News of the stabbing deaths of three brothers allegedly at the hand of their father in South Los Angeles last week was devastating, not just because of the loss of these three innocent boys but because a community that had rallied around this family after the death of the children’s mother in 2008 were frustrated that their efforts were not enough to prevent such senseless violence.
How do we explain such a heinous act? How desperate was this father to carry out such an atrocity? What safeguards could have been put in place to avoid it? This father was clearly depressed, and in spite of the attempts of family and friends to support him, found himself nonetheless at the point of a horrific act.
Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is conducting an investigation, based on reports of abuse in the household dating back to 2010, and it will be important to determine what, if anything, could have been done to avoid this horror. What more could have been done to provide assistance for this family who was homeless and desperate? This is a question not only for the child welfare system but also for the mental health department since such an act is often associated with acute mental illness.
Los Angeles County’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection led to the establishment of the Office of Child Protection. It recommended a greater integration of publicly funded services and public safety to assure a child safety system that could assess the risk of harm for the most vulnerable families. In situations like that of this family, access to timely care is crucial.
What is the status of developing the integrated system of services and care that was envisioned by the Blue Ribbon Commission? Pieces have been addressed and the Office of Child Protection has been established, but no permanent director has been identified. In the meantime the Department of Mental Heath, Public Health, and Health Services are in the process of being amalgamated into one mega public agency in spite of serious concerns raised by the provider and advocacy communities.
There are no clear answers to this family tragedy in South Los Angeles. However, it would seem that between the resources of DCFS, the Department of Mental Health, the police, and the support of the community that this loss could have been avoided.
We can only hope that in spite of its valiant attempts to help a father in crisis, the community in South Los Angeles will not lose heart, feel helpless, or abandon their efforts to address the needs of the most vulnerable members of their community. Regardless of where we live, these boys are our children and this father is our neighbor. We all have a role to play in assuring their well-being.