old Anthony Avalos, who died on June 21 after allegedly being tortured by his mother and her boyfriend. The case has eerie similarities to the 2013 death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, an event that haunts Los Angeles County to this day.
Prior to both children’s brutal ends, DCFS had repeatedly fielded and investigated allegations of abuse or neglect. Anthony was the subject of 12 referrals, which generated dozens of allegations of maltreatment related to him and other children in the home.
But the wrenching déjà vu goes further. Gabriel and Anthony both lived in the county’s exurban Antelope Valley, and their photos bear a disturbing resemblance.
Gabriel’s case became a mainstay of local news coverage for months – years really – after it was first reported by The Los Angeles Times. The horrific details of the crime and the sense that child abuse investigators had missed an opportunity to save the young boy’s life, drove the county’s Board of Supervisors to act.
Within two months of Gabriel’s death, the supervisors created a Blue Ribbon Commission. The commission’s 2014 recommendations set into motion a slate of reforms that are still being carried out today.
On June 27, Cagle publicly released a six-point plan aimed at assessing the systemic failures that may have led to Anthony’s death, while ensuring that the department is prepared to prevent future tragedies.
The day before making that plan public, I interviewed Cagle at DCFS headquarters. You can listen to the edited discussion above.
Fostering Media Connections’ Bryan Curiel produced the audio for this story.
Correction: This article erroneously stated that Anthony Avalos was the subject of 88 referrals to DCFS. He was the subject of 12 referrals, and those referrals led to dozens of allegations of maltreatment involving Anthony and other children in the home.