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


[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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Comments () | Archives (16)

As someone who keeps track of such things I would go one step further and suggest a monitor be assigned to keep tabs on ALL of California's county CPS agencies most especially Los Angeles and Sacramento County's CPS. It is quite apparent that these two counties more than most have been shamefully negligent in their duties to their county's most vulnerable citizens.

It is ABSOLUTELY HORRIFYING what these children go through everyday. They are pumped full of brain-frying/destroying meds everyday when nothing is wrong with them; it's the adults that need the meds!

And we want the government to run health care? The government, from a falling apart City of Los Angeles, to Obama's nightmare - is a collection of incompetents.
Thank the Gods for going after this "child care" sham LA County group --- fire them all and replace them with the private sector.

We are supposed to find BILLIONS for super-fast trains between Anaheim (read: Disneyland) and other California cities, as well as such trains to Las Vegas for the convenience of gamblers.

But we can't find a few measely dollars to hire QUALIFIED social workers and pay them well to keep CONSTANT track of children in the CPS system. The nearly 300 innocents who died because of our indifference and neglect must look down from Heaven and wonder at our choice of priorities.

Child Protection Services - “Not Fit For Purpose”

Too many children have died as a result of wrong decisions by CPS. With power comes responsibility and accountability, which most officials ignore. A child welfare system so overwhelmed with children who DON'T need to be in foster care,the less time they have to find children in real danger.
Do we ever read about a child murdered by a family that the Department of Children & Families or the Sheriff's Office has not already investigated, usually more than once?

They had names and faces once. Now they have coroner's numbers. Social workers call them their "worst outcomes".
These children died needlessly.Learn more about them.....Read their stories.

Children Who Didn't Have to Die - Website http://suncanaa.com/

Instead of bashing the system, why not place some of the blame on the people who deserve it, such as the parents who reproduce to the point of not being able to care for their kids?

I think that this investigation is incomplete - it does not look into the legal limitations placed upon DCFS or the Probation Dept. that does not allow those agencies to institutionalize children who have severe mental illness, which is the tragic case of Padilla and it would seem Harris. The types of Boys homes that Padilla was placed in does not operate on the assumption that they are to detain the boys that are placed with them, in fact, they are legally inable to do so. Why did the Los Angeles Times not focus on this aspect of the institution that he was placed in? I suppose the picture of Harris' grandmother holding a stuffed animal with her t-shirt on it was supposed to tug on my heart-strings, instead it angered me - where was this woman when that 13 year old girl needed her the most? Why did she seem to think that the fact that her daughter had given away 8 of her 9 children was acceptable because she did not abort them? instead that little girl had her throat slit in a dirty apartment in south central. What about the Padillas? Am I supposed to feel sorry for this man leaning his head sadly against a door jam in a dirty, cluttered room when he left his diabled, mentally ill son to have more children in Mexico? This story is sad, however - I think that the burden should first be placed on the individuals who shirked the responsibility that they should have shouldered. The county can only do so much in a system that is overburdened and restricted by the rights of those who do not employ those rights properly.

I would like to be the first one to step up and say to the mother of the young girl who died - why did you keep bringing children into the world if you didn't want to be responsible for them? And why wasn't the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) encouraging her to stop having children? It would have been far better to pay her to have her tubes tied.

She could have used birth control. She could have gone to a free Planned Parenthood clinic and gotten a prescription for birth control. She could have gotten an abortion for free.

I would suggest that DCFS's CSW's begin to encourage women who don't want children to consider the option of abortion and sterilization. It may not be politically correct, but I'd risk that over pumping out child after child that no one wants. And to those that would cry horror over the abortion issue, I'd ask, how many unwanted children have YOU adopted?

The statistics on physical child abuse are alarming. It is estimated hundreds of thousands of children are physically abused each year by a parent or close relative. Thousands actually die as a result of the abuse. For those who survive, the emotional trauma remains long after the external bruises have healed. More than 4.5 million children are forced to endure sexual misconduct by school employees, from inappropriate comments to physical abuse, according to an exhaustive review of research.

We are all responsible because we turn our heads on children. There really is something wrong in our society. We should fear for our children and make them aware how unacceptable it is to have babies at very young age. All these anti abortionists should be held responsible for what is happening to all these poor and neglected children. Shame on anyone for turning their heads the other way.

I kicked a DCFS workers drug dealer out of my house and they have tried to take my child! She called my house for him, months before her investigation from her DCFS ISSUED CELL PHONE! It is right there in their own frigging phone records and they will not even run a fair investigation into it. They tell me that I have to get their own phone records for them, and act like school children, telling me "well you will have to sue us then", trying to flaunt their immunity. NOBODY WILL HELP ME AND IT COULD BE PROVEN SO EASILY!

my son is ok but when he was being seen by cs his mom because she work for the county would sit right next my son and wink if he said any thing bad and tell the county he lieing until he ran awayfrom md s she stop i pick him up and county was mad that i had him they were scare that i would sue cs were just as bad as the mom

Sow to the wind, reap the whirlwind. We are seeing the result of our society's decision to turn its back on The Lord. We give our kids emptyness, false hope, and entertainment and expect them to become productive members of society. What about discipline, consequences, and responsibility?

Thank you for reporting on the tragic suicide of Miguel Padilla in the Oct 11 piece,"Flawed county system lets children die invisibly". This child was dealt a tragic set of circumstances. The piece ensures this child did not die "invisibly".

I do however take issue with the tone of the article. To imply DCFS is to blame for the suicide of this troubled child is unresponsible. Might the parents be partially responsible for abandoning the child with his great grandmother? Would the child have fared better in Mexico?

It's trite to highlight an overburdened "system's" flaws. It would be much more refreshing if the Times covered a success from the "system" rather than highlight its failures. I'm certain these cases far outnumber failures. Otherwise, why have a "system" at all? Try shadowing a CSW to cover the challenges they face in an often emotionally trying and thankless job. Why not give "visibility" to those who gave their careers to uplifting others?

Instead of bashing the system, why not place some of the blame on the people who deserve it, such as the parents who reproduce to the point of not being able to care for their kids?

Posted by: pmg | October 13, 2009 at 07:11 AM

I like what PMG stated why are we blaming the system when the system did not give birth to these kids? Should we not blame the parents knowing they are broke still have kids? In the case of Lazhanae Harris her mom had 8 kids? Are you kidding me? LA times wants to look at all these deaths sure look for someone to fault but people need to stop pointing the finger and take responsiblity where responsiblity is due. I don't have kids due to the fact that I know I can afford a child I make a good living but not enought to give a child what it needs. So why are adults letting the system take care of their children?

I am a therapist that works closely with DCFS. I am currently seeing a client who was FINALLY removed from mother's care after over 30 child abuse reports were made and closed. What I thought would be a success turned into a nightmare as my client is currently living on the streets. I must admit that my client is a runner, however, she runs away to girlfriend's house at all times. DCFS is aware of girlfriend's address, yet, they have not made any efforts to contact my client or provide shelter for her, despite her calling the social worker on a weekly basis to check in. Recently, my client was walking at 1am and was sexually assaulted by a stranger. DCFS was made aware of this and did not even bother to make a police report or take her to a rape treatment center. All concerns were addressed to the social worker's supervisor, whom also has taken no action to ensure that my client's needs are met. The Dept of Children and Family services is a disappointment and will continue to fail its' clients. I see it happening ALL the time.

It breaks my heart to read all of these awful stories, I don't understand why LA county cannot do something about this. Hire new and qualified social workers that are going to be able to investigate the abuse and make better choices of not leaving the child in an environment that is not suitable for them. It really bothers me and makes me very angry that the mothers of all of these children can't understand the concept of birth control, why bring a child to this world if you know that you cannot care for him or her.


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