Move to Open Care Center for Youths Blocked

Times City-County Bureau Chief

Los Angeles County’s chief administrative officer Tuesday blocked a move to open a special care center for severely mentally disturbed and abused teen-agers who are now kept with less-troubled children at MacLaren Children’s Center.

The action by Richard B. Dixon drew an angry response from Supervisor Pete Schabarum, who has been pushing for the intensive care facility since 1985. Accusing Dixon of bureaucratic delays, he said, “You’ve done a good job in giving me a lot of bull in this matter.”

Despite the pressure from Schabarum, other board members decided to delay action on the proposal.


Struggle for Services

The controversy over care of abused children--made dependents of the county by the courts--is one aspect of the overall struggle of county government to provide social, psychiatric and medical services in a time of ever-decreasing funds for local government.

That struggle may become even more intense next week when Gov. George Deukmejian will present a state budget that is expected to provide county governments much less than they say they need for such services.

At issue Tuesday was the care of about 50 severely disturbed youngsters--between 13 and 17 years old--at MacLaren Children’s Center, which is the county facility for neglected and abused children, including those abused sexually, who have been taken from their homes by courts and placed under county care. The center now cares for about 260 children. Of the 50, 13 need individual, “one-on-one” care, officials said.

Schabarum and the county Department of Children’s Services have been pushing for opening a separate facility. Department official Al May said the badly disturbed children are now mixed with less-troubled ones at MacLaren, where, he said, it is difficult to prevent the youngsters from escaping.

“These kids need medication and a variety of things,” he said.

Care Center Proposed

Early this year, Telecare Corp. of Oakland proposed opening a care center for the youngsters at the site of a nursing home in East Los Angeles.

Telecare has won major contracts to perform work for the county Department of Mental Health, including operation of a care facility on the grounds of Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk.

The firm has contributed to the political campaigns of the Board of Supervisors’ conservative majority, which strongly favors having private companies do work once exclusively performed by government. The company has given Supervisor Deane Dana $7,500, Schabarum $350 and Supervisor Mike Antonovich $500 in recent years, according to campaign contribution reports.

Schabarum backed the Telecare proposal, although an aide said the supervisor was more interested in beginning a program for the disturbed youngsters than seeing that a particular firm got the job.

Fiscal Problems Cited

Dixon, in recommending that the proposal be turned down, cited fiscal problems as a major reason.

He noted that the county is awaiting an appellate court decision on a suit by mental health advocate groups stopping a $17-million economy cutback in county mental health treatment centers.

“We would run the risk of further expanding our budget problems if we hastily committed the county to this project,” he said in a report. “If the court rules against us, we would not have the required financing available. I therefore cannot recommend taking any binding actions until we have received a favorable ruling.”

Dixon and Board Chairman Ed Edelman, who represents East Los Angeles, both also cited the possibility of neighborhood opposition to the facility.

Edelman said it “was not the best location.” Dixon said county officials face the task of persuading neighbors to accept a mental care facility in the area.