On August 7 on the editorial page of the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors were accused of stonewalling because of their refusal to comply with an investigation by the Bureau of State Audits into the deaths of children in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services within the past four years. There are more than enough good reasons for the Board of Supervisors to be cautious and reluctant to comply with this investigation, but at the end of the day what statement does this make to the families of children who have been placed in the care of DCFS? Even for the dysfunctional family where addiction and disability has threatened the safety of children, the removal of a child from the home is traumatic for all involved. How much more so if those who remove and place the child, posture themselves as beyond scrutiny?
Embedded in the editorial was a reminder of an often forgotten fact: in spite of the challenges and risks that many of DCFS involved families confront, studies indicate that the majority of children in these families do better when they remain within their family system. More often than not a relative can be found to support the child in the midst of turmoil in the home. In so many ways it is a far better to provide families with support and to remove children only as a last resort. I am reminded of this each time I run into one of our eight-year-old residents who inevitably asks me to get him home.
No one is advocating that it is acceptable to risk the safety of a child. For the parents of a child who has been removed from the home presumably because it was not safe, to then find them at risk in an underfunded, poorly monitored and mismanaged foster care system is intolerable. Certainly these families deserve some assurances; more importantly, these children must be assured. Somehow DCFS and the Board of Supervisors need to provide those assurances.
Audits are an everyday experience in the world of publicly funded services. As onerous as they may be, audits offer a level of accountability and provide some transparency. To refer to the Board of Supervisors as intransigent is unfair; they are attempting to balance a number of issues that hopefully will not only safeguard their interests, but more importantly serve the best interests of the children and families in the care of DCFS. The task is daunting and it is easy to point fingers, but the situation is urgent and the risks enormous so their prompt action is required.