DCFS Foster Care LA County Board of Supervisors

Sup. Mark Ridley-Thomas Proposes New DCFS Blue Ribbon Commission for Child Protection

At next Tuesday’s board meeting, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas
will introduce a motion to create a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection—similar to the Jails Commission—to provide “an independent review of the obstacles to effectively execute much needed child protection reforms.”

In proposing the motion, which is co-sponsored by Supervisor Mike Antonovich, Ridley-Thomas points to the various tragic child deaths that the department has failed to prevent, most recently the killing of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, allegedly by his mother and her boyfriend.

Should this commission be approved, each board member would appoint two people to the commission for a total of ten members. The commission would then be asked to report back after six months. (The jails commission had a similar time frame, but extended it.) The proposed Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection would sunset after it delivered its report.

“When the lives of children are at stake, we simply cannot stand by and hope that reforms take hold,” Ridley-Thomas said in a statement about the motion. “The hope is that this commission will examine the actions, or inaction, that have led to the deaths of innocent children and develop a true action plan not a band-aid solution.”

Supervisor Antonovich added, “This commission will examine the full scope of departments involved, including Mental Health, Public Health and law enforcement, as well as the current public policies in place to more effectively help prevent future tragedies and improve outcomes for children.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: If the motion for this commission is approved, we would hope that the commission’s focus will be more than when to yank a kid out of a dangerous home, but also when not to take a kid out of a home that merely needs some help. Or to quote, Judge Michael Nash in his recent letter about DCFS:

“…. it is bad social work to remove children when there are ways to keep them safely at home as the law requires, and it is bad social work to leave children in the home when it is unsafe. The problem is that DCFS can’t seem to strike the appropriate balance. It takes leadership and more to avoid blind adherence to one direction or the other.

Also, it would be helpful to define what a commission might hope to deliver that will have a longer-lasting effect than the last report about the problems at DCFS that was delivered to the board in April 2012 by the Children’s Special Investigative Unit.

We’re not saying we don’t need a Blue Ribbon Commission, it is merely that we favor being clear about what the county wants from such a commission that hasn’t already been tried.


  • From: Jerry Dominguez

    Sent: Tuesday, June 04, 2013 9:06 AM

    To: Philip Browning



    I don’t know you and I have never met you but if you’ll indulge me, I feel compelled to respond to your memo dated June 3, 2013.

    Like you I am also a father and I suspect that even if I wasn’t I would still feel deeply saddened and enraged by what happened to this innocent child at the hands of his caregivers.

    I want to first speak to our (DCFS) long standing practice of “Desk Duty”. I’ve seen this practice used over and over for many years. It is a pre-guilt, pre-determination choice made by our agency. I do stress the word choice. I’ve seen first hand what “Desk Duty” has done both personally and professionally too many of our very dedicated, conscientious and compassionate colleagues.

    To suddenly be told that you can no longer perform any of your duties and that you must now just sit at your desk in a growing state of anxiety, confusion and fear about your job is punishing. That you must now, in full view of your colleagues, sit in shame and be cloaked with instant suspicion is cruel and unusual punishment. These, our colleagues, also become instant pariahs’, a contagion if you will. They are involuntarily isolated, sentenced to a form of solitary confinement. We are potentially damaging, injuring our own when we make this choice, that we call “Desk Duty”. And we exercise this choice in a pre-guilt and pre-determination status.

    You said that you received a “briefing” and that as a result that you are “extremely concerned with how this case was handled”. Did you speak to the individuals themselves? Do you have any idea of their work status, history, work load and work ethic? Have you first considered the Vicarious Trauma that they fight to manage without any agency acknowledgement or meaningful support? To make the statement that you did as our Director, in a pre-guilt & pre-determination status is at best grossly irresponsible and at worst potentially, maybe irreparably so, injurious to the parties, our colleagues, involved. The trauma that is caused by this “Desk Duty” choice has in many instances lasted for years. Indelible scars remain.

    Your statement: “I have said in numerous messages to staff “safety is our primary goal” and that we should treat children as if they were our own children and grandchildren”, is seriously troubling. Was this meant to appease the public out rage? I understand and appreciate that you must be under enormous pressure. However this message for us is strikingly puzzling and disconcerting.

    First, why the need to state that you have made “numerous messages…” regarding the safety of our case load children and families. The suggestion is that our colleagues were somehow unaware or not focused on child safety that this priority was somehow lost on the consciousness of our colleagues. Really? Even the appearance of this suggestion is beyond the pale. It’s insulting and condescending and simply false. I know, with all due respect, that you’re relatively new to DCFS. I’ve heard that you publically admit that you don’t know everything. I appreciate this level of open humility from a person of your position and power. However Sir, I assure you having worked with and among our colleagues for some 18 years and counting, that every person with very, very, very rare exceptions knows all too well why we’re here. We all without the need for “numerous messages…” care very, very deeply about the welfare of our case load children and families.

    The second part of this statement is perhaps more troubling, dangerous and seriously misguided. We are trained and educated professionals that try our best to provide a professional service. We work hard at maintaining appropriate and professional boundaries with our clients. As a professional we certainly authentically care, work diligently, tirelessly and try our best to render meaningful service and support to our clients. We do this as empowerment agents.

    To state that you want us to treat our clients “as our own children and grandchildren” is lacking of the requisite, important understanding of our role as a professional. The implication, which is often times potentially more damaging then the intent, for which I don’t claim to know, can be more harmful. Do we really want our colleagues to abandon their boundaries and lose sight of their professional relationship, and replace it with a personal one? To do so would necessary set up both the client and the professional (us) for serious harm and poor to dangerous decision making. It is our training, education, credentials and caring focus supported by our objectivity that allows us and helps ensure that we are in the best position help empower our clients. These are not our children but they are our clients that we deeply care about and do our very best day in and day out to help and protect by strengthening and empowering their families.

    I find that your last two paragraphs to be borderline irresponsible, naive and erroneous. It all but suggests that we (our colleagues) have the power to prevent tragedy. That all we have to do is simply use more “vigilance”. Children will die and children will be abused. And we (our colleagues) will continue, as we have diligently done all these years, to do our best to help support our families to prevent and address these issues when brought to our attention and when and where appropriate empower them to take care of their own.

    The last thing statement that our colleagues need to hear, especially at a time like this at our Palmdale office from our leader, is that “one child death is too many”. This statement suggests that our colleagues somehow have the power to control the choices, decisions and actions of someone else. Worse still that they are responsible and will be held accountable when someone makes a decision and follows through on their choice. Our colleagues cannot and are not responsible for the decisions, choices and actions of others and/or the outcome of those decisions and choices are borne by their authors and them alone. To suggest otherwise is terribly irresponsible. We the vast majority of our colleagues will naturally feel some level of personal responsibility and guilt when tragedies occur. Not because they did anything intentionally wrong or because they were being professionally irresponsible or intentionally negligent. They will feel it because they are empathic and compassionate human beings that have formed relationships with their families.

    These are very complex and challenging emotions to work through even under the best of circumstances; even with a great deal of support, personally and structurally. However sadly and unconscionably we (DCFS) offer no such support. But what you’re doing with this statement is unnecessary compounding these natural and normal, painful feelings and reinforcing all the wrong messages: “You are responsible for what other people do”; “You could have saved those children”; “If you were just smarter”; “If you were more perfect”; “If you simply gave more and worked longer hours and gone home later more often”; “If you just skipped that lunch and saw them once more”; If you worked those extra hours more at home that weekend”; And on and on…

    I don’t know if you personally wrote this memo. But I am respectfully asking that you consider quickly drafting another one. One that clarifies many of the well intentioned but misguided and onerous and potentially harmful messages imbedded in this memo. We need you to be a leader that will give us the benefit of the doubt. We need you to be a leader that, while emotionally moved by human tragedy, will not give in to the temptation to act and respond out of that initial wave of natural anger and sadness, that will refrain from the temptation to state, especially publically like this memo, in a pre-guilt and pre-determination status words such as “pending possible disciplinary action” – this is true.”

    We need you to be a leader that understands that the overwhelming majority of us work our ass off under very challenging circumstances and as a direct result of our constant, continuous empathic engagement with our clients, that we are continually assaulted be an enormous degree of vicarious traumatization. We need a leader that understands the toll that this job as a trauma worker/social worker takes on us, and will have the insight, empathy and understanding to factor this in when trying to understand when tragedies happen, for the primary purpose of leaning from the tragedies that will occur. We need a leader that recognizes and acknowledges the complexity and profound challenge of our charge. We need you to be a leader that can still, even in these difficult times, make a very clear and loud statement of emphatic, unwavering support and belief in our best efforts to care and help our families. Please be that leader.

    Thank you for allowing me to share my concerns.

    Jerry Dominguez, LMFT

    Clinical Evaluator, D-Rate Program – West Team

    Bureau of Clinical Resources and Services

    High Risk Services

    39959 Sierra Highway

    Palmdale, Ca., 93550

    Cubicle #1331

    Phone: (661) 223-4262

    Facsimile: (661) 223-537-2920

  • I can’t believe Jerry Dominguez is complaining about the “indelible scars of desk duty”, the pre-guilt and shame. Like, who cares? At this time, no one. Let’s just say they get desk duty all in the “best interest of the children” for now.

    This is just a manipulative way for you to ask big boss for no accountability in the matter of Palmdale and Gabriel Fernandez. Do you really expect no actions to be taken vs. the ss workers? Yes, everyone knows ss workers don’t call the shots, they’re just the leashed pit bulls of the supervisors and ara’s who are too busy running around building cases rather than finding them. So, Philip should fire those ARA’s and RA too and everyone on that lousy train. Like a sick vein, remove it before the complacency or anxiety, confusion and fear of the ss workers doing desk duty, spreads!

    Standing by the system or those who work and benefit off of such a good employment system at this time, a time of death, would probably be a big fu to the public. What the public wants to see is accountability, what social workers want to see is absolute power without any accountability. Mister Dominguez’ letter makes this evident.

    Some people really out of touch with the very agency they work for.

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