As I was walking in front of the administration building this week I noticed a woman who I assumed was a county social worker introducing herself to a number of our residents. Approaching the group was one of our adolescent residents accompanied by staff who mentioned to the resident that he was going to meet his social worker. When he did not recognize her and realized that she was a new social worker, he stated that she was not his social worker and walked away. The woman called out to him and encouraged him to meet with her, but he refused. I’m sure eventually they will meet, but for this youth, the thought of being introduced to yet another social worker was too much for him.
Recently the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, which was established to address the recent deaths of children in the foster care system, released a long-awaited report in draft form. For those who have followed the on-going ineffectiveness of the Department of Children and Family Services to keep children in their care safe, you will find the report valuable to read. The report summarizes how the silo approach to child welfare has placed children at risk. It refers to how officials and caregivers alike are reduced to finger pointing to deflect responsibility. It also offers a thorough analysis of the complex nature of providing good care to vulnerable children and their families in such a large county like Los Angeles. The recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission are adequate, similar to recommendations made in the past but never acted upon. The ultimate utility of the Commission’s work will rest with the political will of the County Supervisors to act on implementing its recommendations. As an advocate and provider, I suggest that the Commission’s recommendations should be adopted and implemented without delay.
Of the many issues that the Commission addresses, two stand out for me. One relates to the disappointment of our adolescent resident at the loss of his County social worker. The Commission points to the unmanageable case loads and therefore the inability of these over- burdened workers to provide consistent, quality care. They need to have the time to establish the kind of rapport with their clients that allow them to accurately assess the risks to safety and well-being that is a constant concern. Reasonable case loads will require more county social workers, who, assuming good training and adequate resources, can be much more effective. This will require significant resources but indeed is money well spent if it can assure the safety of vulnerable children. Unfortunately, this means that some of our residents may have to transition to new workers, however the disruption will be worthwhile if it means better care.
The other recommendation that I endorse is the creation of the Los Angeles County Office of Child Protection – one entity that will coordinate, plan, and implement a unified child protection system. More than 30 years ago a similar office was established in Massachusetts led by its legendary first director, David Liederman. As the executive director of a residential treatment center there at that time, I remember questioning its impact, but soon found that the new office in short order created an integrated and comprehensive approach that effectively safeguarded the best interests and well-being of vulnerable children and youth. The Los Angeles County Office of Child Protection as envisioned by the Blue Ribbon Commission could do the same thing for the children and youth served in the child welfare system in LA.
The safety and care of these children and the effective engagement of their families must be paramount. This is an enormous undertaking that requires the expertise of many different disciplines and the allocation of sufficient resources to accomplish the task. Now is an opportunity for us to reach out to our County supervisors and encourage them to adopt the Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations, establish the Los Angeles County Office of Child Protection, and begin the process of developing a comprehensive and effective child welfare system.