The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider a motion by Supervisor Kathryn Barger to implement the State Auditor recommendations for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family.
A report by State Auditor Elaine Howle found the department unnecessarily risks the health and safety of children in its care because it has not consistently completed child abuse and neglect investigations and related safety and risk assessments on time or accurately, according to a summary.
“As a result, the department leaves some children in unsafe and abusive situations for months,” Howle wrote.
The deaths of Anthony Avalos, a 10-year-old Lancaster boy who allegedly was tortured to death by his mother and her boyfriend in June 2018, and Gabriel Fernandez, an 8-year-old Palmdale boy who died in May 2013 after deadly abuse by his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her then-boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, prompted the audit request by Antelope Valley-area Republican legislators state Sen. Scott Wilk and Assemblyman Tom Lackey, and former state Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Bell Gardens Democrat, in calling for the audit.
“Child welfare is a constantly evolving field, and we welcome all opportunities to have others review our practice and systems and identify ways to improve our work,” DCFS Director Bobby Cagle said in a statement. “Toward our shared goal, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) was pleased to fully cooperate with the California State Auditor throughout this process and is committed to addressing the thoughtful recommendations included in the final report.”
Howle found the DCFS completed 72% of its safety assessments and 76% of its risk assessments on time during fiscal 2017-18. It also failed to complete 10% of safety assessments and 8% of risk assessments.
Twenty-five of the 30 assessments reviewed were not completed within 48 hours, and one was completed more than 100 days late. Several did not accurately identify safety threats. In addition, supervisors did not approve all safety and risk assessments before the referrals were closed, according to the report.
Howle also found the DCFS did not consistently conduct the required home inspections and criminal background checks before placing children with relatives.
The report noted nearly 60% of regional offices met their lower target caseload goals in June 2018, None exceeded the limits established in the union agreement. However, some regional offices such as the Palmdale regional office have a persistent need to add social workers to meet the DCFS’s target caseloads.
For example, the Palmdale DCFS office needed a 1% to 16% increase in social worker staffing to attain its caseload goal.
“When it does not ensure that regional offices meet these caseload targets, the department risks delaying its response to allegations of child abuse and neglect, which could result in some children staying in abusive homes for longer periods,” the report said.
The audit report also noted the supervisor to social worker ratio in the Palmdale DCFS office is higher than the union agreement of one supervisor to six social workers. From May 2017 to October 2018 the ratio of social workers to supervisors rose from 6.2 to 7.3 at the Palmdale office.
Howle recommended the DCFS reduce the number of social workers assigned to each supervisor to at least the ratio specified in its union contract by May 2020.
The DCFS confirmed that at some regional offices, such as Palmdale, hiring and retaining social workers is more difficult, and it is proposing offering financial incentives for workers at the Palmdale office and other locations.
“DCFS has begun work to decrease the ratio of supervising social workers to line social workers to improve the span of control and help ensure effective input and oversight into all of the cases served by the Department, and to also improve quality reviews conducted,” Cagle said in his statement.
Howle also noted in the report the DCFS’s efforts to meet a Board of Supervisors motion in January 2018 for improving its support of youth who identify as LGBTQ.
In response, the DCFS is creating a specialized section, within a newly established Office of Equity, to focus on the needs of LGBTQ+ youth, ensuring that we create an environment of inclusion.
Other recommendations include require supervisors to regularly review and evaluate assessments against available evidence and observations by this July, Another recommendation is to implement a tracking mechanism to monitor and follow-up on uncompleted or undocumented initial home inspections and background checks by this November.
“This audit proves what we’ve suspected for a long time – we need to fix things at the Department of Children and Family Services to protect the most vulnerable kids in our community, Lackey said in statement.
“We need major changes at the department to protect children and make sure reports of abuse don’t fall through the cracks. I appreciate the department’s commitment to implementing the auditor’s recommendations and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Legislature and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to make the changes we need to keep children safe.”
Barger’s motion calls for a fiscal analysis of implementation costs, a detailed implementation plan, and the identification of needed staff resources, and a report back to the Board of Supervisors in 45 days.