Los Angeles County supervisors agreed Tuesday to study the financial feasibility of recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection reform.
Their decision will allow staffers to determine the cost of the commission's interim proposals in time for a final report and more recommendations in April.
In December, the commission released an interim report calling the county's child welfare system "dysfunctional" and in need of "fundamental change."
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.
The commission recommended that the county's system of clinics 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.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas asserted that the recommendations regarding public health nurses and required clinic visits could be implemented with existing resources, but the other supervisors disagreed after hearing testimony about the heavy caseloads for the nurses and the inability to reassign many of the nurses to investigations because of federal regulations concerning their funding.
"When you say this must be done under existing funds, you've thrown a real wrench into the whole problem, and it will blow up until it's solved," Supervisor Gloria Molina said.
"Common sense dictates that we're not going to be able to do it within existing resources," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.
The supervisors also reiterated their preference to provide any final approval of recommendations once the commission has finalized its entire package of recommendations.
David Sanders, the commission's chairman, said he was pleased with the board's willingness to move forward in the meantime. "I am confident they are moving forward with urgency," he said.
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