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Department of Children and Family Services to provide 20 years of data on child deaths

10/13/2010, 10:21 a.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif.--The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has asked the Department of Children and Family Services to provide 20 years of data on the deaths of children with prior history with the department.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas made the proposal, saying the department had been unable to provide essential information.

"DCFS has acknowledged that record keeping, formatting issues and other problems have thus far prevented DCFS from presenting a clear, consistent statistical picture of child deaths over time,'' said Ridley-Thomas.

The county's chief executive officer was directed to work with the agency to provide:
* the total number of deaths of children with prior DCFS history;
* the age, area of residence and location of death;
* the cause and circumstances of death;
* abuse or neglect status;
* the alleged perpetrator in homicide cases;
* the DCFS status and placement at time of death;
* the race or ethnicity of the child; and
* whether one or both parents were minors at the time of the child's birth.

"It is extremely difficult to make thorough policy judgments without such information,'' said Ridley-Thomas. "One cannot determine, for instance, if a year-to-year spike in child deaths is due to numerous fatal shooting of teenagers or a spate of infants dying in their homes.''

The department has come 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.

Detailed information on the deaths has been hard to obtain and agency officials have cited concerns about confidentiality.

The Los Angeles Times has obtained some data through legal channels and published a series of investigative reports. But even the number of children who have died following reports of abuse or neglect has been hard to pin down, given conflicting information within the Department of Children and Family Services.

The report was requested within 30 days.

The board voted 4-1 in favor, with Supervisor Don Knabe opposed.

By Elizabeth Marcellino | City News Service