May 29, 2019 at 4:23 pm PDT | by Staff reports
State audit finds DCFS put kids at risk of harm

Gabriel Fernandez

A state audit 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 Los Angeles Times reported May 22. The audit was prompted by the June 2018 death of Anthony Avalos, a 10-year-old Lancaster boy and 8-year old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale, who died in May 2013. Both boys were believed to be gay.

The audit was requested last summer by state Senators Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) and Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) after a two-month investigation into the circumstances of Avalos’ death found that DCFS took “considerable actions” to protect the boy, despite 13 reports of abuse against the family.

“Seeing and hearing the grotesque and inhumane way these parents treated their children for being gay or being perceived as gay shocked me,” Lara, now California Insurance Commissioner, said last August.

“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 Times reported.

The Times reported these findings:

• 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.”

• In several instances, “social workers submitted the assessments without having visited the child’s home.”

• 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 case” that state auditors reviewed.

Anthony Avalos’s mother, Heather Barron, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva, were arrested last year on charges of murder, child abuse and torture. They are expected for a pretrial hearing in Superior Court in July.

Gabriel Fernadez’s mother was given a sentence of life and her boyfriend got  the death penalty for the boy’s torture, abuse and murder, allegedly motivated by homophobia.

The LA County Board of Supervisors has developed a long-term strategic plan to improve DCFS.  (Karen Ocamb contributed to this report)

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