County lawyer bars data on child deaths

A supervisor promises the Commission on Children and Families that the information on deaths from abuse or neglect will be forthcoming after officials protest action.

August 03, 2010|By Garrett Therolf, Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles County commission dedicated to children's issues expressed outrage Monday after a county attorney ordered them not to receive or discuss information related to child fatalities.

Senior Deputy County Counsel Aleen Langton rose numerous times during the Commission for Children and Families meeting to stop the conversation from touching on issues related to children who die of abuse or neglect after coming to the attention of child protective services workers.

"I don't want to be discussing fatalities today," Langton said.

Langton's remark came after commissioners asked for overall statistics on how many children have died of abuse or neglect in the last three years, how old those children were and where in the county they died. Such information has been provided in previous years.

Although many details involving specific cases are shrouded by child confidentiality laws, a 2007 state law explicitly allows child welfare officials to discuss information in records that have already been released. When the commissioners asked for details in one such case, Langton again shut down the conversation.

Harriette Williams, one of the commissioners appointed by the Board of Supervisors to review children's affairs, called the denial of even basic data "a slap in the face."

The commission head, Patricia Curry, said that she had extensive conversations with Langton and Department of Children and Family Services Director Trish Ploehn in an effort to obtain information over the weekend preceding the meeting. She said Langton urged the department to either provide information only orally or blocked the release altogether.

"It makes it very difficult to do our work," Curry told her fellow commissioners.

In an interview later in the day, County Counsel Andrea Ordin said Langton erred by squelching the discussion on child fatalities and promised that the information will be provided at a future date.

"It was just unfortunate. That was information that should have been available," Ordin said. "These matters are of utmost public importance. An entity like the commission needs to have access to as much information as it is allowed by law. We are going to remedy it."

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