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L.A. Now Live: New report faults L.A. County child services

February 14, 2013 |  8:45 am

Times reporter Garrett Therolf will join L.A. Now Live at 9 a.m. to discuss a county report on Los Angeles County's child protective agency, which depicts a stifling bureaucracy and inept workforce combining to allow children to remain in unsafe homes. 

The investigation, conducted by an independent counsel for the Board of Supervisors, looked at 15 recent child deaths and a torture case. In all but two instances, investigators found that casework errors began with the agency's first contact with the children and contributed to their deaths.

Investigators largely blamed the department's problems on its decision to place its least experienced social workers in its most crucial job: assessing dangers to children. Many of those workers — facing a total of 160,000 child abuse hot line calls each year — are "just 'doing their time,' " according to the report.

DOCUMENTS: The report on child deaths

Supervisors are poorly qualified and often disregard policy, creating a situation akin to "the blind leading the blind," with workers rarely held accountable for "egregious" errors, the report said.

The result has been deaths that might have been prevented had social workers taken basic steps to assess the risks, according to the report.

Philip Browning, who became the agency's permanent director two months before the report was completed in April, recently embarked on a reorganization involving new assignments, training and procedures for many of the department's 6,800 employees.

The report's lead author, Amy Shek Naamani, has been hired by Browning and placed in a senior position to help guide the effort.

The four-year blueprint for reform — the first comprehensive effort in a decade — covers many of the recommendations outlined in the report. Browning said his goal was to restore "common sense, accountability and critical thinking" to the county's child welfare network.