July 14, 2013: In 2011, the latest year for which data is available, the Riverside County Child Protective Services -- by our calculations -- received over 185 calls a day reporting "children at risk."
Faces of the caseloads: At left, the 19-year-old mother of an eight-week-old girl, and her boyfriend; the Palm Desert pair was accused last month of homicide in the infant's death. They have pleaded not guilty.
Toni McAllister in the Lake Elsinore/Wildomar Patch reports that the Riverside County Grand Jury has submitted the first analysis of the county's Child Protective Services in nearly 20 years [a follow-up to that first analysis can be read here] to the Board of Supervisors. (In those years, the population of Riverside County has grown to over 2.2 million, "...and the prevalence of abuse and neglect has significantly increased," according to the report. The analysis, which will be reviewed by the supervisors on Tuesday, details findings that child welfare workers are not adequately investigating some abuse and neglect cases because they're often swamped, need more training and lack effective procedural guidelines. [Below, emphases ours.]
Riverside County stats for substantiated reports of child abuse/neglect are 9.9 per 1,000, slightly above the state average of 8.9.
...The grand jury relied on data from 2011 ...[when] 44,737 calls were fielded regarding children potentially at risk.
"Of those, 82 percent were investigated and 21 percent of those were found to be substantiated," according to the report. "Nine percent resulted in an open case, with 6 percent -- 2,438 -- of the children being removed from the home and taken into protective custody." Just under 4,000 children are entrusted to the care of CPS personnel...
According to the jurors, the basic document on which case workers rely to make their findings -- the California Family Risk Assessment Form -- "does not place enough value on 'neglect factors."'
The grand jury reviewed closed cases and determined that conditions apparently ignored or overlooked by investigators included a history of substance abuse or domestic violence by one of more occupants of a household, ongoing inadequate supervision of children and obvious instances of children performing poorly in school without any signs of improving academically over time.
Jurors said that several CPS employees admitted under oath that they did not routinely consider a parent or guardian's "erratic behavior," nor whether law enforcement had been called to a home multiple times or whether a child was living in sanitary or crowded conditions in making a determination to keep a case open or close it.
Kidsdata reports: In 2012, there were 487,016 reported allegations of child abuse and neglect in California. Of those cases, 17% were substantiated (verified) by the state child welfare system. More than 60% of these verified cases were due to general neglect.
"Testimony revealed that not all social workers ... investigate the medical, psychological or school records of children with ongoing neglect and abuse complaints," according to the report.
The jurors noted that CPS workers sometimes do not have ready access to law enforcement records, further hampering efforts to complete an investigation.
Social workers are also faced with daunting caseloads that prevent them from devoting the time they would like to each investigation, according to the grand jury. Workers testified to having 40 open cases at one time and having between seven and 14 reports to write each month.
According to the grand jury, some CPS workers revealed they were not well-versed in the agency's complaint process or how to properly assist individuals attempting to make a complaint. Jurors cited this as an example of deficient training.
The grand jury recommended that the county take the following corrective steps:
-- Develop a new mandatory checklist for CPS workers to follow that requires them to consider all potential risk factors "that affect the long- term health, growth and development of children";
-- Require CPS workers to review all "referral alerts" connected with a case, such as calls from concerned neighbors about a child's safety;
-- Make certain that any case assessment digs into the criminal history of all members of a household;
-- Review all law enforcement and mental health contacts a parent or guardian of a child has had, as well as academic and health information related to the child;
-- Cut social workers' caseloads;
-- Ensure that all personnel have a full understanding of the Children's Services Handbook and can confidently advise parties of how the complaint process works; and
-- Mandate that all CPS workers complete their nine-week "core induction training" before going into the field and, preferably, be paired with experienced social workers for mentorship purposes.