Saturday, July 23, 2016
[San Bernardino County] As child welfare agency scrutiny heightens, supervisors will review report
First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood says he and fellow board members will "collectively" go through the grand jury's annual report that recently raised concerns about San Bernardino County's child welfare agency.
Supervisors will use that report, released July 1, as a springboard to identify any deficiencies within the county's Department of Children and Family Services, a review not unlike how the board has handled other inquiries or issues, Lovingood said.
"Any claims of problems with any program brought forward has the board's — collectively my four peers — full attention," he told the Daily Press, "and we will go through the review process and address any shortcomings that we find."
After a year-long investigation, the grand jury found Children and Family Services was significantly under-staffed and appeared to be disconnected from law enforcement assigned to investigate crimes involving children.
The 19-member citizen panel's findings come just two weeks after the state Department of Justice announced it was investigating the agency and reviewing its "compliance with California laws intended to ensure the safety and well-being of children, including children in the dependency system."
Those investigations only add to recent scrutiny for the agency which had earlier come under sharp criticism in a series of Fox 11 news reports with anonymous former county social workers who claimed the agency has been negligent to evidence of abuse and even engaged in a systemic cover-up that led to foster children's deaths.
The department had conducted its own investigations into cases detailed in Fox 11's reports well before they aired and implemented several measures to enhance children safety, it said in response.
On Tuesday, Children and Family Services Director Marlene Hagen said the department "remained committed to the well-being of our children and will implement any suggestions that we think might lead to better outcomes for children and families in San Bernardino."
Hagen has said she welcomed the grand jury's findings and the state probe, but the challenger to Lovingood's seat in November has called for Hagen to step down or be fired.
Angela Valles, finance director for Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority and a former Victorville City Councilwoman, suggested the grand jury's findings confirmed "the gross negligence and inept leadership going on at CFS."
"Our children depend on us to protect them from harm. In many cases the County has done just the opposite," she said in a statement. "It starts at the top. Children and Family Services Director Marlene Hagen must resign or be terminated right away."
Asked to respond to Valles' call, Hagen didn't address it directly Tuesday, but described the steps the agency has taken to bolster operations during her nearly year-and-a-half tenure.
"During the 17 months that I have been (director), there has been a 26-percent increase in the number of social workers serving our children and families," she said in a statement to the Daily Press. "Also during this brief time, I have instituted new training programs, an after-hours investigation unit to eliminate the need for on-call staff, and an improved risk assessment tool to evaluate potential child abuse ..."
Those measures, she said, have given "our social workers more of the tools necessary to protect our children."
Late last week, Valles also shifted attention to Lovingood, saying the situation had revealed that he lacked the qualities of "a true leader."
"Robert Lovingood has turned his back on this County scandal, offering no hope to our county's abused children," she said. "I intend to change that if elected County Supervisor."
Yet Lovingood rebuked Valles' "grandstanding" in the wake of the grand jury report, dismissing her comments as "a knee-jerk reaction to try to grab a headline."
"This is a common pattern," he said.
July 12, 2016
By Shea Johnson