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Los Angeles County Supervisors track child deaths

11/3/2010, 9:25 p.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif.--The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors said Wednesday it would designate one agency to track information on child deaths from abuse or neglect, and raised new questions about historical data.

The board directed the Department of Children and Family Services on Oct. 12 to provide 30 years worth of information on child fatalities. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who made the proposal, said the information was an important element in setting policy for the agency.

The department has been under intense scrutiny based on a spate of child deaths in cases where it seems that social workers might have been able to prevent the tragedies.

The Los Angeles Times obtained some data through legal channels and published a series of investigative reports. However, even the number of children who have died due to abuses or neglect has been difficult to pin down.

Supervisor Don Knabe called the attempt to gather data from 1990- 2010 "well intended but misguided. I believe that we should focus our efforts on this point forward. There are clear patterns emerging in recent critical incidents that should be more than sufficient in informing our ability to protect children."

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he wanted to know if the information simply wasn't available and had been told that only two or three years of data might be reliable.

"If the concern is that the department doesn't have the information . . . then we ought to know that. And the public ought to know that too," said Yaroslavsky. "The people of the county ought to know that the Department of Children and Family Services can't respond to that kind of a fundamental question."

The department released information on 20 child deaths dating back to Jan. 1, 2008 in October.
Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Michael Antonovich supported the need for a historical look back.
The board ultimately agreed to ask for data going back 10 years instead of 30.

Antonovich and Ridley-Thomas also recommended that a single entity be charged with the responsibility of compiling and maintaining data on child abuse, neglect and death.

Numerous agencies, including DCFS, the Interagency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect and the Department of Coroner currently compile this data. Records are also kept by law enforcement agencies and the District Attorney's office.

"This action will ensure that reliable data in these categories can be compiled, maintained and interpreted through a consistent, standardized process," said Antonovich.

Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka was directed to report back in 30 days with a plan to implement the plan for one reporting entity.

As for the historical data, Fujioka said it would not be his first priority.

We're focusing our energies right now on making the fixes (to DCFS)," said Fujioka. "We will go through this data collection, but our priority right now-- and I just want to make it very clear--our priority right now is to move forward on these fixes. We will never ignore your order, but there are some things that require action today."