Sunday, May 27, 2007

Need for more accountability regarding social workers visiting children in care

Contra Costa outlines foster care reform plan
CBS 5, San Francisco, May 8, 2007.

(BCN) MARTINEZ Contra Costa County Children and Family Services director Valerie Early updated county supervisors Tuesday on the department's so-called System Improvement Plan, but Supervisor Gayle Uilkema said that she would like the department's goals set higher.

Specifically, under the new plan CFS will be working to have social workers make 90 percent of their regular monthly visits to children in foster care.

Uilkema said that these visits were an important part of how the department knows if a child in foster care is being abused or neglected.

She said that she would like to see the goal set at social workers making 95 percent of their monthly visits this year and then increase the compliance every year until it reaches 100 percent.

Similarly, while the department would like to be able to guarantee that no children taken from their homes and placed in foster care would be further abused or neglected, the current goal is to reduce that number by 50 percent to .25 percent, according to CFS Director Valerie Early.

Translated into actual numbers, that means reducing identified incidences of abuse or neglect of children in foster care from the current number of 12 down to five out of the 1600 children currently in the county's foster care system, Director of CFS Valerie Early told county supervisors.

Director of Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services Department Joe Valentine, however, said that the department has to operate within its budget.

The state is currently funding CFS at one half the national standard and the department is doing its best to operate with the resources it is given, Valentine said.

County Administrator John Cullen said in December that the county CFS department receives between 23,000 and 24,000 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect each year and in any given month, they are working with more than 3,000 children.

According to Early, there are currently 1600 children in the foster care system in Contra Costa County.

In spite of its tight budget, CFS has made significant improvements in other areas. According to the report, in 3003 CFS had a 52 percent compliance rate for investigating reports of abuse or neglect within 10 days. In 2005, which is the most current data CFS reported, the compliance rate was up to 95.1 percent.

In 2003 social workers were making between 77.9 percent and 79.4 percent of their monthly visits to children in foster care. By 2005 that number had jumped to between 90.7 percent and 91.5 percent, according to the report.

The formal process of developing the System Improvement Plan began in 2001 in response to federal and state mandates to track, report and improve the care of children within the system.

However, the department came under close public scrutiny last year after the deaths of 8-year-old Raijon Daniels and 2-year-old Deonna Green.

Raijon died in October after his mother allegedly tortured and abused him for months or even years. Cuts, bruises, chemical burns and extensive scars were found covering Raijon's entire body, according to the coroner's report.

Before his death, CFS had received five separate reports from people who suspected that Raijon was being abused beginning in November 2005.
The most recent report was in January of 2006. Raijon's case was closed eight months before he died, according to CFS documents.

Deonna, who was a month away from her third birthday, weighed only 17 pounds when she died Dec. 7 from sodium bicarbonate poisoning caused by eating baking soda.

She had been living in a foster home in Pittsburg when she died.

The Contra Costa District Attorney's office did not charge the foster mother in connection with Deonna's death in part because the social worker assigned to Deonna's case hadn't noticed anything wrong with the child.

CFS conducted an extensive investigation into how their system managed to fail the two children so badly and have been working to implement a number of changes in addition to those changes outlined in the System Improvement Plan.


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