Saturday, December 16, 2006

Who will hold DCFS accountable?

County withou entity to probe foster-case issues
Anderson, Troy. Los Angeles Daily News, Dec. 14, 2006, pg. N4.

Even as the number of foster children killed in drive-by shootings in Los Angeles County has quadrupled this year to 39, the Board of Supervisors has quietly canceled its contract with a panel of civil rights attorneys who oversee the Department of Children and Family Services.

While the board is seeking replacement options, the county is left without any entity to probe foster child deaths or other problems at DCFS.

"I'm gravely concerned," said City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, who asked the grand jury earlier this year to investigate 75 additional homicides of children in the past five years who DCFS had returned home from foster care or left in the care of abusive family members or foster parents.

"These were abused and neglected children the county was responsible for. Clearly, this is a broken system, and while I did not think the (Office of Independent Review, DCFS) was the complete answer, I did think it was a step in the right direction."

Delgadillo's concerns come as county officials have expressed dismay about an increase in the number of kids with open or closed DCFS cases who have died in drive-by shootings from six in 2004 to 11 last year to 39 as of Nov.1.

Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said many of the shootings occurred in South Los Angeles, but a growing number have occurred in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita, Antelope and San Gabriel valleys.

A 16-year-old Pacoima boy with a prior DCFS referral died in March in a gang-related shooting while standing in front of a neighbor's house, DCFS spokeswoman Louise Grasmehr said.

"This is just simply outrageous," said Century City attorney Linda Wallace Pate, who filed a lawsuit against the county in a case the OIR-DCFS investigated. "It's highly inappropriate for the government to be using public money to put children in placements that clearly put them at risk."

The controversy erupted Dec.5 when the board voted unanimously in closed session to instruct the County Counsel's Office to terminate the contract with the OIR-DCFS, which was modeled after the OIR that oversees sheriff's investigations.

The agency, the brainchild of Supervisor Gloria Molina and former DCFS Director David Sanders, was launched in May to conduct independent investigations of child deaths and other problems at DCFS.

Molina had sought the creation of the OIR-DCFS following the October 2005 homicide of 2-year-old Sarah Angelina Chavez of Alhambra. A subsequent OIR-DCFS investigation found negligence on the part of child welfare and court officials in the death.

The new OIR-DCFS office ran afoul of the County Counsel's Office when the juvenile court gave it permission to publicly release a copy of its second investigation into the case of Thomas Marion Smith.

Smith had sued the county, alleging he had paid child support for more than a decade, thinking the money was supporting his daughter (Melinda) while she lived with her mother, when in fact the girl was in foster care.

"It's a sad day for the children in foster care to go back behind this curtain of confidentiality to conceal events that should be transparent," said Pate, who is representing Smith.

"There is no excuse for them trying to cover up this information," said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My son is now caught up in the system at the request of a Los Angeles county social worker's friend whom I kicked out of my house and attempeted to extort money from me.

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Anonymous ANNETTE. EDWARDS said...

DCFS here in Los Angeles, Ca. is more of a tragedy then help. My children are victims to this illegal corrupted "system known as DCFS". ANNETTE L. EDWARDS

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My child was taken from me, and DCFS won't even give me a chance to try to get her back. LA County DCFS is a very unfair system that cares only about statistics, not the well being of the children.

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I strongly believe that DCFS has way to much power and need a more logical way of making decisions they should have a much more complicated chain of command forcing individual workers and there supervisors to have to obtain unanimous approved by a group of professional's ranked above them unless the child is in immediate danger such as being abused or being refused food or running water

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