Antelope Valley under harsh spotlight for high rate of child abuse, detailed in new Los Angeles countywide report

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LOS ANGELES (KABC) — A new report details a pattern of child abuse and neglect cases happening in the Antelope Valley more frequently than in other parts of Southern California.

The desert communities have become notorious for several highly-publicized cases involving abuse and deaths of young children, including 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in 2013 in Palmdale, 10-year-old Anthony Avalos of Lancaster in 2018 and 4-year-old Noah Cuatro of Palmdale in 2019.

Data from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services show the Antelope Valley had the highest rate of child deaths of the county’s eight service areas from 2015 to 2023. DCFS reported 23 such cases during that period, for a rate of 21 cases per 100,000 children living in the region.

“The tragedies in the Antelope Valley reflect a critical need for community resources and a critical need for agencies to work together,” said Deanne Durfee, executive director of the Inter-agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect.

Durfee says her organization is teaming up with other agencies to target and stop child abuse. She says there needs to be more community outreach to prevent children from being abused or killed.

ICAN hosted its annual policy committee meeting in downtown Los Angeles, joined by law enforcement and other agencies, including Sheriff Robert Luna.

“I don’t want to see one of these (cases) again,” Luna said. “One is way too many. As you sit here through this meeting you’ll hear conversations – we’ll challenge each other and just make sure that we’re pushing each other to the point where we’re protecting every child in this county.”

ICAN says the aim is to focus more attention on getting DCFS and other agencies under one big tent to prevent more children from being abused or killed. The organization also says the crisis in childhood depression, drug use, mental illness and suicide must be addressed and solutions found.

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