The Daunting Search for L.A.’s Next Child Services Director

The search is on for a new director at Los Angeles’ Department of Children and Family Services. As of Feb. 1, the nation’s largest child protection agency is without a permanent chief, thanks to the retirement of Philip Browning.

Whoever eventually replaces Browning will have his or her work cut out for them. The department is still reeling from the 2013 death of eight-year-old Palmdale boy Gabriel Fernandez. Four DCFS employees have been criminally charged for covering up abuse by his mother and her boyfriend in that case. In addition, just days before Browning left, the county announced that a glitch in the agency’s new computer system resulted in hundreds of missed payments to foster care parents, group homes and other individuals reliant on public assistance.

Right now, Brandon Nichols is in charge of the agency. He served as chief deputy director under Browning, who took over in 2011. At the time, DCFS had already gone through two directors in nine months.

“It’s quite a job,” said Martha Matthews, directing attorney of the Children’s Rights Project at Public Counsel. “There’s probably less than 20 people in the country who could really do it well, and those people already have jobs, so I don’t envy whoever’s on the search committee.”