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Report: ‘Front-End Failures’ In Deaths Of LA County Foster Kids

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(courtesy Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services)

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — More stringent hiring procedures and better retention policies by Los Angeles County social workers may have prevented the deaths of over a dozen children, according to a newly-uncovered report.

A confidential county report obtained by the Los Angeles Times on policies at the troubled Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) found repeated and avoidable mistakes may have lead to the deaths of 14 children.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO the report conducted by the Board of Supervisors’ Children’s Special Investigation Unit found “systemic issues that have impeded DCFS’ ability to carry out its mission with excellence.”

The report dated April 16, 2012, uncovered “front-end failures” ranging from “poorly conducted emergency response investigations to jeopardizing the validity of risk and safety assessments by incorrectly using (or not using at all) the tools that are in place to make sure those assessments yield reliable results.”

Last year, newly-appointed DCFS Director Phillip Browning told Yaroslavsky he hoped to turn L.A. County into “the model for other jurisdictions in the child welfare area” within three years.

Now, Yaroslavksy says Browning – who first came on to DCFS as interim director in August 2011 – is making good on his pledge.

“Philip Browning has fired or demoted several people who were involved in poor judgment calls,” said Yaroslavsky. “He’s a turnaround artist, he’s one of the best turnaround artists in public administration in the country.”

The report cites such failures in 13 out of 15 cases that ended in a child fatality, including :

  • “Parrish R.”, who died from a stab wound inflicted by his sister “over an altercation regarding money” in a murder that the department said was “surprising and unforeseeable”;
  • “Deandre G.”, who died from blunt force trauma to the abdomen when he was only two years old, and with whom DCFS failed to make contact before he died;
  • “Abigail M.”, a 30-month-old who died “covered in bruises that her parents attempted to hide with blue paint” and whose mother told DCFS of her “intense dislike of Abigail”;
  • and “Jorge T.”, an 11-year-old who despite expressing suicidal thoughts to a teacher due to physical and emotional abuse at home, hung himself in his room an hour-and-a-half after a visit from an emergency response worker.

But Yaroslavsky pointed out that many of these cases did not occur in county facilities.

“Almost every child who has been part of our system…who has died, has died in the home of their families, not in foster care,” he said. “There was a tendency on the part of the Department to want to keep kids with their families, a noble goal, but when a kid is being tortured or abused in some fashion by his family, that kid needs to be protected.”

Yaroslavsky added he believes Browning is “on the right track” to reforming the Department within his three-year timeline.

“If he can’t do it, nobody can,” he said.

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