Today, Los Angeles County’s Board of Supervisors will vote on a motion that would bring a rarely heard from, but critically important, group of investigative attorneys under the Office of Child Protection’s control.
In 2008 the supervisors created the Children’s Special Investigative Unit and staffed it with attorneys who investigate cases of severe abuse and child death. The goal was to provide the county with recommendations on averting the kinds of preventable child tragedies that make headline news on “an attorney-client basis.”
Hitherto, the unit has produced 21 confidential reports.
The only one of the unit’s reports that ever became public was submitted to the county in 2012, but not released until leaked to The Los Angeles Times the following year. That report outlined “systemic issues” with the county’s child protection apparatus, most notably how poor child abuse investigations factored into the deaths or near fatalities of 15 children.
The systemic issues report, and the 2013 death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, spurred the supervisors to impanel a blue ribbon commission to improve the county’s child protection apparatus.
The commission’s most notable recommendation was to create the Office of Child Protection, tasked with orienting all the county’s child-serving agencies towards improving child safety and well-being.
Thus, the idea of combining the Children’s Special Investigative Unit with the Office of Child Protection (OCP) is as natural as re-unifying a mother with her child.
“This Board motion is an important opportunity to eliminate overlap while improving oversight by the Office of Child Protection,” said one of the motion’s co-authors, Supervisor Mike Antonovich, in an email to The Chronicle.
For the past few months, the unit’s two staff attorneys have been working for the OCP, according to the office’s director, Michael Nash. Currently, they are helping to produce a report adjudging how the county gauges child abuse risk after the county’s most recent high-profile child death.
Moving forward it remains unclear whether or not the Children’s Special Investigative Unit will retain the “attorney-client” privilege it has enjoyed with county government since its inception.
The office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the motion’s other co-author, indicated that the issue of transparency would be considered if the motion passes.
“It is important to strike a balance between protecting a family’s privacy during such a painful and devastating loss and providing sufficient information to the public that could serve as a deterrent to future incidents of abuse and neglect,” said Ridley-Thomas in a statement sent to The Chronicle. “I trust that the OCP will take transparency and privacy-related issues into account when preparing recommendations for the Board’s review in April.”
The motion will give the OCP 90 days to report on whether or not the special investigations unit should be maintained in the 2017 budget.