Sunday, September 10, 2006

Foster deaths in Los Angeles

Child abuse reform sought
Troy Anderson, Los Angeles Daily News. Daily Breeze.
Torrance, Calif.:Aug 29, 2006. p. A4

Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo asked the grand jury Monday to investigate the loss of lives of dozens of children returned to parents or caretakers who later killed them and identify areas for reform.

"We have a child-welfare system that is broken," Delgadillo said. "And I'm not going to sit on the sidelines while kids are being harmed by the very system designed to protect them."

He said there might be more than 75 children who were killed in the past five years.
Social workers either returned foster children to abusive parents or caretakers or failed to remove the youngsters from abusive homes.

Maureen Siegel, senior assistant city attorney, said they arrived at the figure by extrapolating out data prior to 2001, which showed that an average of about 15 children had been slain by parents and caregivers after they were returned home from foster care or left in their homes by social workers.

Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect data suggests that the number of deaths may have decreased in recent years. ICAN reports reveal that the number of deaths rose from 13 in 1996 to 15 in 1997 and then peaked at 20 in both 1998 and 1999 before falling to 15 in 2000 and 12 in 2001.

The number of deaths rose to 18 in 2003 and fell to 15 in 2004. Data for 2002, 2005 and this year were not available.

Department of Children and Family Services spokeswoman Louise Grasmehr said the DCFS has made significant improvements in recent years in ensuring the safety of children.

And she pointed out that the federal government's recent approval of a funding waiver will help the department further improve child safety by allowing the department to use $350 million of its $1.4 billion budget on services to help families overcome their problems before it's necessary to place their children in foster homes.

"We take every death of a child extremely seriously and the department takes every death of a child in our system to heart," Grasmehr said. "We routinely look at practice issues in child fatalities."

Since 2003, DCFS statistics show the number of children in foster homes has dropped by 26 percent, the percentage of children abused in foster care dropped 30 percent and the percentage of children re- abused in the community dropped by 14 percent.

"Certainly, any death is too many," said Janis Spire, executive director of the Alliance for Children's Rights. "If DCFS is not making proper assessments, that's something that needs to be looked into."

In a letter to the grand jury, Delgadillo noted there is currently no independent system of review in place to hold accountable the agencies responsible for protecting children and removing them from dangerous homes.

Delgadillo said he decided to ask for the investigation after seeing a number of cases come through his office in which children had been killed following DCFS involvement.