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L.A. County supervisor renews call for updated computer system on child-abuse risks

In response to the recent deaths of children, Mark Ridley-Thomas wants to implement upgrades that were approved last year to a computer system that helps share information between agencies.

March 30, 2010|By Garret Therolf

Responding to recent deaths among children who passed through Los Angeles County's child welfare system, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas renewed his call Monday to improve the computer system designed to provide county agencies with information about a child's risk factors for abuse.

The Times reported Sunday that an upgraded system for sharing information among agencies about suspicious injuries, domestic violence and other key risk factors was one of a number of unfinished reform efforts.

Ridley-Thomas, elected to the board in 2008, favors implementing a system that is easier to navigate and provides an "early-warning" mechanism to flag families with troubling histories.

County supervisors and department heads have been told repeatedly over the years that better communication among doctors, police agencies, schools and others might have prevented children's deaths or injuries. Supervisors approved a plan last year to revamp the computer system, known as the Family and Children's Index, but a year later, key portions of the plan are behind schedule or are unfulfilled entirely.

About 35 children whose families had been investigated by the Department of Children and Family Services have died of abuse or neglect since January 2008, according to records made public under state law.

"Technology may not be a cure, but it is part of the treatment," Ridley-Thomas said in a prepared statement.

"We must give the protectors of minors in the county's custody or care adequate tools for their mission to safeguard children," he said. "We wouldn't think of sending soldiers to war carrying jammed rifles; we can't go on asking social workers to use an incomplete children's data network just because it's what we now have."

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has argued for modest improvements to the Family and Children's Index, citing concerns about cost and the families' privacy.

He has led the opposition against Ridley-Thomas' proposal to scrap it in favor of more user-friendly technology .

"This tends to be a knee-jerk reaction every time there is a case, that it could be a technological issue, or if we only would have had a $100-million computer system it might have solved it," Yaroslavsky said at last week's board meeting.

garrett.therolf @latimes.com

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