If you’re the type of person to stay in on a Friday night, then you’ve probably watched your fair share of documentaries. Many of the documentaries on Netflix right now pertain to some sort of criminal activity. Recently, I have watched “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.” This case pertains to an eight-year-old child who was tortured and beaten for eight months until his stepfather and mother beat him to death.
One of the main concerns surrounding the case was the involvement of Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) workers. Gabriel showed many signs that were blatantly ignored.
He often had black eyes, cigarette burns, bruises all over his body, and he even wrote a suicide note at one point. Somehow, the mother was able to talk to law enforcement and child services.
The prosecution of child services centered around four particular workers, even though there were probably more. One of the specific social workers neglected to do her job in the slightest.
Stefanie Rodriguez was a new social worker who was put on Gabriel’s case. Gabriel’s teacher at the time made multiple calls to the DCFS worker, yet nothing came of it.
When the house was visited, nothing was “found,” so nothing was done. On one occasion, the workers and police even told Gabriel that if he didn’t stop lying about what was going on, he would go to jail.
Other workers went to the home as well and failed to perform their normal duties, like body checks. DCFS workers have a body chart on which they are to mark where there are marks on the child. None were done.
One of the problems people point to surrounding why more wasn’t done is holding parents’ rights above the children. This is because the system is based on family preservation, meaning the goal is to keep the family intact no matter what.
Technically, the family is supposed to be kept together unless the child is in immediate danger, but that definition is very discretionary.
There is research that backs family preservation such as if a child stays with their biological family rather than being taken away, they are more likely to succeed. But how is a child more likely to succeed in an environment of abuse?
I am more so on the opposite side. I take a more realistic, or pessimistic, approach. I think that if people are habitually going back to abusive patterns, whether that is physical or drug abuse, they are not going to magically get better, especially in such a short amount of time.
I have seen children in very loving foster homes, children who are going to be adopted, given back to their birth parent who has not, in my opinion, been clean or “good” long enough.
Everybody has their issues they must deal with, but the child shouldn’t have to be privy to that. Of course, there is the opposite end of that spectrum. Many foster parents just want the government’s benefit money for taking care of a child and then discard the child after.
Gabriel’s own parents did that. When he was born, his mother immediately gave him to his uncles to raise him. After a few years, he was taken away from his uncles by his grandparents, and then eventually his mom got him back.
When she got him back, she went and filed for money, which was one of the places a security guard filled a report. Again, nothing was done about this report. The security guard was even questioned why he would report such a thing.
The people throughout Gabriel’s life who reported his abuse were constantly questioned. I think this brings light to the question of whether or not people are doing their jobs correctly.
Of course, not everyone does poorly or misbehaves at their job, but this case really called into question how well DCFS functions. Since the case, the entity has tried to show the ways they have improved.
Many know that these workers have a high burnout rate and an even higher caseload, so one of their remedies has been to hire more people. I don’t think this is necessarily an adequate fix but taking steps in the right direction will hopefully improve the system and prevent such horrendous acts from happening again.