Investigation Reveals Widespread Issues in LA County DCFS

If the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services had taken appropriate action, Gabriel Fernandez and Anthony Avalos would still be alive. Both children had adults in their lives who submitted multiple reports of abuse. Both had open cases at DCFS. Both had social workers assigned to their case. Neither was removed from his home in time to save his lives.

Instead, Gabriel died with head injuries, cracked ribs, BB pellets embedded in his skin, bruises, burns, and missing teeth, all as a result of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend. Five years later, Anthony Avalos suffered a similar death at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend.

Six years after the death of Gabriel Fernandez and one year after the death of Anthony Avalos, an audit of Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services revealed major flaws in how the department handled many child abuse cases. The audit found that the department was slow to initiate cases where abuse was reported and delayed in completing the investigations. In addition, workers did not conduct home investigations. In one case, DCFS waited five months without taking any action before eventually removing children from a home.

Unfortunately, these types of failures of child welfare agencies are statewide in California. Our firm recently represented two children in Riverside County who were the victims of abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents. In both cases, there were multiple reports of abuse and investigations by the Riverside Department of Public Social Services (DPSS). One child, Jacquelyn, was raped by her mother’s boyfriend for several years. The abuse resulted in Jacquelyn becoming pregnant at age 13. DPSS left her in the home even though the social workers knew the abuser was still living with the family. Our lawsuit resulted in a $10 million settlement for Jacquelyn.

The second child, Gail, was left in an abusive environment with a mentally ill mother who was pregnant with another child. Despite multiple reports of abuse to DPSS from Gail’s family members, social workers did not take appropriate action. Gail’s mother gave birth to the second child at home without medical help. The baby died soon after birth and Gail was found two weeks later cradling her deceased sister’s body. Our lawsuit resulted in a $1,375,000 settlement for Gail.

After Riverside County settled the cases, several personnel changes were made, including the resignation of top officials. The county also approved a risk management plan which involves reviewing any complaints with damages of more than $50,000. It requires a review of how the incident occurred and the creation of a plan to prevent future issues.