Social workers charged for horrific negligence of 8 year old
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Four Los Angeles County social workers may stand trial for child abuse and other charges for failing to prevent the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in 2013. Last Monday, Superior Court Judge Mary Lou Villar declared there were too many obvious “red flags” and ruled there is enough evidence to move forward with the trial, LA Times reports.
The prosecutors accusing the social workers of this negligence claim they overlooked or simply missed many signs pointing to escalating abuse and should have removed Gabriel from his dangerous living situation.
In September 2012, Gabriel’s first-grade teacher noticed a bruise on his face and alerted social services. She spoke with one of the four social workers accused. A few months later Gabriel face looked swollen and full of pockmarks.
At first Gabriel claimed he fell but he later admitted his mother shot him in the face with a BB gun. He showed up to school with bruises enough to once ask his teacher, “Can I call that lady?” referring to the social worker. His teacher called in every sign and but at one point began to worry that nothing was happening. In May 2013, paramedics found Gabriel naked and not breathing in his home. His bones were broken, teeth knocked out, and he had BB pellets shot deep into his lung and groin.
The social workers in question gave three main defenses, claiming they have too large a workload; did what they were supposed to do; and can equally blame other social workers, mandated reporters, and the sheriff’s department. Once a security guard reported burn marks from a cigarette on Gabriel’s face to the sheriff’s department and they responded, “a child being burned is not an emergency,” according to the LA Times.
Though cases of this nature occasionally arise, most are thrown out in the earliest stages, with only a few outliers reaching court. Many in the social work industry fear a conviction could have negative effects on the profession. Rebecca Gonzales of the National Association of Social Workers worries that a guilty verdict could lead to decreased interest resulting in fewer applicants into the already understaffed field, according to the The Washington Post.
Others also feel, however, that a conviction could send a message of accountability to the social workers’ community. Former child-abuse prosecutor David LaBahn told the Washington Post a conviction could make social workers “do a better job.”