Child Welfare Department head Trish Ploehn ousted

The head of the troubled Los Angeles County's Department of Children and Family Services will be replaced and transferred to a new administrative position, county officials confirmed Monday.

Trish Ploehn, who has headed the 7,300-employee DCFS for four years, and who was the first director chosen from inside the department, will be offered a job elsewhere in the county government.

"I am dismayed at the reassignment of Trish Ploehn. The county will have a difficult time finding someone with her knowledge, experience and commitment to the child welfare system in Los Angeles County," wrote L.A. Superior Court Judge Michael Nash in an e-mail to KPCC. "During her tenure we have seen the number of children in foster care decline, the number of children achieve permanency through family reunification and adoption either increase or remain at high levels and the amount of time children spend in foster care decrease.

"Under her leadership, among other thing DCFS has worked with the court and others to improve our processes for approving and overseeing the use of psychotropic medication for children in foster care, has worked to improve the communication and collaboration between child welfare and juvenile justice, and has been a leader in efforts to reduce the disproportionate number of African-American children in foster care. She will be missed."

William T. Fujioka, the county's chief executive, is expected to name an interim director while a search for a permanent replacement is under way.

"Trish Ploehn did her best under extremely trying circumstances," said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. "Her successor will inherit many difficult challenges. Along with a new department head, the Board of Supervisors, the chief executive officer and the broader community - including advocates and the news media - will have to work constructively to meet these challenges. The problems are too deep for one person to take on alone."

Over the past few years, Ploehn's relationship with the Board of Supervisors had grown strained - in part over reporting on child deaths due to documented abuse - and, in recent months, she hired an attorney to write a letter alleging that they were creating a hostile work environment, the Los Angeles Times reported last month.

County officials have acknowledged that DCFS is in crisis, with a massive backlog of investigations into child-abuse allegations and a history of mistakes in the oversight of abused and neglected youngsters that sometimes contributed to their injuries or deaths.

Ploehn, 56, earned about $260,000 last year. She had been credited with improving the stability of placements for about 30,000 children under the department's supervision - with family members or in foster care.

But at least 67 children have died of abuse or neglect since January 2008 after being referred to the department, according to county statistics.

Officials have admitted that many involved case management errors. In August, the county's Office of Independent Review issued a report that said Ploehn's department had not fully complied with a 2007 state law requiring the release of numerous records in fatality cases.

This story incorporates information from KPCC wire services.