Picking up pace to protect kids
July 3, 2014
As Los Angeles County prepares to hire its first-ever child protection czar to lead an ambitious new oversight program, efforts to build that system accelerated this week with the appointment of a high-profile transition team to help get the initiative off the ground.
The nine-member team approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday includes a mix of newcomers as well as several veterans of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, which earlier this year urged the county to create an Office of Child Protection as the cornerstone of a wide-ranging package of reforms.
The transition team is charged with sifting through more than 40 of the commission’s recommendations to help prioritize which the county should implement first.
David Sanders, who chaired the blue ribbon panel and also will be a member of the transition team, said a big part of the interim group’s job will be to make sure that proposed reforms receive the necessary follow-through.
“We really have concerns about that…We didn’t want to just add a new series of recommendations,” said Sanders, a former head of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services who now is an executive vice president of the Seattle-based Casey Family Programs.
The team, which is meant to disband once the Office of Child Protection is up and running, will also help recruit and shape the job description for the person who will run the new agency.
In addition, the transition panel is charged with making some critical assessments in the days and weeks ahead. For one thing, it will evaluate the performance—and potential for expansion—of the county’s network of so-called medical hubs, where the physical health of youngsters coming into the system is evaluated. And it will wade into the sometimes contentious issue of how best to use county nurses to help social workers conduct frontline investigations of suspected child abuse.
The transition team will provide monthly updates to the Board of Supervisors beginning on August 5.
The reforms now being implemented come after the horrific death last year of Gabriel Fernandez, an 8-year-old Palmdale boy was left by social workers in the care of his mother and her boyfriend despite multiple reports of abuse, neglect and torture.
Even before the blue ribbon commission began its work, current DCFS head Philip Browning had embarked on a reform mission from within the department, including expanded training, a plan to hire more staff and reduce caseloads, creation of a foster care search engine, and a new data-driven approach to making the agency function more effectively. Those efforts continue as the transition team’s work gets underway.
In addition to Sanders, transition team members who also served on the blue ribbon commission include Andrea Rich, Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and Janet Teague.
The newcomers include Dr. Mitchell Katz, the county’s director of Health of Services, along with former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, Supervising Dependency Court Judge Margaret Henry, Patricia Curry of the county Commission on Children and Families and Antonia Jimenez of the county’s Chief Executive Office.
Sanders said the group represents a rich mix of professional knowledge and L.A. County experience.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” he said. “I think it’s really a remarkable team.”