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L.A. County underreported child deaths connected to abuse and neglect, audit finds

August 31, 2010 |  7:48 am

Click to read the audit report on the disclosure of child fatalities. Los Angeles County officials have failed to follow state law that requires them to publicly disclose child fatalities resulting from abuse or neglect, according to an independent audit released Monday.

The violations involve "potentially dozens" of child fatalities, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.

"The board has been misled, but more importantly the public has been misled and that is really inexcusable," Yaroslavsky said. "There is only one possible motivation here, other than the right hand not doing what the left hand is doing, and that is an intent to withhold information from the public."

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said that it was unclear who is responsible for the lack of compliance with the disclosure law. He said that he plans to introduce a motion at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to clarify lines of responsibility.

Department of Children and Family Services Director Trish Ploehn, reached by telephone Monday evening, declined to comment, saying she was still reviewing the auditors' findings. She agreed to an interview with The Times on Tuesday.

The finding by the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review comes amid a growing debate about whether child welfare officials are underreporting deaths of children whose families previously had come to the department's attention.

The independent audit was released just days after county officials closed an investigation ordered by the Board of Supervisors into who provided The Times with information about children who died while their families were under scrutiny by child protective services.

A single-page report on the inquiry written by County Chief Executive William T Fujioka said officials found nothing.

-- Garrett Therolf

Read Therolf's complete story about the audit's findings and other problems in the county's child services department: Los Angeles County didn't report child deaths