Another child under the care of Los Angeles County has been killed. An adorable 4-year-old child will not grow up healthy and happy and eventually raise a family of his own. Instead, a little corpse lies on a cold metal table. Another senseless death caused by the direct failure of a county government that rewards the L.A. County Board of Supervisors for how many parties they go to rather than for actually doing their jobs.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors passed a motion put forward by Supervisor Kathryn Barger that calls for the county to develop a plan to recruit and retain more children’s social workers in the Antelope Valley. This is nothing more than election-year scrambling by Barger to distract voters from the most egregious failure of leadership – the death of a vulnerable child she was ultimately responsible for protecting.
This motion will do little or nothing to actually protect our most vulnerable children. Leaders are supposed to lead. They are supposed to be on the front lines making sure that our children are safe, healthy and happy and have everything they need to grow up to be healthy and happy adults. Calling on others to develop a plan with a failed premise after yet another child is killed is just a re-election ploy.
Even if this motion were a fully developed plan, just recruiting and retaining more overworked social workers will not keep the next child from being killed. Our current system is the equivalent of strapping a child into a car seat made of paper and expecting it to protect them in a crash.
L.A. County is one of the richest counties in America. Its $30 billion budget averages out to about $3,000 per resident per year. As you read this, you are likely paying several times this amount in total county taxes annually — per family member. Yet, this money is spent improperly and wastefully. L.A. County Supervisors have wide latitude to hand out your money in ways that are engineered not to help make our county better, but instead to get them re-elected by blatant attempts to buy votes with pet projects. All while the most vulnerable in our county are left without protection, advocates or the support they deserve. This failed process of course ends up wasting even more of your tax dollars as county officials scramble to cover up their failures.
What Can Be Done to Protect Our Most Vulnerable Children?
Getting Our Priorities Right. If protecting the most vulnerable children in our society is really a top priority, then we must cut out the wasteful spending designed only to help L.A. Supervisors’ re-election campaigns and focus our efforts on creating a healthy and supportive environment for every child in L.A. County. This doesn’t mean hiring a few more overworked social workers – it means a complete change in how we support and protect our kids. Since our current system is clearly wasting money and killing kids, let’s change how we do things. Let’s adopt a model that actually has been proven to save money and protect children, where every child is surrounded by multiple levels of support, advocacy and protection to ensure that every child grows up healthy, happy and with the opportunity to reach their full potential.
People Power. L.A. County government’s workforce is more than 108,000 people. It is among the highest paid and most well-educated government workforce in the county. We need to cross-train and empower this army of highly educated people to have a personal stake in protecting our children. This can be done without additional expenditure of resources. Instead, by making the county government more effective, it will save billions of dollars over the next two decades. County workers will be given 5 percent of their work time paid to spend helping the most vulnerable of our children. Every county worker will be empowered to bring to bear whatever resources are needed to support every child in need.
Surrounded by Love. We know what it takes to raise healthy, happy and well-adjusted children. It takes a coordinated village that surrounds every child with the resources, love and support that helps them become well-adjusted adults. For too many children in L.A. County this system does not exist, often because they live in the wrong zip code, within a bigoted system that judges them based on who their parents are rather than who they can become. Imagine a system where every child has multiple mentors, advocates, supporters and people pulling for them. We have the resources. Now we just need the leadership to make it happen.
Darrell Park is a community activist and Democratic candidate for the L.A. County 5th District Supervisor.