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Supervisors criticize L.A. Times child death story -- but their numbers are in dispute

October 19, 2010 |  5:41 pm

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/images/2008/03/20/mark_ridleythomas_2.jpgLos Angeles County Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Mark Ridley-Thomas criticized a story in The Times on Tuesday that reported that an increasing number of children were dying of abuse or neglect after being referred to the Department of Children and Family Services.

“According to figures from the Interagency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, the number of children dying from abuse and neglect has dropped from 72 in 1989 to 43 in 2009,” the supervisors said in a joint motion read by Antonovich at their board meeting.

Deanne Tilton-Durfee, executive director of the interagency council, said the supervisors had misrepresented her organization’s figures.

The true number of deaths reported by her agency for 1989 was 42, she said, not 72, so the council’s figures do not show a decrease in deaths. Moreover, that number was a tally of all child abuse homicides throughout the county whether the children had a history of involvement with the county’s child welfare system or not, and covered a period of the past 20 years.

Mike AntonovichThe Times story concerned a rise over the last three years in the number of children dying of mistreatment or abuse who had a history of being under the department’s scrutiny.

At Antonovich and Ridley-Thomas’ request, the board asked County Chief Executive William T Fujioka and Department of Children and Family Services Director Trish Ploehn to report back in two weeks on the county’s participation in an experimental federal and state program that Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and others have said may be influencing the rate of fatalities.

Under the program, known as the Title IV-E Waiver, Los Angeles County agreed to accept a fixed sum for foster care. If costs exceed that amount, the county must pay the difference. If the county spends less than the federal allotment, the county can use the leftover funds to pay for other programs designed to reduce child abuse and neglect. The program has helped extend a steep decline in the use of foster care.

The number of foster children has dropped from 52,000 in 1997 to 18,800 this year. During this period, the department has focused on keeping children with their parents by giving the adults drug treatment, parental training and other services. Some key indicators of abuse have increased since the waiver’s implementation, however.

-- Garrett Therolf at the L.A. County Hall of Administration

Photos: (Top) Mark Ridley-Thomas; (Bottom) Michael DAntonovich. Credit: L.A. Times