SAN BERNARDINO, CA (FOX 11) - Written By: Ramona Schindelheim
Former social workers with the San Bernardino County Children and Family Services allege that decisions on the safety of children are being left up to attorneys, not social workers trained to spot abuse in the home. According to one of the whistleblowers we interviewed, “Instead of having social workers, master’s levels doing their jobs, they now have the lawyers, county counsel making the determinations on these cases.”
The former social workers also complain that CFS managers are currently demanding that social workers close open cases of alleges abuse and find a way to leave children with their families or face being fired. Some say, they’re being told to lie in their reports to cover up the abuse. They claim the reason is financial, that it costs thousands and thousands of dollars in fees for attorneys representing children and other costs. “What happens is, if you leave children in their home, you don’t incur any of those expenses… so you gamble. You hope that maybe the parents won’t do something so severe as to cause a child’s death or permanent disability.”
We contacted Children's Advocacy Group, an agency that represents many of the children we've been reporting on, for a comment. They declined to speak to us because of confidentiality laws.
We have repeatedly requested an on-camera interview with the director of the department of Children and Family Services. We also called the San Bernardino Board of Supervisors. Late Monday night, we received a statement from the county of San Bernardino. Here it is in its entirety.
STATEMENT FROM THE COUNTY OF SAN BERNARDINO:
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.