Julian J. Dominquez Advises Parents How to Deal with the Broken System, Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services
by Susan Parker
Health Impact News
The Problem of “False Reporting” by DCFS Social Workers
The National Safe Child Show, hosted by Tammi Stefano, interviewed Julian J. Dominquez, the author of A Culture of Fear: An Inside Look at Los Angeles County’s Department of Children & Family Services by Sbpra Books.
Julian J. Dominquez, is a former social worker for LA County Child and Family Services. Jerry, as he requested to be addressed in the interview, recently left his career of 18 years with DCFS which included working as an emergency response worker, family maintenance and reunification worker and a dependency investigator. In addition, he created and conducts training for child welfare and other support agencies and is a licensed marriage and family therapist.
Tammi begins this interview by discussing “false reporting”:
False reporting is something that parents are up against. We know that it happens, what can the parents do, why does it happen?
Social workers aren’t allowed to include in reports their findings, things that they see and hear. A lot of times information that they determine based on their observations, based on their experience with the families is omitted or changed based on the instruction of a supervisor, administrator or manager.
He further states that:
Quite often positions are taken about parents and families by either a supervisor, administrator or manager dictate what actually goes in the report and especially the recommendations in a report.
He went on to say this happens 60 to 80 percent of the time. He also states that:
We have what I refer to in my book, A Culture of Fear, as ghost authors in many instances.
Ghost Authors are Supervisors and Administrators that Almost Never Meet with the Parents
You said something that really concerned me, most of the time the social worker writes one thing, but there is somebody at the office that intervenes and this ghost author intervenes and says no I don’t want this written, here’s what we’re going to write and here’s what you’re going to sign.
It happens all the time. During the course of my career I’ve been told, just like many of the social workers, what you can recommend and what you can’t recommend, what you can include and what you can’t include.
He also says that:
Intimidation is part of the culture and part of the experience of social workers, they are threatened with subordination if they do not go along with what they are being told to recommend or what they are being told to write in reports.
Ghost writers: who are they, what are their titles, where do they come from? And by ghost writers, I am referring to the individuals that instruct and order social workers to write, to omit, to recommend what they feel is appropriate, what they feel makes sense.
Ghost writers first of all, could be a supervisor, could be an administrator, could be a manager, it could be county counsel.
He also states:
The Ghost authors . . . almost in every case, never meet the families.
The following, Jerry pointed out, is a critically important point:
The people that are making decisions about the lives of our families in our communities, don’t have direct experience with the actual human beings themselves and this is the most disconcerting point about this whole practice. The social workers, the one’s that actually work with the families, meet the children, talk to the children privately, see the interaction between the children and the family members and most importantly the caretakers, the parents, often times their findings, their observations are marginalized, they are set aside. And they are substituted for that opinion by these ghost authors.
I want to just educate the listeners about the different levels or the different processes that we spoke about…
Jerry goes on to explain the process:
It starts with a hotline referral. A hotline referral comes in, there’s a screener. They’ll take the information that’s being shared to them, usually by an anonymous source and they’ll determine if that information is going to be categorized in one of four ways. It can be categorized as:
- An immediate referral (IR), which means seen by same day. That the information is so disconcerting such a high risk situation potentially that they need to be seen same day.
- The second category would be a five day referral, which literally means seen within five days, by the first responders that are called emergency response CSW’s.
- The third category is called see by, where they actually decide on a date certain that the children and the caretakers need to be seen.
- The fourth category is EO, evaluate out.
Parents are Being Labeled Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome When They Have Legitimate Medical Concerns for the Child
“I want to touch on Munchausen by Proxy,” said Tammi, “folks this is something is that as we know has touched many cases. Please explain to the listeners for those who haven’t been affected by this label.”
Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, also known as Child Abuse Practice, is something that we’ve seen often in the field. We’ve seen situations where families have been identified as having Munchausen by Proxy. Which is basically a situation where you have a caretaker or parent cause or fabricate symptoms in a child for personal needs or attention . . . and It is clear that the child does not have any underlying medical issues other than the symptoms, but the symptoms may be caused by the parent. A Munchausen by Proxy, when we have an authentic case, which actually is very rare, we can have a parent that will actually create and fabricate these symptoms putting the child at risk. We theorize that a parent is doing this for personal needs for attention and other issues, but too often a parent is labeled as having Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome when in fact they have legitimate concerns for a child, when in fact children for a variety of reasons require medical attention or have issues that they can’t explain themselves, but they have concerns about the wellbeing of the child.
Tammi exclaims that:
Your child is sick, you’re concerned, and you’re not the medical professional. Something is going on, whether mentally or physically. There are some symptoms that you are seeing that are not typical for your child’s behavior or actions, you’re going to take your child to the doctor.
Parents are Losing Their Children Because They are Asking for a Second Medical Opinion
Tammi goes on to say:
We know better to go and get second opinions. That’s the way that we should do things. Doctors are called practicing physicians, practicing folks, being the key word in this context. We absolutely need a second or third opinion. These parents are being penalized, they’re losing their children, they’re being labeled with this disorder that, are they even qualified to label? Let’s talk about that.
You cannot diagnose, you cannot confirm a condition like Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome without a pattern, an extended pattern over an extended period of a caretaker or parent that has taken their child not once, not three times, but have taken their child dozens of times over an extended period where there has been no medical finding.
Jerry, somebody brought something up, there was a mom in LA. She disclosed a disclosure of abuse. She was instructed to go to this hub to have her children looked at . . . they used her visit to this hub as a means to label once again, falsely, this Munchausen. She has had two children taken away and she has been fighting this battle for a year, year and a half. What can she do, what recourse do these people have?
She simply followed the instruction of the system that told her to go have her kids examined and then to have it used against her and to have it used as a basis to label her as having Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome is absolutely maddening and disturbing and unconscionable. It is ethically wrong, and we see that happen, where even if parents follow instruction it may eventually be used against them to build a case to substantiate allegations that are brought forth against the parents.
Jerry advises parents find their own mental health practitioner to get that second opinion that they can document and provide to the court.
Advice to Parents When Dealing with Social Workers: Record and Document Everything
Tammi next asks:
You brought up a great point and I want our listeners to really listen. We need to pass this advice out that Jerry is about to give. You said when the social worker comes and this whole process goes and you’re going to go to court, what should the parent do?
It’s really important that the parent understands how to navigate the system, especially when they go into court or when they talk to social workers. I would highly recommend that you record everything that you share with the social worker.
It is your right to have a recorder. You have to inform them and let them know that you are going to record it.
He also recommends documenting everything that happens; date, time, subject matter, and response from the social worker. When you go to court, this information needs to be provided in case you encounter reports or statements that are inconsistent with the facts and the truth.
Jerry Challenges Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services
Jerry challenges Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services to implement a policy:
That states any individual, ghost author or otherwise, that has any undue influence on a report or statements they must now sign and take responsibility, full responsibility, for whatever they instructed and ordered including information in the report and especially the recommendations. And they must allow the social worker to recuse themselves to remove themselves as the actual author if it does not reflect their findings and if they are not allowed to make recommendations based on their findings.
The Blue Ribbon Commission Concluded LA County DCFS is in a State of Emergency
Jerry talks about The Blue Ribbon Commission that took a year to audit and assess The Department of Children and Family Services. And in that year long audit:
They’ve concluded very simply, state of emergency. They state, and I quote, “One thing the commission is certain (is that) the children of Los Angeles County must be safer than they are at present. On our watch many of Los Angeles County most vulnerable children are unseen, unheard and unsafe.”
You said there has never been a request for an audit when it comes to foster parent funding, is that true?
We have never asked, demanded or expected an accounting of the funding they receive that supposedly, in theory, goes for the needs of the child.
Do Not Let DCFS into Your Home Without a Warrant
When a social worker knocks at the door, do our parents, any parent… are you forced to let them come in your home?
Parents can demand a warrant. You don’t have to let anyone into your home. You can say, do you have a warrant? You absolutely have the right to refuse. You absolutely have the right to demand a warrant, and examine the warrant.
Tammi then asks:
Once you let them through those doors, you wave your rights, is that true?
Once you let them in your door you do not wave your rights. Once they walk through that door you absolutely have all your rights (and) you can still ask for a warrant, you can still record what’s being said.
It is Very Important When Parents Go to Court to Not be Emotional
Jerry was explaining, not only record, but when you go into court, never be emotional.
This is an important point. Take normal reactions that a parent has, if any of us would have if we were in these situations. We take situations where the parent may be emoting or showing intense emotion, anger, fear, they are upset, they may be argumentative, they may appear irritable. These are all normal reactions when your child has been removed or you are afraid your child is going to be removed.
If you find yourself being overly emotional. If you find yourself emoting in court, becoming upset, angry, excessively tearful, oftentimes the system, the department will characterize that and pathologize that and may say there is something wrong with this parent, clearly they are unstable, clearly they may be irrational, clearly they are not appropriate to handle and take care of the welfare of a child.
Jerry makes a second challenge to the Los Angeles Department of Children Family Services:
I would like the department, I would challenge the department, to create a policy that says that anybody that has any influence in the decision of cases regarding family, concerning removal or reunification, that if they are going to have any part in that decision in any meaningful way, they must have the obligation (and) responsibility to meet the human beings first. To minimally meet the caretakers, meet the children and see them interact. For individuals to have that level of authority, influence and power over the lives of human beings without having any responsibility to meet the human beings is unconscionable, it doesn’t make sense, it is not logical and the outcomes are tragic.
We Have a Culture That is Driven by Fear and Crisis and Reasonable Efforts Fall to the Wayside
Tammi states that:
You said something yesterday when we were chatting, every effort should be made first and foremost to keep the family together.
The removal of the child should be the measure of last resort. The problem is we have a culture that is driven by fear and crisis and because it is driven by fear and crisis, we have situations where the legal responsibilities of reasonable efforts almost always fall by the wayside. We certainly do not make every effort to provide reasonable efforts before we remove.
Tammi states that they have only scratched the surface and they will have more interviews with Jerry. Jerry closes with a quote from The Blue Ribbon Commission:
Fear and liability preempts sound decision making by the county and DCFS. Protection of the county from perceived liability at times trumps protecting children. Likewise social worker decisions are influenced by fear and termination and liability. Fear drives the system. We have to tackle that Tammi.
Watch the entire interview:
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