Barsi Slaying Elicits Review of Children's Services : In Wake of Death, Panel Wants to Cut Social Workers' Caseloads

Times Staff Writer

An advisory panel told a top Los Angeles County child-welfare official Monday to look for ways to lighten social workers' caseloads in the wake of the killing of a child actress last summer in West Hills by her father.

The Commission for Children's Services is reviewing the county's handling of the case of Judith Barsi, who was 10 when she died. The Department of Children's Services was told of threats the girl's father made to his family but closed the case in June after the girl's mother, Maria Benko Barsi, gave assurances that she was moving.

In late July, Jozsef Barsi fatally shot his wife and daughter before setting their house afire and fatally shooting himself, authorities determined.

The social worker who handled the inquiry was assigned 67 cases, about 27 more than what is considered a full workload, according to the commission.

Children's Services Director Robert L. Chaffee refused to comment at the commission's regular meeting Monday on a report by the department's union that he plans to cut the number of caseworkers by 5%. But he told the commission that caseloads probably will not be reduced significantly for at least 2 years because funds are not available for more workers.

The commission, appointed by the Board of Supervisors, was not satisfied.

Commissioner Helen A. Kleinberg suggested that Chaffee consider reassigning certain administrative employees to child-welfare cases.

Such administrative jobs are needed for the department's survival, Chaffee said. But Kleinberg replied: "This is survival for the children. . . . We were horribly upset at many simple things that were not done" in the closing of the Barsi case.

The commission and Chaffee have declined to discuss details of the Barsi case because of confidentiality laws. Chaffee has said the department could not have prevented the deaths.

The commission does not mean to accuse the department of impropriety in the case, said the body's chairman, Thomas L. Becket. But Becket said he is disturbed by Chaffee's refusal to comment on the reported 5% cut in social workers. He asked Chaffee to address the issue at the commission's Nov. 21 meeting.

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