Mission statement could help L.A. County focus on child protection

Does L.A. County need a mission statement declaring child protection a top priority?

Of the more than 40 recommendations submitted in the final report of the Los Angeles County Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection in April 2014 for reforming the county's systems and programs for safeguarding the lives and well-being of children, the very first — the top of the list — was to create a mission statement that makes child protection a top county priority.

Now, the Board of Supervisors has approved a motion calling for county officials to craft such a statement.

Our initial reaction: Seriously?

Aren't mission statements kind of a joke? Aren't they the sort of thing dreamed up at corporate retreats to dupe the public, or by — well, by government officials who want to make it look like they are doing something of substance without actually making any difficult changes?

The very name of the Department of Children and Family Services sets forth its mission. So again, regarding the emphasis on a new mission statement: Seriously?

Actually, yes, seriously. At least, it can't hurt.

The essence of the Blue Ribbon Commission's findings was that county departments and officials fail to work together on child welfare and too often pass the buck among themselves, content to blame DCFS when something goes wrong. Child protection is not part of the official marching orders of, say, the Department of Health Services, so it isn't part of the evaluation of that department director's performance. With a solid mission statement in place, it would be part of the evaluation of all the directors of all county departments and agencies.

Here's another way to look at it: The county is trying to find top-quality candidates to lead a new Office of Child Protection. But why would anyone apply for the job if the Board of Supervisors can't even make the simple statement that child protection is a top county priority? Of course, a mission statement can't by itself set county priorities. The state Constitution asserts that education is California's top priority, but the words, without action, don't make it so.

But the county should at least put itself on record as being serious about child protection. It's a start. So we'll be reading carefully when officials come back this month with their proposed new mission statement.


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