On Tuesday, the transition team tasked with implementing the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection called on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to move faster toward increased child safety.
The team told supervisors to prioritize maltreatment prevention for children under the age of 5 and urged them to fund a child abuse reporting system used by law-enforcement agencies in the county.
In a testy standoff during the meeting, held at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles, the co-chair of the transition team suggested that the supervisors were not being entirely transparent in their efforts to move forward on child protection reform.
After the Board of Supervisors decided to approve the recommendations in the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s report in June, it established a transition team to guide the implementation of the recommendations, including the creation of new Office of Child Protection.
As part of the transition team’s monthly report to the board, transition team co-chairs Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and Mitchell Katz presented the committee’s progress and lobbied the board to take action on pending recommendations.
“The Blue Ribbon Commission stated the county can immediately improve child safety by requiring all departments to target resources and high-quality services including prevention services toward children under 5,” Gilbert-Lurie said. “That is something that is within your discretion alone to make that declaration.”
Gilbert-Lurie also called on supervisors to take decisive action on the county’s Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System, known as E-SCARS. The system has been chronically underfunded, but it promises to streamline communication between law-enforcement agencies and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) by creating a database where both systems can electronically share child abuse reports and a record of those responses.
Back in April, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office asked for additional funding to support the program. In May, The Chronicle of Social Change ran a story about wide variances in the use of the system across the county’s 46 law enforcement agencies.
“We ask that you do whatever you can on the law enforcement prevention side to release E-SCARS funds where possible to allow us to support cross reporting and the proposed functioning of E-SCARS throughout the county,” said Gilbert-Lurie.
Gilbert-Lurie suggested that implementation of child welfare reform measures in Los Angeles County had also been hindered by back-room politics and a lack of institutional support from the board.
“A lot of your department heads and people within the county come up to us and will whisper to us that much has been accomplished since you adopted the Blue Ribbon Commission report, [but] they don’t really feel comfortable reporting to us as your transition team because they don’t feel that spirit: that you fully embrace us, that you fully embrace an atmosphere of transparency that allows the information we need to be able to fully update you,” she said.
Calling Gilbert-Lurie’s testimony “really unfair,” Supervisor Don Knabe said the transition team should be careful not to overstep the bounds of its mandate.
“There’s a lot of things that were in the process of being implemented prior to the creation of the Blue Ribbon Commission,” Knabe said. “I don’t think it’s a matter of anyone whispering in your ear; I think it’s a matter of you not giving credit to what’s being done.”
“At the end of the day, there are a lot things going on that somehow has to be nurtured through your commission with a lot of things pending based on the hiring of the czar of some sort and what those roles and functions will be. Instead of whispering kinds of comments, I would prefer updates on the progress being made on each of the tasks in the June 10 motion.”
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas hailed the progress made by the transition team and encouraged the many agencies involved in child welfare to work together.
“The Blue Ribbon Commission and the focus of the transition team constitute value added when it comes to the question of child protection and safety,” Ridley-Thomas said. “I remind everyone that the major insight that came from the Blue Ribbon Commission is that this is not one department’s burden. DCFS, mental health, DHS [Department of Health Services], DPH [Department of Public Health], the Sheriff’s Department, the district attorney—everyone has a role and responsibility to play. This is not about finger pointing but essentially about how we work toward a common goal.”
Ridley-Thomas also called on the transition team to furnish more information about how medical hubs across the county could better serve vulnerable children.
“One of the tangible deliverables that we should hone in on with some immediacy is that of the medical hub,” he said. “We have best practices, promising practices, for the LAC-USC Medical Center, but could we get a system-wide, county-wide network with the best practices on full display with respect to the medical hub concept? That was one of the major insights that came out of the findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission.”
Co-chair Katz promised to deliver a report to the board at the next meeting about the county’s progress at establishing a network of medical hubs. Medical hubs are designed to provide initial assessments of children who are reported as suspected victims of child abuse or neglect as well as offer comprehensive health care services to children in the Los Angeles County foster care system.
The Board of Supervisors also voted 3-2 to allow members of the transition team to participate in the preliminary interview process related to the hiring of the director of the forthcoming Office of Child Protection.
The next meeting of the transition team is scheduled for November 4.
Jeremy Loudenback is a reporter for The Chronicle of Social Change.