April 9, 2014: Accompanying a report released yesterday. State Auditor Elaine Howle, at left, wrote to the governor and legislators [emphases ours]:
As requested by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the California State Auditor presents this audit report concerning the policies and procedures the child welfare services (CWS) agencies of Butte, Orange, and San Francisco counties follow when considering whether to remove children from their homes.
This report concludes that these agencies must provide better protection for abused and neglected children. Specifically, although all three agencies require the use of standardized safety and risk assessments, the agencies’ social workers frequently did not prepare these assessments in a timely manner or at all, and the information used in these assessments was often inaccurate. This led to flawed evaluations of safety, risk, and needed services and, at times, led to poor decisions related to child safety. Additionally, when their initial attempts to make in-person contact with children to investigate reports of child maltreatment were unsuccessful, social workers did not consistently follow up in a reasonable time frame—sometimes waiting weeks before attempting to see the child again. Further, when social workers decided to leave a child in a home that presented a safety threat, they often did not establish a credible safety plan to mitigate that threat. In addition, social workers at times allowed the child to be placed or remain in a temporary living situation without performing any history check on the temporary caregivers and, in a few instances, these individuals were later found to be unfit to supervise the child. When the county CWS agencies we visited did formally remove a child, they did not always perform required background checks before a subsequent placement.
State laws and regulations provide county CWS agencies with broad discretion in determining when
to involve law enforcement in investigations and in removing children from their homes. As such,
we noted that the three CWS agencies we visited have adopted divergent approaches to coordinating
with law enforcement. Although each county’s practices reflect the flexibility given to CWS agencies,
we found instances where coordination and communication between local law enforcement and the
county CWS agencies could have been better.
To varying degrees, each of the three county CWS agencies we visited needs to improve its
practices. Even so, for most of the items we reviewed, the Orange County CWS agency appeared
to perform better than the other two CWS agencies, and had better management processes. Given
the relationship we observed between the strength of management processes and county CWS
agencies’ performance, we believe the California Department of Social Services—as the state agency
responsible for overseeing the CWS system—should encourage and monitor the establishment of
the key management processes of policy development and quality assurance at all 58 counties.