Emily Carranza and Gabriel Fernandez

(Ed. Note: This commentary  is in response to a Los Angeles county judge’s decision last week reversing the reinstatement of social worker Gregory Merritt. The judge ruled the county’s disciplinary appeals board made a series of errors in its decision to reinstate Merritt, a supervisor, and has sent the case back to the county’s civil service commission for a new hearing. Merritt is one of four social workers cited for not removing 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez from an abusive home. Fernandez was killed.)

I am satisfied with the decision of Gregory Merritt’s termination.

I pray that his actions will be a lesson learned.

When you take a job as a social worker, and work with children, you have to have an eagle’s eye and question everything.

When it was said that Gabriel was in Texas, it should have been followed up. When it was said the neighborhood kids caused Gabriel’s marks it should have  been documented.

These are crucial errors. Things Merritt should have had investigated, not close the file.

But this leaves other questions.

Even though Merritt was terminated for the second time, can he be rehired and working with children in a different county?

When will SEIU 721, the union that represents county social workers, stop making these negligent workers seem innocent?

It’s time to start making social workers wear body cams, just as law enforcement does.

Justice is needed for Gabriel, and all other children in the system. Merritt and his colleagues need to realize their errors, and plead guilty to child endangerment.

In order to bring changes into DCFS or any other child agency, we must continue to write letters to the board of supervisors, putting pressure on them, to let them know that we, as a community, are not going away.

More letters should be written to L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacy as well. We do not want a plea deal for the social workers who failed Gabriel and countless others.

I feel there should be a full investigation on past cases that were handled by Merritt, Stefanie Rodriguez, Kevin Bom, and Patricia Clement. If these social workers get a lighter sentence or charges dropped, then where is the justice for the children? For Gabriel? Would it mean they get their jobs back?

None of these four workers deserve to employed working with children.

It’s time that social workers start taking responsibility for their actions.  I understand the system is broken. This is why we encourage the board of supervisors to push for changes now.

The changes should be on the inside, starting at the top. From the superiors, supervisors, workers, and Even Mr. (Philip) Browning (director of the County’s Department of Children and Family Services).

They need to feel pressure to do their jobs, to be retrained to know the difference of discipline and child abuse.  To not twist or coerce what a child says to them, to not put words of their own as a child’s statement.

And listen to the teachers when calls are being made.

I can imagine how hard their jobs are, of having to remove children, and not showing emotions. But it does not excuse them for failing a child.

My respect is to the social workers who do their jobs, who take cases home and spend little time with their families. Thank you for a job well done.  

Please write letters to the board of supervisors, telling them about the kind of changes that can be or should be made. Make them hear our voices; after all, our votes gave them their positions.

It’s time for them to start working on their promises, and not be on their phones or talking amongst themselves when a public hearing is going on.  

We must continue the fight against child abuse, and corruption in the system.

Emily Carranza is Gabriel Fernandez’ cousin.  Following his death, she co-founded of the Facebook page “Gabriel’s Justice.” Fifth District Supervisor Michael Antonovich can be reached at Kenneth Hahn Hall, 500 West Temple First St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. DA Lacey can be reached at Hall of Justice, 211 W. Temple St. Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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