The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has asked the county’s chief executive to pay for three paralegals and an attorney to beef up the underfunded unit that oversees electronic tracking of suspected child abuse.
The request suggests that officials are anticipating increased costs and accountability for electronic reporting, which is expected to be one of many recommendations offered by the county’s Blue Ribbon Commission at the end of the week.
The allocation, which was not included as a line item in CEO William Fujioka’s recommended budget released on April 15, would be used “to create a unit within the Department’s Family Violence Division to more efficiently and accurately comply with its duty to audit Suspected Child Abuse Reports (SCARS) cross-reporting in the County, as recommended by the Board-approved Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection.”
The Blue Ribbon Commission — which started meeting in June of last year, and is slated to release final recommendations to improve the County’s child welfare system on April 18 – has consistently supported the need to bolster existing collaboration between law enforcement agencies, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the district attorney.
The commission’s coming recommendations are likely to include several costly measures intended to re-order vast systems including public health, mental health, law enforcement agencies and DCFS. That the district attorney’s office is already moving to secure an allocation to fulfill the commission’s early recommendations could be an indication of the heightened priority put on child welfare in departments outside of DCFS since the commission was formed.
“I think our recommendations were very realistic,” said Commissioner Dan Scott, a former sergeant with the Sheriff’s Department, who helped build the Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System (E-SCARS). “I don’t know how anybody can put the price of child’s life on the table saying it is too expensive.”
“E-SCARS was created for less than $2 million, which is change,” Scott added.
Since being launched in 2009, the system – which provides a database for all child abuse allegations and the disposition of follow up investigations – has been administered by one full-time and one part-time employee in the district attorney’s Family Violence Division.
There has been no money to pay for software updates. Further, there has been little capacity to ensure that DCFS, the district attorney, the Sheriff’s Department and the county’s 45 other law enforcement agencies were acting on the child abuse reports coming into their computer terminals.
ESCARS “can tell the operator how long it took law enforcement to open a SCAR [child abuse report] and close it,” Scott said. “We saw huge discrepancies.”
Scott pointed to the percentage of calls of suspected child abuse that wound up being charged as crimes. At some agencies, “ six to seven percent turned into crimes, while at other agencies the number was around 30 percent. There is something wrong there.”
He also discussed wide variances in the response rates to allegations of child abuse. The Sheriff’s Department responded to more than 90 percent of the reports, while other agencies were as low as 25 percent, Scott said.
In its latest slate of draft recommendations, first released to the public in a story published by Christina Villacorte of the Los Angeles Daily News, the Blue Ribbon Commission called for greater transparency in the child welfare system.
“The County can re-establish its partnership with providers and the broader community by increasing transparency of its decision-making, budgetary, and evaluation processes,” the draft read.
Commissioner Scott said that the discrepancies between departments in responding to child abuse reports should be made public.