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Sharing information more freely might save lives in L.A. County's child welfare system, officials say

April 2, 2010 |  4:19 pm

A review of computer systems elsewhere has yielded potential information-sharing fixes that might prevent deaths or injuries to children in the child welfare system here, Los Angeles County officials said Friday, but all would require legislative changes.

Among the likely contenders to replace the county's much-maligned computer system, known as the Family and Children's Index, is a Web-based "portal," similar to a search engine, that would allow authorized users to freely exchange information.

But that option — which is being developed in New York — and others reviewed by county officials could not be put in place without revising laws that now restrict what types of information can be shared among child welfare workers, doctors, schools and others.

"The County is held back by a system that combines aged technology with laws focused more on shielding government from liability than protecting children from abuse or neglect," Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas wrote in a letter Friday to county Chief Executive William T Fujioka.

"Investigators still lack rapid access to criminal records, mental health histories or even information on which adults reside in a child's home," Ridley-Thomas said.

After being told repeatedly over the years that better communication among child welfare workers and others might have prevented children's deaths or injuries, county supervisors approved a plan last year to revamp the computer system. The county chief executive's review of other computer systems is part of that plan.

-- Kim Christensen

Click to use The Times' interactive map tracking homicides of children whose families had come to the attention of child welfare workers. Use The Times' interactive map to learn about more than 50 homicides of children whose families had come to the attention to Los Angeles County child welfare workers before their deaths. The cases include killings caused by abuse and neglect as well as street violence. Read more in The Times' investigation: Innocents Betrayed

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