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I thought that after studying and writing about juvenile justice for more than 30 years nothing would shock me, that I had seen and heard everything. I was wrong. The title of a recent story in the Los Angeles Times gives a hint to what it is about: Flawed county system lets kids die invisibly.” 

The story begins with the death of 17-year-old Miguel Padilla, who had run away from a licensed group home” (Leroy Haynes Center in La Verne, CA) in April 2008. He didn’t get very far. Unknown to anyone at the time, the 17-year-old amputee made his way to a stand of trees near the main driveway. Using his one arm, he climbed into the branches, tied a makeshift noose to a limb and hanged himself.” He wasn’t found until 9 days later on the grounds of the center. The authors of the story then observe: Miguel Padilla died much as he had lived: alone and out of sight, his suicide the final step in a failed journey through Los Angeles County’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems.”

The story goes on to note that at least 268 children who had been through the vast child welfare system died between January, 2008 and the end of August, 2009. County records show that 213 died by unnatural or undetermined causes, including 76 homicides, 35 accidents and 16 suicides.” At least 18 deaths could be directly attributable to neglect or abuse by a caregiver.

The authors note that Miguel and many others perished all but invisibly, their deaths attracting little or no public scrutiny.”

Perished all but invisibly, their deaths attracting little or no scrutiny.” This is the byline of this blog.

The researchers at the Times went into great detail about a handful of the cases. Attached to the story was a chart that really startled me, although it should not have. The chart contained some detail from the Department of Children and Family Services’ internal log of 98 fatalities in 2009. Scrolling down the chart and reading some of these very brief narratives I noticed two things almost at once: some of the ages were listed as 0” and all but 9 of these children were minorities (almost all black or Latino).

No wonder they attracted little or no public scrutiny.”