Supervisor Gloria Molina filed a motion Monday urging the board to approve the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, which include creating a new entity that can marshal different county departments’ personnel and resources for a united effort to save the most vulnerable among us.
“The recommendations are feasible, practical and will improve child safety,” Molina’s motion said.
An analysis by the county’s Chief Executive Office and lawyers, however, indicated that implementing the proposals would require changes in not only county ordinances but state laws, over which the board has no authority.
“In certain instances, state law may need to change in order for some child-related services to be reallocated from some county departments to an Office of Child Protection,” CEO William Fujioka said in a report issued Monday.
“To the extent the duties of various county departments could be redistributed, ordinances, civil service rules and memoranda of understanding (labor contracts) would need to be amended,” it read.
But David Sanders, chairman of the commission, said the existing system is in a “state of emergency” and that reforms are imperative in the Department of Children and Family Services and in all departments and agencies that work with abused and neglected children.
“This is not just about DCFS,” Sanders said. “It’s not just about individual social workers going out and investigating abuse and neglect. It really is about a system and a community.
“It requires all hands on deck,” he added. “Everybody in the county has to have this as a priority, and the board can set that in motion.”
DCFS Director Philip Browning agreed his department needs more support, but hedged on whether a new entity is needed.
“I think there’s no magic bullet, and that all large jurisdiction across the country have very similar problems,” he said. “LA County actually compares favorably with most of large urban jurisdictions – we, I think, have fewer child fatalities per 100,000 population.”
“I agree that no one department can be totally responsible for child protection in this county, but I do think DCFS has made a lot of progress (with reforms).”
The commission was created in the wake of public outcry over social workers’ failure to take Gabriel Fernandez into protective custody, even after receiving numerous reports that his mother and her boyfriend were abusing him.
After an eight-month investigation, it recommended in December and May a combined total of 55 reforms that stressed better coordination within the DCFS, as well as with the departments of Public Health, Mental Health Services, Public Social Services, Housing, Probation and Sheriff. Streamlined communication with the Office of Education, dependency courts, First 5 L.A. and various child-related commissions was also urged.
Fujioka suggested a new interdepartmental Los Angeles Child Welfare Council, staffed by expert advisers to create a strategic plan for the entire county.
Molina, meanwhile, advocated a “transition team” to monitor the implementation of reforms.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion to create the commission, will convey to the board the urgent need for a pilot program partnering social workers with public health nurses to handle cases of infant abuse, as well as the creation of a medical hub for those babies. “What is important, from my perspective, is that they begin to act now,” he said.
“These can be done immediately and would have far-reaching implications for child safety and protection.”