Saturday, October 8, 2016
San Bernardino County responds to grand jury findings on Children and Family Services
San Bernardino County’s Department of Children and Family Services is on a “clear path” to resolving high social worker turnover and heavy caseloads, according to the county’s response to grand jury findings.
High social worker turnover and bulging caseloads were among more than a dozen problems the San Bernardino County grand jury found at CFS, disclosed in its annual report released July 1.
The report found CFS rife with systemic failures, including a need for more social worker training, particularly in the area of accurate documentation writing, and caseloads far exceeding the average recommended by the Child Welfare League of America. The grand jury also reported a lack of cooperation between social workers and police, especially in the area of providing unredacted files to detectives investigating child abuse.
In a 12-page response approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, the county maintained that, for a time, it was losing social workers to other counties offering higher pay, which resulted in higher caseloads for the employees who remained.
In November, CFS began the phased-in hiring of experienced social workers. To date, the county has hired 46 senior social services practitioners, and intends to fill the remaining vacant positions by year’s end, according to the county’s response.
The county agreed with the grand jury’s finding that social workers need continuous field training and instruction on writing reports, stating it has been the county’s ongoing practice to ensure these things.
In response to the recommendation to implement a system to review the effectiveness of social worker training, the county has partnered with the California Social Work Education Center and the Public Child Welfare Training Academy, has updated its training curricula to state standards, and is now requiring newly hired social workers to not only complete 158 hours of classroom and webinar training, but also 203 hours of orientation and induction training with the county.
“During the 19 months I have been in this position, I have made it my mission to ensure we continue to grow our ranks and give our social workers the tools they need to protect our children, including 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,” CFS Director Marlene Hagen said in a statement Tuesday. “We are always interested in collaborating with the grand jury in its examination of our systems and are grateful for any recommendations that could benefit our families.”
Though disputing a grand jury finding that social workers need to improve relations with police and provide them juvenile case records more expeditiously, Hagen, prior to Oct. 1, will send a letter to all law enforcement agencies within CFS’ jurisdiction to clarify the process for requesting records and information through the CFS records unit.
Quarterly meetings between CFS executives and representatives from the Sheriff’s Department and San Bernardino Police Department will be expanded to include all police departments within CFS’ jurisdiction.
While the grand jury based its findings on interviews with three police officers, the county noted in its response it had interviewed six law enforcement agencies representing 19 of the county’s 24 cities, and none reported concerns regarding their relationship with CFS.
“Nevertheless, CFS will continue to strive to maintain and strengthen its excellent working relationship with law enforcement and to reinforce its existing commitment to provide records within 24 hours of a request,” the county said in its response.
Although the county does not dispute the fact it took seven months for the grand jury to receive records requested from CFS, the county said in its response that, by the grand jury’s own account, the requested files were being reviewed by a juvenile dependency court judge for five or six of those months, which the county had no control over.
And while the grand jury indicated there is no local independent review board that monitors CFS operations, the county said in its response that state law does not mandate one.
“The California Department of Social Services is tasked with monitoring child welfare agencies and is statutorily authorized to compel compliance with state laws and regulations,” the county said in its response.
Additionally, in order for such a review board to function it would have to be granted access to confidential juvenile case records, which state law prohibits, according to the county response.
September 13, 2016
San Bernardino Sun
By Joe Nelson