Los Angeles Times receives death records of children in child and family services

By: Jessica Flores and Stephanie Guzman

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More than 60 children have died while in the county’s child and family services system in the last two and a half years. That is what confidential records released to the Los Angeles Times show.

The county previously argued that the number of deaths declined in the past couple of years. But records show that deaths from abuse or neglect are up from 18 in 2008 to 26 in 2009. This year’s figures may be even worse. Just in the first eight months of this year, there have been 21 child deaths from maltreatment.

The Los Angeles Times focused on one of these deaths. A 5-year-old girl from Inglewood was found not breathing in a bathtub in September. Her mother is being charged with her murder.

This is not to say child and family services have not made improvements. There are 30,000 fewer children in foster care than there were a decade ago. The department has also pushed to keep children with family members, even if they are distant relatives.

Living Advantage is a program that keeps foster children’s records in their databases. Eugenia Wilson is the program director. She says after working with foster kids, she knows the system needs to change, especially when it comes to monitoring families.

“When a child is placed somewhere, they need to be followed up on,” Wilson said. “You need to do pop-ups. Stop calling and saying, ‘I’m on my way over to check.'”

Wilson did point out that the newly released records on child deaths did not show whether most of these children were in foster care or with their parents under family services. While some may be quick to blame foster families, Wilson says it may not always be their fault.

“It’s within the system,” Wilson said. “But when you’re dealing with foster parents that have foster children, sometimes they need to know where to go. Not every home has a computer. Sometimes they don’t have all the resources that are needed. Sometimes they don’t know where to get them.”

The department has not released overall statistics, and they may not have to. Recently, Los Angeles County supervisors have asked the Office of Independent Review to find out if the county is following state laws regarding the release of the data. This leaves the Los Angeles Times still waiting for the whole picture.