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On MLK Hospital and DCFS: Our Foster Children Gently Weep

by joshuaallen (writer), Los Angeles, February 16, 2011

Credit: Joshua Allen
Round and Round the Foster Child Goes

The closure of MLK Hospital in Los Angeles has much to teach us about the current Department of Children and Family Services.

Article first published as On MLK Hospital and DCFS: Our Foster Children Gently Weep on Technorati.

On MLK Hospital and DCFS: Our Foster Children Gently Weep.

The Business of Child Abuse

By Joshua Allen

As an amalgamation of failed policies, roads to nowhere, and well-meaning strategies that lead to disappointment and letdown, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) have few equals in obfuscation and futility.

About the only thing the author can reference of similar ineptitude and human damage would be the recent closure of Martin Luther King County Hospital (MLK) which required a complete closure and a several year “do over,” before a reopening could be considered. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2009/11/uc-regents-approve-partnership-with-la-county-to-reopen-king-hospital.html

One of the requirements by UCLA and other entities stipulated before discussions began to reopen this very necessary hospital was a restriction against political and Board of Supervisor interference to prevent a repetition of the sustained decrepit conditions that existed for decades.

A comparison between DCFS and MLK Hospital is not a comparison of apples and oranges. Actually, there are many similarities. Both entities suffered from years of neglect. And both organizations were damaged by racial, community and government political interference that frequently clashed with the stated goals of meeting the best needs of clients and patients.

Both organizations endured a multitude of directors that changed so frequently, that tenure of more than a couple years, was seen as a stabilizing factor. Directors of both organizations were pushed out frequently, mostly for political reasons, and often left under a cloud of whispered, unproven allegations that seemed to disappear once the new leader was installed.

Along with frequent changes in leadership, both DCFS and MLK cynically imposed policies which were changed and altered, added and added again according to the political flavor of the moment, and often in reaction to some horrific incident involving death, mayhem, criminality, stupidity and a dash of indifference since victims had little voice and even less influence within the electorate.

MLK Hospital (which had a nasty nickname of “Killer King”) was eventually shut down and emptied since reform was no longer seen as a viable alternative. Competent employees were transferred to other locations within the county. Others found new lines of work, or left the area to work their magic and expertise within more appreciative confines.

Both organizations had huge difficulties in retaining highly trained personnel since both destinations were seen by their best workers as a proving ground or stepping stone towards a more lucrative and positive career choice after doing ones time in the trenches.

Currently, and left in its wake at DCFS as a result of this constant turnover of the well trained and educated personnel, are numbers of mediocre, unambitious, and incompetents who seem to have little hope of establishing themselves in an equal position at another location.

Allowing for the noble and admirable subset of quality, dedicated workers who truly want to be at DCFS, morale and quality of care suffer. Indeed, conditions and the nature of their work at DCFS is so difficult, they have an employee turnover rate that reminds one of a tour of duty.

One way DCFS has dealt with the impossible job of caring for so many abused and neglected children and perceived diminution of quality (if it ever really existed) was to reduce by almost 2 thirds the amount of abused and neglected children the County was willing to care for.

At the same time, the county maintains a budget very close to those tax dollars used and spent when placement into foster care was at its highest almost a decade ago. In other words, while the amount of children placed into foster care by DCFS has decreased by more than 2 thirds during the past decade, the budget in caring for those children has remained mostly the same. The obvious questions then, are abused children much better off? Are they safer?

The County will argue that programs such as Family Preservation and Wrap Around Services which have at its focus keeping families intact has allowed this huge decrease in numbers of children placed into foster care, and ensure a greater amount of children are safer and better cared for.

One can only pray. But I have a question. Do you really believe that abused and neglected children in Los Angeles County are better off than they were a decade ago? And if we can’t be perfect, shouldn’t we at least be good?



About the Writer

joshuaallen is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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