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Housing children in office was legal, California says

California regulators determine that Los Angeles County social workers did not break the law when they sheltered abused or neglected children in a Wilshire Boulevard waiting room.

October 06, 2011|By Garrett Therolf, Los Angeles Times

California regulators have determined that Los Angeles County social workers did not violate the law when they used a Wilshire Boulevard office waiting room to house abused and neglected children for overnight stays.

A Los Angeles County social worker had accused his managers of routinely housing children in the office building without sufficient meals and bedding. Without addressing the quality of the accommodations, regulators said that the practice was lawful because the stays rarely exceeded the state's limit of 24 hours.

State inspectors found that 1,900 children were placed in the waiting room over the first six months of this year, but only one stayed in the room for more than 24 hours and only four cycled through the waiting room and field offices beyond the time limit before being placed in a foster home.

Jeffrey Hiratsuka, an official with the California Department of Social Services, said his department decided not to cite the county because it "acknowledges that [the agency] has made significant efforts to comply with licensing requirements."

The Youth Law Center, a San Francisco-based law firm that filed a complaint based on an account by Department of Children and Family Services social worker Lincoln Saul, said it was disappointed by the state's actions.

The practice of using the county office as a shelter "is clearly a violation of law and is harmful to abused and neglected children," attorney Maria Ramiu wrote in a letter to the state.

Ramiu said state officials agreed in a conference call to continue investigating the issue and to develop a plan to end any extended use of the waiting room.

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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