The case of Gabriel

The tragic death of Gabriel Fernández, a young boy, seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back regarding problems within the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Let’s see if this incident helps correct the system’s failures.

The reactions to the negligence of the system—which had plenty of information about the serious abuse the child was suffering in his home and was unable to prevent his torture and murder—were unusually tough in comparison to what we are used to from the county agency.

The firing of four social workers connected to this case is already a good sign in an organization characterized by the type of impunity shown in 15 previous deaths of minors under its supervision.

At the same time, having the Board of Supervisors create a blue-ribbon commission shows good intentions, but for now it is impossible to determine how useful this will be. Diagnoses of the problems in DCFS and recommendations abound, so we should expect much more concrete results from this special commission.

Some aspects do not require much study in order to recognize, for example, that there is a lack of social workers to be able to lighten the caseloads that each must handle. There is no doubt that, like in everything, there are social workers who do not have good aptitude for their jobs. However, the overwhelming amount of cases complicates the job of even the most willing employee.

Much is left to do in this system that receives almost 160,000 annual reports of child abuse. What matters is that the agency fulfills its mission of systematically protecting minors who are victims of abuse, so that there are no more cases like the one of Gabriel Fernández.