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Activists call for federal monitor amid The Times' reports of child deaths in county system

October 12, 2009 |  7:19 am

lazhanae

[Share your thoughts on the Times' child death series below.]

Community activists today are calling for the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services after reports in The Times about the deaths of children in that system.

The Times series has examined flaws in the safety net for children being monitored by the county.

From January 2008 to early August 2009, at least 268 children who had passed through the child welfare system died, according to internal county records obtained by The Times.

The records showed that 213 deaths were the result of unnatural or undetermined causes; 76 were homicides, 35 accidents and 16 suicides. Eighteen of the fatalities were deemed the direct result of abuse or neglect by a caregiver, subjecting them to public disclosure under a recent state law aimed at prevention.

At a press conference today, representatives of several groups in South L.A. including the Los Angeles Civil Right Assn. and Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable will call on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to step in to make changes at the county agency and provide more funding. 

On Sunday, The Times examined the deaths of two children -- Miguel Padilla and Lazhanae Harris, a 13-year-old girl slain in March.

Both underscore systemic failings, particularly the risks of losing track of abused kids as they commit crimes and "cross over" to the justice system, or as they move through multiple state-licensed homes. Together, they also illustrate the range of flaws in a system in which choices sometimes boil down to leaving children with families that can't or won't care for them, or placing them in foster homes that are no better -- and are sometimes worse.

DISCUSS: Share your thoughts on the series by hitting the COMMENT button below.

Photo: Anice Hendrix holds a teddy bear wearing a T-shirt that had belonged to her granddaughter, Lazhanae Harris, who was killed in an apartment in South Los Angeles. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times / October 7, 2009)

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