The burgeoning problem of child abuse and child neglect in the Antelope Valley has been known for years. In 1992, for example, in those areas patrolled by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, the region was the site of more criminal investigations involving alleged child abuse than any of the 18 other sheriff's reporting areas countywide. Moreover, the Antelope Valley also had the highest population-adjusted rate of reported criminal child abuse.
Sadly, the county's responses to this problem were not just unhelpful; it was making matters worse or engaging in its own form of neglect.
One example was the shift, last July, of the closest county dependency court from Van Nuys to Monterey Park. These courts handle cases involving child abuse and neglect. Suddenly, Antelope Valley families faced a trip of 70 miles to get to court. When the county decided, last year, to try a family preservation program designed to help households before there was a need to remove children from the home, it also excluded the Antelope Valley from the test sites.
The county did not devote further scrutiny to this isolated bedroom community until a Times story by reporter John Chandler last fall detailed a staggering number of child-abuse fatalities in the Antelope Valley. There have been eight confirmed child-abuse deaths there since mid-1991. Now, the county is moving in the right direction in some ways, but not swiftly enough. It's also true that more can be done.
The region has finally been given its own county children's services administrator, a valuable addition that was too long in coming. But the county will be hard-pressed to meet its own May deadline for opening a juvenile dependency court in Lancaster for child-abuse cases.
County officials now say that they hope to expand the aforementioned family preservation program to the Antelope Valley. That should be more than a hope. Simply put, the region deserves the first available funds and resources in order to attempt to prevent further tragedies.
Also, the number of child-abuse reports in this part of the county also means that it deserves a specialized medical team to examine child-abuse victims and to help train area doctors to better recognize abuse victims.
Two other programs that no longer exist also ought to be revisited. One used volunteers to help evaluate child-abuse victims who had been brought to hospitals. The second involved the use of volunteers in making presentations on child abuse in local schools. Both were operated through the Antelope Valley Hospital Medical Center, and when demand for them became too great, the hospital helped set up nonprofit Children's Center of the Antelope Valley. The Children's Center no longer runs either program. Perhaps the hospital can again help out here on a limited basis.
These steps would help the Antelope Valley to better gauge the extent of its child-abuse problem, and help more vulnerable youth in the process.