Report: Riverside County Children’s Services Division undergoing reforms

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City News Service
RIVERSIDE – The Riverside County agency that investigates child welfare concerns is undergoing reforms aimed at reducing the county’s liability exposure because of a breakdown in procedures intended to prevent youngsters from being put at risk, according to a report released today by the Executive Office.

The external review of the Children’s Services Division was composed following a roughly yearlong investigation conducted by attorney Christie Swiss of Collins, Collins, Muir & Stewart. The firm was hired by county CEO George Johnson in the wake of scandals that enveloped the Department of Public Social Services, to which the Children’s Services Division is attached, as a result of several disturbing cases involving young girls.

“Protecting children is our first priority,” Johnson said. “Our goal throughout this stringent process of external review and self-analysis is to emerge as a leader in best practices for children and families at risk.”

One component of Swiss’ analysis looked specifically at the CSD’s purported “failure to remove, adequately investigate or respond to allegations” of child abuse and neglect. However, the number of claims against the county were not specified.Last year’s scandals erupted when circumstances came to light concerning the treatment of two girls, identified only as “Jacquelyn” and “Gail,” who are not related.

In the case of Jacquelyn, now 16 years old, her mother’s live-in boyfriend began raping her when she was 11 and proceeded to sexually assault her dozens of times until she was 15 and became pregnant.

A lawsuit later initiated on the girl’s behalf by her public guardian determined that she had disclosed the abuse to friends early on, prompting inquiries by CSD case agents. The agents failed to act on evidence the girl was being sexually abused and instead formulated a plan with her abuser to provide care for her when her drug-addicted mother was unable to see to her needs, according to court documents.

The mother’s 30-year-old boyfriend was ultimately convicted of multiple counts of child rape and sentenced to 230 years in state prison. Jacquelyn’s lawsuit against the county was settled for $10 million.

Gail, who is now 5, was removed from her mother’s custody after police found her in an apartment clutching the mummified corpse of her dead infant sibling, according to court filings.

Child welfare agents had been sent to the location previously based on complaints of potential neglect and abuse, but no action was taken, according to published reports.

According to Swiss’ report, the CSD is working closely with the Casey Family Foundation to improve risk management techniques and undertake “proactive reviews” of operations.

County case agents have also received additional training and procedural changes are being implemented by the Department of Human Resources to “ensure personnel issues are resolved in a timely manner,” the report stated.

Swiss identified 25 claims between 2008 and 2018 in which the county allegedly failed to adequately address allegations of abuse or neglect in foster homes. The report noted safeguards have been implemented and training programs instituted to stave off similar episodes.

Swiss found the most common claims related to “wrongful removal” of children from homes.

According to the attorney, her investigation revealed there were 38 such claims against the county between 2008 and 2018. Thirty-one removals were confirmed to have been initiated without a juvenile court warrant, prompting lawsuits.

Swiss said the Office of County Counsel in 2015 enacted policies intended to stop warrant-less removals, and the CSD implemented a “re-education” program to impress upon case agents the need to adhere to lawful practices.

“The analysis concluded that the County of Riverside has experienced similar claims as other California counties,” according to the report. “DPSS has made significant strides over the past five months to ensure the safety and well-being of children. Continuous quality improvement initiatives are ongoing and have been prioritized over the next 18 months.”