Could ‘Gabriel’s Law’ Help Prevent Another Senseless Child Death?
The death and torture of eight-year-old Palmdale boy Gabriel Fernandez is one of the most horrific in recent memory. It wasn’t just what his mother and her boyfriend did to him that shook us (the details of Gabriel’s ordeal are ghastly and will not be recounted here). It’s that L.A. County social workers -- the very people we trust and employ to ensure child welfare -- created an environment that allowed it to happen.
The Lancaster City Council has unanimously directed its city attorney to draft an ordinance, which the council members call “Gabriel’s Law,” for an upcoming vote. Named after Gabriel Fernandez, the 8-year-old boy who died in 2013 in Palmdale after being tortured to death, the ordinance would make it mandatory for Los Angeles County’s social workers to digitally record visits made to homes within the Lancaster community.
The effort is being led by Lancaster Councilwoman Angela Underwood-Jacobs with the support of Mayor R. Rex Parris. It aims to prevent another situation in which social workers turn a blind eye to evidence of child abuse -- or, in Gabriel’s case, allegedly falsify records. The hope is that it would be adopted by other cities, eventually spreading throughout the county.
Acting Director Brandon Nichols responded to Lancaster’s motion by noting that all calls to DCFS are recorded. Visits, he added, are well documented per department policy. Some members of the department also complained that the policy would increase paperwork and bureaucracy, reducing the effectiveness of some of the reforms made since Gabriel’s death.
It’s not clear whether a law mandating the recording of actual interviews would pass legal muster. The legality is one of the aspects city staff will be looking at in the coming weeks.