The report released last week also found heavy caseloads for investigators in the Child Protective Services unit of the county Department of Social Services. In addition, the jury found that families aren’t properly told how to file a complaint and that some social workers lack required training.
In an email, county spokesman Ray Smith wrote: “Riverside County will thoroughly review the findings and recommendations and will respond to the report after that review has been completed.”
“A written response will then go to the Board of Supervisors and then be forwarded to the grand jury within the time frame specified by law.”
The grand jury consists of 19 county residents who spend a year looking into the inner workings of local public agencies. Their findings are released every summer.
Child Protective Services, commonly known as CPS, has 90 to 100 investigators and an overall staff of about 450, according to the grand jury’s report. In 2011, the agency received almost 45,000 phone calls alleging child abuse or neglect.
Of those, 82 percent were investigated and 21 percent were found to be substantiated. Almost 4,000 children are under CPS supervision.
In its report, the grand jury found that when investigating complaints, social workers “do not consider all current and prior history,” including past instances in a home of substance abuse, unsafe conditions and poor school attendance by children.
“Sworn testimony revealed that (CPS) has not diligently considered all the law enforcement calls to the homes where dependent children reside, which limits their ability to access all factors related to the children’s safety,” the report read, adding that social workers have limited access to law enforcement records.
“Testimony revealed not all social workers investigate fully into the criminal history of adults living in the home, nor do they investigate the medical, psychological, or school records of children with ongoing neglect and abuse complaints,” the grand jury found.
Social workers said “they are overloaded with cases and cannot properly evaluate the cases assigned to them,” the report read. Some said they had 40 cases and were “overloaded” with paperwork, including seven to 14 reports a month and court reports that take, on average, 6 hours per report to write, the report added.
Not all social workers are aware of or understand the complaint process and some fail to tell families about it, the report read. Social workers are supposed to get nine weeks of “core induction training” before tackling cases, but that doesn’t always happen, the report added.
It’s not the first time a grand jury has looked into CPS. In 2000, a grand jury report criticized the agency for being disorganized and allowing employees in different bureaus to run “fiefdoms” with no consistent procedures.
And after 11 children died, apparently at the hands of their parents, during a five-month span of 1994, the county requested a review of CPS by the Child Welfare League of America.
In 1996, the league concluded that the agency’s shortfalls created a “dangerous environment for both children and social workers.” A follow-up review in 2001 found improvement, but concluded children were still at risk and suggested improvements such as more training and support of social workers by managers.
In the latest report, the grand jury recommends CPS develop procedures to get more information from law enforcement authorities and other sources.
“This will provide information to caseworkers of law enforcement activity at the home address of dependent children and other pertinent information regarding school attendance and/or medical information,” the report read.
CPS also needs to evaluate workers’ caseloads, do more to inform families of the complaint process and establish a plan for veteran social workers to mentor their less-experienced peers, the jury recommended.