PALMDALE — Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger would like to create a longterm plan to recruit and hire local social workers for the Lancaster and Palmdale Department of Children and Family Services offices.

“In the meantime, we need to get more people on the ground,” said Monica Banken, Children and Social Services Deputy for Supervisor Barger.

Banken added the county needs qualified social workers with years of experience who are great at their jobs to work in the Antelope Valley.

A California State Audit released in May identified staffing needs in the Antelope Valley Department of Children and Family Services as an important issue.

The Office of Child Protection reported on Aug. 10 that “attrition in the Antelope Valley remains a significant challenge and is among the highest in DCFS.”

The average length of service department-wide for an L.A. County DCFS children’s social worker is 6.1 years. The average length of service for the Lancaster office is 4.8 years, and 3.9 years for the Palmdale office.

The Board of Supervisors at its July 23 meeting approved a motion by Barger to identify solutions for staffing challenges at the Lancaster and Palmdale DCFS offices.

The Department of Human Resources approved a special hiring rate called the critical shortage recruitment rate. The ongoing salary increase, which started Sept. 1, is good for local DCFS workers as long as they continue working in the Antelope Valley.

“We want to increase the retention,” Banken said.

To recruit local social workers, Banken said they are working with Antelope Valley College and California State Bakersfield Antelope Valley, starting with job opening promotions.

The California Social Work Education Center, or CalSWEC, a statewide coalition of social work educators and practitioners, offers students who are working on their master’s degree in social work free tuition if the student goes to work for one of the county departments of children and family services throughout the state.

Banken said they are trying to expand the program into the Antelope Valley.

“We are now working to try to get the Cal State Bakersfield Antelope Valley office as part of that statewide consortium,” Banken said.

 That means when a student gets their master’s of social work from Cal State Bakersfield Antelope Valley, and they go to work for the L.A. County DCFS, they will go to school for free, Banken said.

The Antelope Valley will also get a full-time deputy director whose job will be to oversee the Lancaster and Palmdale offices, a position created through Barger’s July 23 motion.

“It’s better to have little, smaller groups, and they will be hiring their own staff for that service bureau,” Banken said.

The DCFS reforms come after the high-profile deaths of three Antelope Valley boys over the past six years.

Four-year-old Noah Cuatro of Palmdale died July 6 under what authorities deemed suspicious circumstances while in the custody of his parents.

Noah’s death follows the deaths of 10-year-old Anthony Avalos of Lancaster in June 2018 and eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale in May 2013.

Anthony and Gabriel were found to have suffered severe abuse in cases that raised questions about the effectiveness of DCFS personnel and policies.

Anthony was allegedly tortured to death by his mother and her boyfriend in June 2018, and Gabriel Fernandez died after deadly abuse by his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her then-boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre.

Aguirre was convicted in No­vem­ber 2017 of first-degree mur­der, and sentenced to death last June. The boy’s mother was sen­tenced to life in prison with­out the possibility of parole after plead­ing guilty to first-degree mur­der.

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