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Federal probe of L.A. County children's agency sought

Activists request a monitor in a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius. At least 268 children passing through the system died from January 2008 to early August 2009.

October 13, 2009|Garrett Therolf

Community activists called Monday for a federal monitor to investigate Los Angeles County's Department of Children and Family Services.

From January 2008 to early August 2009, at least 268 children who had passed through the child welfare system died -- many of them violently -- The Times reported Sunday.

"The long-standing abuses within the agency have been well-documented and the proposed reform efforts of county officials have not stopped the abuses or deaths," the activists wrote in a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius, who oversees the distribution of federal money to the county agency.

Among those who signed the letter were Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Urban Policy Roundtable; Willis Edwards, an NAACP board member; Eddie Jones, spokesman for the family of a boy who died earlier this year; and Pedro Baez, a Harbor Gateway resident with a weekly blog called "Voice of the People."

The Times articles showed that 213 deaths were the result of unnatural or undetermined causes; 76 were homicides, 35 accidents and 16 suicides.

Of the 98 children who died this year, a Times analysis found, 86% were black or Latino.

"We see this as a civil rights issue," Hutchinson said. "The county supervisors have been incapable of fixing it. It's going to take an outsider."

Trish Ploehn, director of the county children's services department, said last week that it is very rare for a child to die of abuse or neglect while under the department's care.

"We consistently work to perfect our performance to help keep children safe, even after they leave our protection and supervision," she said.

Ploehn said efforts are underway, for instance, to improve collaboration between juvenile justice and child welfare officials and to intervene swiftly in the lives of troubled families.

--

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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