Foster Family Service's Pages

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Battle for California's Child Welfare System

California’s CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM is designed to step in and protect vulnerable children from abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, critical services such as child protection are typically cut during times of economic downturn like CA is facing currently. More concerning, these vulnerable children do not have a voice powerful enough to get the attention of legislators. Rather, each of CA’s fifty-eight counties is left to forge their own path based on local resources. Currently, the diversity of approaches is vast, with Sacramento County at one extreme end of a spectrum and Los Angeles County at the other end.

The most dramatic example in our great State is Sacramento County, located right at the footsteps of our capital. Between the years of 2007 and 2009 the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors was actively evaluating the County’s Division of Child Protective Services (CPS), which is part of the County’s Department of Health and Human Services. Based largely on grand jury recommendations the County hired an independent evaluator to assess the programs within Child Protective Services. However, in part due to the State and County budget shortfalls, over 300 CPS positions have been eliminated since the fall of ‘09. Since January 1, 2010 four Sacramento children have been critically injured and two have died—all at the hands of their biological caregivers. As of the end of April ‘10 the County’s CPS leadership posits that “in future meetings we will address the potential risks and challenges posed by our inability to respond in-person to families who may be in distress but whose situations do not rise to the [strict] legal definition of abuse or neglect.”

Los Angeles County has taken the entirely opposite approach. Following a series of high-profile child deaths, in 2007 the department initiated several reforms: three hundred workers have been redeployed to the child abuse investigations unit at a cost of $37.5 million, reducing the average investigator's caseload from 25 to 18; an improved computer system is being developed to provide child-abuse investigators with more information from other county agencies -- mental health, for example, or law enforcement -- about troubled families; an additional layer of review has been added to child-abuse investigations before they can be declared "unfounded;” and dozens of workers are being disciplined for their poor handling of cases that ended in death.