Board Moves forward on Child Protection Recommendations

78741043Moving forward with key recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission for Child Protection, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has approved pairing public health nurses with social workers to investigate every allegation of abuse for children under the age of two.

This move, based on a motion co-sponsored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, will help medical and child welfare professionals evaluate if a child is in danger of abuse or needs immediate medical attention. The Board also moved forward with the recommendation to make sure these children get referred to special medical clinics (called “hubs”) to get immediate health screenings if the public health nurse deems it medically necessary.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Hub will be the first site to begin this partnership between social workers and public health nurses as part of the first phase of recommendations. The MLK Medical Hub will serve residents in Compton and the Vermont area of the DCFS regional offices. These enhancements will also make it possible to protect children and minimize disruption to families by having public health nurses evaluate children in their own homes.

In order to enhance all six medical hubs at county hospitals, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services will allocate $2-million to fund 14 new positions for doctors, nurses and one fellowship position. Annually, the Department of Children and Family Services estimates nearly 17,000 infants under the age of two in Los Angeles are at the greatest risk of being harmed.

“The time is now to move on the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations. The protection and well-being of children in our care should always be top priority,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-sponsored the motion with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “All children in L.A. County deserve a fighting chance. They should be able to grow up healthy, free from abuse and in nurturing environments.”

Added Supervisor Kuehl, “I am very happy there are steps we have taken today reflecting the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission.”

The Blue Ribbon Commission for Child Protection was formed last year, based on a motion by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, to improve the safety and well-being of children in the child welfare system. The commission, comprised of experts in child welfare, social work and other areas, has issued two reports with recommendations for improving the system in Los Angeles County.

Preventing Child Sex Trafficking in Foster Care

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More than 50 percent of the children in Los Angeles County who become victims of sex trafficking are in the child welfare system. Although county social workers have been trained to spot the signs that show vulnerable young people are being exploited by pimps and predators, foster families and foster agency officials are not routinely taught important skills: how to prevent a child from being trafficked or recruited, catching the signs if they are trafficked and what do to rescue a child from a life of prostitution.

The Board of Supervisors took a step toward closing that training gap Tuesday, asking the Department of Children and Family Services to draft a proposal to ensure that foster family agencies and group homes who care for DCFS-placed children train their staff and certified foster parents complete annual training to understand telltale signs and halt the cycle of abuse.

“We will continue to advocate and move as far as we can to eradicate this problem,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-authored the motion with Chairman Don Knabe. “It is a moral crisis with true consequences in the lives of these children. Enough is enough.”

DCFS Director Philip Browning told the board he supports training and education of foster families and the agencies.

It is estimated that in Los Angeles County, 3,000 children are victims of trafficking. The average age for a person to enter that life is between 12-13 years-old. Increasingly, sex trafficking is a highly lucrative business run by gangs.

But sometimes the signs are hard to notice.

“As a trained clinician, I missed the signs,” said Dr. Barbara Hernandez, vice president of community service at the Crittenton Service for Children and Families. “You think you know what you are looking for, but you do not. Training and education on this issue leads to preventing children from falling through the cracks.”

Troubling signs and signals can include sudden prosperity, with new cell phones, new shoes even lipstick, as well as the use of coded language for life on the streets. Some group homes are recruitment spots for traffickers.

“Any child their age has no income, so if they don’t have the means to buy it, that is always a red flag,” said Rachel Thomas of Sowers Education Group, which works with survivors of sex trafficking. Foster parents and foster agency workers must also be familiar with the mind control techniques that pimps use to entice children into selling their bodies, such as convincing a child that she should be paid to have sex with people and be proud of making $1,000 a night.

“Education is inoculation,” said Thomas. “Children are lured and trapped. Once they are in and are committed to subculture of exploitation, there are deeper levels.”

In addition to pushing for educating foster agencies and foster families on sex trafficking, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas is partnering with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to sponsor a march to increase awareness and to send a message that children are not for sale. The march will be held on April 26 along Western Avenue beginning at 9:30 a.m. To register, please click here.

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Protecting the County’s Children

Following the heartbreaking death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez and revelations that the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services and other agencies failed to intervene despite multiple abuse allegations made by family and teachers, Los Angeles County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael D. Antonovich have authored a motion to create an independent commission tasked with digging deeper into why child protection reforms have not been implemented. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection Review would be made up of two members appointed by each supervisor by July 1, 2013. The commission would investigate all previously delayed or failed efforts to implement reforms and provide recommendations for a feasible plan of action at DCFS. The commission would also analyze the current structure and scope of DCFS as well as ways to increase cooperation between the departments of Mental Health, Public Health, the Los Angeles County Sheriff, District Attorney, Dependency Court and commissions to better protect children.

“When the lives of children are at stake, we simply cannot stand by and hope that reforms take hold,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “The hope is that this commission will examine the actions, or inaction, that have led to the deaths of innocent children and develop a true action plan not a band-aid solution.”

Added Supervisor Antonovich: “This commission will examine the full scope of departments involved, including Mental Health, Public Health and law enforcement, as well as the current public policies in place to more effectively help prevent future tragedies and improve outcomes for children.”