CREATE A CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE TO OVERSEE
THE LOS ANGELES DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES
We demand that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors take immediate action to prevent children and families from becoming involved with the Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS), and end the practice of family separation by establishing an independent civilian oversight committee in the form of a County Oversight Commission led by people who have lived experience with DCFS, as outlined below.
The DCFS Oversight Commission shall have authority to allocate funding to community-based-and-run family preservation-oriented programs that support parents’ ability to best care for their own families and avoid involvement in the system (including raising awareness about Prevention and Aftercare Networks, connecting them to housing, legal aid, employment opportunities and economic resources). This commission will differ from existing commissions, such as the Commission for Children & Families, in that the body of commissioners will be composed solely of individuals who have been directly impacted by DCFS, including parents and caregivers.
WHAT IS A CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE?
A Civilian Oversight Committee is an investigatory body that is independent of local government and instead made up of local community members with the power to oversee a government agency. For example, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors has previously created the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, as well as the Probation Oversight Commission.(1)
Such committees or commissions can have a range of different oversight authority such as investigatory powers, the ability to make policy changes, the power to allocate funding, and the ability to take other actions to ensure government transparency and accountability. Oftentimes, government officials, their staff, or government agency personnel are not permitted to sit on a Civilian Oversight Committee.
WHY IS A CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE NEEDED TO OVERSEE THE LOS ANGELES DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES?
A Civilian Oversight Committee is necessary to provide independent oversight for the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and to ensure families are being heard and protected in Los Angeles county. There are tens of thousands of children under the surveillance of DCFS, and data shows that Black families are disproportionately targeted by the system.(2) While only 7.5% of Los Angeles County’s population, Black children are 27.8% of those young people in the custody of DCFS.(3) Recent data also indicates that over 58% of Black children in Los Angeles will be subjects of a DCFS investigation before they are 18.(4)
Currently, there are few ways for families impacted by this system and the public to ensure transparency and accountability. Many parents absorbed into the system are not informed of their rights and no effective complaint process exists against social workers, their supervisors, or their Area Regional Administrators. Rather, existing processes either permit DCFS to investigate itself or involve other conflicts of interest. For example, the Dependency Investigator works closely with the social workers they are also tasked with investigating. Such conflicts lead to lack of accountability for social worker misconduct such as false reporting. There is also no centralized system for determining whether a social worker has had complaints filed against them in the past.
There is also little room for impacted families and the public to advocate for those resources families need most. Currently, the majority of children in the system are under DCFS custody because of their family’s socioeconomic status and inability to access resources. Rather than punish families for being poor, the system should provide them with the resources they need to stay together such as access to housing, food, and other services families may need. An oversight committee would assist with ensuring families have true access to community-based services if they want them.
WHAT SHOULD A CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE OVERSEEING THE LOS ANGELES DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES DO?
A Civilian Oversight Committee would oversee DCFS, hold it responsible for its actions, and ensure families are truly supported. Such a committee should also have authority to oversee DCFS in relation to how its policies and decisions intersect with Children’s Court and/or Family Court. Such a Committee’s responsibilities and powers should include, but not be limited to:
Accountability & Transparency
A Civilian Oversight Committee should be a completely independent body housed outside DCFS led by people who have lived experience within the system. Such lived experience backgrounds should include parents, youth, relative caregivers, survivors of domestic violence and intimate partner violence, and Black and Indigenous people.
A Civilian Oversight Committee should receive regular mandatory reports from DCFS senior management and decisionmakers, have the power to ask questions, and have access to both confidential and non-confidential information relating to the running of the department.
A Civilian Oversight Committee should have the independent power to investigate any issues brought to its attention by the public or within DCFS itself as it chooses. Such power should include the right to subpoena witnesses, access records, and to request data.
A Civilian Oversight Committee should oversee an independent complaint process. Such a process should handle and investigate complaints from the public and/or DCFS employees, related to government services for children and families.The Committee should have the power to hire an independent investigator when necessary.
A Civilian Oversight Committee business and meetings should be accessible to the general public.
A Civilian Oversight Committee should have authority to adopt and change policies and procedures overseeing DCFS in order to protect the interests and rights of children and families, to stop the targeting of Black and Indigenous families, and to end the welfare-to-prison pipeline.
A Civilian Oversight Committee should have authority to create programs that provide alternative and more direct community-based resources to families, such as affordable housing, universal basic income, access to fresh food, utility assistance, free childcare, and other similar resources.
A Civilian Oversight Committee should also have the authority to review DCFS spending and allocate funding to community-based and community-run family preservation- oriented programs that support parents’ ability to best care for their families and avoid involvement in the system (including, e.g.,raising awareness about prevention and aftercare networks, connecting to housing, legal aid, employment opportunities, and economic resources).
A Civilian Oversight Committee should have the authority to commission research or studies, including for example to identify resources for families and children impacted by the system, and initiate pilot programs.
A primary goal of a Civilian Oversight Committee should be to create stronger communities and heal generational trauma resulting from being impacted by this system.
WE ARE ASKING THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS TO:
Create a Civilian Oversight Committee to oversee the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services. Such a Committee must be represented by people with lived experience in the “child welfare” and foster care system, who are paid for their time and expertise. The mission of such a Civilian Oversight Commission is to provide oversight and transparency for DCFS and to identify and implement alternatives to better serve families and the community of Los Angeles. Such a commission must have:
Access to regular reports from DCFS:
An independent complaint process;
Public meetings accessible to the community;
The ability to review and allocate DCFS funding;
The power to initiate research and studies.