From staff and wire reports:
MONTEBELLO — County mental health and child abuse investigators looking into an 11-year-old Montebello boy’s suicide threat said they didn’t learn key information about an abusive stepfather who answered the door at his house until after the boy is believed to have hanged himself, according to a report published Sunday.
The Department of Children and Family Services workers lacked key information on the boy because of communication difficulties at the agency, a newspaper reported.
On June 8, the workers visited the boy’s home in Montebello after he told a school counselor he wanted to kill himself.
The workers did not learn until after the suicide that the stepfather who answered the door had a history of drug abuse and domestic violence and that a court had barred him from living in the home. That information could have prompted officials to remove the boy from the home.
County workers had noted disheveled conditions, drugs, neglect and violence in the houses the boy had lived in since he was a baby. But the social worker who visited him with police officers did not have all of that information.
“This was a very difficult case, and we’re still trying to determine what happened,” Supervisor Gloria Molina said.
The death is among several recent incidents that underscore communication problems that have plagued the department due to lack of funding, unused technology and legal limitations.
The department in 2007 bought 2,400 tablet computers that would have made the information available to the workers by giving them access to the department’s entire database, but only 400 wireless cards to make the devices work.
Most of the tablets gather dust desks while workers use only their cell phones to connect with the office.
The county has worked to expand a database where different agencies can share information like the boy’s complete history, but efforts have stalled as state
legislators attempt to ease restrictions on what information can be shared.
On the day he hanged himself, the fifth-grader had spent the morning at school crying, telling the school counselor life was “unbearable.” He said classmates bullied him and his mother hit him while his stepfather held him down, county records showed.
The boy said he wanted to kill himself “because I’m tired of people hitting me all the time,” the records said.
The school counselor called the county Department of Mental Health and filed a child abuse report with the Department of Children and Family Services. He warned that the boy had threatened to shoot himself, and in the past had threatened to hang himself with a rope. The social worker who visited the home later that day was told of the gun warning and looked for one, but did not look for a rope.
When the social worker asked about the last time his mother struck him, the boy shrugged his shoulders, and said “no” when asked if he feared her. Records showed that the mother seemed concerned for the boy’s welfare that day, and authorities thought it was safe to leave the boy in the home.
The social worker also did not know that the stepfather had been limited to visits to the house, and did not look into whether he was living there.
The mother and other family members reportedly declined to comment on the death.
As his family gathered to watch the Lakers play in the NBA finals, the boy slipped into his mother’s bedroom and closed the door, county records showed.
When his mother went to call the boy for dinner, the stepfather heard a scream, and he walked into the room and found her holding the boy’s limp body in her arms.
Montebello police received a report of an attempted suicide about 9 p.m. in the 100 block of South 3rd Street, police and coroner’s officials said.
“An 11 year-old-male was found by family members unresponsive at their home in Montebello,” Montebello police Lt. Michael Bergman said shortly after the incident.
“It appears the 11-year-old attempted to take his own life by hanging himself,” he said.
The boy was taken to Long Beach Memorial Hospital where he died at 1 p.m. on June 10, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Investigator Daniel Machian said.
His official cause of death remained under investigation Sunday, Machian added. “The doctor ordered further toxicological studies.”
The coroner’s investigation would likely be completed in early August, he said.