On August 30, the Los Angeles County Office of Child Protection (OCP) submitted a potentially explosive report on the mysterious July death of 4-year-old Noah Cuatro to county attorneys.
Despite being requested by the county’s powerful Board of Supervisors, the report has yet to be made public, leaving yawning questions unresolved as L.A.’s enormous child welfare system weathers yet another high profile child death.
As The Los Angeles Times first reported, workers with the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) disregarded a court-ordered warrant to remove the boy from his parents’ home in May. This fact suggests that the agency may have missed a critical opportunity to save Noah’s life. In the short years before his death on July 6, DCFS and law enforcement had fielded more than a dozen allegations of abuse and neglect against his parents. DCFS documents released last month noted the cause of death as “severe neglect.”
Before submitting his report last month, OCP Director Mike Nash said that it would touch on the circumstances surrounding the critical, disregarded removal order.
On Monday, Nash and DCFS Director Bobby Cagle made presentations during a meeting of the county’s Commission for Children and Families, a civilian advisory body to the Board of Supervisors.
The day before, Sunday, The L.A. Times ran an excoriating cover story describing county failures in preventing the 2018 death of yet another L.A. County boy, Anthony Avalos.
While reforms undertaken since Anthony’s death were discussed at length, it took a full 110 minutes of the 120-minute commission meeting before anyone mentioned Noah’s name.
Shimica Gaskins, a recently appointed commissioner and the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund California, was the first to do so.
“I was hoping that you would present or report out where you guys are in that report, and if there is a hold up?” Gaskins asked Nash, who sat alone in front of the commissioners.
“Well, it’s public knowledge that on July 16 the board ordered a report. They asked several questions and they wanted a report filed in 45 days. And I will tell you that we did file the report. That’s all I can tell you, OK,” Nash said. “It’s up to the County Counsel and the board ultimately to determine when or whether that report will be made public.”
Multiple sources say that the County Sheriff’s Department has requested that DCFS and the Board of Supervisors keep any details of Noah’s death quiet to protect its ongoing investigation. Despite his willingness to acquiesce to the Sheriff’s request to keep details of Noah’s case private, DCFS’ Cagle said that work has already been underway in response to the boy’s death.
“If we identify something we don’t wait to work on it,” Cagle said. “An example in the Noah C. case that disturbed me was the policy on who reviews warrants, and warrant requests, and withdrawing those.”
In July, DCFS quietly changed its policy regarding removal orders to ensure that caseworkers would alert the director or his executive team if they refused to carry one out.
The Sheriff’s Department has been extremely tight-lipped about the case after holding a press conference shortly after Noah’s death in July.
“There are no new updates that I can provide regarding the Noah Cuatro case,” said a department spokesperson by email on Tuesday.
Queries to the L.A. County Chief Executive Office, which oversees County Counsel, regarding the release date for Nash’s report revealed little more.
“At this time County Counsel is reserving comment on this,” said Nicole Nishida with the CEO’s office.
This article was updated Sept. 10, 2019.