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Thousands of tips on child-abuse hotline go uninvestigated

May 16, 2010 |  9:34 am
Los Angeles County's child-welfare system has failed to complete investigations into child-abuse-hotline tips involving more than 18,000 children within the time mandated by the state, according to county records.

Because of the backlog, state regulators recently extended L.A. County's deadline for completing investigations from 30 days to 60, but Department of Children and Family Services officials have been unable to meet that new timeline as well. Some 3,700 cases — many involving multiple children — have been open two months or longer without determining whether abuse or neglect are taking place in the home.

The delays — which might leave children in dangerous situations until social workers complete their work — are the result of too few staff burdened with numerous new tasks intended to reduce the deaths of children whose families already have come under the department's scrutiny.

"The social-worker staff simply cannot keep up with everything we are asking them to do," department Director Trish Ploehn said. "All of the things that equate with quality do take time."

John Tanner, executive director of Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents the social workers, says, "The emergency response system is at a breaking point. We have to reinvent it to best help social workers ensure child safety."

The crisis began last year after The Times reported that more than a dozen children had died of abuse or neglect in each of the two previous years after coming to the attention of the department. Internal investigations subsequently determined that most of those cases involved errors by the department that probably contributed to the fatalities and that the errors were concentrated in the unit that handled emergency response.

Read the full story here.

-- Garrett Therolf

Photo: Trish Ploehn, right, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, answer questions from county supervisors about deaths of children formerly in the department's care. Credit: Los Angeles Times