Deficiencies in Los Angeles DCFS Exposed in Mainstream Media Report


by Sharon Rondeau

Eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez died after being beaten and “tortured” by his mother’s boyfriend, according to news reports

(Aug. 24, 2013) — The Los Angeles County, CA Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has issued “threat to discharge” letters to four employees following the wrongful death of an eight-year-old boy whose home was visited on eight occasions prior to his death from abuse in May.

The Post & Email and other sources reported on the death of Gabriel Fernandez in early June and the initial response by DCFS whose director, Philip Browning, admitted that the agency “dropped the ball” by allowing the boy to be abused and killed (01:29 in video).

The California General Assembly passed a resolution to have an audit performed on three selected county child welfare agencies earlier this year as a result of complaints about an overly aggressive agency in Sacramento which seized a five-month-old baby from its parents when no evidence of abuse or neglect was present.

At a memorial service held on June 12, Gabriel’s grandfather, who had had custody of the boy for a time, sobbed that he “didn’t do enough.”  Robert Fernandez reportedly has filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles DCFS, Sheriff’s Department and the Palmdale School District, in which Gabriel attended school.

Gabriel’s siblings are also reported to have been abused and neglected.  While news reports reported that Gabriel had been abused “for years,” Gabriel’s cousin, Emily Carranza, who established a Facebook page for him, said that he was not abused “until the last few months of his life.”

The four employees under scrutiny are described as two social workers and two supervisors.

In a memo written to his staff, Browning wrote that “a number of DCFS staff associated with Gabriel’s case performed far below expectations.”  Browning also said that grief counseling had been made available to all DCFS employees as a result of the child’s death.  Browning expressed awareness of the “stress and concern” that the disciplinary actions would cause to other employees.

He also claimed that a task of the agency is to “reunite families and keep children safe.”

For approximately eight months, The Post & Email reported on a case handled by the same child welfare agency in which seven children were taken from their parents with no evidence of abuse or neglect.  In late March, the Henderson family was close to being reunited after all of the children spent two long weekends with their mother. However, following that, all visitation stopped, the parents separated, and it is our understanding that the family is not reunited after more than two years apart.

While a Los Angeles ABC affiliate reported on July 30 that the four DCFS employees had been fired, a Washington Times report stated that “The due process rights for three of the four employees remain ongoing and their termination is still pending, indicating no final decision on termination has been made by DCFS Director, Philip Browning.”

The employees notified of dismissal reportedly “can appeal with the LA County Civil Service Commission,” which appears to be the labor union to which social workers belong.

The Washington Times reported that Carranza acknowledged that “many of the complaints against CPS originate from the opposite end of the spectrum – from families who have had their children unjustly taken from them by social workers.”  Carranza was quoted as having said:

Nobody should have to live in fear of never seeing their kids again because they have been falsely accused of child abuse when there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for the circumstances had the social worker looked for it.

On Saturday, a friend of the Hendersons made the following comment about the family’s continued separation:

It’s over 850 days now:-( how long will it take before people wake up and start to see that what the state is doing “in the best interest of the children” is not based in truth or reality. I am so sad that this family is still torn apart. The children deserve better from us, the adults in our community need to stand up together. How can we allow this to happen to these precious babies.

Earlier this month, a citizen who has been following the Henderson case called for a grand jury investigation into the Los Angeles DCFS.  The agency’s public affairs director, Armand Montiel, told The Post & Email in an interview last year that he believed the agency “does its job well.”

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