Major Reforms at MacLaren Urged : Jury Cites 'Historic' Problems With Drugs, Child Abuse

Times Staff Writer

Responding to allegations of misconduct at the county's shelter for abused and neglected children, the Los Angeles County Grand Jury has concluded that there have apparently been "historic" problems with drugs and child abuse at MacLaren Children's Center.

But the grand jury, in issuing a report to the Board of Supervisors, gave no details of wrongdoing and said that it is confident that the county district attorney's office and police are adequately investigating more recent allegations of criminal misconduct at the center.

The supervisors asked the grand jury to investigate MacLaren after reports of criminal activities at the center were carried in news stories earlier this year. The news stories relied largely on information provided by former and present staff members who were not identified.

Six Days of Hearings

Grand jurors said they conducted six days of hearings on allegations made in the news stories about physical, sexual and mental abuse of children, extensive drug use and trafficking by staff, and failure of the staff to report incidents of child abuse to outside authorities.

"Evidence presented at the hearings, though conflicting, appear to support" the reports of criminal activity, "at least historically," the grand jurors said.

At the same time, the grand jurors told supervisors in the report, which is to be formally presented Tuesday, that MacLaren Children's Center is in need of a "major reorganization."

The grand jurors made several recommendations.

Children under the age of 2 need to be removed from the facility, they said. Special care units for seriously disturbed children need to be created. And the use of barren, windowless, so-called "quiet rooms" as punishment needs to be ended, grand jurors said.

"Unless this is done, major problems will continue to surface," the grand Jury said.

Separate Report

In a separate report on MacLaren sent to supervisors, the county Department of Mental Health criticized counseling services offered at the center as "woefully thin to cover what appears to be an enormous need."

That study found 85% of the children in the center needed mental health services and 22% were suicidal or psychotic.

In concluding their investigation, the grand jurors noted that many of the allegations of criminal wrongdoing were old, dating back as much as 15 years.

"We are satisfied that the Los Angeles County district attorney's office and the El Monte Police Department are doing a good job of investigating and prosecuting certain acts of child abuse and of inappropriate conduct by a few staff members at MacLaren," the grand jurors said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Larry Mira confirmed that "an investigation is ongoing."

Dick Shumsky, spokesman for the union that represents most MacLaren workers, said that the reports of criminal conduct are a "rehash of old media news."

"We're dealing in a maze of charges that won't go away," Shumsky said. "We don't feel there is currently (any misconduct) of significance at MacLaren."

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