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L.A. County proposes new oversight, regulations amid outcry over death of 6-year-old boy [Updated]

July 30, 2009 |  4:13 pm

The County's Department of Children and Family Services today said it would increase oversight of child abuse investigations, review past cases and provide more training to social workers as officials deal with public outrage over the beating death of a 6-year-old boy last week.

DCFS Director Trish Ploehn announced the changes as the Los Angeles Police Departmentcontinued to search for Marcas Fisher, who police allege severely beat Dae'von Bailey to death last week. Records show that social workers were told in April and June that the man had beat the boy -- but in both cases, the county decided to keep the boy with Fisher.

The LAPD said that the boy also told adults at his school that he was being hit and that the school told DCFS.

Los Angeles Police Department officials said Wednesday that social workers had approved an agreement between Fisher and the boy's mother that placed Dae'von in the man's home. Fisher had been convicted of rape as a teenager and had a criminal record as an adult.

Officials said supervisors will now review 500 child abuse cases randomly to see how they happened. Additionally, the county is creating a new layer of oversight in which top supervisors will review investigations of child abuse before a final determination is made. Supervisor Gloria Molina had called for this new regulation earlier this week.

County officials want to know whether social workers did an adequate investigation of the alleged abuse, talking to people besides Fisher and the boy. They have also asked whether the doctors examined him properly.

Both issues have come up before as the county has struggled to address a pattern in which children have been killed after their cases already had come to the attention of county child welfare officials.

The use of private doctors to evaluate potential abuse has been the subject of debate, with critics saying doctors in private practice are not always trained to detect abuse.

In the wake of Dae'von's death, Molina has proposed a pilot program in parts of the San Gabriel Valley and the Eastside in which all children who come to the county's attention as possible child-abuse victims would be examined at a county facility by forensic pediatricians and other experts trained to spot abuse. Dr. Astrid Heger, executive director of the L.A. County-USC Violence Intervention Program, said Dae'von was exactly the kind of child who needed to be examined by experts at these county-run centers. There are currently six such "hubs," but children who come to the county's attention, like Dae'von, are not always referred to them.

"These kids are trying to figure out how to survive," Heger said. "It takes an enormous amount of courage for a child to say, 'He hit me.' It's like he's looking at you and me and saying, 'Rescue me.' And what happened? We didn't. And that's the tragedy."

Molina has also recommended having a supervising social worker and an assistant regional administrator review each case even when a social worker had determined the allegations to be "unfounded."

"Who stepped forward to save this child?" asked Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has called on the county board to appoint an independent investigator to thoroughly review Dae'von's case and look for breakdowns in the process.

Family Services officials declined to answer specific questions, citing confidentiality rules and the fact that the investigation into the boy's death was continuing.

[Updated at 10:31 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly gave the acronym for the Department of Children and Family Services as DCSF. It is DCFS.]

-- Hector Becerra