Director of LA County Child, Family Services responds to new child death numbers

Documents show that the number of deaths of children of the the care of Los Angeles County's Department of Children and Family Services is higher than previously thought, according to the Los Angeles Times. The largest change was a revision of this year's number from 6 to 21. Trish Ploehn, director of the L.A. County DCFS, appeared on KPCC's "Patt Morrison" to respond.

"What it is is that we are recategorizing a number of the deaths that have occurred over the last three years," said Ploehn. "What we realized we had been doing is connecting it to the letter of the law."

Instead, Ploehn said, they're broadening the causes they include when reporting deaths. She said that they're trying to make the definition as broad as possible. Ploehn cited examples that weren't previously included, such as accidental drownings, medical neglect and parents rolling over on children in bed.

The department has been criticized for releasing children back to parents after abuse, with the child later dying. "Something has gone terribly, terribly haywire in the oversight of these children," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was quoted as saying by the L.A. Times.

"You can't look at just child deaths," said Ploehn. She said that, with 170,000 calls to the L.A. County DCFS and 32,000 children being served on an average day, it's a relatively small number.

Ploehn said that agencies need to be able to share information with one another, as well as details on children, parents and siblings, including information on both the present and the past.

Some of these deaths, according to Ploehn, happen after DCFS is no longer involved but a new partner comes into the household and commits the violence that leads to the child's death. Sometimes this happens within a short time of children being returned to the home.

While there's been criticism over returning children to families where there's been previous abuse, Ploehn emphasized that it's better to keep children with their families than in group homes, institutions or temporary foster homes. While 50,000 children under the department's supervision were in out-of-home care in 1998, according to Ploehn, today there are less than 16,000 in temporary care.