Gabriel Fernandez

Foster Parents Suing LA's Child Welfare System

Court filing claims DCFS routinely fails to notify foster parents when children will be taken from their homes or of court dates

Los Angeles County’s embattled child welfare agency has come under fire from another group of stakeholders - the foster parents charged with taking care of thousands of the boys and girls the system oversees.

A group of foster parents filed a lawsuit against the county Wednesday, aimed at forcing the Department of Children and Family Services to follow its own guidelines.

The suit claims DCFS regularly removes foster children from foster homes - whether to reunite with families or move to another foster home - without giving the current foster parent a 7-day notice and routinely fails to inform foster parents about their foster child's court dates so they might be able to give input on progress.

One mother named in the lawsuit said it's happened to her three times in the last four years. She said she has come home from work only to find the infant she's volunteered to take care of is gone.

"And then to be caring for them for months and months and months on end, be helping their parents reunify, be monitoring visits, be taking them to doctors appointments and then all of a sudden all those needs that you've been meeting for months … are gone,” said Heather Whelan. “And you don't know where they've gone, if they're OK, why they didn't take their favorite blanket."

Whelan and the other foster parents named in the lawsuit also said they have seen case workers who are overburdened, juggling heavy caseloads.

The agency has been the target of scathing criticism in the last year, since the fatal beating of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez.

In May 2013, Gabriel was found barely breathing in his mother’s Palmdale apartment. He showed signs of having been beaten, restrained, shot with a BB gun in the groin and other torture.

His mother and her boyfriend were arrested soon after his death, and it was discovered that the little boy had recently been returned to her despite more than 60 allegations of child abuse that were documented by DCFS.

Fernandez’s plight raised a lot of questions and led to the formation of a Blue Ribbon Commission to fix problems within the department.

DCFS said it does not comment on pending litigation.

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