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Dozens protest at L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services headquarters

June 3, 2010 |  6:32 pm

About 80 people protested Thursday outside the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services headquarters urging officials to offer more mental health services and other forms of support for abused or neglected children.

Using bullhorns and signs, the protesters focused on about 7,000 children who have been removed from their parents and are placed in the care of extended family members under court order.

“We need help,” said one of the protesters, 55-year-old Debra Lee, who added that the department asked her to care for her granddaughter and great-granddaughter. “I know our children are suffering and they will have lifelong issues because DCFS isn't paying attention.”

Lee said her granddaughter has severe mental health needs but she has been unable to win mental health services for her. As a result, she said, the girl often ran away and gave birth to two children.

“We had a meeting three years ago with DCFS Director Trish Ploehn and she promised to establish a mental health work group for relative caregivers like myself,” Lee said. “But nothing has come of it.”

DCFS spokesman Nishith Bhatt said, “DCFS is committed to working with our community partners, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, and other mental health care providers to ensure that the children in our care receive the mental health services and supports they need.”

“Such services for children and families under DCFS care,” he added, “may include, but are not limited to, support groups and extracurricular activities, as well as support and education for adult relatives caring for children in need of mental health services.”

-- Garrett Therolf

Read complete coverage of this issue in The Times investigation: Innocents Betrayed