Embattled Los Angeles DCFS slow to respond to protester's demands

Protesters seeking DCFS and CPS reform respond to the developing case of eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez who was tortured to death. Photo: creative commons

WASHINGTON, August 22, 2013 — Amid intense public concern, a recent Skelly hearing at the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for two social workers and two supervisors accused of dereliction of duty in connection with the widely publicized death of Gabriel Fernandez produced only one resignation. The due process rights for three of the four employees remain ongoing and their termination is still pending, indicating no final decision on termination has been made by DCFS Director, Philip Browning.

Despite initial issuance of letters of intent of dismissal, it is still possible the employees may avoid termination by following the appeals process guided by their union.

DCFS spokesperson from the Office of Public Affairs said;

“Once our internal process is resolved the employees can appeal with the LA County Civil Service Commission which is outside our agency.”

If the workers lodge an appeal the process could conceivably stretch to the end of the year.

The four workers were put on notice of pending dismissal by Director Browning following their failure to prevent eight-year-old Palmdale boy, Gabriel Fernandez from being tortured and abused to death at the hands of his mother, Pearl Fernandez, 29, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 32.

SEE RELATED: Child Protective Services under fire after another child’s death

No action was taken by authorities to protect Gabriel despite eight visits to his address by social workers after numerous reports of abuse to DCFS

Fernandez and Aguirre were brought to the Antelope Municipal Courthouse on August 13 to face charges of capital murder with the special circumstance of torture. In front of a packed courthouse with many family members and protesters present, the attorney for Pearl Fernandez appeared ill prepared. No pleas were entered and the arraignment was continued with the next hearing set for October 7.

In a separate development, the grandfather of Gabriel, Robert Fernandez announced plans to file a civil lawsuit against DCFS, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Palmdale School District. His attorney, John W. Noland said they were seeking significant changes in governmental, inter-agency communications and practice.

Public pressure on DCFS to adopt and enact much need reforms shows no signs of abating.

A Facebook page started by Gabriel’s cousin Emily Carranza has attracted 35,000 followers. It was originally launched to raise funds to bury Gabriel but developed to become a platform to increase awareness of child abuse issues and the problems within DCFS, CPS, the sheriff’s office and the foster care system. Carranza says she is working on recommendations to present to relevant agencies.

“There are so many things they’re overlooking. The promised Blue Ribbon Commission and proposed audits are not enough because they’ll create change from within the system. They are not objective. What is needed is for citizens to get involved and give their impressions. We are the ones who experience the effects of social workers and know their strengths and weaknesses.”

Carranza is calling for every social worker to be reevaluated each year to ensure they are meeting expected performance criteria. She also wants more extensive background checks for social workers and foster care workers to root out those people who have a history of child abuse or negligence.

She fought back tears as she described the trauma she and her relatives have suffered following Gabriel’s death. She said starting the Gabriel’s Justice Facebook page had exposed her to an initial torrent of criticism leveled at the family.

“People need to understand that Gabriel was loved.”

Carranza said Gabriel was not abused until the last few months of his life when his mother came and took him from his grandparents. She believes the motive was monetary because Fernandez had never wanted her son and abandoned him at birth, leaving him to be raised by the wider family. She said Fernandez had been a troubled person all her life. Carranza described how Fernandez would lash out at her parents, but was also a victim of abuse by her own mother.

“Pearl’s childhood experiences appear to have established a fateful pattern.”

Carranza echoed the words of her thousands of supporters when she said:

“This story is alive, and I’m going to make sure it doesn’t go anywhere. We really need to bring the need for change into the open.”

She said people must open their eyes.

“We’re going to keep protesting and launching petitions and we’ll be attending hearings and trial days. Social workers need to know they do not hold all the power.”

Carranza noted the tragic irony in Gabriel’s death resulting from social worker inaction, while many of the complaints against CPS originate from the opposite end of the spectrum – from families who have had their children unjustly taken from them by social workers.

She said it was necessary to change the culture wherein people who report mistreatment by social workers risk facing threats their parental rights will be revoked.

“Nobody should have to live in fear of never seeing their kids again because they have been falsely accused of child abuse when there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for the circumstances had the social worker looked for it.”


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Clare O'Toole

Clare O'Toole is a journalist who has written for several Australian publications, including Times of the West and Freemantle Community Radio.  With an MA in Journalism, O'Toole seeks to uncover injustice in the family courts and what happens when families breakdown. 

Contact Clare O'Toole


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