Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas Wants To Get A Handle On Number Of Deaths Of Children In L.A. County's Care

Update: The County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday unanimously approved a motion to have one entity at the county track these deaths (PDF). First posted Oct. 28 at 7 a.m.

Kids under the care of your county government are dying. We just don't have a good grip on how many yet.

County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has proposed that one entity inside this Balkan-sized bureaucracy be charged with keeping track of the demise of children who had some contact with the Department of Children and Family Services.

More than few county departments have their own sets of numbers, and sometimes they don't agree (they use different standards).

Ridley-Thomas has taken issue with a Los Angeles Times report stating that there's been an increase in "abuse and neglect" deaths of kids who had been under some kind of county care.

The total deaths of children who had some kind of Department of Children and Family Services care or supervision actually went down, according to the DCFS' own numbers, from from 169 in 2008 to 163 in 2009.

The Times appears to have thrown in gang-related homicides and other deaths unrelated to county care in its Oct. 18 online report, even though it admitted that some of the pre-2008 numbers used for comparison were flawed. The Times then appeared to take out those numbers and remixed a headline in its Oct. 19 print version of that story -- without explanation.

The paper, however, stuck with its assertion that abuse-or-neglect deaths of DCFS-supervised children rose from from 18 in 2008 to 26 in 2009.

Ridley-Thomas wrote in a recent Times op-ed piece that:

These numbers need context. They include homicides at the hands of parents, foster parents and relatives acting as guardians, but they also include deaths that aren't considered homicides. There is subjectivity involved in making these determinations, and the definition of "abuse and neglect" has recently been expanded. For example, these numbers now include certain drownings, suicides, deaths from medical neglect and other types of deaths that might previously have been labeled accidental.

What's more, it seems the county doesn't even have a consistent, solid count of such deaths -- a matter the supervisor wants to address with his proposal (PDF), which was expected to be heard at a Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday.

His motion reads, in part, that "there is no single reliable source of information and data on which the Board can rely for a clear understanding of the facts."

Earlier this month we told you about the alleged beating death of 2-year-old Erica Johnson, which might might have been prevented if Department of Children and Family Services had acted on information it had on the girl's troubled parents.

Whether these things are on the upswing or fading, somebody in the Hall of Administration needs to get a handle on the data.

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