Sunday, June 24, 2012

(San Joaquin) Grand jury faults child services

By Jennie Rodriguez-Moore
Record Staff Writer
June 24, 2012 12:00 AM

STOCKTON - Caseloads are high, employee morale is low and San Joaquin County's children "are at risk."

A grand jury review of county Child Welfare Services was critical Friday of the way the agency is managed and the outcomes experienced by children as a result.

The 2011-12 grand jury report said emergency response social workers were assigned caseloads higher than state averages and that worker complaints were ignored.

Grand jurors also determined that administrators excluded information about low morale and their disconnect with management in state reports.

Complaints against the Human Service Agency's Child Welfare Services allege social workers in the intake and assessment unit are overloaded with referrals, increasing safety risks for children.

Although the agency doesn't deny it is overburdened, it maintains that changes have addressed employee concerns.

According to the grand jury:

» Social worker referrals exceed state guidelines, which recommend a maximum of 13.03 or an ideal 9.88 referrals monthly for each worker.

» Only 40 to 50 percent of referrals are closed within the state's 30-day requirement period.

» Repeat referrals average 39.7 percent versus the state average of 31.4 percent.

» A lack of productive, two-way communication exists between employees and management, and social workers' efforts to improve dialogue are ignored, adding to low morale.

» There is no formal, in-house debriefing program to help workers cope with traumatizing incidents.

» Some information concerning employee attitudes and communication was removed from state reports.

John Greco, the county deputy director of Children's Services, said the county has been taking steps to improve services.

He said intake and assessment workers now average 13.2 referrals, a decrease from last year's 16.3 average.

"I'm not stating I'm OK with high caseloads," Greco said. At the same time, he said the county is mandated to care for the children, even amid budgetary restraints.

"It's not really a choice for our county any more than any other county," he said. "Most of the counties are in about the same boat as we are."

Greco is asking the Board of Supervisors for additional funds to hire more social workers.

In addition, Greco said he has initiated regular meetings with employees since taking the helm in 2011. He has an open-door policy, he said.

"I'm not refuting that it's good practice to have higher worker morale," Greco said. "I don't think any manager or myself is adverse to undergoing any more training"

He also said the department will look into establishing a debriefing program.

Contact reporter Jennie Rodriguez-Moore at (209) 943-8564 or Visit her blog at

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