A commission created to chart reform for Los Angeles’ child welfare system re-iterated its call for the creation of a new county agency vested with the power to re-order the budgets and staffing of a long-list child-serving agencies towards the goal of child protection and safety.
“We cannot stand idly by and wait for another child to meet the fate of Gabriel Fernandez,” the report begins, referring to the child fatality that prompted the commission.
The Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection released its long-awaited final report just before the weekend, urging the county to undergo a “fundamental transformation” of its approach to child welfare, calling the present outlay of services a “State of Emergency.”
Its first recommendation was that Los Angeles adopt a county-wide mission to prioritize a “child centered, family-focused” system.
The commission found in its work that the many agencies working with children and families – including the courts, the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Mental Health – did not coordinate or even communicate with each other.
“The County, too often, has forfeited its ability to benefit from the sum of its parts,” the report said.
The commission would create a new county agency to oversee this effort, and call it the Board of Child Protection. The concept is modeled off of Allegheny County, Penn., which established a similar agency with the help of a collaborative investment by 15 foundations.
The director of that office, the report said, would “have clear oversight and authority over financial and staffing resources from all relevant departments, as delegated by the Board.”
The board would also oversee the ongoing restructuring of caseworker training and caseloads at the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and regularly report to the County Board of Supervisors on a slate of outcomes suggested by the commission.
Los Angeles County, which receives 170,000 calls to its abuse and neglect hotline each year, is the largest local child welfare system in the country. The Blue Ribbon Commission was established eight months ago, after the death of Gabriel Fernandez.
Records show that prior to his death last summer, the eight-year-old boy was repeatedly abused by his mother and her boyfriend. The records also show that Gabriel’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, should have lost custody of her three children long before due to DCFS violations.
The commission conducted 15 public hearings, interviewed hundreds of child welfare leaders, workers and advocates, and examined 28 recent child fatalities.
John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change