LOS ANGELES, Calif,–More than 60 children have died from abuse or neglect in the past 32 months after being under the supervision of Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services.
The deaths have occurred despite assurances by county officials that the problem was getting better, according to county documents cited by the Los Angeles Times.
The number of deaths from abuse and neglect rose from 18 in 2008 to 26 in 2009, The Times reported. And there were 21 maltreatment fatalities in the first eight months of 2010, according to county documents.
The Department of Children and Family Services publicly released some case files of child deaths this Monday after repeated inquiries, The Times reported.
But the department has not released the overall statistics, which have been circulating among senior county officials.
The majority of maltreatment fatalities occurred while county social workers were actively overseeing children’s welfare–or just days or months after county social workers closed cases for individual children, the records show.
The data represent the first time the public has gained access to the department’s accounting of how many children in its care have died of maltreatment, according to The Times.
The trend contradicts previous accounts the department provided to other county officials.
As recently as August, department Director Trish Ploehn provided statistics to the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families showing the number of maltreatment fatalities had dropped from 18 in 2009 to six in the first seven months of 2010, The Times reported.
Ploehn’s statement was provided to The Times in response to a California Public Records Act request. Ploehn declined repeated requests for an interview for this article.
One of the previously undisclosed child deaths was that of Miaamor Steen, a 5-year-old girl from Inglewood. She was found Sept. 16 in the bathtub of an extended-stay motel, unconscious and not breathing, police said.
The girl’s mother, Jennine Steen, and her boyfriend, Solomon Walters, were arrested on murder charges.
Records indicate the departments’ child abuse hotline received two calls about Mia. The most recent investigation was closed about a month before her death, with no finding of abuse, The Times reported.
The girl’s father, Donya Steen, said he made one of the hotline calls after hearing that Mia was being beaten by her mother.
“Something has gone terribly, terribly haywire in the oversight of these children,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a critic of the department’s handling of child deaths.
Yaroslavsky questioned whether the department’s drive to reduce the number of children removed from families and placed in foster care has led the department to leave too many children in unsafe conditions.