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Report: LA County must reform troubled DCFS; officials say the whole system needs reform (update)

The blue ribbon commission votes on the language of a final report that took a critical look at L.A. County's foster care system on April 10, 2014. It is set to be presented to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors later this month.
Karen Foshay/KPCC
The blue ribbon commission votes on the language of a final report that took a critical look at L.A. County's foster care system on April 10, 2014. It is set to be presented to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors later this month.

Update 12:31 p.m.: Officials agree the child welfare system needs reform, but it needs to come from more than one agency

L.A. County officials are reacting to a draft of a Blue Ribbon Commission report that criticizes the troubled Department of Children and Family Services.

The latest report found that many of the issues an earlier commission identified – and which it also made specific recommendations on how to fix them – remain today.

Supervisor Gloria Molina said Thursday that she had not seen the report. But she is aware of the troubles at the agency.

"Hopefully we're going to figure out what it's going to take to make some of the changes they might recommend—question them, figure out what it's going to cost, and then start putting those recommendations into place," Molina said.

The supervisor said she is aware that these issues have been identified before. She called it a challenge to implement all the recommended changes that have come down over the years in a system that cares for more than 26,000 kids at any time.

"It's not that they don't go anywhere, it's always the matter of the challenge we have of how we're going to put them in place,” Molina said. “It's finding locations, finding mechanisms, finding leadership everywhere.”

Philip Browning is the director of DCFS. He defended the performance of the agency he supervises and said many improvements have been made:

“I know there have been hundreds and hundreds of recommendations that have been provided over the last 4, 5 years. Over 800. And many people don't know that over 96 percent of all of those recommendations have been implemented fully or partially implemented. So we have had as a department hundreds of recommendations that have been given to us by the auditor-controller, by the board of supervisors, by a number of commissions—the vast, vast majority of those recommendations have been implemented."

Browning added that it will take more than his agency to fix the problems with the county’s child welfare system.

"There are a lot of challenges in the county that no one agency can be totally responsible for child protection,” Browning said. “And that health and mental health and DCFS and probation and law enforcement and a whole host of other organizations, private included, have to be responsible for child protection."

11:18 a.m.: Report calls on LA County supervisors to implement major reforms at troubled DCFS

A draft of a new report finds that there has been little change in the Los Angeles County agency charged with protecting children in foster care and in other vulnerable situations.

The entire draft report from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection can be read below. It takes a critical look at the troubled agency. It found that social workers and the children they are charged of caring for have a dysfunctional relationship:

The blue ribbon commission was formed after the death of Gabriel Fernandez in Palmdale. The 8-year-old allegedly died at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend. Relatives have accused government workers of not doing enough to protect the child.

Some other findings from the report include:

  • No single entity in the County oversees all aspects of child protection. No single entity is held accountable for what happens to children during and after they are in the County’s care. No single entity is charged with integrating resources across departments for the well being of the child.
  • County departments that should work together often operate in silos. 
  • No County-wide mission or measurable outcomes guides policies and practices. 
  • Persistent turnover in the leadership of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has devastated morale and created endless directives. 
  • The County child welfare culture reacts to crises, rather than being driven by data.
  • Fear of liability preempts sound decision-making by the County and DCFS. 
  • Communication among people and agencies is often limited by perceived confidentiality restrictions, to the detriment of child safety and well-being. 
  • There is little budget or planning transparency. 
  • Children, youth, and families reported disrespectful treatment and exclusion from the decision-making process. 

A 2007 report from the Casey Family Programs Vice-President David Sanders recommends giving greater authority to the DCFS director. Sanders essentially recommended many of the same things that are in the 2014 blue ribbon commission report six years ago.
About eight months later, a county commission on children revisited Sanders report and made similar recommendations. One example: budgeting. In 2008, that commission recommended that DCFS be more transparent with its finances. The goal was to find out if the money is being well spent.

Six years later, the blue ribbon commission report made virtually the same recommendation.  

All of the reports can be read below.

The 2014 commission report makes several recommendations to fix DCFS.

It calls for a county wide mandate to improve child safety. This would require all county entities to work together and with the community to create a new way of doing things. It also argues for "transparency in its finances, practices and outcomes."

The commission also recommends an oversight team. It would be comprised of a variety of community members and a county leader. The team would oversee the implementation of the commission's recommendations and direct L.A. County's CEO to do a number of things. This would include a review all child fatalities due to abuse and neglect within the past three years. It would include all county departments, not just DCFS.  The team would also oversee the implementation of sharing data between county departments to identify risk factors that can lead to child deaths. 

The report also notes DCFS social workers have struggled to find homes for children – sometimes just days old – and have had to keep the children at the Children Welcome Center. The report says supervisors should call for an independent analysis of foster family recruits – who are not related to the children – to see if the system could run more efficiently and effectively.

It also suggests DCFS should develop a computer database to identify available foster homes.

KPCC is reaching out to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for their reaction to the report.

This story will be updated.

Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection Draft Final Report Recommendations

Casey Family Programs Vice-President David Sanders report on Los Angeles County DCFS

2008 report on DCFS: "Commission report and recommendations regarding the county organizational structure and child safety"