Child wel­fare of­fi­cial al­leges im­proper search

Los Angeles Times - - California - Gar­rett Therolf gar­rett.therolf @latimes.com

Los An­ge­les County Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­ily Ser­vices of­fi­cials have con­tin­ued to search for in­di­vid­u­als they be­lieve shared con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion about child deaths with The Times, ac­cord­ing to a se­nior of­fi­cial who al­leged that her per­sonal be­long­ings un­der­went a war­rant­less search.

Di­rec­tor Trish Ploehn said that “be­cause this in­ci­dent is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated, we are limited in terms of specifics we can pro­vide. How­ever, we strongly deny the al­le­ga­tions be­ing made and be­lieve that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion will show that no ac­tions by DCFS staff were in vi­o­la­tion of any in­di­vid­ual’s rights.”

Dar­lene McDade-White, the depart­ment’s lead in­ter­nal af­fairs in­ves­ti­ga­tor, said she drew sus­pi­cion when she filed a whis­tle-blower claim along with an­other DCFS of­fi­cial. Her com­plaint al­leged that the depart­ment fal­si­fied child death re­ports to elim­i­nate men­tion of case man­age­ment er­rors that con­trib­uted to the fa­tal­i­ties.

“The whis­tle-blow­ing was met not with cor­rec­tive ac­tion, but with se­vere re­tal­i­a­tion di­rected at me by mem­bers of the depart­ment,” McDade-White said in a sub­se­quent claim.

Ac­cord­ing to McDade-White, ear­lier this month Jackie Con­tr­eras, the depart­ment’s sec­ond-high­es­trank­ing of­fi­cial, and Jen­nifer Lopez, McDade-White’s su­per­vi­sor, con­fronted her and searched the bag she was car­ry­ing home. They found no con­fi­den­tial doc­u­ments, she said.

“I was never told I could refuse their search, and the tone and level of author­ity of my at­tack­ers made me feel that it would be dan­ger­ous to even try,” McDade-White said.

Ad­di­tion­ally, she said, an­other col­league “be­rated” and “in­tim­i­dated” her in an ef­fort to per­suade her to drop the fal­si­fi­ca­tion claim.

Paula Gam­boa, a for­mer pres­i­dent of the so­cial work­ers union who said she was speak­ing as a union mem­ber, dis­puted that ac­count in a state­ment to The Times and said there was “no fric­tion” in the con­ver­sa­tion.

Gam­boa, whom Ploehn re­cently pro­moted to join the team han­dling child fa­tal­ity re­views, said she told McDade-White, “I am not com­fort­able work­ing in an en­vi­ron­ment in which my in­tegrity is be­ing ques­tioned and there are ar­ti­cles in the L.A. Times as to the qual­ity of work be­ing per­formed.”

Mean­while, Ploehn has yet to com­ply with rec­om­men­da­tions by an in­de­pen­dent eval­u­a­tor who told the Board of Su­per­vi­sors last month the agency failed to fol­low a state dis­clo­sure law man­dat­ing re­lease of records when a child dies of mal­treat­ment on its watch.

Michael Gen­naco, chief at­tor­ney for the county Of­fice of In­de­pen­dent Re­view, found dozens of deaths in which the depart­ment de­clared the cause to be abuse or ne­glect in con­fi­den­tial court fil­ings but did not fol­low with a pub­lic ac­knowl­edge­ment, as the law re­quires.

Gen­naco also told Ploehn that her depart­ment should present law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties with doc­u­ments be­fore ask­ing them if they ob­jected to their re­lease.

Ploehn pledged to fol­low his rec­om­men­da­tions.

Late Tues­day, the depart­ment made its ini­tial re­lease of in­for­ma­tion in re­sponse to Gen­naco’s re­port, but the bulk of his rec­om­men­da­tions have yet to be im­ple­mented.

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