Written By: Ramona Schindelheim
In our ongoing FOX 11 Investigates series "The Children Are Dying", we've told you about allegations that children are being left in dangerous homes by the San Bernardino County Children and Family Services, sometimes with fatal results. According to former social workers, CFS management has ignored evidence of abuse and, even worse, asked social workers to lie about what they've seen in abusive homes.
We’ve repeatedly invited the CFS and the County to speak with us on-camera about these disturbing allegations. They have repeatedly declined. The CFS has issued two written statements and the County has issued one. You can read them in their entirety below.
Following our initial reports, we also learned that the County’s spokesperson sent emails to the Board of Supervisors, accusing FOX 11 News of being unfair and also providing “talking points” to the Supervisors, in the event they are asked about our investigation. This Tuesday, Gina Silva went to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors meeting to see if someone would speak to us on-camera.
During the public session, Silva stepped to the microphone to address the Supervisors, saying “I have contacted each of you to try to get a response to investigative stories we've been doing. We feel that the public deserves a response from you.” Supervisor James Ramos replied to Silva, saying “The Board of Supervisors and everyone in the county government takes this issue very seriously. Protecting our children is the highest priority. The death of any child is unacceptable here at San Bernardino County. We thoroughly investigate every incident and institute appropriate changes to protect our children.” Some of these words were from that “talking points” email. Our request for an on-camera interview still stands.
STATEMENT FROM MARLENE HAGEN, CFS DIRECTOR – August 27, 2015
"When harm comes to a child, we feel it in every corner and at every level of this agency. The safety of our children is our number one priority. As public servants, our social workers spend every day working hard to keep our children safe and to connect their families to resources in their communities to help them meet the safety and well-being needs of their children. This is a tremendous responsibility and every day we strive to get better at what we do.
Over the last year, we experienced an increase in the number of children referred to our Hotline, the number of referrals assigned for investigation, and the number of children in open cases at the very same time we experienced a significant reduction in our social work workforce at Children and Family Services. This is a time of growth for our department. We have been engaged in an aggressive recruitment effort resulting in the hiring of 125 new Social Workers during this last calendar year and we anticipate hiring another 32 staff within the next few months.
Despite the very difficult set of circumstances in our County, the rate at which children experienced recurrence of maltreatment in and out of foster care has remained consistent with the Statewide average and/or improved slightly for our County over the last 2 years. As the Director, I am committed to working with our unions well into the future to create a culture of learning, growth and high performance and embarking on efforts that will help with retention and working conditions." CFS Director Marlene Hagen
STATEMENT FROM MARLENE HAGEN, CFS DIRECTOR – August 28, 2015
There is no way to describe the horror and sadness I feel each time a child is abused or neglected. When our children hurt, we hurt. San Bernardino County's highest priority is to protect our children from abuse and neglect. No one is more dedicated to protecting our children than San Bernardino County’s social workers who keep thousands of children safe each year. There are countless children whose lives we have saved due to our intervention. The sad reality is, there is no way for government to completely prevent tragedies from ever happening. Child abuse and neglect knows no boundaries and is a problem in every community. As a result, we remain committed to always looking for ways to get better at what we are doing in the fight to prevent child abuse and neglect.
STATEMENT FROM THE COUNTY OF SAN BERNARDINO – August 31, 2015
Each year, the County receives nearly 30,000 calls to investigate child abuse and neglect. The County has 7,000 children in its care. Since 2010, the County has had 160,000 requests for investigation, and the County has moved nearly 14,000 children out of their homes. Tragically, during that that time, 9 children who were referred to the County and not removed lost their lives. Nine may seem like a small number when compared 160,000 referrals, but the loss of any child is unacceptable. Unfortunately, child abuse and neglect and the loss of innocent life take place in every county and every community in our state. Anytime a child’s life is lost, the County investigates and looks within itself in hopes of identifying what can be done to prevent tragedy from striking again. Long before Fox 11’s report aired, County officials in cooperation with Children & Family Services, as part of the County’s commitment to protecting our children, had already conducted their own investigations into these cases. In August of 2014, CFS moved into action to ensure that it was doing the very best it could to ensure the safety of our children. In September of 2014, several changes were implemented to ensure a comprehensive and effective systematic approach to the protection of our children. During this past year, no child referred to our County has lost their life:
- All children under the age of 6 who have suffered physical abuse are examined by forensic medical experts.
- The County added a safety protocol for removing children from potentially abusive homes. Social workers can obtain court orders to remove children 24/7 and in extreme cases, children are removed on the spot with assistance from law enforcement when they are in extreme danger. This decision is ultimately made by a judge. This eliminates the concern that attorneys influence any decision to remove a child from a home because the County cannot be sued for complying with a court order. San Bernardino County is one of the first counties to implement this process. Other Southern California counties are considering following San Bernardino County’s lead.
- The Board of Supervisors authorized an ongoing, year-round recruitment for social workers. As a result, the County has hired 125 new social workers in the last year. This is key in lowering caseloads.
- The County has partnered with the Public Child Welfare Training Academy to create a simulation training lab that becomes operational this month. This will better prepare our social workers for what they will encounter on the job.
- The Board of Supervisors created the position of Senior Social Services Practitioner to provide coaching, mentoring and training for newer social workers, particularly around safety intervention and planning. The County plans to hire 65 Senior Social Services Practitioners.
- In early 2016, the County will launch an after-hours investigations operation so that the same social workers who start a shift in the morning aren’t working through the night.
- The County has created units that will focus exclusively on investigations.
- The County is equipping social workers with the technology they need to do their jobs more efficiently and better-serve children and families. This includes 600 smartphones and 200 laptop computers.
The County is committed to continuing to improve how it protects its children—their safety is our priority and purpose in life. Child Abuse and neglect occurs in every county—I ask that wherever you are, you join us in our mission to keep children safe and report suspected child abuse.