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Board of Supervisors risks much by rushing

L.A. County supervisors were right to create a commission to examine child protection programs, but hurrying to find members and an executive director is unwise.

June 27, 2013|By The Times editorial board
  • Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, left, helps Gloria Flores place quilts in the Department of Children and Family Services Children's Welcome Center at LAC/USC, where abused or neglected children under age 10 go while a suitable foster or relative home is located for them.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, left, helps Gloria Flores… (Los Angeles Times )

The Board of Supervisors did one very good thing Tuesday when it agreed to establish a commission to examine Los Angeles County's troubled child protection programs. And at the same time, it did two very bad things: It set an unreasonable July 1 target date for appointing commission members, and it launched the search process for the commission's executive director. Both of those moves could easily undermine the independence the panel needs if it is to separate itself and its work from the many previous efforts and unimplemented recommendations.

It's understandable that the board wants to get the process underway. One of the core reasons for convening such a commission is to dissect the county's penchant for foot-dragging and deadline-pushing. Why have so many recommendations for protecting children from abuse and neglect remained on the shelf? The board can hardly instill the sense of urgency that's needed if it takes forever to appoint commission members.

But a deadline of less than a week moves too far in the opposite direction. County supervisors, each of whom will make two appointments, must cast a wide net to find the people with the background and stature to do the work. The search need not, in fact should not, be limited to Los Angeles County. And it should not be limited to people with backgrounds in child welfare, given that the commission's charge is to examine failures that include communication breakdowns among multiple agencies. The supervisors took their time appointing members to the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence, and the people of Los Angeles County were rewarded with wise choices.

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Supervisors should not tap those they have already appointed to the county's various child welfare committees. Those agencies are part of what needs to be examined, and stocking the commission with their members would extend the interagency combat over agenda, personality and purview that lies at the heart of the dysfunction. The commission would be doomed to failure if it became merely a new ideological or turf battleground. The supervisors should take a breath and take a month — or two — to find people who can form a truly independent body.

Once the commission is complete, it must search for and hire its own executive director and staff. Having candidates pre-vetted by county administrators may be Exhibit A in why the child welfare infrastructure continually fails. The Board of Supervisors cannot micromanage or direct this commission, which must be supported by but free of the county's political infrastructure. The supervisors must convene the body, then get out of the way while it does its work.

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