LOS ANGELES – The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday appointed retired juvenile court judge Michael Nash as director of its Office of Child Protection.
The vote was 4-1, with Supervisor Don Knabe dissenting, saying that “I have never believed that adding more levels of bureaucracy will solve the challenges we face or help us protect our most vulnerable children.”
The board had sought a director since it created the position in June 2014 at the urging of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection.
The commission was assembled in response to the 2013 beating death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale, whose abuse — allegedly at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend — was repeatedly reported to the Department of Children and Family Services.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who championed the Office of Child Protection along with then-supervisor Gloria Molina, called Nash’s appointment a “momentous occasion.”
“Judge Michael Nash has stood up for abused and neglected children throughout his career and even in his retirement,” Ridley-Thomas said. “I look forward to working with him in this new role to implement reforms needed to ensure the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable among us.”
Ridley-Thomas said the Office of Child Protection can work across departments to establish a better system of checks and balances and shared information to protect children.
He said the group had successfully launched a pilot program to pair social workers and nurses together and developed a data sharing agreement, among other accomplishments.
Nash served as a judge for 30 years, first in the municipal court and since 1990 in the county’s juvenile court, most recently as supervising judge of the Juvenile Dependency Court. Prior to his time on the bench, Nash was a state deputy attorney general.
He is credited with developing drug courts for juvenile offenders, creating protocols for the use of psychotropic medications for juvenile offenders and helping to establish Saturday court hearings for adoptions.
Nash told the board he was “humbled.”
“I pledge to you that I will give every bit of my being to make this a success,” Nash said.
In a statement following the vote, Knabe highlighted all that had been accomplished by the county’s child welfare agency since a broad call for reforms, including a revamped training program, a new approach to casework, and meeting or exceeding national standards in several areas of care.
“Despite all the drama and distractions of the past two years, the Department of Children and Family Services has continued to move forward,” Knabe said, and “has hired over 1,000 social workers, finalized 1,300 adoptions and reunited over 5,500 children with their families.”
Nash will take on the new role in January at a salary of $240,000.
Knabe said he hoped the new director would work with and support DCFS.
“I would be sorely disappointed if all we get are more reports and more unsolicited criticism. Our most vulnerable children deserve better,” he said.
Nash gave a hint to his priorities in an interview with The Chronicle for Social Change.
“Dead children were the catalyst for this whole process, OK, so that needs to be the initial focus in my opinion,” Nash told the Chronicle. [Read that article here.]