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Sweeping Investigation

Retired Judge Michael Nash’s Office of Child Protection will lead the investigation into a 4-year-old boy’s grave injuries in a foster home. (Photo courtesy of The Oprah Winfrey Network)

Query to determine if language barrier contributed to child’s removal

As a 4-year-old boy lies comatose after suffering severe abuse in a Los Angeles area foster home, county leaders have ordered a full investigation into how child protective services delivered the preschooler into such a perilous home — and why he was removed from his own home in the first place. 

The boy, identified by county supervisors by his first name, Andres, entered foster care in April, according to local media. On Oct. 28, he was transported to the hospital with “grave injuries” after being discovered by law enforcement. The following day, his foster mother, 26-year-old Gabriela Casarez, was arrested for child abuse. 

Investigators will now analyze all contact the boy’s family had with the county, to identify barriers that may have prevented them from receiving services that could have kept their family intact.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a motion directing the Office of Child Protection to investigate the systemic breakdowns that appear to have led to another high-profile tragedy in the county’s foster care system. 

“The county, our Department of Child and Family Services was supposed to be protecting this little boy when we took him away from his family,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who authored the motion. “But if these allegations are true, we put him in the care of a foster mother who hurt him so severely that he had to be hospitalized.”

As of Nov. 8, Andres remained in the hospital in a coma, according to Fox11 News

Sweeping Investigation

Supervisor Janice Hahn. Photo Courtesy of the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors

LA County is home to the largest child welfare system in the country, with 33,000 children under supervision, 19,000 of whom are in out-of-home foster care. 

Investigators will now analyze all contact the boy’s family had with the county, to identify barriers that may have prevented them from receiving services that could have kept their family intact and avoided a foster care placement. They will also examine the “experience level and length of service” for each social worker assigned to the boy’s case, and how they addressed any language or cultural barriers present. 

County supervisors and advocates who offered comments at the public meeting raised concerns that a lack of cultural competency contributed to the boy being separated from his parents. Members of the Indigenous rights group CIELO say the family is of Central American descent and speaks a language from that region other than Spanish. 

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“It’s really tragic what happened to this little boy,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, “and probably could have been prevented had we done a better job of assessing the young child and really understanding his cultural and linguistic abilities.”

Solis noted the critical need for diverse translation throughout county services, especially considering the many Central American migrants who have recently arrived in the region. 

The motion passed Tuesday also directs investigators to analyze all contact the boy’s family had with child protective services and other county departments. He is the latest in a string of cases where young children have been killed or severely injured in Los Angeles County after child welfare intervention.

Sweeping Investigation

Numerous members of the public spoke in support of the motion, including several members of the Reimagine Child Safety Coalition — a nascent group supported by dozens of organizations including Black Lives Matter LA, the ACLU of Southern California, the Los Angeles chapter of the Court Appointed Special Advocates and Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers. 

The group, which Monday presented Supervisors with a list of demanded reforms to the child welfare system, said abuse in foster homes is far too common and that Black and Indigenous children, who are vastly overrepresented in foster care, bear the brunt of this. 

“The sad thing here is that a number of these kids are going to go into a home where they’re even more traumatized by foster parents,” said Chris Martin, legal team director of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and a leader of the Reimagine Child Safety Coalition. “Instead of increasing child safety, removing children from their families often produces devastating outcomes and is rooted in centuries of violence, white supremacy and attempted cultural genocide.”

The coalition’s demands include a moratorium on children being taken into foster care on allegations of poverty-related neglect, and dissolving partnerships between child welfare and law enforcement.

While not addressing any of the group’s specific demands, the supervisors did appear sympathetic to the need for an overhaul of the county’s child protection response. 

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Supervisor Holly Mitchell, the newest addition to the board who has a background working in child welfare, said she’s taking the demands “very seriously” and looks forward to collaborating with the coalition.

At least three of the five supervisors acknowledged the need to “reimagine” the system, including board chair Solis: “We do have to reimagine what the services look like, because it's dysfunctional.” 

Sara Tiano
The Imprint