Over the Weekend the LA Times editorial board ran a stellar essay that righteously slams the LA County Supervisors for their refusal to turn over reports to a state auditor examining the reasons behind the deaths of children in various counties who died while being overseen by the Department of Children and Family Services, their refusal couched in a preposterous claim of attorney/client privilege.
Here is a clip from the heart of the well-reasoned editorial:
The county’s in-house lawyers and outside law firm assert that child death files are protected by the attorney-client privilege. That absurd and outrageous justification for non-disclosure is laughable, or would be, were the consequences not so tragic.
First, many of the files are not privileged at all. The DCFS conducted internal reviews of child deaths, which were then forwarded for review and approval to the county counsel’s office. An after-the-fact sign-off by lawyers cannot and does not render a document privileged. Otherwise, the Board of Supervisors would be able to sit on every ostensibly public record in its possession simply by sending it to its lawyer’s office for a rubber-stamp.
Second, even files that arguably are privileged could and probably should be released. The privilege belongs not to the lawyers but to the client — Los Angeles County — which can waive its prerogative, and should do so, in the public interest. It is true that the county’s interests are articulated by the five elected supervisors, but those supervisors have increasingly focused on their own needs rather than those of the vulnerable children, grieving families, responsible taxpayers and hosts of others they are elected to represent. They too often ask their lawyers for advice on how to avoid outside critique and — surprise — are told that the matters they discuss with counsel are privileged and beyond disclosure. It’s a boot-strapping argument that locks the public and, in this case, the state out of their proper oversight role. It perpetuates the county’s continuing failure.
The actual rationale for stonewalling the state audit became apparent in a letter from the county’s outside counsel: “Further, your office’s demand that the county produce self-critical documents, and subject them to the bureau’s critique, threatens to destroy the very type of child protection — unfettered self-evaluation — that this audit seeks to promote.”
That says it all. The only evaluations of the county will be those it performs itself, and the results of those evaluations will remain known only to the county. Not since the days of Chief William H. Parker’s Los Angeles Police Department has this region seen an institution steeped in such arrogance, insularity and contempt for public accountability. None of the other counties being audited — not Fresno, not Sacramento, not Alameda — have objected to the state’s request for child death files.
Yet what was especially notable about the editorial is that it also subtly took to task its own coverage of these deaths with this surprising—and very accurate—paragraph:
Child deaths from abuse and neglect are fraught with emotion and can result in sensational headlines, in newspapers like this one, to which supervisors feel compelled to respond. One more study of fatalities, such as the state audit demanded after the killing of Seth Ireland, steeps policymakers in a swamp of exceptional failures and worst cases. It makes it easy to forget that data show overwhelmingly that outcomes are better for children who stay in their homes — even with families struggling with poverty, even in neighborhoods with inadequate schools — than for those removed by well-meaning or backside-covering county agencies. It makes it easy to forget that the county’s most effective and most economical response to children in trouble is to help their families with resources and programs to cope with their challenges….
This writing is especially appreciated by those of us who have long worried that the nature of the Times coverage of these terrible deaths of children would cause lawmakers to pressure DCFS to take more kids into foster care and to fail to help poor but essentially loving parents to strengthen themselves so that they and their children might thrive.
(It wasn’t too long ago that an LAT editor used the pages of the paper to attack me and journalist advocate Daniel Heimpel for making the very same point but in greater detail.)
In any case, this important editorial was badly needed. A large thank you to the LA Times editorial board for their forceful and intelligent writing.
Brilliant break down Celeste, and a very nice piece of honest writing from the Times Editorial Board. It is possible to get it right.
This happens all the time! people are constantly going through these issues. As a parent that has been through this type of issue and had my daughter returned to me, i feel for the next. DCFS has to be accountable for the emotional strain that they put on good parents and the emotional abuse that they put our kids through.
If DCFS comes to your home to speak with you or your kids, you have the legal right to advise them to go get a court order. Not speaking about something i doqn’t know, but was told this by a good DCFS social worker. They say that their for family reunification, but they’re not! Its all about money!!!
I am currently struggling with the incompetence and negligence of this agency. Despite imploring and begging the case worker to call the family law judge to find out “where my children are” and her assurance she will only “interview them where they are legally supposed to be” she didn’t bother to do either and just wanted to close the case.
I want to file charges for aiding in parental abduction by this caseworker. I had just returned from an ex-parte hearing because my ex-wife and her father(who is a lawyer and representing my ex-wife in family court) have taken our children and refuse to return them.
this is after calling the beverly hills police twice and the sheriff dept once.
i am a single father and have worked 27 years full time at a local hospital. i have submitted and documented every instance of failure to respond to keep the peace and insure our childrens safety. Is there any oversight for this “service”?
It is like going to the emergency room with a bleeding wound and being told “don’t worry,all bleeding eventually stops”
my previous comment appeared only briefly and then removed. this “agency” is not qualified to carry out its’ mission. despite pleading with the caseworker to read the papers i had just filed with superior court regarding “the whereabouts of my children” she insistd she will only interview them where they are lawfully to be. she went ahead and interviewed them at the beverly hills home of the mom. our children have missed the first week of school due in part to an incompetent and negligent agency. i doubt this second post will be published because of the obvious bias and stench this “witness” site pretends to support. dan bachar 424 256 4994-call me while this post has not been deleted.
Dan, your comment was not removed by me. It simply got snatched for some reason by my spam assassin. As you can see, it’s up now. Please get a grip on your paranoia. My spam assassin occasionally grabs posts with IPs similar to those on the spam list, which is what happened in your case. All you had to do is drop me a note and I would have fixed it. But instead you seem to prefer to rant my direction, which is exceedingly tiresome.
I’m very sorry to hear the story about your kids. It sounds terrible.
If anyone can help me. My girlfriend and I are battling DCFS Santa Clarita and need help they have taken both of our kids including our newborn. if anyone can help please email me or call me at email@example.com or 818-635-3718. Thank you
Let’s get all of us together and contact LISA BLOOM, she knows all our and our children’s rights. 1-888-96BLOOM is her contact number.
I am a 3rd year law student battling Santa Clarita dcfs and trust me, I will definitely be starting a class action suit after my children are returned to me. They were not prepared for a parent who actually knows the law and the lies this agency tells, the evidence they fabricate, and the laws they blatantly disregard are absolutely incredible. Fox 11 just did a story which included presiding Judge Nash saying that the dependency courts are in a state of crisis. This is the perfect time to make a move on this corrupt agency. These people have a policy of indifference to the parent-child bond then slap a “best interest of the child” label on it. My children didn’t need therapy until dcfs came along. My children weren’t emotionally abused until dcfs came along. My children had consequences. It’s time dcfs did too. Email me if anyone has had similar experiences. Sbarrett14@hotmail.com