The Board of Supervisions Tuesday voted 3-2 in support of creating a blue ribbon commission to protect children in the county.
Reacting to a string of child deaths in cases where social workers failed to remove children from dangerous environments, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael Antonovich called for the new commission, one in a long series of groups designed to fix the Department of Children and Family Services.
“Once again, DCFS is under scrutiny for alleged mismanagement of foster family agency contracts and for the recent death of Gabriel F. (age 8), who was allegedly tortured and abused by his mother and her boyfriend. In Gabriel F.’s case, there appear to have been repeated reports of abuse and neglect preceding his death,” read the motion by Ridley-Thomas and Antonovich.
Gabriel Fernandez’ mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, have been charged with murder in the boy’s death. Aguirre allegedly beat the boy, who was hospitalized May 22 with BB pellets embedded in his lungs and groin, a cracked skull, broken ribs, burns, bruises and two missing teeth. The 8-year-old died two days later. His mother stood by during the assault and did nothing, according to prosecutors and police.
The tragedy refocused attention on DCFS, as the Los Angeles Times reported that the county had conducted six different investigations into the boy’s welfare before his death.
But Supervisor Don Knabe, citing “countless commissions, groups, panels and advisory boards,” said the county had more than enough information on how to solve problems in the child welfare system and just needed time to implement solutions.
“By my approximate count, at least 859 suggestions have been provided, most of which say the same thing: we must ensure that our social workers have manageable and realistic caseloads, we must give our employees the training and resources they need to be effective, and we must end our relationships with service providers who abuse our funds. We are drowning in recommendations.” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky agreed that the commission would only be a distraction to getting existing recommendations instituted.
“We need at some point to let the director breathe and do his work,” Yaroslavsky said of DCFS Director Philip Browning. Browning told the board when he took the position in September 2011 that it would take at least three years to implement changes, Yaroslavsky told his colleagues.
But Ridley-Thomas said the commission was “not intended to reinvent the wheel, rather the intent is to get the wheels turning and get DCFS and related agencies moving forward.”
Based on the vote, each of the supervisors is expected to appoint two members to the commission by July 1.
The commission will be charged with reviewing obstacles to reform and effective performance and report back to the board by year-end.
“Don’t mistake activity for achievement,” Yaroslavsky said, quoting the late, great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. “This is activity, this is not achievement.”