LA's troubled child welfare agency gets new director

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Philip Browning said he did not apply to be director of L.A. County's Department of Children and Family Services, which faces allegations it's failed to protect boys and girls caught in abusive homes.

"The Board of Supervisors asked me if I would assume this responsibility," said Browning.

Browning was up for the challenge, and on Tuesday the board named him as the new director. He'd been interim director for four months at an agency that's gone through four chiefs in less than two years.

In Browning, the supervisors selected an old hand at county government. Previously, he headed the massive Department of the Public Social Services.

DCFS monitors 35,000 abused children throughout L.A. County. Half are in foster or other county care. In recent years, more than a dozen have died amid allegations of mismanagement and lax supervision.

"I think the biggest challenge will be trying to get all of the staff to embrace a new concept of openness and transparency and moving toward accountability," Browning said.

He said he wants social workers to consult more people when they deal with abused children, and decide whether to remove them from their homes.

“So often I think if we just involve the teacher and the minister and the softball coach and other family members we might come to a decision that would be better than some of the decisions that are being made currently," Browning said. "That’s a new model for this department.”

In a slight Alabama drawl, Browning said he wants to bring "common sense" to the agency. "I often just say I'm a good ole country boy from the South and I learned a lot from my father."

DCFS. employs 7,300 people and has a $1.8 billion budget.

"The Board of Supervisors has expressed an awful lot of confidence in me, and I appreciate that," said Browning.

Browning said he is working on a strategic plan for the department. He said it has had one for several years. Browning wants to change the thinking at the child welfare agency.

"I'm really asking people to step back and ask if this were your child, would you have done the same thing. I think sometimes in the bureaucracy we get so immersed in bureaucratic processes, we lose sight of the big picture."