Beat­ing of boy leads to county probe

The ac­tions of so­cial work­ers who over­saw the fam­ily of a 13-month-old are un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Gar­rett Therolf gar­rett.therolf@latimes.com Twit­ter: @gth­erolf

Los An­ge­les County of­fi­cials are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the ac­tions of so­cial work­ers who over­saw the fam­ily of a 13-month-old boy found bru­tally beaten last week, ac­cord­ing to a source who re­viewed con­fi­den­tial child­wel­fare records and re­quested anonymity.

Bruises and burns cov­ered Fer­nando Gar­cia of East Ran­cho Dominguez near Comp­ton, and de­tec­tives did not ex­pect him to sur­vive, ac­cord­ing to the records.

The in­quiry fo­cuses on whether the Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­ily Ser­vices could have bet­ter as­sessed re­ports of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in­volv­ing Fer­nando’s fam­ily and in­ter­vened more ef­fec­tively to help his mother es­cape po­ten­tially vi­o­lent re­la­tion­ships, ac­cord­ing to depart­ment records.

So­cial work­ers de­cided to keep Fer­nando’s three sib­lings in the fam­ily home im­me­di­ately af­ter his beat­ing June 7. Sher­iff ’s deputies re­spond­ing to a call ar­rived at the boy’s home and dis­cov­ered that he was not breath­ing, ac­cord­ing to sher­iff ’s records. His body was cold, bruises in the shape of fin­ger marks cov­ered his chest and ab­domen, and a burn mark cov­ered a por­tion of his leg, ac­cord­ing to the DCFS records.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors later learned that Fer­nando re­ceived a gash un­der the eye and a cut on his leg while in the care of the mother’s boyfriend, Ro­drigo Her­nan­dez. The boy’s mother also told de­tec­tives and the DCFS that she had ob­served Her­nan­dez pok­ing the boy. Wit­nesses re­ported that Fer­nando was vis­i­bly afraid and would cry when Her­nan­dez was in the room, the DCFS records say.

De­tec­tives ar­rested Her­nan­dez, 23, that af­ter­noon on sus­pi­cion of child abuse. Author­i­ties are hold­ing him at Men’s Cen­tral Jail in lieu of $1.5-mil­lion bail.

Fer­nando’s mother gave birth to her first child when she was 17 and had two oth­ers be­fore Fer­nando. The three girls are ages 5 to 9.

In Fe­bru­ary 2009, a caller to the county’s child abuse hot­line re­ported that the mother’s boyfriend at the time pushed her while she car­ried one of her daugh­ters. So­cial work­ers ruled the re­port to be “un­founded” and did not re­quire court-or­dered do­mes­tic vi­o­lence ser­vices for the fam­ily, the DCFS records say.

That Septem­ber, a caller told the hot­line that the mother’s boyfriend — who was not Her­nan­dez — was vi­o­lent to­ward the mother. So­cial work­ers found sig­nif­i­cant bruis­ing on the mother’s back, but they ac­cepted her story that the in­juries were self-inf licted. They did not pur­sue fur­ther eval­u­a­tion by doc­tors or other pro­fes­sion­als and ruled the al­le­ga­tions “in­con­clu­sive,” DCFS records say.

The mother’s case was closed the fol­low­ing month with­out fur­ther in­ter­ven­tions. So­cial work­ers did not ex­plain their ra­tio­nale, the DCFS records say.

DCFS’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the case ques­tions whether so­cial work­ers should have taken a more as­sertive and prob­ing ap­proach to both do­mes­tic vi­o­lence re­ports, depart­ment records say.

Even while in­ves­ti­gat­ing why the three sur­viv­ing chil­dren were al­lowed to stay in the home for three days af­ter Fer­nando was hos­pi­tal­ized, depart­ment of­fi­cials have or­dered the so­cial work­ers in­volved to be re­trained, the DCFS records say.

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