LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A horrific and heartbreaking child-abuse case has the county rethinking how it conducts its investigations after getting complaints of abuse.
CBSLA’s Randy Paige explains it centers on a tool that evaluates child-abuse risk.
The death of Yonatan Aguilar is prompting county government to do a top-down assessment about went wrong. A central question has surfaced: Did a computerized risk-assessment tool warn that the boy was in danger? And if so, why were those warnings not taken seriously?
Aguilar was found dead Aug. 22, wrapped in a blanket in a tiny closet inside an Echo Park home. Internal documents at the Department of Children and Family Services show the 11-year-old weighed 34 pounds and appeared to be the size of a 5-year-old.
According to the documents, the DCFS responded to six reports of possible child abuse between 2002 and 2012, including a report that Aguilar came to school dirty most of the time was seen grabbing food all the time from classmates because he was so hungry.
Each report of child abuse was investigated by the DCFS and while the computerized risk-assessment tool concluded the “final risk level is high,” social workers came to opposite conclusions.
“The tool was used and to my knowledge the tool was used effectively,” said Michael Nash, director of the Los Angeles County Office of Child Protection. “The question is what if anything should have been done once the assessment occurred.”
Nash is one of the county’s leading experts on child welfare and former presiding judge of the Juvenile Court. In the wake of another horrendous murder, the vicious fatal beating of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, Nash was appointed director of the county office.
Nash says he and the department will spend the next 60 days looking at why the assessment tool found Aguilar at the highest risk for harm, while every caseworker concluded the child-abuse reports were unfounded.