Friday, June 14, 2013

First the L.A. jails, now foster care -

First the L.A. jails, now foster care -

Los Angeles County Supervisors Gloria Molina, Zev Yaroslavsky and Michael D. Antonovich will be termed out of office next year. Don Knabe will follow two years later. They will leave to their successors the twin challenges they have faced during their tenure: How to break a cycle of injustice and dysfunction to meet the human needs of society's castoffs — the poor, the addicted, the imprisoned, the homeless. And how to reshape county government to meet those needs efficiently and wisely, and to be sure they are solving problems and not exacerbating them.

Can anything be done? There have been so many investigations, reports and reorganizations over the years that have come to nothing. The department has had 17 permanent or temporary directors in the last 25 years. There is a Commission for Children and Families, a Children's Special Investigative Unit, an Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect. There are task forces that report to the Board of Supervisors, panels that bypass the board, a chief executive officer who was placed over the department and then pushed aside. There have been audits. There have been lawsuits. There has been withering reporting from this newspaper and others about children who have been left in homes where they ultimately died, and other children who were taken improperly from their families.

The department seems paralyzed by too many moving parts, too many individuals and agencies at war with one another, pressing their own agendas or ideologies, jockeying for power rather than working for the well-being of children. Every time there is a news story, managers and child welfare workers turn their attention away from their work to respond, to cooperate, to stonewall, to defend themselves. One social worker describes the situation as being like a mechanic trying to figure out what's wrong with a customer's car while the customer is standing over her screaming "Just fix it! Just fix it!"

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