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WILL LOS ANGELES BE ONE OF THE COUNTIES AUDITED?
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jun. 6, 2013) — Members of the California legislature have begun to lend support to an audit of the child protective services agencies in the state after the an eight-year-old boy, who had an open case with the Los Angeles Department of Child Protective Services because of reported abuse, died last month of injuries inflicted by his mother and her boyfriend.
State Assemblymen Tim Donnelly and Mike Gatto led the push for passage of an Audit Request, following testimony from the public, by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee on Wednesday to review the state’s child protective services agencies. The State Auditor’s office will select three counties to be reviewed after receiving input from the community.
The measure follows the seizure in April of a five-month-old Sacramento baby, Sammy Nikolaev, from his parents without cause and the death of a Palmdale boy last month despite Los Angeles DCFS’s involvement after receiving reports of abuse.
The father of the baby, Alex, was manhandled by police, who took his keys and entered his home without a warrant, then seized the baby from his wife. The Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom from “unreasonable searches and seizures” on the part of the government. Article I, Section 13 of the California Constitution states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable seizures and searches may not be violated; and a warrant may not issue except on probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons and things to be seized.
Gatto represents a section of Los Angeles, while Donnelly’s district includes Big Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead and Twentynine Palms. Donnelly said the state assembly is calling for an investigation into the “seizures practices” of child protective services agencies.
The Post & Email requested a statement from Armand Montiel, Public Affairs Director of Los Angeles DCFS, on the death of the boy, Gabriel Fernandez, and his response was:
Our Director Philip L. Browning provides comments in the story linked above. I think you will find those comments helpful for your story.
Public Affairs Director
Department of Children and Family Services
425 Shatto Place, Room 600
Los Angeles, CA 90020
Phone: (213) 351-5779
Fax: (213) 738-9257
The ABC News report contained in the link Montiel provided depicts DCFS Director Philip Browning explaining that “We dropped the ball” by failing to “use critical thinking skills” in the the case of Gabriel Fernandez, whose home had reportedly been visited for “six investigations of abuse” by DCFS social workers.
The same deficiency was cited in regard to other child deaths in a report obtained and published by The Los Angeles Times in February.
Browning said that DCFS employees have been working around the clock to compile documentation for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on the boy’s case and that he “welcomes” an audit of the agency. Two supervisors and two social workers have been “placed on desk duty” until an internal investigation is completed.
The Post & Email has contacted the offices of Gatto and Donnelly regarding the Henderson family, which was split apart after the parents’ false arrest in May 2010 and subsequent placement of the seven children into foster homes. Despite years of attempting to have their children returned to them, Jeffrey and Erica Henderson recently separated and stopped communicating after DCFS indicated it would return the children to Erica. However, after anonymous parties called in false reports of abuse against the Hendersons, all visits ceased, and the outlook for reunification does not appear positive.
The Hendersons reported several occasions on which hearings were held in their case without notification to them. Their youngest child was seized from Erica’s arms at the age of five weeks without proper documentation, which was revealed later. He is now nearly one year old. His brother, who is almost three, is living in the same foster home, and the two foster mothers have applied to adopt him despite the parents’ desire and attempts to reunify.
Mr. and Mrs. Henderson have said that they have never abused their children. They reported abuse of two of their children while in foster care to the emergency hotline without satisfactory results. The foster mothers of the two youngest boys have claimed that Erica allowed injuries to occur during Sunday visits, but the monitor for the visits did not corroborate those claims.
Like Alex Nikolaev, Jeffrey Henderson was thrown to the ground by police when they barged into his home purportedly to check on the welfare of his children. Henderson’s collarbone was broken in front of his pregnant wife, and he incurred $10,000 in hospital bills for which the Pasadena Police Department refused to reimburse him.
The press aide for Rep. Gatto informed The Post & Email that the measure, having passed the Audit Committee within the General Assembly, will go forward and is expected to be completed within the next 5-6 months. The three counties to be investigated will be selected by the California State Auditor based on a mandate of “diversity,” which would encompass, for example, rural and metropolitan areas, densely-populated and sparsely-populated districts, and the number of complaints received. The state auditor has posted the directive for the audit, which includes “protecting consumers and preventing abuse” on the part of the Office of Protective Services.
The Post & Email has been promised a return call from the California State Auditor and the media representative for Assemblyman Donnelly.