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Sun Sets on Los Angeles County’s Child Protection Reform Team

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The transition team tasked with implementing widespread child protection reforms in Los Angeles officially handed the reins to the newly established Office of Child Protection yesterday. 

Dr. Mitchell Katz, co-chair of the transition team, introduced the motion to sunset the team. 

“I’d like to say it’s been an honor to work with all of you and how great I feel about the work the transition team has done in the time we’ve been together,” Katz said. “It’s a sunset where we can all feel proud of what we’ve achieved.” 

Fesia Davenport, the interim director of the Office of Child Protection, took office on February 2, at which point the transition team appeared to loosen its grip on the implementation process, meeting only once that month and submitting a written progress report to the Board of Supervisors rather than appearing in person. 

“She [Davenport] is espousing everywhere she goes that her role is to implement the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission and ensure that children are better off in this county,” said Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, co-chair of the transition team. “That’s what we would have hoped for when we finished the work of the blue ribbon commission last year.” 

Transition team members extended their willingness to continue to be available to Davenport to share their expertise on specific issues, including education and law enforcement, and generally were optimistic about the transition team coming to an end.

“I think we’ve done great work and I’m so happy the office is up and running,” said Judge Margaret Henry, a member of the transition team. “Fesia [Davenport] has hit the deck running, and I’m just proud of the direction we’re going.”

The inauguration of two new county supervisors and an interim county CEO seemed to reinvigorate county government’s interest in the commission’s reforms in recent months. Supervisor Sheila Keuhl committed to delivering a new child-centric county mission statement around the same time that the county’s interim CEO, Sachi Hamai, moved to establish the Office of Child Protection and hire an interim director.

Blue ribbon commissioner and transition team member Dr. David Sanders lauded Hamai for “moving forward so aggressively and putting forward the interim office of child protection director and putting it as a priority. I think that goes a long way toward giving confidence that Fesia Davenport in her role will be able to move many of the recommendations forward.”

Davenport appears confident in her office’s ability to deliver on the continued implementation of the Blue Ribbon Commission’s dozens of recommendations, despite the complex bureaucracy that governs Los Angeles County.

“One of the things my office is anxious to get started on is the joint strategic planning process,” Davenport said at the team’s final meeting. “The idea is to figure out logically where do all the recommendations fit in a strategic plan so we can have a clear direction and focus.”

“Please know that the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission and the work that this team has done to keep the momentum going will not be lost in the Office of Child Protection,” Davenport said.

County supervisors and others have criticized the creation of the Office of Child Protection, and the commission itself, as just another layer of bureaucracy that may slow down the process of making children safer.

“It is simply a terrible idea,” said Supervisor Don Knabe in an email to The Chronicle earlier this year. “I would prefer that resources be focused on the point-of-contact, rather than another high level of bureaucracy.”

The commission was established to examine flaws in the system following the tragic case of Gabriel Fernandez, an eight-year-old Palmdale boy who was tortured and ultimately killed by his mother and her boyfriend in 2013.

“If it seems that bureaucracy and politics are getting in the way, I would say remember Gabriel Fernandez, and the circumstances under which he grew up,” Sanders said in closing.

Article by Christie Renick, Managing Editor, Fostering Media Connections and The Chronicle of Social Change.

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