It wasn’t the first time that protestors had circled in front of the Department of Children and Family Services Building in Los Angeles. Nor was it the first time that a grieving grandmother asked, “Why?” the DCFS didn’t remove her grandson from his parents’ unsafe home, although there were complaints of abuse.
There is a sea of tears and regret here on Monday, July 14, that is too late. And another investigation underway because again, another young child — 4-year-old Noah Cuatro — is suspected of having been abused and is dead.
Amid protestors who chanted, “Justice for Noah,” Eva Hernandez, Noah’s great-grandmother, wearing sunglasses and visibly upset, cannot shake the memory of Noah begging to stay with her.
“He grabbed my leg, and asked, ‘why do I have to go back?’” she said.
Noah did have a history with DCFS, and when he was a toddler he spent time in foster care. Also for a time, under court order, Noah lived with his great-grandmother but he was returned back to his parents.
Two months ago, in May, there was a court order to remove him from his parents custody, but that order wasn’t carried out. A social worker had filed a request citing evidence of abuse. There were allegations that Noah had been sodomized.
“I just wish they would have listened to him,” Hernandez said. “He did say, ‘please don’t do this, don't send me back.’” She said that Noah once told her that an older brother was told to hit him.
On July 5, around 4 p.m., the parents reported a near drowning in their Palmdale swimming pool. But when Noah’s body was examined, his injuries raised suspicions about how he died.
Noah was first taken to Palmdale Regional Medical Center and then to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where he was pronounced dead the next day, July 6.
Noah’s death follows the deaths of two other Antelope Valley boys — 10-year-old Anthony Avalos of Lancaster in June 2018, and 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale in May 2013 — who were both found to have suffered severe abuse in cases that raised questions about the effectiveness of DFCS personnel and policies. Four DCFS social workers are still awaiting trial.
Sylmar resident Emily Carranza, a cousin of Gabriel Fernandez, is heartsick that the same tragic scenario appears to have happened again.
“When I look at the photo of little Noah, a baby boy whose life was taken much too soon, he reminds me of my cousin Gabriel and little Anthony Avalos, and all three had been under the protection of DCFS,” Carranza said. “The key word ‘protection,’ however…not one of these boys were ever protected from their abusers. DCFS once again failed an innocent child.”
Sheriff Alex Villanueva reported last week that Noah was living with his parents and three siblings. Those siblings were removed from their parents’ custody after news broke about the death of their brother.
Villanueva would not disclose the previous reports of abuse to DCFS and would only say that an investigation is underway.
At Monday’s protest, Attorney Brian Claypool questioned why DCFS didn’t act on the court order to remove Noah and he demanded to know why Noah's parents haven’t been arrested.
“It’s been two weeks since he died. When the medical examiner’s report comes out, it will show there wasn’t a drop of water in his lungs,“ Claypool said.
According to Claypool, a detective told Hernandez there was no water in Noah’s lungs and that he was bruised. “Whoever didn’t act at DCFS should be prosecuted.” he said.
As protestors stood in front of the DCFS building, members of the LA County Board of Supervisors who oversee the department met downtown and also questioned how this could have happened again.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger referenced a state audit released in May, which found that children are sometimes left in unsafe and abusive situations for months because social workers fail to consistently and quickly complete abuse and neglect investigations.
“The time for study and work group meetings is long past, and swift action is needed,” Barger said, calling for more social workers to lower employee caseloads.
She also focused on the completion of a web-based system to track the implementation of a host of recommended improvements to the department. In a preliminary response to state auditors, DCFS promised to roll out that tracking system by September and Barger said she expected the department to deliver.
“I’m beyond grief now, I’m angry,” Barger told managers.
Supervisor Janice Hahn hinted at some mistakes made.
“We didn’t get him out of that home in time and we should have,” Hahn said.
City News Service contributed to this report.