Los Angeles County supervisors are asking for a full review of how the county handled the case of 4-year-old Noah Cuatro before he died.
It is the third death a child from the Antelope Valley with connections to the county's child welfare system. His parents say he drowned but injuries to his body prompted the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to investigate the death as suspicious. Bobby Cagle, the director of the Department of Children and Family Services for the last 18 months, said that he believes the system failed Noah.
"Our reforms are not moving quickly enough to be able to combat some of this," he said.
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County Supervisor Kathryn Barger submitted the motion for the review of Noah's case.
"The buck is going to stop here," she said. "But it is going to stop also with our department heads because enough is enough."
County supervisors were openly upset, hearing echoes of the past. The Antelope Valley is seeing social workers with higher case loads, less experienced workers and staff who do not stay.
"Part of this is an additional pay structure that recognizes there are offices in the county that have great difficulties keeping staff," Cagle said.
On July 5, the boys parents reported he nearly drowned in their apartment complex pool in Palmdale.
Sheriff's deputies determined Noah's injuries were inconsistent with a drowning victim. Noah died the next day. A judge granted a county social worker a removal request to take Noah out of his home two months before he died, the NBC4 I-Team has learned. It did not happen.
Noah's mother had been accused of fracturing the skull of a 10-month-old niece in 2014, but the case was dropped because of insufficient evidence, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office told the I-Team.
Efforts to reach his parents have not been answered. No one has been charged in his death.
"It is difficult to read the things that I am reading," Cagle said, adding that he's limited by what he can say because of privacy rules.
David Green, an officer in the union representing social worker, SEIU 721, defended the caseworker. "This social worker worked like a hero to protect Noah and the system still failed him and we are sick about this," Green said.
The review into this case now in the hands of former judge Michael Nash, who as the director of the Office of Child Protection, who just investigated the death of 10-year-old Anthony Avalos last year. The office was created in the wake of the torture and murder of Gabriel Fernandez. It is overseeing the child welfare system that includes police, sheriff and the Department of Public Health.
"I believe with the expediency provided by the board of supervisors that's probably one of the best ways to cut through bureaucracy and red tape," Nash said.
Cagle said he has gone back to the office as soon as today to see how additional employees could be sent to the Antelope Valley.
"I do soul searching on a daily basis," he said. "Have I done everything that i can do? Today I leave here thinking I did not."