The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has decided to delay action on the interim recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection until a final report is issued in April.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas signaled that he would continue to press to immediately begin a restructuring of the county system to protect children from abuse and neglect, but the four other supervisors said they were not prepared to join the effort until they can fully assess the commission's vision and the accompanying cost.
The commission chairman, David Sanders, had said that he would be disappointed if the board did not begin taking action this month, and other proponents expressed dismay that the board is not moving more quickly.
"Time lost is time wasted," said Dr. Astrid Heger, who leads a system of county clinics for health evaluations of foster children that would be greatly expanded under the interim recommendations.
The commission began its work last summer to improve the county's child welfare system after the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez.
Gabriel was found in May with his skull cracked, three ribs broken, and his skin bruised and burned. BB pellets were embedded in his lung and groin, and two teeth were knocked out. County social workers had investigated six reports of abuse but allowed Gabriel to stay with his mother and her boyfriend.
In recent weeks, the commission released a report calling the county's child welfare system "dysfunctional" and in need of "fundamental change."
"Our interim recommendations should be implemented immediately," Sanders said in an interview this month.
The commission recommended that the county's system of clinics overseen by Heger be used to screen all children entering foster care, as well as children under age 1 who may be victims of child abuse.
The clinics are designed to expertly detect child abuse and provide comprehensive medical and mental health assessments so that children receive the correct services in foster care.
Additionally, the commission said public health nurses should work with investigators in all cases involving children younger than 1.
They also proposed that the district attorney's office act as a clearinghouse for child abuse cases, working with the county's 46 law enforcement agencies. The commission said central coordination is needed because it found that police agencies frequently do not cross-report child abuse complaints with county child welfare officials and fail to properly train officers on how to handle child abuse cases.
Heger acknowledged that some proposals come with an undetermined price tag, but she said the county should begin to assess the cost now.
"They should start doing the preliminary analysis so that they can move forward on the final recommendations in April," Heger said. "The recommendations are not going to change."