END LAW ENFORCEMENT PARTNERSHIPS WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES (DCFS)
WHAT IS THE SCOPE OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DCFS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES?
Community variation in law enforcement partnerships with child welfare agencies plays a large role in determining how law enforcement and child welfare agencies work together and become involved in each other’s cases.(1) The relationships among Los Angeles County-based law enforcement agencies and DCFS are understudied, but some publicly available information exists about these collaborations and is listed below:
In California, police are mandated reporters—i.e., they shall make reports of suspected child abuse or neglect to child welfare agencies.(2)
DCFS workers are required to cooperate with law enforcement agencies any time police are concurrently investigating cases of child abuse. Their collaboration includes interviewing alleged victims of abuse and assisting in the gathering of evidence.(3) This includes interrogating children without their parents’ knowledge or permission.
Emergency DCFS workers have the discretion to call police anytime they are investigating a referral or when they decide to remove a child from their home.(4)
DCFS has executed Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with all law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County.
DCFS has executed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a number of law enforcement agencies to collaborate on Multi-Agency Response Teams (MART). MARTs are a partnership between police, DCFS and the Department of Mental Health (DMH) that conducts raids on families with children where someone in the
household is suspected of drug use, gang involvement, or trafficking.(5) MART teams are also called upon by government agencies to aid in abatement efforts that may result in families being evicted from their homes.(6)
DCFS has also executed MOUs with certain law enforcement agencies and the Probation Department to collaborate as part of the Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) Unit. This is a partnership between police, DCFS, and Probation to investigate missing youth or youth who have run away from placement.
The Interagency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN) is a partnership between DCFS, the LA County Sheriff's Department, LA County District Attorney, LA Community Child Abuse Councils, and First 5 LA. Through ICAN, these agencies share information about children and their families who have had criminal justice or DCFS contact, identifying these families as “at risk for abuse or neglect.”(7)
WHY LAW ENFORCEMENT PARTNERSHIPS WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES (DCFS) ARE HARMFUL
Law enforcement and DCFS collaborations do not keep our children or families safe. Law enforcement is systemically rooted in criminalization, racism, and anti-Black beliefs.(8) The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has also recognized that DCFS must confront and address its own foundations in racism and systemic inequality.(9) Encouraging collaborations between law enforcement agencies and DCFS creates lasting harms to children and families, especially in Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities where violence and family separation have been historically perpetuated by police and DCFS. Recent high-profile news stories about members of our community exemplify why removing children from their families expose children to danger and(10) show that law enforcement's connections with DCFS can endanger families.(11)
DCFS’s collaboration with law enforcement can dissuade people from reporting incidences of abuse or neglect, and collaboration between police and child welfare agencies is more likely to result in the allegations being substantiated by a court.(12) This is concerning because California law provides few protections to families who are contesting police statements in dependency court. Although police reports may become part of the official court record of the parents they interact with, there is no accountability for what they say, do, and write in the reports.(13) Hearsay rules do not apply to police officers in dependency court and therefore, police cannot be called as witnesses and cross-examined to determine if there are credibility issues or to challenge anything written in the reports.(14)
Racist policing tactics are infused into DCFS practices and court hearings. During MART raids, police and DCFS
interrogate and remove all children from the household, even if the children are with someone else whose
presence in the house was not the initial basis for the raid. Those parents are presumed guilty of child abuse or
neglect by association. Attorneys representing parents whose children were taken during MART raids report that when social workers and judges see MART in the court filings, it’s automatically assumed that the parents are guilty. Additionally, police and DCFS technologies work hand-in-hand to surveil families. The ICAN partnership contributes to biased database analytics that use classist, ableist, and racist lenses to “predict” harm.(15)
WE NEED TO END DCFS’S PARTNERSHIPS WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES IN LOS ANGELES COUNTY.
DECOUPLING LAW ENFORCEMENT FROM DCFS WILL CREATE FEWER OPPORTUNITIES FOR FAMILIES TO BE CAUGHT UP IN THE FAMILY REGULATION AND POLICING SYSTEMS.
WE ARE ASKING THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS TO:
End any existing MOUs and data sharing protocols between DCFS and all law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s (LASD) and Probation Departments.
Amend DCFS policies to end the requirement that law enforcement and DCFS conduct concurrent investigations in any instances of domestic or family violence.
Require LASD to draft a new mandated reporting policy that states deputies will not make mandated reports to DCFS unless a child is a victim of physical or sexual abuse, or being intentionally deprived of food, clothing, shelter, medical care or supervision.
End DCFS’s discretion to enter into agreements with law enforcement to conduct concurrent investigations, and limit emergency workers’ discretion to call police when they decide to remove a child from their home.
Divert any County funds that were used to fund partnerships between DCFS and law enforcement agencies away from the criminalization of our families and toward community-based organizations that provide prevention and family preservation services, prioritizing resources to communities and individuals impacted by domestic violence, racial discrimination, and poverty.
IN ORDER TO END THESE PARTNERSHIPS WITH DCFS, THE BOARD SHOULD TAKE THE FOLLOWING STEPS:
Conduct further investigation to accurately capture the full extent of the partnerships between DCFS and law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County, which should include:
Cataloging all MOUs between DCFS, LASD, Probation, and any other law enforcement agencies.
Requesting and obtaining all data and information sharing protocols between DCFS, LASD, Probation, and/or conducted via ICAN.
The Board should also ensure public access to all documents and data that are discovered in this process.
1. Theodore P. Cross et al., Criminal Investigations in Child Protective Services Cases: An Empirical Analysis, 20(2) Child Maltreatment 104-14 (2014). This community variation rests on a number of different factors, including: (1) statutes and policies on the definition of child neglect or abuse, cross-reporting, and joint investigations; (2) the quality of the interpersonal relationships between child welfare staff and law enforcement in a given community; (3) the discretion evicted child welfare staff and law enforcement exercise in collaborating on individual cases of alleged child abuse or neglect; and (4) whether law enforcement and the child welfare agency have a formalized relationship via MOU. This suggests that research about law enforcement relationships with child welfare agencies are complex, highly individualized, and regional in scope.
2. Cal. Penal Code §§ 11165.7, 11165.9.
3. Los Angeles Cty. Dep’t of Children & Family Servs., Emergency Response Referrals Alleging Abuse In Out-of-Home Care Regarding Children Who Are Under DCFS Supervision 0070-548.05, in Child Welfare Policy Manual (2021), 0070-548.05; Los Angeles Cty. Dep’t of Children & Family Servs., Concurrent Investigations with Law Enforcement 0070-547.13, in Child Welfare Policy Manual (2014), 0070-547.13.
4. See Concurrent Investigation, supra note 3.
5. Los Angeles Cty. Dep’t of Children & Family Servs., Specialized Programs, https://dcfs.lacounty.gov/about/what-we-do/dcfs-specialized-programs/ (last visited Dec. 15, 2021).
6. Los Angeles Cty. Dep’t of Children & Family Servs., Multi-Agency Response Team (MART) Referrals 0070-548.09, in Child Welfare Policy Manual (2021), 0070-548.13.
7. Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse & Neglect, Family and Children’s Index, https://www.ican4kids.org/family-and-children-s-index-fci (last visited Dec. 15, 2021).
8. See, e.g., this example; this example; this example.
9. See Reimagining Safety Health and Human Services for the County's Children and Families, L.A. Bd. of Supervisors (Nov. 24, 2020) (Motion of Hahn & Ridley-Thomas) http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/150797.pdf; Toward a Color-Blind Child Welfare System: Pilot Program for Safeguarding Against Racial Bias, L.A. Bd. of Supervisors (July 13, 2021) (Motion of Holly J. Mitchell) http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/159902.pdf
See Reimagining Safety Health and Human Services for the County's Children and Families, L.A. Bd. of Supervisors (Nov. 24, 2020) (Motion of Hahn & Ridley-Thomas) http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/150797.pdf; Toward a Color-Blind Child Welfare System: Pilot Program for Safeguarding Against Racial Bias, L.A. Bd. of Supervisors (July 13, 2021) (Motion of Holly J. Mitchell) http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/159902.pdf
10. Jaclyn Cosgrove, L.A. County to Investigate Alleged Abuse of 4-Year-Old By His Foster Mother, L.A. Times, Nov. 17, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-11-17/l-a-county-to-investigate-alleged-abuse-of-4-year-old-by-his-foster-mother
11. Black Lives Matter - Los Angeles, This is Not A Drill: Reimagine Child Safety, at 1:02:08-1:37:34 (Dec. 4, 2021 at 8:03AM) https://www.facebook.com/blmla/videos/722406582057685/ (description by Kayla Love and Khari Jones of an incident where a social worker and law enforcement officers entered their home, drew a gun, brought a battering ram, and detained Jones on the day of the birth of their child).
12. Frank Edwards, Family Surveillance: Police and the Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect, 5 Russell Sage Found. J. of the Soc. Scis., 50, 56 (2019).
13. See Cal. R. Ct. 5.546(b) (providing that petitioners must disclose police, arrest, and crime reports as part of discovery in dependency court).
14. See Cal. Welf. & Inst. § 355(c)(1)(C) (providing that hearsay from a police officer contained in a social worker’s report can be the basis of a dependency court’s jurisdiction).
15. See Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, Abolishing the Surveillance of Families 6 (2020) https://stoplapdspying.org/wp-
content/uploads/2020/10/LA-County-DCFS-Information-Sharing-Surveillance-Oct-2020.pdf (“[T]he Office of Child Protection utilizes racist, classist, and discriminatory algorithms to determine the risk of a family who interacts with DCFS of being re-reported for abuse, entering the foster care system, or dying at the hands of their caregivers.”)