Opening the state's dependency courts is an idea that has been gaining momentum in recent years. Michael Nash, the presiding judge of Los Angeles County Juvenile Court, is a stalwart supporter, and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, which once opposed it, now favors it as well. Public employee unions, whose members might be subjected to greater scrutiny, remain wary, but they should come to see that public proceedings will help instill public confidence. Witness the case of police officers who once flinched at putting cameras in patrol cars: Today, those cameras are widely regarded as protecting good officers from false accusations. So too would open proceedings protect those social workers who deserve it.
Feuer has devoted himself to finding solutions to problems that can be addressed without new spending; the state's finances make that imperative. He's succeeded with this bill, which involves no cost to taxpayers. "Opening these proceedings to public scrutiny," he said this week, "will promote needed reforms and help safeguard children by making everyone in the system more accountable." That is true and overdue.
He gets my vote on this issue. As someone who has recently been subjected to the "dependency courts" and how they operate, it is a conundrum when compared to other aspects of the legal profession. Everything is out in the open, except in dependency courts, where shrouding everything in secrecy prohibits even cursory reviews of the propriety of DCFS' actions! My case alone has so many mistakes it makes my head spin. And as for accountability, there is none, unless (as many have urged me to do) I file suit against the agency for the poor management of the case.
From my own experience, Los Angeles County DCFS workers are not held accountable in any fashion, rightly or wrongly. The autonomy afforded these workers makes many of the ones I came into contact with act like lords over a kingdom, and we are their serfs. They even go so far as to prod you to just lie and admit to an abuse that did not occur, they try to force you to take their appointed attorney (kind of like a public defender in a criminal action), and in my case I was actually told by one social worker that it would go a long way in my daughter's case if I just simply convinced her to accept the charges. When we said no, and told them we had our own lawyers, their prejudice against me was obvious. I was denied, without proper cause, the ability to take my grandson home, even though the eventual family (after they placed the kid into a non-English speaking foster home for a week) that was appointed as the temporary home pending trial, was in a weaker position than I with regard to the requirements for such placement. Even with regard to visitation, I have been thwarted at every angle from being allowed to have visits. It is as if my grandson dropped off the face of the earth because the host family has refused to allow me to even call my grandson to talk with him. And here, I'm not even the accused! I've not been charged with anything! On the other hand, the presumptive father who has had very little to do with the child in question, was given "temporary custody" in order to make decisions on behalf of the child, and this despite the fact that HE is also an accused in this action. It boggles the mind how these people can get away with such atrocities, and I applaud assemblyman Feuer in his quest to open up dependency court hearings to the public.
Read the article in full. It's short, but to the point.