LA County Probation Dept. looking to fill job openings

Los Angeles County is recruiting help to shore up its troubled Probation Department and meet deadlines imposed by the U.S. Department of Justice, officials said today.

More than half of 94 newly authorized positions remain open for mental health and health care professionals and administrative and support personnel to work in the county's probation camps. Pressed by the Board of Supervisors, department heads said they are hoping to identify candidates for most of those jobs within the next 30 days.

The Department of Mental Health plans to hold two job fairs in the Antelope Valley in an effort to hire psychiatric social workers and psychologists for the camps. It has been a challenge to find professionals
willing to travel to the Challenger Memorial Youth Center in Lancaster, according to Director Marvin Southard.

Challenger is a 660-bed compound of six juvenile camps that comprise the county's largest such facility.

The Department of Health Services is also recruiting and is in the process of finalizing two of 23 hires it needs to make. In addition to the potentially long commute to Lancaster, some of the open positions require
evening and weekend hours.

Despite those obstacles, Chief Network Officer Carol Meyer said she expected that the vast majority of the spots for registered nurses, support and other medical personnel could be filled by the end of this month.

The county's Auditor-Controller has hired four of five new people needed to help track expenditures by the Probation Department. A new system of accountability is being implemented to manage costs.

Concern about how $79 million in federal funding, intended to improve conditions at the county's juvenile halls, was spent led to an audit of the department, completed in August. While no fraud was found, the auditors raised issues about controls within the department and found it difficult to determine whether the money was spent specifically as directed.

The flurry of hiring comes as the Probation Department continues to address allegations of employee theft, organized fighting in juvenile halls, sexual abuse of minors and mismanagement of internal disciplinary

The department's new chief, Donald Blevins, said the hires are key to making changes imposed by a 2008 Justice Department settlement. On July 30, the county received notice from the DOJ of "dissatisfaction with the county's progress.'' A deadline of October 2011 has been set for meeting the settlement conditions and then a team of specialists will monitor the department for another year to assess the changes.

"We only have these children for a short period of time,'' said Supervisor Gloria Molina, urging the department to get mental health and medical personnel on staff to provide the help those probationers need.

The annual cost of the new positions is estimated at $12.3 million.

A hiring fair for psychiatric social workers will be held at Challenger Oct. 12. A fair for clinical psychologists will be held at the camp Oct. 14.

The department is supposed to report to the board every 30 days, at least until hiring is complete.