LA County fails to disclose child deaths; County could pass plastic bag ban

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An independent audit finds that Los Angeles County officials are not following the state law that requires them to publicly disclose the deaths of children who have been abused or neglected. Also, according to Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the county may pass a plastic bag ban of its own if a statewide ban fails to pass and be signed into law.

Yaroslavsky says the county has not been following state law in reporting the deaths of children who have been abused or neglected.

Yaroslavsky said that transparency is needed to hold the county and the Department of Children and Family Services accountable, such as if the county had any complicity in not following up on abuse allegations, so that those problems can be corrected and more children won't die in the same circumstances.

"If they do everything in secret, if they don't have to account for the death of a child that is under their jurisdiction, then look out," said Yaroslavsky. "You're gonna have more deaths."

Yaroslavsky said that this information not being posted means it's being withheld not just from the Board of Supervisors, but from the general public.

"It's really quite comical if it wasn't so tragic," said Yaroslavsky.

In one case, a child committed suicide on June 10. "The kid had been tormented by his mother and his stepfather for years, and clearly driven him to commit suicide," said Yaroslavsky. The Department of Children and Family Services didn't classify that as a case of abuse or neglect, which he says is "preposterous."

The department then went to family court and asked the boy's remaining siblings to be taken from their mother and put into foster care because their brother's suicide came as a result of abuse or neglect. Yaroslavsky said that it didn't make sense for them to be doing this while not classifying the boy's death as a result of abuse or neglect outside of these court proceedings and not making that death public.

"There are no valid confidentiality reasons for withholding information which the law requires you to provide," said Yaroslavsky. "We're not talking about the name of the child, we're not talking about the name of his siblings, or any personal information." SB 39, passed in 2008, was passed to broaden disclosure of information related to the death of children.

The state granted an extension of the time for reports of deaths following abuse or neglect, but Yaroslavsky says that this isn't a staffing issue, it's a management issue. He noted that the Department of Children and Family Service's staff has grown significantly over the last five years, with 35 percent more social workers and a caseload that has dropped by almost half.

"This is not an issue of resources," said Yaroslavsky, "it's an issue of how the resources are managed, and that's one of the problems in the department, among many."

Plastic bag ban

Yaroslavsky also said that Los Angeles County, as well as other cities and counties, will pass their own plastic bag bans if the state fails to pass a statewide ban. He said that L.A. County's Board of Supervisors is poised to consider such a ban.

Most at the local level believe a statewide ban is the best way to go, according to Yaroslavsky, providing uniform rules to all cities and counties.

"So that the business community – the stores, the grocery stores – don't have to have one set of rules in Los Angeles city, another set of rules in Pasadena, another set of rules in Long Beach, no rules in Bellflower, etc.," said Yaroslavsky.

If the state senate doesn't pass the bill, "you're gonna have a potpourri of plastic bag bans in cities and counties up and down the state," said Yaroslavsky.

Yaroslavsky says that both he and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas are committed to a plastic bag ban, but he can't speak for every member of the board. However, he noted that the majority of the board is considered about the proliferation of plastic bags.

"It's an urban blight; we call it 'urban tumbleweed.' It affects every neighborhood in the county of Los Angeles."

The bags also tend to end up in storm drains, according to Yaroslavsky, and go out to the Santa Monica Bay where marine life ingest them. It can hurt if not kill marine life.

"It's a threat to our marine resources, it's a threat to our environment, and there's a better way to do it."

Yaroslavsky said that reusable bags are good and that he uses them personally, rather than plastic bags.

The Grocers Association supports the plastic bag ban, but the chemical industry is lobbying against the ban.

Audio: KPCC’s Steve Julian talks to County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and asks him about the county not reporting the deaths of children who have been abused or neglected. Steve also talks to him about what L.A. County and city leaders will do if the state fails to pass the plastic bag ban.