CALIFORNIA

County investigates actions of social workers after beating of boy

L.A. County is investigating the actions of social workers after a 13-month-old boy is brutally beaten

Los Angeles County officials are investigating the actions of social workers who oversaw the family of a 13-month-old boy found brutally beaten last week, according to a source who reviewed confidential child-welfare records and requested anonymity.

Bruises and burns covered Fernando Garcia of East Rancho Dominguez near Compton, and detectives did not expect him to survive, according to the records.

The inquiry focuses on whether the Department of Children and Family Services could have better assessed reports of domestic violence involving Fernando's family and intervened more effectively to help his mother escape potentially violent relationships, according to department records.

Social workers decided to keep Fernando's three siblings in the family home immediately after his beating June 7. Sheriff's deputies responding to a call arrived at the boy's home and discovered that he was not breathing, according to sheriff's records. His body was cold, bruises in the shape of finger marks covered his chest and abdomen, and a burn mark covered a portion of his leg, according to the DCFS records.

Investigators later learned that Fernando received a gash under the eye and a cut on his leg while in the care of the mother's boyfriend, Rodrigo Hernandez. The boy's mother also told detectives and the DCFS that she had observed Hernandez poking the boy. Witnesses reported that Fernando was visibly afraid and would cry when Hernandez was in the room, the DCFS records say.

Detectives arrested Hernandez, 23, that afternoon on suspicion of child abuse. Authorities are holding him at Men's Central Jail in lieu of $1.5-million bail.

Fernando's mother gave birth to her first child when she was 17 and had two others before Fernando. The three girls are ages 5 to 9.

In February 2009, a caller to the county's child abuse hotline reported that the mother's boyfriend at the time pushed her while she carried one of her daughters. Social workers ruled the report to be "unfounded" and did not require court-ordered domestic violence services for the family, the DCFS records say.

That September, a caller told the hotline that the mother's boyfriend — who was not Hernandez — was violent toward the mother. Social workers found significant bruising on the mother's back, but they accepted her story that the injuries were self-inflicted. They did not pursue further evaluation by doctors or other professionals and ruled the allegations "inconclusive," the DCFS records say.

The department closed the mother's case the following month without further interventions. Social workers did not explain their rationale, the DCFS records say.

DCFS' investigation of the case questions whether social workers should have taken a more assertive and probing approach to both domestic violence reports, department records say.

Even while investigating why the three surviving children were allowed to stay in the home for three days after Fernando was hospitalized, department officials have ordered the social workers involved to be retrained, the DCFS records say. Investigators are scrutinizing why they did so without a proper safety plan in place, the records say.

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

Twitter: @gtherolf

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