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L.A. County child welfare agency head to quit

August 01, 2011|By Rong-Gong Lin II and Garrett Therolf | Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

The interim chief of Los Angeles County's troubled child welfare agency is quitting, a spokesman confirmed Monday.

The resignation of Jackie Contreras, effective Sept. 16, is the third departure by an agency director in nine months. Trish Ploehn, the embattled former chief, was forced out in December. Then in May, her replacement, Antonia Jimenez, quit after defying the Board of Supervisors' plan to reform the Department of Children and Family Services.

The child welfare agency has been under scrutiny after reports in The Times that more than 70 children had died since 2008 of abuse or neglect after coming to the attention of county social workers. Many of those deaths, county officials have confirmed, involved serious case management errors.

On Monday, The Times reported that supervisors are defying a state subpoena for county records involving deaths of children under DCFS oversight.

Contreras was Ploehn's second in command and was elevated to head of the department in May. DCFS spokesman Nishith Bhatt confirmed that Contreras will return to a job at Casey Family Programs, a Seattle-based foundation dedicated to improving the child welfare system.

Contreras has bounced between work at DCFS and the Seattle-based foundation over the last decade. After spending three years as a deputy director at DCFS, in 2007 she became Casey's senior director for strategic consulting. In early 2010, she returned to DCFS to become Ploehn's No. 2.

Bhatt said her departure was "not related" to the ongoing turmoil at the child welfare agency.

"She is looking forward to taking on the challenges in the new role she is going to be in," Bhatt said. Contreras did not return a call requesting comment.

Contreras faced scrutiny soon after her arrival last year after she was accused of conducting a search without a warrant on a senior official who, DCFS officials believed, was sharing confidential information about child deaths with The Times.

When Contreras took the interim job in May, supervisors signaled that she was not a candidate to lead the department permanently. At the time, a four-month search for a permanent director had yielded one candidate, but he opted to take another job.

It was not immediately clear who would take over for Contreras, who did not appoint a chief deputy director after she was elevated to the top job.

Faced with great turmoil in the child welfare agency, a majority of the supervisors in May voted to strip authority over DCFS from county Chief Executive William T Fujioka and return it to the supervisors.

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