LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A Blue Ribbon Commission on child protection met for the first time Thursday with the goal of fixing problems within the L.A. Department of Children and Family Services.
The panel was created after the deaths of several children in the care of L.A. County.
KCAL9′s Kristine Lazar reports the 10 appointees, including educators, judges, and a retired Sheriff’s Sgt. from the Special Victim’s Unit, will have six months to come up with recommendations for reform to present to the county’s Board of Supervisors.
“It is clear that the individuals are up to this task. We must put these children first,” L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said during the meeting.
Chairman David Sanders, a former director of the L.A. County DCFS, called for “systemic, comprehensive reform”.
“It’s not simply about DCFS, but about mental health services, the Sheriff’s Department…” he said.
The former DCFS director remains hopeful.
“I think that is the first time that this type of body has been put together in Los Angeles County. So I think that this is different than what has happened in the past. We will hopefully meet the expectations that the public has,” Sanders said.
While the commission was meeting downtown, in Lancaster social workers demonstrated outside of DCFS. They claim to be overworked and understaffed.
“Most of us, we work on our own time without pay. Ten, 11:00, 12:00, 1:00 in the morning even – well into the night and early hours. And we still can’t do it all. It is not possible,” DCFS employee Troi Andreola said.
It’s a claim that recently retired DCFS manager Bill Guy backs up.
During his 37 years, he says that social workers were also under-trained.
“Unlike any other law enforcement… we do not have supervisors in the field. We have new workers going out and making decisions and coming back to the office and maybe reviewing with the supervisor,” Guy said.
The commission’s meeting, and the protest, come after the March torture death of eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, of Palmdale. Social workers and Sheriff’s deputies responded to allegations of repeated abuse over several months. The boy was left in the custody of his mother and her boyfriend until he died from head injuries, allegedly beaten by her boyfriend.
The boy’s mother, 29-year-old Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, 32-year-old Aguirre, are each charged with capital murder in the case.
The commission plans to meet at least twice a month for the next six months as they thrash out recommendations for reform.