A stifling bureaucracy and inept workforce have crippled Los Angeles County’s child protective agency, resulting in a system that allowed children to remain in unsafe homes, sometimes to die at the hands of their caretakers, according to a confidential county report obtained by the Los Angeles Times. The investigation, conducted by an independent counsel for the Board of Supervisors, looked at 15 recent child deaths and a torture case. In all but two instances, investigators found that casework errors began with the agency’s first contact with the children and contributed to their deaths.
The report is the harshest assessment of the Department of Children and Family Services in recent memory, echoing complaints from child advocates that the county has rejected for years. Investigators largely blamed the department’s problems on its decision to place its least experienced social workers in its most crucial job: assessing dangers to children. Many of those workers — facing a total of 160,000 child abuse hot line calls each year — are “just ‘doing their time,'” according to the report. Supervisors are poorly qualified and often disregard policy, creating a situation akin to “the blind leading the blind,” with workers rarely held accountable for “egregious” errors, the report said.