Monday, October 25, 2010

Foster care in L.A.: What planet are they on?

            It’s been a standard feature of science fiction films and television series at least since The Twilight Zone: the plot involving the “parallel universe” – with the planet that looks just like Earth populated with counterparts to ourselves, but where things are just a little different.  There’s even a standard visual cue: Blimps as a common means of transportation.

            I mention this because I’m beginning to wonder about Los Angeles.  In the Los Angeles I’m used to, the big newspaper in town is serious and sober, and in recent decades at least, known for careful, in-depth reporting that elevated the profession of journalism.  The politicians on the other hand … Well, let’s just say there’s a reason I’ve been referring to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors as “the B.S.”

            And it’s not just me.  Throughout the child welfare community, the Board of Supervisors has such a bad reputation that it’s getting harder and harder to get anyone any good to take the job of running the county Department of Children and Family Services.  (That may explain why Trish Ploehn still has that particular job.)

            But lately things have gotten weird.  The Los Angeles Times has started to read like the New York Post, as reporter Garrett Therolf continues his reckless crusade to force the county to take away more children, systematically omitting facts and voices that contradict his point of view.  David Simon, the former Baltimore Sun reporter who wrote The Wire has a great phrase for work like Therolf’s: “Pulitzer-sniffing.”

            And now, who should come forward with a smart, thoughtful op ed column, asking everyone to calm down and gather all the facts before jumping to conclusions?  Not one, but two of the five members of the Board of Supervisors.  They write:
Facts need to dictate how Los Angeles handles its most vulnerable children. Before we call for a major reversal in child welfare policy, one that could lead to a rush of children being taken from their parents prematurely, we need to honestly evaluate where we are today. Evidence, not emotion, needs to fuel the debate.
            One of the authors is Mark Ridley-Thomas.  He’s the newest member of the board, so his call for common sense and rationality could be chalked up to inexperience.  But he is joined by Michael Antonovich who, in the past, was one of the worst offenders.  They both deserve credit for taking an unpopular stand and risking the wrath of what still is the most powerful media voice in Southern California – assuming of course this is the real Los Angeles County.

            It probably is – but just in case, keep an eye out for blimps.

UPDATE: There's a smart, sensible post on all this from the blog But, happily, there is nothing unusual about that.