That smiling face of little Gabriel Fernandez stays with you. The 8-year-old Antelope Valley boy was beaten and tortured to death, allegedly by his mother, and four Department of Children and Family Services social workers were fired.
There were numerous complaints about Gabriel to the Department, but for reasons that have yet to be fully explained, the case didn't get the kind of attention it apparently deserved. So I was thinking of Gabriel as I covered the work stoppage, the strike, the walk-off, of at least 1600 social workers today. They say they're overworked, and no doubt they are.
The Department's Director Philip Browning said they have hired more social workers and are hiring more, but the union strikers say it's not enough and not fast enough. Hiring a social worker is not easy.. usually they have masters degrees, and the training process takes about a year. Ideally each social worker would have a caseload in the low 20's, now it's about 31 on average.. the union targets 14, but Browning says that's based on outdated studies that don't take into account improvements in technology and communication .
It's likely the strikers will come to some agreement with the County, as they all have the same goal, of protecting children and preventing the next Gabriel from dying. Striking is an extreme action for people who say they love their jobs and are dedicated to protecting children, but history shows us sometimes dramatic action is necessary to get results.
In the meantime, managers are being pressed into action to cover the 24-hour Child Services hotline and handle emergency responses. Hopefully no one's hurt too badly until this is resolved. The DCFS does incredible work under difficult circumstances, with about 35, 000 kids in their care, vulnerable kids. So, we need to support them as best we can.