In commenting on the most recent death of a child, Anthony Avalos, in the care of the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), Supervisor Kathryn Barger asks how could this happen when there were so many opportunities between teachers and law enforcement, let alone social services staff, to intervene and prevent this horror. This awful situation reminds us that the task of keeping children safe does not rest solely with family. Especially when the family cannot assure the child’s safety, it is the responsibility of all of us as a community to safeguard the well-being of each child. They are our children!
Every time there is a tragic child death, we lament the failure of the social services system. However, the failure is not just of the foster care system but of the whole community. Some would say it is unrealistic to assume that we can prevent this kind of tragedy, it is evitable that children in the care of the state will die, and there are so many factors at play that it is impossible to assure the safety of all these children. The statistics may demonstrate this to be true, nevertheless it is unacceptable, and we cannot operate waiting for the next child to die.
In our terrorist-alert world, we often encourage everyone to report any suspicious activity. We would do well to adopt the same approach to child safety: If you see something, say something. Without generating unnecessary suspicion, we encourage everyone to embrace a protective and vigilant attitude when it comes to children. There are so many issues that make families so vulnerable. Support systems for families have eroded as families become more mobile and disconnected from extended family. Addiction to substances is increasing and often masked by strong coping skills. Mental illness is often undiagnosed and not addressed. The list of the complex issues affecting families and therefore the safety of children are many. All this points to how essential it is for us as a community to see the well-being of children as a task of the whole community not just the immediate family.
Recently at the Open House celebrating the inauguration of our new Bienvenidos Family Resource Centers, Arcadia, a client served by our Wraparound program shared her story of surviving domestic violence and being supported by our treatment team and the community until she was able to secure housing and get her children assistance. It reminded me that when we are vulnerable, the assistance of many lightens the burden and sees us through the crisis. At Hillsides, all of the services we offer provide a tangible expression to children and families that the community values them and cares for them.
All of us have a role to play in assuring the safety of our children. We do so because of our role as a social services provider but we all have a role to play as neighbors and members of a community to look out for all children and their families.
The death of Anthony Avalos is more tragic because it should have been avoided. This is a sad reflection not only on the systems that failed him, but on the community that somehow did not provide the interventions that would have saved his life. In an effort to make sure his death was not in vain, if you see something, say something, to keep our children safe.