A judge on Wednesday granted the Los Angeles County's Department of Children and Family Services the ability to exercise more oversight and control over group foster homes for troubled children.
The decision, by Superior Court Judge David Yaffe, was immediately hailed by county officials as a way to better protect thousands of at-risk children in 186 group homes.
The homes are paid thousands of dollars per month per child, but many have been criticized in recent years for providing poor services.
As a result, the county Board of Supervisors directed the department to clamp down on the group homes. But when more stringent oversight was imposed, an association of group homes sued, saying that the state of California regulates them, not the county.
Yaffe denied the group's petition, effectively granting the county the ability to conduct more detailed financial and organizational audits.
County children's social workers have always been able to monitor children placed in the group homes. But Yaffe's ruling also gives them the ability to impose harsher sanctions, to remove children from homes deemed unsafe and to put foster homes on a "do not refer" status, said Assistant County Counsel Steve Carnevale.