May 21, 2019
The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
Sacramento, California 95814
As directed by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the California State Auditor conducted an audit of the health and safety of children in the care of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (department). Our assessment concludes that the department unnecessarily risks the health and safety of the children in its care because it does not consistently complete child abuse and neglect investigations, and related safety and risk assessments, on time or accurately. As a result, the department leaves some children in unsafe and abusive situations for months.
Safety and risk assessments are critical tools used to assess a child’s immediate safety and the likelihood that the department will receive future allegations of child abuse or neglect for a family. The department completed only 72 percent of its safety assessments and 76 percent of risk assessments on time during fiscal year 2017–18, and it failed to complete 10 percent of safety assessments and 8 percent of risk assessments. We also found numerous instances in which these assessments were not accurate, including several safety assessments that social workers prepared and submitted without actually visiting the child’s home. Even if supervisors had identified and corrected many of these issues upon review, we found that they often completed such reviews long after social workers had made decisions regarding children’s safety.
Further, despite budget increases that allowed the department to hire more social workers and reduce caseloads, it did not comply with several other state‑required child welfare practices. The department did not consistently perform required home inspections and criminal background checks before placing children with relatives of their families. In fact, of the 22 relative placements we reviewed, the department conducted only 16 of the required in‑home inspections prior to placement, and it documented the completion of mandatory pre‑placement criminal background checks for only five of these placements.
We identified several underlying causes for the department’s deficiencies. In particular, the department does not have specific time frames for when supervisors must complete reviews of safety and risk assessments. It also currently performs quality assurance reviews on only a limited number of social workers’ cases, and these reviews do not include an analysis of the quality of supervisors’ reviews. Finally, although it reviews the circumstances surrounding child deaths, the department does not have a process for ensuring that it implements the recommendations resulting from such reviews.
ELAINE M. HOWLE, CPA
California State Auditor