L.A. County launching investigation into alleged abuse by Norwalk foster mom after 4-year-old ‘beaten into a coma’

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A boy relatives say was beaten and tortured while in L.A. County foster care is shown in a provided by family members on Nov. 8, 2021.

A boy relatives say was beaten and tortured while in L.A. County foster care is shown in a provided by family members on Nov. 8, 2021.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to conduct an investigation after a foster mother was charged with abusing a 4-year-old boy who was under her care in Norwalk.

On Oct. 28, L.A. County sheriff’s detectives responded to a home in the 14700 block of Pioneer Boulevard after a boy was gravely injured and admitted to a hospital’s intensive care unit, officials said in a news release.

The boy’s foster mother, Gabriela Casarez, 26, was arrested the next day on suspicion of child abuse.

She was later charged with one count of assault on a child becoming comatose/paralysis and two counts of child abuse under circumstances or conditions likely to cause great bodily injury or death.

Relatives of boy said the child had been tortured and “beaten into a coma” while in foster care, and demanded accountability.

On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to approve a motion authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn that directs the Office of Child Protection to investigate the alleged abuse. 

After the case involving 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, whose 2013 torture and murder in Palmdale sent shock waves throughout the country, the Board of Supervisors established the Office of Child Protection to improve the child welfare system.

Now, the county is faced answering questions about how another child’s care was handled, this time in Norwalk.

“This story is so appalling,” Hahn said during the meeting.

“Our Department of Child and Family Services was supposed to be protecting this little boy when we took him away from his family,” she said. “But if these allegations are true, we put him in the care of an abusive foster mother who hurt him so severely that he had to be hospitalized.”

It’s still unknown why the child was placed under the care of Casarez.

The investigation will review how the Department of Children and Family Services and other county agencies handled the child’s case.

It will look into the history of contacts with the family and conduct a review of the social workers who worked on this case, including how they addressed the family’s language and cultural barriers, according to the motion.

The investigation will also look for systemic issues.

“This is a good time to reimagine what it really does mean to protect a child in L.A. County,” Hahn said.

Hahn said the goal is to not only figure out what went wrong in the Norwalk incident, but also fix any problems in the system to make sure no other children are put in danger.

“What happened to this little boy and probably could have been prevented had we done a better job of assessing the young child and really understanding his cultural and linguistic abilities,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said.

During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, several callers, including from the Reimagine Child Safety Coalition, urged the county to take action to protect children, saying that the current policies can harm Indigenous families and other families of color.

A representative from Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo (CIELO), an Indigenous nonprofit in South Central, called for increasing language access for Indigenous families who don’t speak Spanish and are therefore denied access to services.

The nonprofit is concerned about whether language barriers may have played a role in the separation of the boy — who is of Indigenous Guatemalan descent — from his biological family, caller Odilia Romero of CIELO said during the meeting.

“It breaks my heart I don’t I don’t know when this cycle will end,” Solis said. “And I just pray that we can do everything we can in our power and I join you in that effort to see that we can, we do have to reimagine what the services look like, because it’s dysfunctional.”

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