LA County

Better Training, Communication in Reporting Child Abuse: Report

Better training and communication were among the recommendations made at a meeting Monday on the state of child abuse in Los Angeles County.

The meeting comes in the wake of the death of Gabriel Fernandez that ignited the push to revamp the child welfare system in the county. Gabriel, 8, died after being tortured and abused allegedly by his mother and her boyfriend while under the guidance of the county child welfare system.

The year he died, 19 children died at the hands of a parent or caregiver, more than the year before, according to a review by the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect.

"We are a large county with a lot of departments and we need to figure out a way of how to communicate better," said Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, a co-chair of the panel whose office has made changes recommended by a blue ribbon commission following Gabriel's death. "We assigned just one prosecutor to handle a case from beginning to end."

Deanne Tilton Durfee, the executive director of ICAN, said one of the 12 recommendations is to establish training so law enforcement can better detect child abuse.

"You talk to the children even if the child is not at the house at the time," Durfee said. "You find that child and you talk to that child in a safe place."

That take-a-second-look mentality is being applied to physicians. Work has already started with the newly formed Office of Child Protection that oversees multiple agencies to discuss best practices, including treatment.

"Basically do a convening for medical professionals in LA County regarding psychotropic medication with children ages 0-5," said Fesia Davenport, the interim director for the Office of Child Protection.

But tracking abuse cases remains an issue. For example, if a young child with an injury goes to a hospital, Durfee said there is no system to record what care was given and what happened next.

"We want all hospitals to advise us on how many child abuse reports they've made with children under 3," Durfee said.

Another recommendation was to create countywide guidelines to follow domestic abuse cases and, at times, link them to cases of child abuse and neglect because more young people are becoming the abusers.

"There's a 20 percent increase in juvenile offenders while the adults are decreasing by 6 percent," Durfee said.

There is also a disparity with the data reported to a state index that is used to clear a person to become a caregiver to a child. Durfee said thousands of cases of abuse are not reported.

A time table has not been set as to when these recommendations will become reality.

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