Child Abuse

Gabriel Fernandez was killed after breakdowns by Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. (Family handout)

Garrett Therolf
May 18, 2016

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration has quietly drafted a bill that would gut key portions of the state’s landmark law requiring child protective services agencies to release records when a youth dies of abuse or neglect. A vote is expected within the next week.

It is the second time in two years that California Department of Social Services Director Will Lightbourne has introduced the bill on an emergency basis through a “trailer bill,” introduced as part of the state’s May budgeting process. That approach bypasses the usual committee review and fast-tracks the proposal for a vote.

Since the state implemented the law to increase transparency in 2008, reporters have accessed social worker case notes and other files that revealed inadequacies in the state’s child welfare system, including instances of social workers disregarding policies and allowing children to remain in conditions that proved fatal.

In response to news stories based on those reports, state and county officials implemented a battery of child protection reforms that child welfare advocates credit with reducing the number of children who die because of abuse and neglect.

Earlier this year, Los Angeles County prosecutors filed criminal charges against four social workers who handled the case of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in the months before he was tortured and killed. The case was first reported in The Times based on information that included documents released through the disclosure law.

The social workers union has staged protests against the criminal charges and worked with the administration to craft the bill that would reduce public scrutiny of the case files for child fatalities.

The state child welfare directors association also supports the administration’s bill.

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