The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services issued a statement Monday in response to a lawsuit brought by the mother of a 9-year-old boy who died in foster care in 2019, saying social workers are dedicated to avoiding such tragedies.
Maria Gamez brought the lawsuit last Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging wrongful death and negligence and seeking more than $50 million in damages for herself and her two other minor children, identified only as K.G. and A.G.
“At any given time, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services serves more than 36,000 children in Los Angeles County with an unwavering commitment to pursue child safety every day in our communities,” the DCFS statement read. “Our employees take that role very seriously and work hard to safeguard the children in our care.”
All DCFS employees are held “to the highest standards to ensure that the public trust in our service is honored and maintained,” according to the statement, which added, “We cannot comment on any pending claim, litigation or lawsuit involving the department at this time.”
The plaintiff’s son, James Gamez, had a history of chronic asthma, according to the suit. After his mother accused his father of infidelity, differences arose between the couple that escalated into Maria Gamez becoming a victim of spousal abuse, the suit alleges.
The DCFS improperly took custody of James and his siblings from Maria Gamez and gave them to their father’s brother and his wife, who became their foster parents, the suit alleges. Maria Gamez alleges the DCFS did not perform an adequate home inspection and criminal background check on the foster parents before placing the children with them at their Downey residence.
James was present at a party at his father’s Downey home on Nov. 16, 2019, where the father and foster parents disregarded his asthma and smoked around him, the suit alleges. The boy told his 15-year-old sister, K.G., that he did not feel well and started shaking and coughing, so the girl helped him with his inhaler medication, according to the suit.
James died Dec. 20, 2019, at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, according to the suit.
“When James died … each of the claimants became a complete wreck,” the suit states.
When the administration at the school James attended told Maria Gamez that there “appeared to be issues with (the boy’s) health and medication usage,” she contacted the county, which “disregarded the information and merely advised the mother to contact the foster parents,” the suit alleges.
Social workers should have protected her young son from his father and his foster parents’ alleged abuse and neglect, including their failure to address the child’s ongoing medical needs, the suit alleges.