A longtime employee of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has been fired after an internal affairs investigation concluded that he sexually propositioned foster children under his care.
James Green, a 17-year veteran of the agency who strongly denies the charge, was assigned to supervise children staying overnight in a converted conference room because the county had no available foster homes. The department alleges that during the early morning of March 13, 2012, he sexually propositioned girls, and "smacked" and kicked them during "horseplay."
FOR THE RECORD:
Employee fired: In the May 10 LATExtra section, the headline on an article about a firing at the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services incorrectly described the fired employee as a social worker. —
Green was terminated in January this year after a lengthy investigation, and his case records recently became public because he appealed to the county Civil Service Commission. The commission will soon hold hearings and has the power to reinstate Green.
In a brief interview, Green said the charges were false, and a longtime colleague said he believed the allegations were fabricated.
"He set appropriate limits with the children and teens," said Lincoln Saul, a recently retired social worker who spent many years at the facility and was a longtime whistle-blower who alerted state authorities to regulatory violations within the department.
"I have never heard him using inappropriate language or observed unprofessional conduct during the years that I have known him," Saul said.
The incident was investigated by police, according to county records, but no charges were filed or even sent to prosecutors for consideration..
The child welfare department refused to say when Green was placed on leave following the alleged incident. Such information is regularly released by other government agencies.
However, Saul said Green was placed on leave a year after the alleged incident, and that he continued to receive pay for most of the months until he was terminated.
Two months after the alleged incident, Supervisor Gloria Molina announced publicly that a "crisis" had developed in the child welfare department's holding room inside a high-rise office building near downtown Los Angeles and that it was being used as a "dumping ground" to house difficult-to-place foster children.
Her staff visited and reported finding a chaotic scene, including a 9-month-old infant who had been present at a drug bust, three pregnant teenagers and recently released juvenile offenders — all of whom were getting little sleep while social workers frantically juggled a multitude of after-hours child abuse investigations.
Some of the older children reportedly used drugs openly in the office, Molina said.
Saul said that one of Green's accusers, a 13-year-old girl, was placed in the holding room more than 40 times between March 2012 and January 2013. During those visits, the girl sometimes undressed in front of male staff and walked around the office in her underwear. Staffers eventually covered her with a sheet, Saul said.
The girl was not interviewed by the department's internal affairs investigators until December 2012, but she refused to fully cooperate, according to Green's termination letter. Investigators met with another girl in March 2013, and she identified Green as the perpetrator, the letter said.
He was not terminated until Jan. 3 this year.
In recent months, the county has closed the converted conference room for overnight stays and opened new facilities at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.
Officials said the new facilities offer improved conditions and that the children receive comprehensive health examinations to better detect signs of abuse and improve diagnoses so that they receive appropriate care.
"We want to make sure every child is seen instead of just warehousing them and never figuring out what might be wrong," said Dr. Astrid Heger, who oversees the new center.
But some problems have persisted.
Many children cycle through the facility night after night because of the county's chronic shortage of foster homes.
Molina says the county is woefully behind in its efforts to develop a computer system that properly tracks available homes. Instead, social workers call one agency after another until they find an opening.
Officials say the search sometimes requires 100 phone calls for a single child.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times