"Many of the people involved in this case are good people trying to do their job. But it's a systemic problem that starts at the top." -- Jennifer Smith, attorney for the grandparents of Gabriel Fernandez.
UPDATE, January 6, 2013: The grandparents of Gabriel Fernandez, an 8-year-old Palmdale boy who was murdered by his mother and her boyfriend after an institutional family reconciliation, have filed a lawsuit alleging wrongul death, civil rights violations and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the Los Angeles County Dept. of Children and Family Services, the Palmdale School District, the LA County Dept. Public Social Services and the Sheriff's Dept. According to Garrett Therolf, reporting in yesterday's Los Angeles Times:
The complaint ...asserts that more than 60 reports of abuse involving Gabriel Fernandez were lodged with [DCFS]. But only five to eight investigations were initiated, the suit says, and none of those met the department's own requirements for thoroughness....
Gabriel's maternal grandparents, who cared for the boy for much of his early life until he was returned to his mother over the couple's objections, allege that each agency mishandled information regarding Gabriel's abuse.
UPDATE, August 4, 2013: DCFS has moved to fire four child welfare workers it says were responsible for serious lapses in the case of [Gabriel Fernandez, see history below] ... The four have been on administrative desk duty since May, when Fernandez was killed. In last Tuesday's Los Angeles Times Abby Sewell, Seema Mmehta and Garrett Therolf, report:
The death of Gabriel Fernandez, whom paramedics found with a fractured skull, broken ribs and burns, came after DCFS received and discounted a long series of complaints of abuse.
"There were so many red flags in this case that just didn't go heeded," said Philip Browning, head of the department. He said an internal investigation found crucial missteps by employees. Two social workers and two supervisors received letters Tuesday notifying them that the agency intends to fire them.
The details of Gabriel's death, first reported by The Times, prompted outrage from the public and child advocates, several of whom have appeared at the county Board of Supervisors' weekly meetings to demand action.
The relatively quick decision to terminate the employees marked a departure for an agency that typically has conducted lengthy investigations and imposed less severe penalties, even when children under its supervision have died from neglect and abuse. A recent county review of 15 deaths of children found dozens of serious errors committed by caseworkers, and only one instance of an employee being fired.
Child-welfare advocates said [the] announcement was a welcome change.
"It is unusual for it to be this quick and also for it to be this severe, in my experience," said Dilys Tofteson Garcia, at left, executive director of CASA, which trains volunteer advocates for foster children. "I think that is a good sign."
The dismissals fit with promises by Browning, who took over the beleaguered agency last year, to increase accountability, she said. "It aligns with what he's been saying since he got there. I think it sends a message to the whole system."
UPDATE, May 31, 2013: Following the torture and eventual murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, allegedly by his mother and his mother's boyfriend, Los Angeles Times reporter Garrett Therolf notes:
...At the time of Gabriel's death, there was yet another, unresolved allegation of child abuse in his file [there had been 6 investigations previously]. That referral has lingered two months past a legally mandated deadline for completing an investigation, records show.
The social worker assigned to that case did not make first contact with the family until 20 days after the complaint was received, and then "made minimal attempts to investigate," according to an internal county report.
"The red flags were all over the place. They were ignored. It is just inexplicable to me," said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, noting that the Sheriff's Department was also aware of the abuse allegations...[in March] Gabriel...wrote a note saying he was contemplating suicide..Authorities dismissed the complaint without removing him[from his mother's house] or hospitalizing him because he had no specific plan to carry out a suicide, records show..
...Although significant progress has been made in reducing [LA County's Dept. of Children & Family Services] backlog, 3,450 children are currently subject to overdue investigations. County officials noted that 37 of California's 58 counties have a poorer record of meeting mandated investigation deadlines.
May 29, 2013:
"Obviously, it's always a tragedy..." -- Capt. Don Ford, Palmdale Sheriff's office.
Writing for the Los Angeles Times this morning, Garrett Therolf, who covers child welfare, details the death of Gabriel Fernandez, 8, at left, last Friday in Palmdale. He was found by sheriff's deputies in his home a week ago, "barely breathing...burn marks all over his body....bore wounds that indicated he had been tied up and tortured."
Jennifer Garcia, who said she was Gabriel's teacher, told KNBC-TV Channel 4 that she frequently called the [Los Angeles County] Department of Children and Family Services to no avail. She said the boy told her he had been shot in the face by a BB gun and had "perfectly circled bruises all over his face...[Garcia told the Antelope Valley Times that his mother "made him wear girls' clothes once to school and she said it was to embarrass him. We gave him a shirt to put over what looked like his siter's tight little pink girl's shirt... I even told the social worker, 'He's scared to go home. He doesn't want to report, because the more he reports, the more you go out there and then the more he gets in trouble.'"]
According to CBSLos Angeles, Gabriel had been living with his grandparents until five months ago, when he went to live with his mother. On subsequent visits, his grandfather noticed the bruising and called the police.
“Everybody called. People were calling, teachers were calling, and nothing was done,” says the grandfather.
Palmdale Sheriff Capt. Don Ford told the Antelope Valley Times, "Obviously, it's always a tragedy when a life is taken, and we want to make sure that we didn't miss any opportunity here that maybe could have saved him."
Above, friends and family of Gabriel protested outside the Palmdale sheriff's office on Monday, calling for an investigation and for change in "critical failures in a system meant to protect children," as reported by Brandon Lowrey and Lolita Lopez for NBCLos Angeles.
Jennifer Garcia said Gabriel told her what was happening at home.
“He would ask, ‘Is it normal for your mommy to hit you? Is it normal for your mommy to hit you with a belt?’” she said.
Tuesday, the district attorney charged the boy's mother and her boyfriend with murder and torture. Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich has launched an investigation into the county's handling of the abuse complaints....County officials declined to detail their involvement with the family leading up to the death, but four child protective services workers were placed on desk duty as the county investigates them for possible disciplinary action....