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DIRECTOR OF CHILD SERVICES RESIGNS UNDER PRESSURE.

Byline: Troy Anderson Staff Writer

Following widespread public and private complaints that she failed to act aggressively to turn around Los Angeles County's beleaguered child- protection bureaucracy, Anita M. Bock announced her resignation Wednesday as director of the Department of Children and Family Services.

The resignation came after the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in closed session Tuesday to ask her to resign, sources said.

This is the second time since 1999 that the head of the nation's biggest child-welfare office has been forced out.

Former DCFS Director Peter Digre resigned 1999 amid a spate of foster- child deaths and an investigation into his relationship with a foster mother accused of abusing children. The investigation failed to uncover any misconduct by Digre.

Bock, whose annual salary is $182,001, will get a $140,000 severance package. Her resignation will become effective Aug. 16.

Tuesday, the supervisors will vote whether to appoint Marjorie Kelly, former head of the state child welfare system under former Gov. Pete Wilson, as interim director of the department.

``I was brought in by the board to stabilize our child welfare system and to start some major reforms, and we have effectively done so,'' Bock said in a prepared statement, which noted that during her tenure the number of children in foster care has dropped and the number of adoptions rose from 1,823 in 1999 to 2,949 in 2001.

``I recognize that to be truly effective and successful as a system's reformer in an agency this large and complex, and with this many stakeholders, you need strong and unified board support. I wish the board success in finding a director who can successfully navigate the many complex issues facing the agency in a manner that compliments this board's management style and those of its many and diverse stakeholders.''

Amy Pellman, acting executive director of the Alliance for Children's Rights, said the supervisors, foster care advocates and many within the department had lost confidence in Bock's ability to reform and lead the agency.

``There have been too many children hurt and killed in foster care,'' Pellman said. ``There are too many children who are not getting adequate health care, who are not operating at or near their grade level, who are being unnecessarily overmedicated and who don't have a social worker that they trust and have confidence in.''

In recent months, the supervisors have become increasingly critical at board meetings of Bock's performance, asking for reports on backlogs in internal affairs investigations, unanswered calls at the child abuse hotline and more accurate reporting of foster child deaths.

In 2001, a total of 78 children under DCFS supervision died and the number of children killed by foster parents and relative caregivers reached an all-time high.

In February, federal officials announced plans to conduct a review of the system. In May, state lawmakers called for an audit of the state foster care system, focusing on Los Angeles County.

``I think (Bock) has done a credible job, but it's time for a change in leadership,'' said Supervisor Don Knabe, describing the department as plagued by low morale and limited resources. ``She has a passion for children and it's such a difficult job. I just think it was time for her to move on.''

Bock, 52, a single mother who was born in South Africa, worked as an executive at a construction company, as a lawyer and as a Burger King business-systems analyst before taking the job overseeing the foster care system in Florida from 1993 to 1999.

Bock came to Los Angeles County in December 1999 after she resigned under pressure as the head of the Miami area's children services department. Florida officials asked for her resignation after finding ``crisis'' conditions in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, including backlogs of child-abuse investigations and parental-rights termination cases.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said he wanted to know why the board hired Bock if they knew about her resignation in Florida.

``It's good they got rid of her,'' Coupal said. ``Getting rid of public employees is hard to do, but it's good that someone of questionable competency is gone. They need to hire somebody who knows what they are doing.''

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the board does not question Bock's passion for her job or the county's foster children.

``She is a very strong advocate for the kids and that's what attracted us to her in the first place,'' Yaroslavsky said. ``On that score, I think she has certainly lived up to her expectations. But we're looking to the future now. We've got a lot of challenges in that department and the board feels it's time for new leadership.''

County Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen said Bock is responsible for managing a foster care system with 70,000 children, 6,000 employees and a $1.1 billion budget.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said Bock's resignation gives the county an opportunity to find homes for foster children and develop programs for those being emancipated from the program at age 18, many of whom end up homeless, in prison or on welfare.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 4, 2002
Words:852
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