The Los Angeles Times article below points out the tragic preventable death of 2 year old little Joseph due to a backlog of 12,000 cases. There are not enough social workers to visit the families. The public outrage leads to blaming social workers when we should be looking at ourselves.
Blaming social workers for murdered babies is like blaming the police for who rides in the squad car and it won’t solve anything. Until the caseloads become more reasonable and the departments get the resources they need to improve the lives of the children they visit, the suffering and death of innocent children will continue to rise.
It is a terrible indictment of our society (what is it we value?)
What frightens me most about this story is the counties move to hide information about the continued death and abuse of children in the county system. Their argument is that it puts the family on trial and brings terrible publicity to the department.
The counter to this is that until the public and policymakers understand the numbers, the suffering, and the hopelessness these families are living in, the cycle will continue to expand generation after generation as it has for about fifty years. Change will not come without awareness of the need for change.
The topic is uncomfortable so we avoid it.
The truth makes us look bad so we hide the information.
Child sex abuse, neglect, and violence against children in this nation have grown exponentially and by not reporting this bad news we are only delaying the reckoning that we must face (and helpless children are dying because of the hiding and underreporting of information). Get the real information from the medical community; www.avahealth.org
A Minneapolis baby suffered the exact same type of bathtub drowning death last year after 14 calls to child protection. I was called by the Minneapolis Star Tribune reporters who were surprised when I told them that as a volunteer CASA guardian ad Litem one of my cases had 49 police calls to a home before the children were removed from the home (and then, only because the seven year old tried to kill the five year old in the presence of the police).
Abused and neglected children have no voice but the social workers and police that visit their homes. When a worker has a monstrous caseload, babies die and children suffer. Abused children suffer their traumas for life and communities bear that cost in the courts, schools, and unsafe communities that result from their double abandonment.
We have money for wars, big stadiums, and even in times of economic downturns we afford what is important to maintain our lifestyle.
Funding programs for abused and neglected children is the very least we can do to assert ourselves as a civilized people.
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Child’s death illustrates L.A. County’s growing problem resolving backlog of abuse cases
Though child welfare officials had been told abuse was occurring in the victim’s home nearly two months ago, investigators had yet to determine if he was at risk when he died Saturday. The county continues to struggle meeting investigative deadlines for many cases.
By Garrett Therolf, Los Angeles Times
June 30, 2010
The tip that abuse was taking place in the Long Beach home where 2-year-old Joseph Byrd lived came to Los Angeles County child welfare officials nearly two months ago.
But 57 days after opening an investigation into the allegations, social workers had yet to determine if Joseph was at risk when the toddler was pronounced dead Saturday. Coroner’s officials have listed the case as a homicide.
At the time of Joseph’s death, social workers were still looking into allegations of abuse and neglect in a family that already had been investigated five times, according to sources familiar with their history. Three of those cases were substantiated, sources told The Times.
Joseph’s case is a grim illustration of the growing number of abuse and neglect investigations still open past the state’s 30-day deadline.
Despite pledges to resolve Los Angeles County’s mounting backlog, the crisis has deepened significantly in recent weeks. At last count, cases involving more than 20,000 children reported at risk of abuse or neglect had not been fully investigated within 30 days — up from 18,000 in May. Even with a temporary extension allowing L.A. County 60 days to complete its inquiries, social workers were unable to meet the new deadline in 5,400 cases involving more than 12,000 children — up from 3,700 such cases last month.
Joseph’s father told doctors at Long Beach Memorial Hospital that his son drowned in a bathtub while he was unattended. Authorities, however, have questioned his story. Coroner’s records indicate suspicion that Joseph had ingested drugs, although tests to determine toxicology will not be complete for weeks.
Long Beach police officials this week asked for the public’s help in determining what happened.
What is clear is that Department of Children and Family Service leaders continue to struggle to complete timely investigations.
“Right now, our caseloads for these workers are within the yardstick where we want to be,” Supervisor Gloria Molina said Tuesday. “If you tell me we need more people to make the same dumb mistakes without proper supervision, I disagree.”
In May, department head Trish Ploehn said additional staff was needed to expedite investigations.
“The social worker staff simply cannot keep up with everything we are asking them to do,” she said, adding that she planned to make the case to county supervisors that hundreds of additional social workers were needed. “All of the things that equate with quality do take time.”
In the end, Ploehn never submitted a budget request for additional social workers, citing the county’s tight finances.
Instead, department officials have relied on temporary reassignments of existing staff members to the investigative unit, increasing the number of child abuse investigators to 992 from 596. Even so, the backlog has gotten worse, and many of those workers, whose regular jobs are considered essential, soon must return to their previous posts.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said there was “no excuse having a backlog of this magnitude” in a department that has grown to nearly 4,000 workers from about 2,900 nine years ago. He expressed growing frustration with what he described as a lack of strong management and reactive policymaking.
“Not only is their well-being on the line,” he said of the children, “their lives are on the line.”
Molina said there was “obviously” a deep disagreement over the department’s direction.
“Right now, I am surprised she is not being more efficient and effective,” she said of Ploehn. But Molina said Ploehn’s job was not in jeopardy.
Lizelda Lopez, spokeswoman for the California Department of Social Services, said Tuesday that her agency remains supportive of L.A. County’s efforts. The county, Lopez said, “is doing more than is required by regulations” in its child abuse investigations.
Ploehn also declined to respond to questions about the increasing number of cases that remain open past both deadlines. In a statement, she said the department was “legally unable to share any information on the details of this investigation until it is completed.”
“The death of any child is tragic and heartbreaking, and it pains all of us whenever it happens, no matter the circumstances,” Ploehn said. The increase in the backlog of cases was “consistent with seasonal trends,” she said.
In recent months, Ploehn has dramatically reduced the number of child death case records released to the public. Under a law that went into effect in 2008, authorities are supposed to make public the records for child fatalities resulting from abuse or neglect. Department officials in L.A. County disclosed case histories in almost all such deaths that occurred in the first 18 months of the law.
After a series of stories on the deaths in The Times last year, the release of records slowed dramatically. Of the 23 most recent deaths resulting from abuse or neglect since June last year, the department has released limited records in only two cases, citing a provision in state regulations that allows the district attorney or police agencies to redact information that might jeopardize a criminal investigation. Without such disclosures, determining how many child fatalities in the county involve families or children with previous department involvement is essentially impossible.
Los Angeles County district attorney’s officials told The Times that they have been unable to locate any staffers who objected to the release of the information in the cases where they have been cited as objectors. Department officials declined to identify the police agencies they say objected in the other cases.
Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times
Back up; L.A. County welfare agency refuses to release files on children’s deaths
Officials cite 2007 disclosure law in barring access to data on recent cases.
February 13, 2010|By Garrett Therolf
Los Angeles County’s embattled child welfare agency has clamped down on the release of information about 12 recent deaths among children who have passed through the child welfare system.
The decision follows a series of articles in The Times last year that detailed flawed casework. The cases prompted some reforms at the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, including enhanced training for social workers.