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Hotline Calls Are Down At The LA County Department Charged With Keeping Kids Safe

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Los Angeles County — where courts are suspended through April 16 for all non-emergency and non-essential matters — has the largest child welfare system in the country.

Right now, Department of Children and Family Services leaders say they are fully staffed and continuing in-home visits, placements and removals, while also assessing what in-person contact is absolutely necessary. The department is also providing protective gear to staff.

"Much of the work that we do is emergency basis, and that means that we have to appear at the home unannounced," Bobby Cagle, the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, says. "When we do that, we try to equip those workers first with the kind of masks, eye protection, gloves and gowns that they need" in the event that they encounter a family member who is, or could be, sick, he says.

HOTLINE CALLS ARE DOWN

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(Screenshot from dcfs.lacounty.gov)

Cagle is managing a system of some 9,000 staff who serve about 34,000 children at any given time.

"The work of child protection is a 24-hour a day, seven days a week endeavor across our country," Cagle says. "And just like police protection and fire protection, our services continue throughout the crisis and the social distancing."

But the same isolation that is supposed to keep people healthy could also be detrimental for a child who is being mistreated. Calls to the system's hotline are down and Cagle says that's because schools are closed and teachers and school staff, who normally have an eye out for alleged abuse, aren't seeing kids. So Cagle is calling on the public to watch for signs of abuse and neglect and to call the Child Protection Hotline.


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Toll-free within California: (800) 540-4000
Outside of California: (213) 639-4500
TDD [hearing impaired]: (800) 272-6699

The Hotline is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Read the FAQ on changes in the department's due to the coronavirus pandemic


"I very strongly encourage the public to remain vigilant about the safety of children in families," he says. "This is a time of increased stress and we know from the work that we do that this can also cause an uptick in maltreatment of children. And so we want to be very much on the watch for that."

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For now, Cagle says he has the staff and equipment he needs to keep going, but that this is just the beginning. Protective gear will need to be replenished and he's expecting that staffing will also drop significantly if this is a long-term pandemic.

"There may be a time where we have to begin to do contact based upon risk to children and families. Taking the most risky ones first," he says. "Thankfully, we're not there at this point."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.