The death of Palmdale boy Gabriel Fernandez, who was under the protection of DCFS, has sparked the scrutiny of politicians in both the Antelope Valley and the City of Los Angles. Gabriel’s mother and boyfriend are now charged with murder. Patrick Healy reports from Downtown LA for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on June 25, 2013.
Over opposition that the answer is not another study, LA County Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve the appointment of a new "Blue Ribbon Commission" to come up with fixes for the department charged with protecting children.
The proposal was prompted by brutal beating death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez last month in Palmdale, allegedly by his mother and her boyfriend.
County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) case workers had left Gabriel in the home, despite repeated reports of abuse. The mother and her boyfriend were charged with murder.
As a result, four social workers were placed on administrative leave pending investigation.
"We've had some tragedies of late that are unacceptable," DCFS Director Philip Browning acknowledged during Tuesday's hearing.
At any one time, DCFS is responsible for the wellbeing of some 30,000 children. The department has gone through a series of administrative shakeups in recent years after revelations of failures to protect children from abuse and neglect.
One 2009 report indicated there had been as many as 20 abuse or neglect deaths some years.
Public speakers overwhelmingly supported creation of the new commission.
"We need more support, more resources, more social workers, policies that make sense, workers getting trained on those policies wo we can actually do the work what they want us to do," said An Hoa Tran, A DCFS social worker who works in the Compton office.
Opposition votes were cast by Supervisors Don Knabe and Zev Yaroslavsky, who both cited the reams of recommended reforms already generaged from a variety of studies in recent years.
"Another commission will just be another distraction," said Knabe.
"We need to let the director breathe and do his work," said Yaroslavsky.
"Our attempts have not been good enough," responded Board President Mark Ridley-Thomas, and his view carried the day. Mike Antonovich joined Ridley-Thomas in the recommendation, and they were supported by Gloria Molina.
Each of the five Supervisors will appoint two members to the Commission. Its first responsibility will be to "review previously delayed or failed efforts to implement reformsm and provide recommendations for a reasible plan of action to expeditiously imprlement needed reforms."
Supervisors hope to lock down commission membership in the next month, and requested a report with written recommendations by year end.
That DCFS has sometimes failed to intervene where needed was not the only criticism the department faced. In other cases, social workers have moved too quickly and unecessarily to remove children from home, according to several parents who testified at the hearing.
"We need to have a better standard as to when we do what we do," said Terry Sigmund, a Santa Monica mother of two who says she has been trying to regain custody of her eight year old.