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L.A. County's backlog on child abuse probes called largely resolved

Permanent and temporary workers were added to the investigations unit and administrators simplified the requirements to close an inquiry, official says.

November 24, 2011|By Garrett Therolf, Los Angeles Times
  • Trish Ploehn, former director of Los Angeles County's Department of Children and Family Services, is shown.
Trish Ploehn, former director of Los Angeles County's Department…

Los Angeles County's severe backlog of child abuse investigations is largely resolved — ending a crisis that once involved more than 15,000 children and contributed to the ouster of a Department of Children and Family Services director.

A recent report by the department said roughly 2,000 children remain involved in cases that have not been resolved within the state's deadline for completion, but many of have complex circumstances that require more time.

"This has been accomplished by the hard work of so many staff," said Philip Browning, the department's interim director, noting that the agency will continue to employ special temporary staff to contain the problem.

The county Board of Supervisors moved to oust former department director Trish Ploehn shortly after a report criticized the backlog last year.

At the time, four out of 10 child abuse investigations were overdue, and the county chief executive called it a "crisis" that was "contributing to poor outcomes."

Since then, the department has added permanent and temporary workers to the child abuse investigations unit. Administrators have simplified the requirements to close an inquiry. State regulators also temporarily extended the deadline from 30 days to 60 days — a provision that is slated to expire in 2013.

Browning took over the department in August, shifting from the county Department of Public Social Services, and has focused largely on quality assurance efforts to raise agency standards.

Previous directors had diverted workers from such reviews in order to meet pressing needs elsewhere in the resource-starved department.

Browning is the third temporary director to oversee the department since Ploehn's removal in December, but he has stressed that he intends to return to his former job.

County supervisors are still working to find permanent leadership and began another round of interviews this month.

Mentioned for the job have been James Beougher, former director of Maine's Office of Children and Family Services; Eric Bost, who oversaw the federal food stamp program during the George W. Bush administration; and Barry Zimmerman, director of Ventura County's Human Services Agency.

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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