Sunday, January 15, 2012

Monterey County: Grand jury report criticizes welfare oversight

Panel says child abuse apparently underreported
-by JULIA REYNOLDS, Herald Staff Writer
Declaring child rape and abuse cases are "apparently" underreported by county medical and social workers, the Monterey County civil grand jury blasted local welfare and food stamp programs.

The 2011 jury's report released Monday suggests that local welfare eligibility workers may have failed to report suspected child abuse when they provided "pregnancy services" to girls under age 14.

"They misunderstood the law," said Elliot Robinson, the county's director of Social Services.

He said a chart listing several instances of pregnancy services rendered to girls under age 14 does not necessarily mean those girls were pregnant.

"Pregnancy related services can mean family planning. They might want to know about contraception." he said.

He said the decision as to whether a girl under age 14 has been subject to rape or child abuse should be made by medical professionals.

"Teen pregnancy is not a healthy thing. But the law is clear that when it comes to mandated reporting (of possible abuse), it's a clinical judgment," he said. In contrast, the role of benefit workers "is to ensure that minors get the prevention and intervention treatment they need and can do so with confidentiality."

The civil grand jury is empaneled every year by the courts to investigate local governments. It can make recommendations, but has no enforcement power.

Robinson agreed with the grand jury's conclusion that banks are profiting from exorbitant ATM fees for electronics benefits transfer cards that are used to distribute food stamps-type funds as well as cash assistance.

The report noted that EBT cards can be used to withdraw cash at questionable locations around the county, including "high-end hotels and clothing stores" and the Monterey County Race Place, an off-track betting facility at the Monterey fairgrounds.

Although it described no incidents of violations, the report hinted at possible increases in welfare fraud because, it said, state and local agencies have been encouraging more people to apply for welfare benefits and EBT cards.

"There are active efforts to reach out and recruit applicants for the benefits programs and eligibility workers are encouraged to be proactive in helping applicants qualify for benefits in these programs," the report said. "This raises the possibility of some applications being fraudulent."

The report tersely recommended that staff members in the local community benefits office "should do more than efficiently process applications and hand out brochures."

Fernando Elizondo, a retired school administrator and chairman of the grand jury, said he wasn't a member of the grand jury committee that focused in detail on electronic welfare benefits and minors receiving medical services.

But he said concerns were warranted about potential fraud and the lack of parental notification to minors receiving pregnancy services. More training may be needed for employees, he said, and the district attorney and Board of Supervisors should look into the grand jury's concerns about fraud.

Elizondo said the panel started with 26 members and alternates, but finished the one-year term with 13 members.

"The faithful 13 I called them," he said, during ceremonies where the new 2012 grand jury was sworn in Monday afternoon.

Given the attrition, Elizondo said he believed the grand jury performed a good job, producing four reports and two of them with recommendations and findings.

"I'm very proud of what we accomplished," he said.

The areas of focus were generated by public complaints and from jurors themselves, he said.

The grand jury found that, overall, local government agencies from school to special districts were dealing with budget cutbacks, but still providing services to the public.

"We found those folks were fiscally responsible," he said.

In a section investigating salaries and benefits paid to employees and board members in special districts, grand jurors surveyed 35 districts, and got answers from 29.

Among the six districts reported as not responding were three Greenfield special districts, two from Spreckels and one in San Ardo.

The grand jury wrote that its investigation into special district boards began after The Herald reported high salaries in two districts.

Grand jurors included results of the surveys so that residents can "consider whether compensation and benefits ... provided by special districts are appropriate."

The survey results show that many small districts pay little or no compensation for vital services, the report said.

The grand jury also commented on deputy overtime at the county jail, giving the example of a deputy who worked 124 hours of overtime in August.

Responses to various findings are required from the sheriff, social services department and Board of Supervisors.

No response was required for investigations into special district salaries and use of a Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District parcel tax for which no problems were found.

Julia Reynolds can be reached at 648-1187 or

Herald staff writer Larry Parsons contributed to this story.

2011 Monterey County Civil Grand Jury Report


ayurvedic remedies said...

I believe in that child sexual assault and mistreatment cases are only handled by firm administration.

get rid of snoring said...

The administration should be given more interest such kinds of area.