The findings of a state audit released this week of the Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) found that the agency had exposed at-risk children, especially LGBTQ kids, to serious harm.
The audit was requested last summer by state Senators Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) and Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), after the death of Anthony Avalos, a 10-year-old Lancaster boy.
Brandon Nichols, deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, told media outlets last June that Avalos had come out as gay. According to Nichols, Avalos “said he liked boys” but declined to provide more details, including whom the boy told and when.
“The department has allowed children to remain in unsafe and abusive situations for months longer than necessary because it did not start or complete investigations within required time frames,” the report by the California State Auditor’s Office stated.
The audit was aimed at determining adequate protections in place for LGBTQ youth, who are disproportionately represented among foster youth and who face additional trauma because of having been rejected by their families and others for their sexual orientation or gender expression, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.
According to The Times, the findings in the audit include:
- The department’s safety and risk assessments — used to decide a child’s immediate safety and need for services — have often been late and inaccurate, making it difficult to mitigate risks to children’s safety.
- The department did not consistently conduct the required home inspections and criminal background checks before placing children with relatives.
- Despite budget increases, more social workers and reduced caseloads, the department did not always conduct monthly visits in the child’s home to assess the children’s well-being.
- Reunification assessments, which document caretakers’ behavioral problems and evaluate risk, were not completed timely in all but one of the cases reviewed that required an assessment.
The abuse and suspicious death of Anthony Avolos echoed the tragic abuse and death of Gabriel Fernadez, whose mother was given a sentence of life and prison while her boyfriend received the death penalty for the boy’s murder.
But the auditor’s office also found positive news, the LA Times noted, “despite its problems, numerous indicators point to a department positioned to overcome its challenges.”
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has developed a long-term strategic plan to improve DCFS and state officials did find that the overall staff turnover rate was lower than national averages.
Reporting by The Los Angeles Times and the staff of the Los Angeles Blade.