After taking the initial steps to fire four social workers who allegedly failed to protect an 8-year-old Palmdale boy from being tortured and killed, Los Angeles County on Thursday convened a blue-ribbon commission to expedite long-sought reforms in the Department of Children and Family Services and related county agencies.

"The focus is not to generate yet another report but to move forward with the business of reforms," county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas told the Commission on Child Protection. "We have a moral obligation, in my view, to stand up for the most vulnerable among us."

The commission voted Thursday to elect David Sanders as chairman. Currently the executive vice president for systems improvement at Casey Family Services, the nation's largest foundation for providing and improving foster care, Sanders previously served as director of DCFS and is the only head in recent years who left without being forced out.

The commission -- 10 members appointed by the Board of Supervisors -- has a six-month deadline to wade through hundreds of child-protection recommendations made over the decades to DCFS and other agencies and determine why many of those reforms have not been implemented.

"It's a daunting task," admitted commission member Andrea Rich, who previously served as president of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and vice chancellor of UCLA.


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"It's a sprint," said Alliance for Children's Rights founding board member Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, who will serve as the commission's vice chair alongside retired federal judge Dickran Tevrizian.

Several parents and child advocates attended the Thursday's meeting to complain about DCFS and to plead for change.

"I'm here because we've been victims of domestic violence for the past 13 years," said Vivian Miranda. "We currently have an open investigation with DCFS right now, and nothing is being done to help us. My family's in danger. My children are at stake."

Alicia Devore, a former foster parent, did not mince words when describing the agency. "It's like putting a toe in a septic tank when working with DCFS in L.A. County," she said. "I'm sad to say I can't get other foster families to come aboard, because when you get to this system everything gets messed up."

DCFS Director Philip Browning did not participate in the meeting, but issued a statement, saying, "I believe that the Blue Ribbon Commission can be a valuable set of new eyes to help DCFS identify ways to improve services and increase safety for the children and families we serve."

"We plan to cooperate fully with the Blue Ribbon Commission and will assist in every way we can," Browning added.

Eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez died in May. DCFS records show social workers received several complaints that the boy was being abused but deemed them unfounded. His mother's live-in boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, admitted to injuring the child, while Pearl Fernandez was allegedly in the house and did nothing to defend the boy. Both have been charged with capital murder with a special circumstance of torture.

A child-advocacy group called Americans Demand CPS (Child Protective Services) Reform, held a rally Thursday to demand that, in addition to losing their jobs, the social workers who handled Fernandez's case be charged with aiding and abetting in the abuse that led to his death.

"Official documents show that the day Gabriel died, he had a fractured skull, three broken ribs, BB pellets embedded in his chest and groin, cigarette burns on his skin and teeth knocked out of his mouth," the group said in a news release. "DCFS documents show a broad pattern of horrifying child abuse missed by the system until the Palmdale boy was finally killed."

christina.villacorte@dailynews.com
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