LA County is refusing to release information about the deaths of the most recent deaths of 12 children that have passed through child protection, claiming that the agency has been denigrated unfairly by the media coverage of these deaths. The public will not long stand for this.
White hot issues like this are easily decided and blame will be quickly affixed to the social worker that should have known, filed more accurate and timely reports, and not made mistakes.
Hard to fight that logic.
A sorrowful underlying truth in defense of these humble, well meaning, and underpaid people is that on top of the tremendous strain of large & difficult case loads, they are under-trained and under-supported for the work they do (and yes, I really do mean this – the social workers I’ve met have all wanted to make a difference in the lives of the disenfranchised – and without sufficient help, they cannot do their work effectively).
We as a community have become quick to throw rocks and blame people, while not taking time to look for the core problems, think critically, and work meaningfully to fix them (like we do so very well in industry).
If we ran social services like we run industry, the reporting function would find the bottlenecks, changes would be made, & fewer children would suffer because resources would show up where needed.
Industry knows that spending on plant and equipment and maintenance are a far better investment than collapsed and rebuilt bridges (35W Minneapolis MN 2007).
We as a community are right to demand accountability and reporting. At the same time, we need to provide the resources, training, and measurement tools to manage these systems effectively. Effective institutions are the outcome of study and investment.
We are what we are as a nation because we invested in a timely fashion in the schools, highways, and industry, and infrastructure as it was necessary.
If American institutions are to be defined today by what they actually create instead of what they were designed to create, then child protection services creates preteen mothers and adolescent felons, and juvenile justice creates mentally unstable adults (paraphrasing Kathleen Long Angels and Demons
What is happening in California today result in a terrific backlash against the hardworking and well meaning social workers that are buried beneath caseloads that they can’t possibly do justice to. The growing poverty in LA county at the same time human services are drying up, non profits are unable to deliver basic needs as they have in the past, can only make county workers more frenetically busy and unable to produce effective outcomes (more dead children to be blamed for).
I empathize with their terrible situation. It was not social workers that has brought about the deaths of 31 children in LA county over the last two years.
It was the underlying crime & prisons, drugs, poverty, violence, and the public policies we as a nation have (that most other first world nations approach differently).
Read the LA times article;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. By Garrett Therolf
February 13, 2010
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.
But the state law that allowed much of the information to reach the public has been a source of discontent for Department of Children and Family Services Director Trish Ploehn. She has complained to a reporter that the law unfairly “denigrated” her department by placing such a harsh spotlight on the most tragic cases.
This week, she declined to release any records in the 12 most recent child deaths, invoking a provision of the law that allows prosecutors to keep parts of the records confidential during a criminal inquiry.
Among 31 deaths over the last two years that met the county’s standard for abuse or neglect, Ploehn said she identified 18 cases in which social workers committed serious errors. The group of 12 cases now being withheld includes some of those cases.
Ploehn’s decision had the strong support of at least one county supervisor.
David Sommers, a spokesman for Supervisor Don Knabe, said his boss “adamantly believes the personal and tragic details of a child’s death should not be raked over by this newspaper. He stands behind the expert opinion of the county counsel, who says we are in full compliance with the law, and not the interpretation by lawyers and reporters representing the Los Angeles Times.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the law in 2007 to allow public access to information when a child dies of abuse or neglect.
The law’s preamble stated: “Without accurate and complete information about the circumstances leading to the child’s death, public debate is stymied and the reforms, if adopted at all, may do little to prevent further tragedies.”
The law made an exception, however, for instances in which the district attorney states that information might jeopardize a criminal inquiry. Child welfare agencies across the state were ordered to redact such information before release.
William J. Grimm, an attorney for the Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law, which successfully lobbied for the law, said his agency regularly requests records from all of California’s 58 counties. Two small counties have denied records on as broad a basis as Los Angeles.
“The law doesn’t permit a blanket, across-the-board approach to entire cases,” Grimm said. “It requires the D.A. to go into each case and not just redact everything but redact only those things that imperil an investigation. The sort of response you received in Los Angeles was not the intent nor was it justified by the text of the law.”
In the cases of the most recent deaths, the agency said Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley’s objections covered the entire files for four children, including basic details such as the victim’s name.
For the remaining eight cases, the agency said unidentified law enforcement agencies covered the entire files.
State law extends the right to object in this way to only the district attorney, but agency officials said they extended the privilege to law enforcement agencies under guidance from the California Department of Social Services.
District attorney’s office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said she polled senior child abuse prosecutors but was unable to find anyone who knew of an objection. She recommended asking the agency for the name of the prosecutor who objected, but the agency’s attorney, Katie Bowser, declined.
“We don’t think we have to give you that,” Bowser said.
Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times
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