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Embattled head of L.A. County's child welfare office may be on the way out, sources say

Trishploehn Los Angeles County officials are putting plans in place to remove Trish Ploehn as the director of their embattled Department of Children and Family Services, according to high-level officials familiar with the matter.

Ploehn will likely be reassigned elsewhere in the county, and William T Fujioka, the county's chief executive, is expected to appoint an interim director to allow for the search of a permanent replacement, according to the sources who asked not to be identified because it was a personnel decision that had not been made public.

News that her departure may be imminent comes as top county leaders have acknowledged the department is in crisis, with a massive backlog of open investigations into child-abuse allegations and a history of mistakes in the oversight of abused and neglected children that sometimes contributed to their injuries or deaths.

Ploehn, a licensed social worker, joined the department in 1979 and worked her way to the top post in September 2006, overseeing more than 7,300 employees in one of the most difficult jobs in local government. During her tenure, she has been credited with improving the stability of placements for the 30,000 children in the dependency system and thinking creatively about ways to allow more children to remain in their own homes.

But aides to the board of supervisors said support for her waned as mismanaged cases came to light and two outside reports found shortcomings in the department’s management.

In August, the county’s Office of Independent Review issued a report that said Ploehn’s department did not fully comply with a 2007 state law requiring the release of numerous records in fatality cases. Workers responsible for the disclosure were not communicating properly with other sections of the agency, the report found, and the breakdown led to a "a virtual paralysis of the statute's intent."

Last month, Fujioka’s office issued a report to supervisors that said a persistent backlog of child-abuse investigations in Los Angeles County has led to a "crisis," with four in 10 open inquiries stretched beyond the state's two-month deadline. The Times reported Friday on those findings, which were publicly released this week.

In a brief telephone conversation Friday, Ploehn declined to comment on whether county officials are planning to remove her as department head. She said she was unable to talk at the moment and would call back later.

Fujioka referred questions to a spokesman, Ryan Alsop, who said he had no knowledge of any impending moves at the Department of Children and Family Services.

Asked if sources were incorrect when they said Fujioka had spoken specifically about the move, Alsop said, "No, I don't know anything about conversations, I have no idea."

“All personnel matters, particularly the reassignment of a department head, is [Fujioka’s] decision and that decision has not been made,” Alsop said.

Read: Persistent backlog in L.A. County child abuse probes has led to a crisis, report says

-- Garrett Therolf

Photo: Trish Ploehn, director of L.A. County's child welfare department, at a 2009 meeting of the Board of Supervisors. Credit: Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (22)

I'd like to see her locked up in County Jail.

My experience as a low level bureaucrat (not in this field) leads me to suspect that this is not a failure of management but of budget. Cases don't just lie around ignored if there are adequate resources.

Politicians are so focused on blame and budget cuts so we just don't rescuie the kids.

The tax cut fanatics and the politicians who fear raising taxes should shoulder a good deal of the blame for the mess in this department and most of government.

Investigations cost money. Government can't just grab kids without solid evidence. Bruised and battered children tug at your heart, but that empathy won’t replace an effective bureaucracy.

Liberals out!

Liberals ,both ironically and hypocritically, don't seem to grasp/ascertain the graveness in child welfare/abuse cases. They paint the picture with lots of euphemism and think everyone is getting along just fine to hold hands and sing "kum-ba-ya;" hence the deaths, suicides and broken lives these children live...setting in motion, the callous social interaction they experience, which sometimes conditions them to become serious criminals when older.

FINALLY!!!

It would be the best move for the residences of LA County. DCFS is a complete mess, one hand doesn't know what the other hand is doing (everything is sweep under the rug). Thank you Mr. Therolf, for staying on top of this issue over the years. Hermosa Beach parent

This a scape boarding, pure and simple. It's easy for the fat-cat supervisors and top officials to beat up on this Child Welfare agency, because it is powerless. Let's apply the same criteria to Sheriff Baca's management and for every deputy's shooting of unarmed civilians or for gross mismanagement of the jails, or for repeatedly abusing the overtime budgets of his minions or for going after a person who has wronged one of his donors or for the "mis-handling" of the removal of Matrice Richardson's body, then he too should be removed from office.
These foul smelling hand maidens of the putrid rich make me sick.

It's about time someone took responsibility for a department that doesn't care about the kids. These DCFS workers, or better yet, many DCFS workers bitch and complain about being over-worked and underpaid and yet they don't seem to realize that the consequences of the type of job that they have. It's always great to hear that a department would fire people who enjoy their job and keep individuals who steal, cheat on reports and don't give a damn when a child dies.

The Director should be fired instead of being re-assigned. She has truly lost the connection of being a social worker.

Obviously we do appreciate Director Ploehn's contributions to helping our embattled children in her work for our county. While her ideas were great and some of the systems she put in place will remain there, the truth is that this came about for entirely different problems. Currently, the department is unorganized and can be better managed. Its supervision can improve immensely and as a department it can be better organized without changing the process drastically. As a taxpayer I look forward to the changes that will come, and in hope for the children who social workers take care of I look forward to something positive happening in L.A.'s DCFS.

I hope the don't stop at Ploehn. They need to clean house starting at the top through to the very bottom, including a receptionist or two at the Chatsworth office. Working with a private agency, my family is an approved foster-to-adopt home. Over the past 6 months, we've been fortunate enough to have 2 separate placements. During this time, dealing with DCSF has been a total mess.

Time and time again, nearly all the social workers we've encountered have been incompetent and not been able to get basic questions answered. They have failed to meet their own deadlines in providing information to the appropriate parties. Or, they have manipulated the situation for their own personal agenda. What is even scarier is, without my family's continued advocacy for our placement, I sure this child would of slipped through the cracks of the broken system.

We still have our second bundle of joy, which has been with us about 4 months now. Sad part is, we've yet to meet this child's social worker. I realize DCSF uses the private agencies to help assist with the case, I'm sure sure its not intended to be a total replacement.

Time to dump the conservatives.
Typically hypoctical, they whine about how important it is to protect children, but then don't want to actually pay for it as they cut social services. Maybe they can all get together and chant "just say no" and these problems will go away.

In the Private sector your "FIRED", in the public sector incompetence is rewarded with reassignment. Am I the only one this bureacratic reshuffling angers?

Don't agree ENoseoff.. THIS is purely a matter of incompetance, sloth and lack of interest in the job! I'm SO sick of apologists coming out of the cracks in the woodwork to schmooze over every pathetic excuse for human stupidity!
As to this head incompetant, Ploehn; in times past YOU FIRED THE INCOMPETANT NOT reward them with a re-location... (and WHAT, a possible raise in salary?????)

It may be a budget problem. Dead children grossely abused in homes, however, suggests that social workers did not do their job. It is the job of top administrators to ensure public money is used for the purpose intended, and top administrators are responsible to ensure social workers do not get away with permitting murders to happen. How is it that Ploehm was merely transferred and not fired and gone? Articles coming out of Sacramento indicated many former criminals and child abusers were hired as social workers. What is done to ensure that former criminals and convicts are not hired to be social workers? Is accountability of social workers based on the social workers' hunches? or is there a legitimate measure to ensure social workers are accountable?

Just exactly what does a civil servant have to do to get fired?

I certainly hope that who ever is appointed does not come from DCFS. I hope it's an outsider that can come in and clean house. Not only should the director be replaced but every single Deputy Director and anyone else that sits on the team that makes decisions. I've heard it's called the Executive team at that agency. Until DCFS hires only social workers at the masters degree level, hires only social work educated supervisors, and administrators and or forces all non- social workers to go to school to get their degrees in social work administration there will be no change in that system. Why did DCFS create even more barriers to closing cases? Because it operates on a CYA basis and nothing else. The Times writes a story and DCFS creates new policy. Every other county in the state closes their cases in relative time but DCFS with its 4000 workers can't manage the same so what do they do, they add even MORE things to the list of things to be done. Ridiculous management and not just from Ploehn.

I have worked in DCFS for over 26 years and have gone through more than my share of directors. The pattern goes like this: Every few years the media decides to focus on us for awhile, they find problems, offer no solutions (because the only true solution is to have a crystal ball, which isn't likely to happen soon), find a scapegoat and fire the director. The result is that we get someone new who has a huge learning curve, which takes time. The new director hires a consultant who gives the managers the same advise and theories only using different words. Once they're in place for awhile, the whole thing starts up again and we lose another director.

Trish Ploehn has been by far the most caring and dedicated director we have had and to replace her would be a major mistake and only exacerbate the problem. Social workers are always caught in the middle - either we are painted as evil social workers taking children away from well meaning parents and relatives or we are evil social workers not protecting children from those same parents and relatives. The reality is that there is no way that just one agency or even 10 agencies can guarantee the full protection of children, but our best bet is to engage the whole community not just the social workers who clearly do not have the resources to be with the families 24-7. We cannot fix all of society's ailments of drugs, institutionalized racism, unemployment, or disfunctional family relationships. So, yes, reduce our caseloads and improve our technology and there will be some improvement. Take away our director and the only thing that might improve is our image with the press.

So typical of the politicians; when one SCREWS UP and has bodies to bury, give them a promotion, with MORE pay! Aren't you glad you re-elected so many INCOMPETENT, SELF-ENRICHING crooks? Is Bell, the new Washington DC West?

It appears that child welfare at DCFS is progressively getting worse. The bad news is children suffer and/or loose their lives. The good news is there are hundreds of social workers who go about their business of protecting children under extremely difficult conditions and it doesn't matter if Pee Wee Herman and sixteen brass monkeys are in charge at headquarters.

Being one who has personally experienced the ineptness of this department with regards to a very severe case of child abuse, molestation and neglect. I found that the system "doesn't protect children" when it is evident that the child is "not" in a safe environment. The politics of whomever is Director or whatever policies are in place for a time is what drives some of these decisions to leave children in an embattered home. Common sense should tell the workers that if there is constant use of alcohol, drugs and violence against children that it "is not" a safe environment even if the point is to keep families together. Some families need reorganization.

DCFS is a corrupted Bureaucracy. Trish Ploehn rose up through that bureaucracy. She reflects it. Her reassignment is a joke - like someone posted below - she'll get a raise - no doubt to silence her from going pubic with dirt on the whole system including the LA County Board of Supervisors. DCFS fails in almost all aspects of its mission - it fails to protect truly abused kids and then persecutes innocent families and parents to get the big numbers of seizures for Federal Title IVe monies that flow into LA County coffers overseen by Board of Supervisors. DCFS seizures are UNConsitutional and unlawful by any law of humanity. The Dependency Court system is totally owned by DCFS. It rubber stamps almost all DCFS seizures of kids which they can hold up to two years. Children are more likely to be abused under DCFS care than outside of it. Social workers regularly fabricate evidence and outright lie on reports to court. No accountability or oversight by anyone inside or outside of DCFS or county Counsel takes place. It is government sponsored kidnapping ring for profit. They unjustifiably seize more kids to make the case that they need more budget and social workers. It is empire building at its worst.And it will take the 'reassignment' of many more corrupted DCFS technocrats to clean up that department and get it back on its real mission.

It's been long over due!! The problem with this agency (just like with education) is that it has gone rougue!! in their self deceived attempt to cover up their incompetency, they wants to convince the public that the system needs more money. Not true if the agency focuses on efficiency and fixing the ill and Jekyll/Hyde internal culture that affects these cases due to conflict of interests and incompetence of the workforce. Social worker fabricating evidence agaisnt parents, lying and bullying people is only resulting in misassesments that is putting children at risk. Children are often put in bad situations after taken fronm their homes. Then, the agency manipulates mental health, physicians and teachers to agree with their findings(true or NOT)often times leaving children vulnerable, much more at risk then when the agency stepped in. MAJOR CONFLICT OF INTEREST WITHIN THIS AGENCY. IF the public only knew what goes on in there people would be out on the streets rioting!

I like this, TrueLight and Veronica, it's obvious who you work for." Her reassignment is a joke - like someone posted below - she'll get a raise - no doubt to silence her from going pubic with dirt on the whole system including the LA County Board of Supervisors. DCFS fails in almost all aspects of its mission - it fails to protect truly abused kids and then persecutes innocent families and parents to get the big numbers of seizures for Federal Title IVe monies that flow into LA County coffers overseen by Board of Supervisors. DCFS seizures are UNConsitutional and unlawful by any law of humanity. The Dependency Court system is totally owned by DCFS. It rubber stamps almost all DCFS seizures of kids which they can hold up to two years. Children are more likely to be abused under DCFS care than outside of it. Investigators regularly fabricate evidence and outright lie on reports to court. No accountability or oversight by anyone inside or outside of DCFS or county Counsel takes place. It is government sponsored kidnapping ring for profit. They unjustifiably seize more kids to make the case that they need more budget and social workers. It is empire building at its worst.And it will take the 'reassignment' of many more corrupted DCFS technocrats to clean up that department and get it back on its real mission."


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