Trish Ploehn, the beleaguered director of the Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services, has been removed from her position. Announced on December 13, the Los Angeles Times website was inundated with vitriolic comments condemning her tenure. Those are cheap shots directed at a public servant who dedicated her career to serving the most vulnerable children and families in the County.
The only thing you can fault Ms. Pleohn for is her decision to take on a position that was recently described as the most thankless job in the United States, let alone Los Angeles County, four years ago. The issue was never her leadership or the policies that she advanced at DCFS, but rather a system that is inherently unmanageable for children and families so much at risk that inevitably they will be harmed.
Clearly, what is needed is to look beyond filling the director position to address the unmanageable nature of the DCFS system. Without an organizational change, whoever becomes the next DCFS director will be doomed to fail; and the children and families served by DCFS can not afford yet another failure!
This interim period is a time to re-examine the DCFS system of care and begin the process of creating an organization that is efficient and effective. The following are suggestions of some things that may be considered in redesigning the system of care.
Make it smaller
The system is too large, too bureaucratic, and too inconsistent to be effective. Size matters and, in this case, smaller is better.
Streamline the system for delivering services
DCFS should promote and monitor its two principal functions; prevention and protective services. Rather than actually provide services, DCFS should be limited to managing the network of providers, assuring compliance with standards of care. The department should leave the actual provision of services to the providers who have a direct, unencumbered relationship with those served.
Invest in an integrated communications system
Real-time information is absolutely essential to communicate effectively and keep children and families safe. There is no excuse for outdated technology!
Although client confidentiality must never be sacrificed, all other information about DCFS and providers should be easily accessible to support a client-driven, family-focused and community-oriented system of care. Accountability is essential.
This is an extraordinary opportunity to develop a better organization to serve Los Angeles’ most vulnerable children and families. Let’s not squander it looking for a “savior” or trying to find the “silver bullet.” Rather, let us embrace this task driven by the desire to truly improve the lives of those we serve.