L.A. County to Review Five Years of Child Deaths, Critical Incident Reports

In Tuesday’s beast of a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting, the supervisors grappled with the contentious issue of how to fund a homelessness initiative before hearing a brief presentation about the county’s child protection efforts.

After more than four hours of public comment, Los Angeles County CEO Sachi Hamai finally delivered a presentation to the board about her office’s progress on priorities established in the previous year, concluding with an outline of the last year’s activities around child protection in the county.

A primary achievement Hamai highlighted was the creation of the Office of Child Protection (OCP), headed by Judge Michael Nash, who joined Hamai in front of the board.

Other milestones included a child protection strategic plan that the county is finalizing, its work on linking county and community partners around common goals for a county-wide prevention plan and a plan to review the last five years of child death and critical incident reports within the Department of Child and Family Services.

“We’re very busy, on the initiatives that were noted by the CEO and a number of other initiatives, some of which have been generated by the Board of Supervisors,” Nash said. “I think you’re going to have plenty of opportunities in the future to hear a lot more from us.”

The county’s decision to investigate child deaths and critical injury reports highlighted in the presentation mirrors recommendations made by the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF) in its recent report, “Within Our Reach: A National Strategy to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities.”

The 12-person CECANF commission spent almost three years assembling data and community feedback on crucial ways to prevent future child deaths. In its March 2016 report, the group recommended that agencies review child maltreatment fatalities over the past five years in order to identify family and systemic issues that may have led to the fatalities.

Susan Dreyfus, president and CEO of Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and also one of the 12 commissioners, said that L.A. County’s plan to investigate the last five years of child death and critical incidents “aligns beautifully” with the commission’s work.

“The long-term benefit of doing this [retrospective investigation] we believe is that the learning that they will do becomes the foundation for what is a more multidisciplinary, multifaceted, community plan around child safety,” Dreyfus said in an interview with The Imprint.

She applauded Los Angeles County for being at the front of the pack, especially with an expanded definition of the cases it will review.

“The other thing I like that L.A. County is doing that we hope others will follow suit on is not just looking at child deaths, but critical incidents,” she said.

“Critical incidents” refer to investigations of serious, non-fatal episodes, such as near-deaths and major injuries.

The Board of Supervisors elected to communicate with Hamai, Nash and other leaders of the county’s priority initiatives — homelessness, healthcare integration, and diversion and reentry — via email after the meeting about any questions the presentation prompted since, as Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas asserted, a “fatigue factor” had descended upon the meeting after many hours of public discussion around the homeless initiative and a potential marijuana tax.

Highlights of the child protection presentation that were not discussed in the meeting included the CEO’s request for a report on how to best serve LGBTQ youth in foster care, a new county protocol around sharing child protection information, and the convening of an educational meeting for doctors on the use of psychotropic medication.

The presentation also referenced the implementation of pairing a social worker with a public health nurse on investigations of child abuse and neglect involving children under the age of 2. The OCP recently sent a report to the board recommending the termination of the public health nurse program, and the board will consider the recommendations of the OCP report at its next meeting on Tuesday.

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