Orange County Grand Jury Praises Social Workers

The Orange County grand jury Monday praised caseworkers at the county Social Services Agency for keeping up with the caseload of abused children despite a 22 percent cut in staff since the beginning of the recession.

In a report on the issue, the grand jury said the Social Services Agency met and exceeded statewide averages in terms of the time it took to respond to child abuse reports.

"The Grand Jury found the [response] units to be well managed and effectively meeting the needs of abused children and their families," in spite of the cuts over the past three years, the report stated.

The number of social workers handling such cases dropped from 134 in 2008 to 104 in 2010, according to the report. The agency's caseload dropped as well, with 1,512 children being removed from their homes in 2010 compared to 1,684 in 2008. But the 11 percent drop in cases was half that of the percentage drop in caseworkers.

One group of children not specifically mentioned in the report are those living in motels because their families are homeless.

Some activists who help the homeless say these children are often subjected to abuse and are especially at risk of falling through the cracks in the system.

If a report to the Social Services Agency indicates a child is in immediate physical danger, the social workers must respond within about two hours. But they have 10 days to check on other children who may be abused but aren't in immediate physical danger.

Because of the transient lives led by those in motels, activists said they fear that the 10-day delay means social workers can arrive after the families are gone.

No one with the grand jury was available Monday to discuss the issue.



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