The mother of two hungry children found wandering the streets of Los Angeles has had six older children removed by county caseworkers into the foster care system.
Despite that history, the family was enrolled in a program designed to help the mother keep her children while learning to be a better parent.
The two younger children, boys ages 2 and 3, and their mother, 32-year-old Sidnicka Wilson, had been under the direct supervision of Los Angeles County's child protective services agency. A social worker had repeatedly cleared her as safe during monthly visits, and counselors hired by the county were meant to aid with the monitoring, according to sources familiar with the case.
"Something didn't work here," said Philip Browning, director of the embattled child welfare department.
He referred the case to internal affairs investigators, but said the early findings have raised concerns about the safety of some children in a county program known internally as Family Maintenance.
The two boys were first spotted inside a liquor store at Stanford and Manchester avenues last week trying to get a loaf of bread. A good Samaritan grabbed them before they walked into traffic.
Police found the children underfed and soiled, and described their home as being in deplorable condition.
Wilson was arrested two days later after someone flagged down officers and directed them to a car she was in.
According to court documents, Wilson had a record of stealing and prostitution. When she was arrested, police say she had cocaine in her possession.
The case has raised questions about the Family Maintenance program, which is meant to serve as a six-month intervention strategy for children at relatively low risk of abuse. It allows them to remain with their parents while their families are offered counseling, emergency shelter care, parent training, substance abuse testing and transportation.
"The Family Maintenance cases are the ones that are most concerning to me," Browning said. "We have more families in this program than I would really like."
The program is seen as an easier and cheaper alternative to foster care, which is perennially short of parents and funding.
It now has more than 13,000 children. A decade ago, there were about 8,000.
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