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Boy's suicide reveals continued problems with L.A. County social services

Social workers met with 11-year-old hours before he hanged himself, but lacked access to key information on his case. Tablet computers sit unused and a database linking county agencies remains spotty.

July 25, 2010|By Garrett Therolf, Los Angeles Times

The department's chronic communication issues appear to have hindered the social worker's access to such information.

In addition to the thousands of mothballed portable tablet computers, the county's Family and Children Index, a database where other agencies should have reported encounters with the family that might indicate abuse or neglect, continues to be problematic. Although the social worker sent to evaluate Jorge checked the index and got a positive hit for some kind of problem, phone calls to those agencies were not immediately returned, records show.

After a push last year to make the database more complete, county efforts have stalled while officials pursue state legislation to loosen legal restrictions on the flow of information.

Without access to complete records, the social worker was left to evaluate Jorge's case largely on interviews.

When the social worker spoke with Jorge's mother, she denied hitting him with a hanger or shoe, and she appeared genuinely concerned for his welfare, according to records. Based on the mental health workers' assessment that Jorge did not pose an immediate suicide risk, the social worker left him in the home but kept the investigation open in order to gather more information over the following days.

Hours later, as the family gathered to watch the Lakers play the third game of the NBA finals, Jorge slipped away to his mother's bedroom. He closed the door. When his mother went to call him for dinner, Jorge's stepfather heard a scream. He went to the room and found her holding Jorge's limp body in her arms, according to county records.

The next day, after lingering on life support at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Jorge died.

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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