The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors met in closed session Tuesday to grapple with the future of the beleaguered Department of Children's Services, but the supervisors seemed divided about how to proceed in the wake of last week's resignation of the department's director, Robert L. Chaffee.
The five supervisors huddled for several hours Tuesday afternoon on the question of Chaffee's successor and on another matter: a federal judge's order that the supervisors draw new district boundaries. They adjourned without making a decision on the Children's Services Department or the redistricting plan and said they would reconvene in closed session today. Chaffee stepped down last Thursday amid mounting criticism from some supervisors, child advocates and the state Department of Social Services. His decision followed disclosures that top department officials had permitted two foster homes to remain in operation after investigators warned that children were physically and sexually abused there.
The board's debate over who will lead the department centers on whether Chaffee should remain in office until Oct. 31, as he has said he would do, or whether an interim director should be appointed immediately.
Supervisor Ed Edelman, who is pressing for an interim director, said Tuesday that he has a nominee in mind, but he would not name the candidate. His call for Chaffee's immediate replacement has the support of the county Commission for Children's Services, a citizens panel that advises the board, and the union that represents social workers.
Supervisor Mike Antonovich proposed a different course. He wants county administrators to conduct a 30-day study on how to reorganize the Children's Services Department, and to begin an immediate nationwide search for a permanent successor to Chaffee.
Chaffee addressed the board Tuesday on a variety of children's issues, but did not mention his resignation and no supervisor asked him about it.
Afterward, Chaffee declined to comment on his resignation or the controversy swirling around his department. He said he was waiting to see if the board would take any action.
Also left unsettled Tuesday was the fate of Chaffee's top deputies. While Antonovich has called for a full housecleaning of high-level officials at Children's Services, Chaffee said there have been no other resignations.
The board's decision on how to replace Chaffee has been complicated by Antonovich's call, and by a threat from the state Department of Social Services to take over the county's $457-million child welfare services program.
The state has instructed the county to draft a "compliance plan" by Oct. 1. But aides to Antonovich say that, with all the top Children's Services officials gone, an interim director from outside the department would have trouble meeting the state's deadline.
Edelman, along with the social workers' union and the Children's Services Commission, say they believe that Chaffee's relationship with state officials has deteriorated too badly for him to come up with a plan that will be acceptable to the state.
"The state has lost faith in him," said commission President Helen Kleinberg.
Before entering the closed-door session Tuesday, supervisors instructed county administrators to investigate the disclosures that two county-licensed foster homes were permitted to continue operating despite allegations of abuse.
The Times reported last week that the foster homes, both run by prominent leaders of foster parent groups, were permitted to remain in operation for three years after county investigators recommended to their superiors that the licenses be revoked.
In addition, supervisors voted Tuesday to send a letter to Gov. George Deukmejian opposing any budget cuts for the Department of Children's Services. County officials are worried that the Legislature will cut the county's funding based on the findings of a recent state audit.
According to state officials, the audit showed that the county--which receives money from the state based on the number of cases it handles--has over-reported its caseload.