Ploehn had pledged to take steps to reduce the backlog in June, after the death of a 2-year-old whose family was under investigation by her department. According to sources familiar with the case, the county's inquiry into allegations of abuse or neglect had been open for 57 days, exceeding the state's 30-day deadline. By the time of Joseph Byrd's death, the backlog had grown so large that state officials granted a temporary extension to L.A. County, giving them 60 days to close inquiries.
Since then, the number of children whose cases have run past the 60-day deadline has grown by 1,000. More than 13,000 children are the subjects of abuse investigations that have been open two months or longer.
Department spokesman Nishith Bhatt blamed the growing backlog on a rise in the number of calls to the county's child abuse hotline.
Yaroslavsky, however, said the backlog resulted from a "management problem" that indicates "the department needs to better manage the resources it has." He said the agency has 35% more social workers than it did seven years ago.
At the same time, department officials acknowledged that they established a makeshift shelter in a conference room near downtown L.A. with cots, food and a nearby shower, violating a state rule that children spend no longer than 24 hours in agency offices.
Bhatt gave varying accounts of the number of children who had stayed in the shelter and for how long, first saying that "about 20" extended stays occurred since 2009 and that no child spent more than two days in the conference room.
But he later said that 31 extended stays occurred in the room since January 2009, with one child spending five days there before social workers found the child a place to live.
Officials first pledged to address the issue of holding children in makeshift areas in 2003. Two years later, after reports of another 100 children kept too long in temporary quarters, officials renewed promises to fix the problem.