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Protecting Children

April 15, 1993

I would like to clarify or correct some of the misinformation in "When Cries for Help Go Unheeded" (March 28). As the director of the Department of Children's Services, I applaud your effort to increase the level of public awareness of a community besieged with terrible violence directed towards children and unprecedented levels of deprivation of children.

However, I believe the article was unfair to thousands of relative caretakers, to children's social workers and, most particularly, to the excellent family preservation programs that are developing in Los Angeles County.

* In describing the abuse-related death of a 10-month-old boy who had been reported to protective services and law enforcement on numerous occasions prior to the fatality, you fail to add that the death occurred 10 years ago in 1983. None of the programs we call family preservation existed until 1990-91.

* The article reports that social workers are in a rush to spare children from foster care and, instead, quickly reunify them with their parents. That is simply incorrect. Since 1987, the number of DCS children in out-of-home care has more than doubled, rising from 17,183 in 1987 to 36,208 in 1992. The average length of stay in foster homes today is higher in Los Angeles County, permanent placement is much higher and adoptions have significantly increased; all of which contradicts the allegation that we are in a rush to reunify children with their families.

* The article also states that children are placed with relatives in order to save money. Not true. The costs are virtually the same for most relatives, due to court cases which require the same payment for relatives as foster parents for federally eligible children (76%). Cost would never be a consideration; maintaining family ties would be a consideration.

* The article states that it is common for foster children to be placed in 10 to 30 different foster homes during their time in custody, and then goes on to cite national statistics and information about other counties, but not Los Angeles. However, according to California Department of Social Services' statistics, the average time in current placement for children in Los Angeles County is 26 months, and the average number of placements is 1.84. * A great deal of space is taken to discredit family preservation by stating that the motivation for this program is an economic and fiscal one. Nowhere was there any comment from DCS or other family preservation advocates regarding the multitude of safety factors built into the program and the high rate of success already realized by family preservation here and in other jurisdictions. In reality, we have had no child abuse deaths in DCS family preservation programs.


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