Earlier this week, the “transition team” charged with ensuring that Los Angeles County’s Board of Supervisors remains committed to seeing through a massive child protection reform effort disbanded.
This marks the close of the second chapter in a process that started back in June of 2013, when Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael Antonovich issued a motion calling for the creation of a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection.
In April of 2014, that commission closed chapter one by releasing a sweeping set of recommendations that would, if enacted, compel the county’s myriad public agencies to focus serious attention on keeping children safe.
“The Commission unanimously concluded that a State of Emergency exists, which requires a fundamental transformation of the current child protection system,” the report read.
In the 11 months since that report was issued, the nine member transition team met as often as twice a month to maintain pressure on the Board of Supervisors and agency heads to enact the reforms outlined by the blue ribbon commission.
During their last presentation before the supervisors on March 17, transition team co-chair Leslie Gilbert-Lurie delivered a parting shot to those on the Board of Supervisors who had dithered on hiring a strong candidate to head a newly created Office of Child Protection, and who had resisted the blue ribbon process from the start.
“We leave knowing how much the Transition Team has accomplished,” Gilbert-Lurie said. “Many members of our team know. The community knows. The press knows. Do you [the Board of Supervisors] know? I don’t think so.”
The Office of Child Protection is currently led by an interim director, who has little authority to execute the heady task of ensuring that all county agencies that touch children focus money and staff time on child safety.
Now, as the transition team transitions into obsolescence, and the third chapter of child protection reform in Los Angeles opens up, it is left to the supervisors to maintain the urgency.
The following is an excerpt of Gilbert-Lurie’s closing remarks to the board:
Since Dr. Katz is the good cop, and I’m the one who’s not, my remarks today focus on where you, the Board of Supervisors, still can play a further role in expediting change.
And change must be expedited. Compared with other children, foster children still are still disproportionately depressed, abused, over-medicated, sexually violated and exploited, more likely to drop out of school and to wind up homeless and incarcerated.
The Blue Ribbon Commission learned that the reasons for this are complicated. As a result of us working together, much has now been put in motion to help better protect these children. But this is just the beginning.
First, we encourage you to continue to espouse that the well-being of children is of top priority in the county, and that county departments and entities need to collaborate, together and with the community, and to joint strategically plan and budget, where children are concerned. The transition team co-chairs wholly endorse your commitment to these concepts in your proposed new child-focused mission statement.
We urge you to insist that mental health services not only be provided to abused, neglected and foster children, but provided in a way that meets their needs. Psycho-pharmacological interventions and psychotherapeutic treatments must enhance rather than detract from children’s ability to learn and grow and reach their potential. We urge you to keep an eye on the delivery and quality of education services to meet the unique needs of the traumatized and often very mobile foster youth.
Please encourage a full and strong countywide abuse and neglect prevention plan. And, as Dr. [David] Sanders urged in our final transition team meeting yesterday, regarding results, measure, measure, measure.
Beyond these department focused suggestions, I would suggest that you, the Board of Supervisors, still have to further change the way you lead, if you are to accomplish long-lasting change.
According to The Chronicle of Social Change, seven child welfare head jobs were recently filled by seven new governors—roughly in the time that too few candidates you saw as suitable applied to be L.A.’s first director of the Office of Child Protection. Although you have put in place a worthy interim director, we wonder if you could do more to attract national leaders who want to work for you. We urge you to value being challenged, to value strong leadership and sensible risk taking. We urge you to invite department heads to your meetings to convey progress reports and maybe to receive occasional praise for a job well done, rather than only when a problem arises.
We hope that in the context of accomplishing your child welfare agenda you don’t just check off boxes, but that you insist that the blue ribbon commission recommendations, and your other goals, be implemented in ways that accomplish the greatest good.
Your transition team, your Office of Child Protection, your medical HUBS—some with vacant rooms that could be fully utilized to provide mental health services rather than being stuffed to warehouse old county furniture—all can just exist until they are sunsetted, or vested with the confidence and resources to do all the good they were designed to do.
Finally, we urge you to value the community resources you have at your disposal and create an environment where people want to volunteer. Too often, advocacy groups, and even the transition team, working for the same goals that you either set or endorse, are tolerated at best or treated as your adversaries.
We leave knowing how much the transition team has accomplished. Many members of our team know. The community knows. The press knows. Do you know? I don’t think so.
Gilbert-Lurie, who also serves on the board of directors for the Alliance for Children’s Rights, a non-profit legal firm that serves vulnerable children in Los Angeles, said that while her time on the transition team was done, she would still be active in ensuring the blue ribbon’s recommendations come to fruition.
Daniel Heimpel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change.