Wednesday, August 6, 2014
(Marin County) Marin officials laud civil grand jury
August 6, 2014
By Nels Johnson
Two reports by citizens serving on Marin's civil grand jury got high marks from county officials who applauded the panel for a job well done.
The Board of Supervisors, which last month all but ignored a jury call for more security at the county airport, made a point of lingering over reports on special districts and on foster care this week, describing the jury's work as interesting, helpful and, for the most part, right on the money.
It was a rare case in which the administration and the county board endorsed all jury recommendations, aside from taking "partial" exception to an assertion that foster kids were not getting consistent therapy from licensed professionals.
Supervisors agreed with jury recommendations that officials need to pay more attention and allocate more funding to foster care programs, recruit more foster parents and improve staff communication with them.
The jury said a $5,000 budget for recruiting foster parents was inadequate and asserted communication involving social worker staff and parents needed improvement including "a protocol to return calls with 24 hours." Another $150,000 already has been allocated for improvements and calls are now returned within a day, county officials said.
In addition, the county Department of Health and Human Services should "budget sufficient funds to provide foster children with therapy by licensed clinical psychologists or therapists rather than relying predominantly on interns," the jury said. That, too, has been done, officials noted.
The number of children in the county foster care program fluctuates, rising from 79 in July 2012 to 101 during 2013. Last February, 91 children were in foster care.
"Though the numbers may appear small, their need is great," the jury said. "The challenge is the successful balancing of child safety with the preservation of families."
"Foster parenting is really important to our community," Supervisor Steve Kinsey said, asking officials for an annual report "on the progress we've been making" on foster care. "There's more for us to do than just respond to a grand jury report," he noted.
Supervisor Kate Sears said the jury report on foster care was "very good," and joined others in lauding a report on special districts as well.
"I really enjoyed reading it," Supervisor Judy Arnold said of the report indicating dozens of special districts get little attention in Marin even though taxpayers pay more than $160 million to fund them every year.
"It is remarkable that the decisions made regularly by special district boards are not on the radar screens of most taxpayers," the jury said. "Citizens seldom attend board meetings and media coverage is infrequent at best." Result: Costly debacles that have rocked special agencies ranging from the Novato Fire Protection District to the Ross Valley Sanitary District.
The jury found that a complete list of all the districts "did not exist" until it launched its inquiry, and the county agreed to list all districts, along with contact information, on its website as urged by the panel.
County Administrator Matthew Hymel observed that the day marked an "occasion in which we agree with the grand jury."