A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is a documentary series. It chronicles the Los Angeles District Attorney's office's quest to seek justice on behalf of a little boy who was abused, tortured, and murdered at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend. Expect to see graphic photographs of the injuries the boy sustained over a prolonged period of abuse and hear detailed descriptions of what he endured. There's also cursing (including "f--k," "bulls--t," and more), references to sexuality and sexual gratification, references to drug use, and discussions of sexual assault. Please note that this show is based on a series of stories published in 2018 by Common Sense News, a project funded by Common Sense Media.
What's the story?
THE TRIALS OF GABRIEL FERNANDEZ is a six-part documentary series that chronicles the attempts to seek help, and subsequently justice, for an abused 8-year-old boy in Palmdale, California. On May 24, 2013, Gabriel Fernandez died as a result of multiple injuries -- including a cracked skull, broken ribs, and more -- at the hands of his mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, over an eight-month period. His death and the subsequent arrests received minimal media attention until an anonymous source released confidential documents from the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), revealing that, despite multiple notifications from family members and teachers, the abuse was overlooked or ignored by social workers. What follows is a seven-year process during which the L.A. District Attorney's office seeks to convict Fernandez's mother, Aquirre, and -- for the first time in judicial history -- the social workers involved in the case. Interviews with emergency responders, law enforcement officials, journalists, lawyers, teachers, friends, and family offer details about what happened to Fernandez and the efforts made to stop it. Extensive archival footage of court proceedings and dramatic reenactments of events also provide additional information. DCFS representatives, including some of the social workers involved, are also interviewed.
Is it any good?
This heartrending series documents harrowing details of the abuse sustained by Gabriel Fernandez and what followed. But The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez centers on the trial proceedings, focusing more on what happened to Fernandez rather than deeply exploring the various complicated reasons why. The backstories of the key people in Fernandez's short life -- including his mother, her boyfriend, and his late uncle, who raised Fernandez with his partner until Pearl Fernandez and Isauro Aguirre removed him from their home -- are fragmented and glossed over. Interviews reveal homophobia and sexual gratification as potential reasons for Fernandez's torture, but these conversations are also speculative and aren't fleshed out in any extensive manner.
That said, the documentary successfully points to a broken system that allows cases like these to slip through the cracks. Discussions on that aspect are more contemplative, raising questions about how much blame should be placed on the four social workers who were tried for Fernandez's death and noting the guidelines that social workers must follow when determining whether children should be removed from a home. The politics surrounding the management of the LA DCFS and the administrative problems within it are also underscored. Overall, The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is a difficult series to watch and no doubt will elicit strong, emotional reactions among those who do. It is, in part, a memorial for Fernandez, whose life was important and valuable. But it also shows how much needs to be done at the personal, administrative, and political level to stop child abuse.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages that The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez sends about the way child abuse cases are handled by social services agencies. Do you think anyone will be less likely to report their concerns to social services as a result? Or will people be more motivated to try to change the system?
Who should you tell if you suspect or witness a child being abused? Can you go to a teacher? Call the police? Talk about resources and ways to safely report abuse.
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