Foster Care Los Angeles Times

The LA Times Replies to Criticism Over DCFS Coverage – Part 1

Late afternoon on Wednesday, Assistant Managing Editor David Lauter,
who oversees state and local reporting for the LA Times, responded to the concerns and criticism raised this week by me, Daniel Heimpel and others about some of Garrett Therolf’s reporting for the Times on child deaths within the foster care system and what those deaths suggest about the functioning of the system itself.

I appreciate the fact that David Lauter took the time and thought to craft a detailed response. Dialogue on issues this crucial and complex should be very much welcomed by all of us.

I have also exchanged emails and a phone call with Garrett Therolf, which I appreciate as well.

Naturally I have some disagreements with what David Lauter wrote.

Since it is the wee hours of the morning as I type this (and a puppy will soon get me up very early), I’m going to present Louter’s response—and my response to his response—in two parts.

You’ll find the first half below. I’ll have the second half very soon. So check back.


LOUTER: In writing about these topics, The Times has ventured into an arena where emotions run high. Social workers dealing with abused and neglected children labor at one of society’s most difficult jobs, often facing an array of bad choices from which they must try to choose the least bad. On the subject of when — and how often — to remove children from their parents and put them in foster care, many people who work within the system have deeply held ideological positions honed over years of debate.

In recent weeks, some officials in the county bureaucracy as well as some writers who have a long-standing position in favor of keeping children out of foster care — even if that means leaving them with abusive parents — have taken to criticizing The Times’ stories.

WLA: Boy is that ever a straw man you just set up and knocked down, David. Nowhere in anything I’ve written even marginally suggests a “position [longstanding or otherwise] of keeping children out of foster care”—especially if that means leaving them with abusive parents. The notion is beyond preposterous.

However, I am very much against removing kids from a parent or parents who are non-abusive and basically decent, and deeply traumatizing the children in the process. I have seen that happen a depressing number of times over the years, several of those instances while reporting at very close range.

DCFS—foster care—is an essential agency. We all know that. When parents can’t or won’t take care of their children safely, we in the greater community must step in and protect the child’s well being. Often that means removing a child from his or her parents either temporarily or permanently. At other times, it means helping a struggling family right itself rather than shattering it, with the kids the most shattered of all.

LOUTER: The critics have raised some statistical issues, on which they are simply mistaken. We detail the facts below.

Many of these critics also make an argument about what they call “social worker panic.” According to this line of thinking, a news organization that pays attention to policy or management problems at a child welfare agency generally will make matters worse because social workers, feeling themselves under scrutiny, will invariably overreact, putting more children at risk. Presumably, in the view of these critics, a news organization that finds evidence of mismanagement or poor execution of policies should say nothing for fear of how a panicked bureaucracy might respond.

WLA: “... Presumably, in the view of these critics, a news organization that finds evidence of mismanagement or poor execution of policies should say nothing for fear of how a panicked bureaucracy might respond…”

Seriously? That’s really the point you think I/we were making? That if a reporter or a news organization finds evidence of wrongdoing y’all should just keep quiet?

You’re kidding right?

Oh, I get it. A second strawman propped up and whacked to the ground.

For the record, I’ve never used—or thought of using—the term “social worker panic,” but be that as it may.

The panic we were concerned about is among policy makers, pushed by a public panic, and thus public pressure—a notoriously toxic combo that has historically produced lousy policy, and a wake of collateral damage.

No one suggested that you report less,. I/we are urging you to report better, and with the kind of nuance and context that could lead to positive policy changes, not knee-jerk reactive pressure to “crack down” in this or that, with children harmed in the process.

[MORNING NOTE: Not that I’m suggesting you are urging the crack down, just that it can be the by-product when readers and policy makers do not have the broader view. We’ve seen it happen repeatedly in the realm of criminal justice.]

LOUTER: We’ll let readers decide for themselves whether that line of argument seems reasonable.

WLA: That would be the false argument you’ve just advanced?

LAUTER: In the meantime, we’d like to set the record straight on some serious statistical issues that have been carelessly bandied about by some critics of The Times’ stories.

PART 2—THE FACTS AND FIGURES—COMING shortly. (Here’s a link to the whole reply by David Louter.)


  • “WLA (to LA Times): That would be the false argument you’ve just advanced?”


    Wow, Celeste. That’s kind of feisty. Better hope the Times doesn’t have rules like this blog in regards to printing op eds. It’s their living room, Celeste. You wouldn’t start a food fight in their living room, would you? Don’t take the bait, Celeste. Don’t take the bait!

    Just kidding. I know the difference.

  • LP: I know you’re teasing. But in answer to the question, I believe that I’m in my own living room as I reply to them.

    Also, I’m criticizing their actions, not them as people. David Louter and Garrett Theroff are both hard working pros with many accomplishments to their respective names. I just don’t happen to agree with how they’re handling these particular issues.

  • I know, Celeste. It’s just that now you understand how hard it is to turn the other cheek when someone misrepresents your point of view, be it on a large scale like an LA Times op ed, or even on a blog. But of course, this is just a blog, and most of us are anonymous anyway. Your situation was much more urgent. LA Times has a lot of readers and I could only imagine what it would feel like to be called out personally by them.

  • Lee, again, the issue is not taking it personally, nor responding personally. The Times, Daniel Heimpel and I are having a professional argument as adults. I appreciate that Louter replied even though I don’t agree with most of his reply. And he will likely not agree with my replies to his replies. (Part 2 is coming soon.)

    But we both understand that disagreement widens the public discourse—which is a very good thing.

  • Celeste, of course you are. But just saying, someone over there at the Times might say something like, I dunno, you and Heimpel are like a bad ping pong match, where you want both players to lose. And that would have to hurt you a little because you’re so compassionate about what you’re saying. You don’t see it as a petty argument, and neither do I. But some elitist snobs out there undoubtedly do. And I think they’re wrong. Professional adults who argue, like you and Heimpel, should be respected as such. You guys shouldn’t be summarized as a couple of children bickering for the sake of bickering, but no doubt someone will summarize you two as such, and I think that’s wrong.

  • There ARE statistics that cause some kid-snatching “panic” and well, this panic is something that should be noted because it causes a great deal of needless agony for kids, their families and all who are falsely accused simply to “look good” instead of real protection, thanks to bad investigative procedures. Here are some things to consider:

    DSHS agencies are getting millions in funding FOR taking children, and ZERO to return them home. Furthermore, according to my DSHS director in WA State, they LOSE future funding every time a kid is returned home. These are the caveats embedded in Title IV funding, all you have to do is do the research.

    Right now nobody else IS doing any research as to where this money is going. Except for perhaps some scrappy low income moms called Welfare Warriors in WI who do not get a cent of those $100,000 a year wonk jobs, as well as other concerned people around the nation who have been doing the digging showing WI is not the only state, indeed almost ALL states have similar if not identical practices.

    As they have never denied the research already done by groups like these, DSHS agencies appear to be afraid that the Public will know the truth about how the funding drives “abuse” allegations instead of the facts that should be proven in court, but are not. You might want to refute these “amateurs” but hey, at least they looked, which is more than anyone, including the media, has done.

    * First of all, children are at least 3X more likely to be further abused in foster care than if left in the home with services, as an example, this was found in U of WA and U of MI studies of over 200,000 foster care alumni. The media is awash with reports about a sick parent, but few report on foster care abuse. Including the LA Times.
    * And while poverty is not usually a legal reason to take kids, the conditions of poverty are prime definitions of “abuse, neglect and maltreatment” which us often used as reasons to take kids.
    * To make matters worse besides the millions that DSHS agencies already receive from Title IV funding, targeting families in poverty looks like a prime situation for harvesting their children, where many States (along with mine) go in and take 1/3 of their TANF, funding for PS activities and court, plus a great proportion of food stamps and Medicaid monies that should be used to support low income families and their kids, not jerk their children from their homes.
    * Instead, all this funding is given to CPS/foster care/family court IN ADDITION to the millions they already get solely to take kids as is mandated by Title IV by accusing parents and relatives of “abuse” when in fact they refuse to support the birth family.
    * As a matter of fact, it costs more than 5X the amount to put a child in foster care than it would be to actually support the family with services needed (many of these are the working poor, grandparents, and relatives who cannot make ends meet IF they are lucky enough to have a job).
    * Thus the taking of already meager resources precipitates the “abuse” these kids supposedly endure, when in fact these kids are loved, wanted and cared for as best as possible by low income birth families ~
    * and btw these policies are setting long-term court precedence for upper income parents to get the same treatment simply because someone points the finger.
    * (hint here: Your states McMartin Case, the most expensive and useless court case in CA history, is a prime example of the micro-lifelong-traumas CPS produces with hundreds of kids every week. Did CA learn anything from that? Was one professional held accountable that lied, needlessly pointed the finger, or caused major damage in entire family’s lives?
    * Are they held accountable now, or even have to prove in court their allegations? No! Not a single CPS worker, judge, lawyer, consultant, counselor, or CASA worker has been so much as been disciplined, even when proven to have lied. Look it up in a Freedom of Informations Act, they have to tell you because they are public employees or publicly funded.
    * In my county in my state (King County WA) CASA alone receives over $3 MILLION dollars a year from the Feds solely to take kids, along with the donations that they solicit already pouring in. Oh and btw, ask them how often they go along 100% with CPS instead of being “independent” which they are not (97% of the time in my county).
    * CASA is only one agency among literally hundreds in one city alone who are dependent on this funding, including social workers, consultants, judges, lawyers, counselors, ALL professionals who are dependent on this funding for their incomes.
    * CA DSHS admits in the 9th Circuit Court case “Humphreys vs Los Angeles County” that over half of their “allegations” are false on their list of over 880,000 names.
    * This list permanently includes people who have to live with allegations as “fact” for the rest of their lives with no Constitutional due process at all. With little or no way to refute anyone who merely points the finger and accuses.
    *Little investigative hint here: Cases such as your McMartin Case, the most expensive and useless court case in CA history??? Did CA learn anything from that? Was one professional held accountable that lied? No!
    * It should be noted CA is not alone, and that if it is happening in CA, it is happening in other states ~ and is.

    Tell me, why would any DSHS employee/policy maker/judge/CASA worker receiving millions to take kids, want to send them home when they actually profit from a cash cow that is keeping their own wallets full by processing allegations and adopting these kids out instead or helping their families, literally costing 100% less if they did? While protection is needed in severe cases that are by far rarer than is being considered now, “in the best interest of the child” is never legally defined and a huge gaping hole to take kids for whatever reason CPS deems whenever they desire.

    Why won’t the LA Times write about these things? (another hint to journalists that is older than the hills): Follow the money.

    Cat in Seattle
    Pee.Ess. Feel free to take credit for all I have written. You have my permission right here in this email, dated, signed by my unique email address and all. I frankly do not care who gets the credit, more importantly to me and thousands of other families and innocent children in deep grief and permanent damage due to CPS false allegations is that the information is considered and reported too.

  • “The Times, Daniel Heimpel and I are having a professional argument as adults.” Not true. You are arguing professionally as an adult. They are not. They don’t address the accuracy issues raised and instead are rendering judgments about you and your motives. I read your piece and Mr. Heimpel’s and the Times response doesn’t address the question of whether they accurately reported the findings of the state’s Title IV-E evaluator. I looked at the report on the web and it looks to me like the report doesn’t say what the Times says it does.

  • Joe Landsman Says:
    November 19th, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    “The Times, Daniel Heimpel and I are having a professional argument as adults.” Not true. You are arguing professionally as an adult.


    I totally agree! But unfortunately, Joe, you know how some elitist snobs are. They’re going to condemn Celeste for “taking the bait”. Even when you’re arguing like a professional adult, some people still just don’t like to see it, and they would rather you just turned the other cheek and allow people to misrepresent your point of view than bicker about it. But I agree with you. Celeste is truly the adult in that argument. She’s not about to allow someone to misrepresent her point of view, and frankly nobody should.

  • Lee, again, the issue is not taking it personally, nor responding personally.

    Here here. Nobody in the argument is making demeaning comments about the personal character of someone who disagrees with them. Nobody is accusing the other of being racist, not caring about the kids, being insane, etc. etc. Without personal attacks, adult debates ARE possible. Whenever someone personally attacks another, the situation erodes very quickly. Those being personally attacked either have to sit back and remain moot or defend themselves.

  • ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
    lol. Right on cue. A personal attack. They’re is no reason for it.

  • In trying to discourage personal attacks, it would appear the point is “mute” (lol) with some people.

    Moot point doesn’t begin to describe it.

  • I’m guilty of it myself, ATQ. I remember one time I was at this blog and it was supposed to be about gangs, and the author did an entire article about LA city Council voting against the Iraq War. I mean, I get his point. But what does that have to do with gangs and crime? I thought that was so stupid. So I just ripped the guy. I basically accused him of using his entire blog as a political soap box disguised as some kind of crime reporting blog. Then, the next thing you know, this same guy comes back with another blog entry about people using his name in comments sections on various blogs. He was threatening to go to the “legal mat” (lol…ooooh) with people using his hame. Funny thing is, i’ts not even his name! It’s a name taken from some fictional novel or movie years ago. He doesn’t even have rights to it. Of course, at some point this genius must have realized that because he finally chilled out and stopped making such threats. Anyhow, my point is, everyone has a different idea of what’s worth arguing about and what isn’t.

  • It’s not about what is and isn’t worth arguing about. It’s about HOW you argue. It’s about being respectful to people…even when you disagree with them.

  • First and foremost, a personal attack on someone does absolutely nothing to bolster your point.

    Party One: “I believe a Mayor has an impact on how the police department goes about their jobs”.

    Party Two: “That’s because you don’t live in the real world”.

    In that scenario, Party Two engages in a personal attack and makes a disparaging comment about Paty One. Yet, Party Two does not offer any explanation as to why they believe Party One’s statement is incorrect. It’s simply a personal attack.

    For the purposes of adult, intelligent debate Party One would be better served to just offer their opinion as to why they believe Party One is incorrect, and refrain from personal attacks. To engage in a personal attack, while not even offering an opposing argument is simply attacking the person, not their argument.

    An argument/debate is about trying to present an argument that makes more sense than those with an opposing point of view.

  • Would you guys both cut it out? My goodness.

    Oh, and thanks for the rundown on debate etiquette, btw. I might need to know that someday when I’m coming home from one of my 3 jobs, and I happen to stumble upon a formal college debate. Seriously. How about advice on building pianos, while we’re at it?

  • Dennis Danziger: Almost an Independent…

    I remember the moment I decided to vote for then Senator Barack Obama for president. He was loosening up behind the three-point line in a gym packed with soldiers. I remember thinking, “Under the ideal of circumstances that is at a forty percent make….

  • David Heimpel is a paid and pampered PR apologist hack cut out for LA County DCFS and I suspect was hired by Director Nishith N. Bhatt DCFS Office of Public Affairs to write shining stories on the now fired and discraced ex DCFS Director Trish Ploehm. Go look up his published pieces. He alone was given exclusive hand held tours of DCFS operations and acutally posted nice glossy group pictures of himself with the DCFS Illuminati – incljding Trish Ploehn. It all stinks and needs to be onjectively seen as desperate PR propoganda to counter all of the investigations under way of a corrputed and failed DCFS.

  • I must say Mr. Louter.. With all do respect. Unlessyou have been a victim to this “State Sanction Kidnapping” better known as Criminal Racketeeringand Extortion from the Government.. You really have do defense.. I don’t think that the True message has been exposed enoughto the public.. As the reporters that are giving the facts are being to kind. It is a systematic connection of kids from their parents. I an a victim going on my 2nd round ofattack from these terrorists

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