L.A. County Social Workers Demand Real Indictment in DCFS

D.A. Lacey’s Criminal Charges in the Gabriel Fernandez Case Increase the Risk to Children and Ignore the Root of the Problem 


Los Angeles – The following is a statement on behalf of SEIU Local 721 President Bob Schoonover, in response to the Criminal Charges Filed by the District Attorney Jackie Lacey Against Social Worker Gregory Merritt:

Justice in the tragic death of Gabriel Fernandez is not served by criminalizing social work. In 2013, thousands LA County Social Workers went on strike to sound the alarm on the startling high caseloads and the severe understaffing plaguing all LA County DCFS offices. Social workers warned then, and continue to warn now, that without immediate and drastic action from DCFS, the safety of the most vulnerable children and families is at risk.

In fact the very circumstances that led to Gabriel’s death are still largely in place today in the Palmdale office where DCFS top directors failed to appropriately assign caseloads and staff to respond to the Gabriel Fernandez case.

In just the last year, Social Workers in the Palmdale office have filed two separate group grievances against the DCFS leadership, once again sounding the alarm and demanding swift action on the overload of caseloads and workload that continue to keep children at risk. The Palmdale office also boasts one of County’s lowest staff retention rates as a direct result of consistently unsustainable high caseloads. However the systemic deficiencies go beyond one office, in July of 2015, social workers at the Lancaster office delivered a petition to Phillip Browning, Director of DCFS, asking he address the “urgent staffing, caseload and child safety concerns” citing the fact that Supervising Children Social Workers were exceeding departmental and federal best practices.

What is even more infuriating is that grievances from social workers, protesting the dangerous caseload limits go back prior to the death of Gabriel Fernandez. In June 2012 Social Workers filed a Group Grievance In General Character (known as a GGIC, the equivalent of a class action lawsuit on behalf of workers) demanding the caseload limit be immediately addressed in the emergency response unit. In August of 2012 and September of 2013 a neutral arbitrator found that DCFS consistently violated workload limits. Despite the arbitrator’s findings, the Department of Children and Family Services once again failed to fully remedy the situation. 

There is no doubt that justice should be sought in the death of Gabriel Fernandez, but it is unconscionable for Director Philip Browning to continually use individual social workers as scapegoats rather than address the real systemic issue head on. Social Workers throughout LA County will continue to stand together and united to change the system to truly deliver justice to Gabriel Fernandez, and the thousands of other children under the supervision of DCFS.


Categories: Los Angeles County

0 responses to “L.A. County Social Workers Demand Real Indictment in DCFS

  1. We must stand together and support our co-workers, as this could be any one of us. Even where caseloads are lower, there is never relief from the incessant demands of the detailed nature of our work. The to-do lists grow longer and longer but child safety must always remain our #1 priority. SEIU must continue to have our backs as some paperwork task doesn’t get done because we are taking more time in the field with our families.

  2. Yes you are absolutely right, in order to ensure child safety is #1 we must get to the root of the problem at DCFS. Please join us tomorrow at an emergency meeting both the LA Office or Lancaster office at 11AM