Foster care watchdog says reform has slowed

After Gabriel Fernandez's death in 2013, the county spun into action, creating a Blue Ribbon Commission to recommend changes to the child welfare system. Since then, a new report says, things have stalled.
After Gabriel Fernandez's death in 2013, the county spun into action, creating a Blue Ribbon Commission to recommend changes to the child welfare system. Since then, a new report says, things have stalled. NBC4

A foster care watchdog will issue a report Tuesday saying the pace of reform for L.A. County's troubled child welfare system has slowed over the past few months.

In April, a Blue Ribbon Commission issued a final version of its report on the county's foster care and child protection agencies - and called for urgent action to address a "state of emergency". The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors responded by creating an Office of Child Protection and deciding to hire a child welfare czar to oversee reforms.

Since then, things have slowed, however, said Dan Heimpel, a lecturer at UC-Berkeley's Goldman School of Policy and founder of Fostering Media Connections, a journalism non-profit dedicated to watching the child welfare system. Tuesday's report will be the first of quarterly reports on the progress of reform.

"What we see is a lack of real strong urgency," Heimpel said. "A lot of that has evaporated and that's been a little bit disheartening."

The Blue Ribbon Commission made 42 recommendations the board then endorsed, but Heimpel said he's unclear how they will be carried out.

"We have not seen any evidence that any financial resources have been committed to these reforms," Heimpel said.

There has been some progress:

  • Next week, the "transition team" created to design the bureaucracy of the new Office of Child Protection is expected to present a job description for the new agency's director to the Board of Supervisors. 
  • The state has created a mechanism for counties to increase stipends for families who take in relatives as foster children. Typically, relatives get less money than other parents, but if L.A. county opts into the state funding stream, that would change. 

But other recommendations, like a request by the Los Angeles County District Attorney to create an electronic system for tracking child abuse investigations, have indefinitely stalled, Heimpel said.

"We're not advocating for any particular reform," he said. "But the idea that the system can be improved and that the only thing that's going to make sure that happens is people taking a look at it and really holding the players who've taken this on accountable."

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