The month of April is Child Abuse Awareness month. As you know, our Valley has grieved far too many child deaths and seen horrific cases of abuse and neglect. The first innocent child to be tortured to death was Gabriel Fernandez: A tragic and enraging story of an eight-year-old boy who suffered for years at the hands of his abusive mother and her boyfriend. Gabriel was a playful and energetic boy — just like any other — who succumbed to injuries from cigarette burns, punches and pellet gun bullets.
Sadly, Gabriel was not the only child to suffer this fate. Not long after Gabriel was taken from us, 10-year-old Anthony Avalos and four-year-old Noah Cuatro met their untimely end of life. Each of these cases sparked controversy and made headlines because of the similar stories.
The tragic life of Gabriel Fernandez was a wake-up call for me to take action to protect our children and provide them the safety and security they deserve. His story highlights the failure of California’s child protection laws and systemic negligence that led to the entirely preventable deaths of children across the state.
This is why I introduced AB 31: Gabriel’s Law, which creates a centralized, statewide office that will investigate complaints against county-level child protection agencies and child deaths associated with abuse and neglect to uncover systemic and administrative issues. They will present findings to the legislature every two years in order to improve California’s child welfare system.
Last year’s version of Gabriel’s Law was heard in the Senate Public Safety Committee, where senators endured a continuous hour and a half of supportive calls from hundreds of people, who were motivated by personal knowledge of mishandled cases.
These calls came from urban areas with skyrocketing cases of child abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, the public safety committee was more concerned about protecting the privacy of alleged criminals than our vulnerable children.
As vice chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, I work with other lawmakers to create legislation to protect Californians. However, it is frustrating and disheartening that over the last four years, the legislature refuses to prioritize the safety of children. It is especially important to take up this work during a pandemic when children are distanced from those who safeguard their protection. Without the traditional avenues of communication to display distress, such as organized sports or in-person schooling, hundreds of children are suffering in silent isolation.
On Wednesday, Gabriel’s Law had its first hearing in the Assembly Human Services Committee. Our children are precious and the future of our state depends on their wellbeing. We must do everything we can to save the most vulnerable. This bill will prevent tragedies, yet none of my colleagues in the legislature are introducing measures to combat child abuse. I will not give up this fight. If other legislators refuse to take a stand, I will double down my efforts and give children the peace of mind they deserve.