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County Approves Recommendation To Form Independent Office Of Child Protection

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved the formation of an independent Office of Child Protection to overhaul the county’s troubled child welfare system.

The recommendation was among dozens made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection and was approved in a 4-1 vote by the Board.

It also includes the formation of a transition team whose members will provide formal advice to the Board regarding recommendations for child safety until the new Office of Child Protection is created.

The team, expected to begin meeting on July 1, will be comprised of nine members considered experts on child welfare issues, including five members selected by the Board, as well as a representative from the Blue Ribbon Commission, Juvenile Court, the County’s Chief Executive Office and the Children’s Commission.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas authored the original motion to create the Blue Ribbon Commission last year following the 2013 death of Gabriel Fernandez, an 8-year-old Palmdale boy who died from injuries he allegedly received from his mother’s boyfriend.

The child’s grandparents claimed 62 instances of abuse were reported against Fernandez’s mother and her boyfriend, but nothing was done by authorities.

The commission subsequently determined “that a State of Emergency exists, which requires a fundamental transformation of the current child protection system.”

Its members, 10 child welfare experts appointed by each member of the Board, spent eight months interviewing hundreds of witnesses and reviewing reports about child deaths linked to abuse and neglect. They determined Department of Children and Family Services director Philip Browning and others in charge at the agency were unable to effectively spur change from within.

After hearing testimony from Board members Tuesday, Ridley-Thomas remarked on his optimistic outlook for positive change with help from the independent OCP.

“The Blue Ribbon Commission has made it clear in their recommendations that the Los Angeles County child welfare system is in a ‘state of emergency.’ Today is the day to adopt the Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations. This is a concept whose time has come,” he said.

Supervisor Don Knabe dissented, saying in a statement the Board’s decision “has done a true disservice” to the city’s social workers and at-risk children.

“I am truly disappointed by the outcome of today’s vote on how best to protect the children of Los Angeles County,” a statement on his website read in part.

“Instead of focusing on our social workers on the ground, who face extreme challenges and pressure to keep children safe from neglect and abuse, we created more levels of bureaucracy that do nothing to support them.”

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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