An Inconvenient Allegation
LA Foster Care: An Inconvenient Allegation:
The Business of Child Abuse.
By Joshua Allen
On May 16 Garrett Therolf of the Los Angeles Times reported that tips made to the DCFS child abuse hotline involving over 3,700 children are taking the county more than 60 days to resolve, well over the currently extended deadline that is mandated by the state to conclude if child abuse did or did not occur.
I’ll put a link to the article here: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-child-abuse-20100516,0,213758.story and I would like to comment a bit. Since I don’t want to risk taking anything out of context it’s probably a good idea to read the whole article.
A couple things stand out, and my first thoughts stem from these quotes:
“But the work proved to be too much for the county’s 596 emergency response unit workers — up only 80 from a year ago. They are charged with investigating about 160,000 tips that arrive each year through the child abuse hotline. Since July, about 7.5% of the cases opened based on those tips remained unresolved after 60 days or more.”
“The study found that evidence was often insufficient to fairly judge the situation or had been improperly gathered. Children were interviewed alone in only 66% of cases. And social workers on average spoke with fewer than two so-called collateral contacts — neighbors, friends, school officials and healthcare providers who know the children best.”
As one excuse for the dismal record of timely resolution, the county is quick to beleaguer the lack of funding resources to hire more investigators despite having a budget little changed from when the amount of abused children placed into foster care was more than double it is now. (Inflation isn’t that bad!)
I can also understand why Trish Ploehn may be uncomfortable in discussing the huge attrition rate of County Social Workers (CSW’s) that occurs every year. I’ve heard stats of up to 50% but don’t know the actual numbers. Regardless this has to be a factor in their inability to properly staff these emergency departments.
My other observation is this. Many of the abused children and collateral contacts are not being interviewed by investigators – either alone or at all – because the investigators simply don’t speak the language of the child or contact, and those who do are stretched as thin as the departments excuse as to why these factors exist in the first place.
Frequently investigators will need to coordinate a translator to accompany them, and this is not always easy. What this leads to is a lot of ad hoc translation which can’t be good when you are asking the neighbor if she ever heard loud shouts or screaming coming from that orange home down the street.
In the article, a county spokesman, Nishith Bhatt, seems to note approvingly that the department is now filing “far fewer unsubstantiated cases.” But misses out on the irony (oh I love irony!) that if true, means that hundreds, perhaps thousands of allegations of abuse and neglect that were found to be unsubstantiated (in the past) were in fact, very real instances of child abuse.
So I’m glad that the county is now evaluating the evidence better, but our joy is tempered when considering the abused children who slipped through the cracks, and who were probably abused further over time, by adults who initially got away with it.
But don’t worry, all we need to do is hire 113 more emergency workers and all will be well.