Op-Ed: Child Deaths Cannot Be Tolerated, Especially When They Can Be Prevented

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas on The Huffington Post:

An abused or neglected child dies in Los Angeles County almost once every three weeks.

There were 18 such deaths in 2009, my first year in office, and four more in the first three months of 2010. Our child death crisis is rooted in complex societal problems, from poverty and substance abuse to inadequate mental health care and generational patterns of abuse.

But it is also exacerbated by more simple failures of public policy. One of these is the lack of a shared database that would give social workers and others an early warning system to get children out of danger.

The children who have perished following abuse and neglect had each had some kind of contact with our Dept. of Children and Family Services. Some were in foster care, others died at their parents’ homes.

In too many of these cases, a County case worker had visited the children’s homes without full knowledge of potential dangers. Sometimes, they were unaware of mental health problems of parents; or they did not know an adult in the home had a criminal record.

Case workers were not informed of such factors, which could have warranted removing children from dangerous homes before deadly incidents occurred. In one recent case, investigators, following up on an abuse complaint, repeatedly visited the wrong address, over several days.

This is because the County is stuck with a system that combines aged technology with laws focused more on shielding government from liability than protecting children from abuse or neglect.