Gabriel Fernandez, Anthony Avalos and Noah Cuatro: These Antelope Valley children died at the hands of people we expect to love and care for them.
In all three cases, the Department of Children and Family Services failed to protect these children. Despite numerous reports of abuse and investigations into his home life, 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez was tortured to death by his mother and her boyfriend, in 2013.
To make sure this doesn’t happen to any other children, last year I called for an audit of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. The auditor found that the department was slow to investigate allegations, risked the health and safety of children in its care and left children in unsafe conditions for months longer than necessary.
In response, I introduced Gabriel’s Law to protect children believed to be victims of abuse. Gabriel’s Law would have updated child welfare agencies’ outdated systems for reporting abuse and improved the way they share information. Each county would have established an online database for cross-reporting crimes against children, allowing for child welfare departments, the district attorney’s office and law enforcement to share reports of abuse and neglect so that no child’s suffering gets overlooked. Unfortunately, the bill died in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
Not long after, Anthony Avalos died at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend, after numerous reports of abuse to Children and Family Services from teachers and family members.
Four-year-old Noah Cuatro is the most recent victim whose abuse at home led to his tragic death. On July 5, Noah’s parents called 911 to say their son had drowned in a pool. According to L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, the boy’s body had signs of trauma that were not consistent with drowning.
Before his death, Noah should have been under the supervision of child welfare officials, after 13 reports of suspected abuse. Noah had also been previously removed from his parents’ custody and lived in foster care for two years.
Our community has seen too many children fall victim to abuse. From 2015 to 2018, 11 children who had contact with L.A. County child welfare officials died at the hands of their parents or caregivers. That is unacceptable, especially because Gabriel’s Law could have prevented some of these senseless deaths.
I have reintroduced Gabriel’s Law (AB 1450) to protect children and give agencies the tools they need to communicate effectively. We need to change the current system to save innocent children like Gabriel, Anthony and Noah from horrific acts of abuse.
Despite this common sense legislation to protect the lives of California’s children, Gabriel’s Law once again was held in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The bill has received one last opportunity to pass, but the committee has stalled a final vote for months.
It’s time for Sacramento politicians to put children’s safety first. How many more young people in our community need to be victimized before the Legislature acts? I will not stop until we pass Gabriel’s Law to ensure the safety of our children.
Assemblyman Tom Lackey represents the 36th District.