Supervisors Delay Funding for Child Welfare Reforms

By Elizabeth Marcellino, City News Service

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to wait until April, when a child welfare commission will issue its final report, before committing dollars to reforms of what the panel has called the “dysfunctional county child protection system.”

The commission had pushed for “immediate implementation” of 10 preliminary recommendations detailed in its Dec. 30 interim report.

“It would be unconscionable to unearth issues that the county could address immediately that could improve child safety and not bring those findings to the board,” the panel’s co-executive director, Cheryl Grills, told the supervisors.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas urged his colleagues to support a recommendation to medically pre-screen every child under 12 months old detained by the county’s child welfare agency before placing them in a foster home or group home.

About 170 children per month under the age of 1 are taken from their families due to reports of neglect or abuse, according to a Department of Health Services representative. Children at that age are at a critical developmental stage and at the highest risk of dying as a result of abuse, according to the commission’s report.

“The question is: shall we wait until another child is put at risk?”, Ridley-Thomas said.

But Supervisor Don Knabe argued that the county would be unable to pay for every change the commission would ultimately suggest and shouldn’t set priorities without seeing a final report.

“This is a commission that will be coming back with beaucoup recommendations, all of which we’ll probably think are good,” Knabe said.

The costs associated with those reforms could total tens of millions of dollars, said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

“We shouldn’t pull the trigger on any recommendation before we see the whole package,” Yaroslavsky said.

Ridley-Thomas argued that two of the suggested reforms would cost nothing: a protocol for ensuring that every child abuse allegation is reported in an electronic database, and staffing probation officers in DCFS offices to help with background checks of potential foster families.

The board agreed to both of those recommendations, asking for a report back on implementation in 45 days.

The discussion highlighted problems with funding services and coordinating work across all the departments responsible for child welfare, each of which is subject to different federal and state requirements.

For example, the county’s public health nurses cannot easily be recruited to help DCFS nurses investigate child abuse, according to the directors of both those departments.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich urged the departments to bring those issues to the board so that county lobbyists could push for legislative changes.

Supervisor Gloria Molina said such problems are pervasive.

“You’ve just hit on the largest problem this county and every county has,” Molina said.

She urged the commission to consider those restrictions when crafting its final recommendations.

She urged the commission to consider those restrictions when crafting its final recommendations.

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February 6, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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