The Los Angeles County Child Protection Agency is investigating the alleged abuse of a 4-year-old boy in Norwalk by his adoptive mother, the Supervisory Board ruled on Tuesday.
Foster mother, 26-year-old Gabriela Casares of Norwalk, was arrested on October 29 and pleaded not guilty to two counts of child abuse and one count of assault that resulted in a coma or paralysis after a boy named Andres F. was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries.
The investigation will focus on how the Department of Children and Family Affairs and other county agencies deal with the case, including the level of experience of social workers and how they addressed language and cultural barriers.
The Child Protection Agency was formed in 2015 following a public outcry over the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, whose mother and boyfriend were convicted of torture and murder. The office is independent of DCFS, reports directly to supervisors, and plays an oversight role in handling child deaths, recommending policy changes, and encouraging agency-to-agency collaboration.
It remains unclear why the Norwalk boy was placed in the care of Casares.
The boy and his biological mother speak the indigenous language of Guatemala, and social workers were unable to communicate effectively with the biological mother before the boy’s removal, raising questions about whether the language barrier contributed to his removal, his aunt said in a November 4 interview with freelance journalist Alberto Godines.
“This is a good time to rethink what child protection in Los Angeles County really means,” said supervisor Janice Khan, author of the investigation petition.
Observer Hilda Solis said the tragedy “could probably have been prevented if we had a better appreciation for the young child and truly understood his cultural and linguistic abilities and the lack of understanding among staff of what that means.”
In a statement Tuesday, DCFS said it “welcomes the involvement” of the Child Protection Agency.
“They are an important part of the system of checks and balances for the well-being of children in Los Angeles County, and learning from our practices and protocols can lead to significant changes that will improve safety and service delivery,” the statement said.
According to Odilia Romero, co-founder and CEO of Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo, which provides translators for indigenous languages, indigenous families from Latin America have suffered from the county’s child protection system on several occasions.
All too often, according to Romero, translators into Spanish are provided to indigenous speakers who misunderstand and misrepresent them in child protection and other situations.
Romero’s organization worked with the Los Angeles Police Department to develop language cards to identify Indigenous languages and provide translation assistance. She would like a similar effort to be made in the county agencies.
According to her, this is “not the first nor the last child” who may have been taken from the family in part due to the language barrier, accusing the district of “unwillingness to recognize that indigenous peoples from the south of the border live and exist in Los Angeles County. … … “