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L.A. County extends tenure of child welfare oversight commission

Supervisors give a six-month extension to the citizens' commission, which was asked to recommend reforms after the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in May.

November 26, 2013|By Abby Sewell
  • The commission's creation was prompted by the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in May. The boy's mother and her boyfriend were charged with murder and torture. Social workers had conducted several investigations into Gabriel's family, but had not removed him.
The commission's creation was prompted by the death of 8-year-old… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles County supervisors gave a six-month extension to a citizens' commission that was asked to recommend reforms to the county's frequently troubled Department of Children and Family Services and other agencies responsible for child welfare.

The Board of Supervisors voted in June to create the 10-member commission, which is made up of educators, child advocates, retired judges and law enforcement officials, and includes former DCFS head David Sanders. The move was prompted by the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in May. The boy's mother and her boyfriend were charged with murder and torture. Social workers had conducted several investigations into Gabriel's family, but had not removed him from the home.

Originally, the commission had been slated to present its recommendations by the end of the year, but there were delays in hiring staff. The commissioners requested an extension to April 18, six months from the date the executive director and support staff were hired.

Supervisor Don Knabe — the only one of the five supervisors to vote no on the extension — argued that the delay would be a waste of time. Knabe and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky opposed forming the commission in the first place, arguing that the department had already received hundreds of reform recommendations from various entities and needed to implement those.

"Once we allow this to start churning down the road, we'll wind up with 800 overlapping recommendations from the previous 800," Knabe said.

However, other supervisors argued that the commission needs time to do its due diligence.

"I think the request is quite reasonable," board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas said. "This is a very, very high-quality commission.... We want them to do well."

While the commission has been working on its report, staffing in the child welfare department has become an issue in contentious labor negotiations between the county and Service Employees Union International Local 721, which represents about 55,000 county employees, including social workers. The union argues that social workers are set up to fail by excessive caseloads, and has sued the county in an attempt to get caseloads reduced.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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