OC Child Protection Agency Under Fire

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Orange County’s child welfare system continues to draw criticism, with one local pastor telling county supervisors this week that numerous families have come forward to share horrific stories about how the agency handled their children’s cases.

“Over these years it’s been brought to me many times that children are being abused by the system,” Wiley Drake, a Buena Park pastor and radio host, told supervisors at their meeting Tuesday.

Drake publicly scolded supervisors for their collective silence about the county’s system for protecting vulnerable children, known as Child Protective Services.

He pointed to a 2010 appeals court ruling that warned Orange County to take “very seriously” a jury’s finding that serious misconduct within the agency was not isolated to a single case.

“When the court came out…[and] said that CPS was in trouble, we thought: ‘Okay now maybe Orange County will do something.’ You did nothing,” said Drake, who said he was speaking on behalf of about 100 families across the county.

Other speakers referenced a specific case, the young daughter of Ruby Dillon, in which Dillon claims that faulty Child Protective Services investigations led to her daughter being taken from her and placed in the girl’s father’s sole custody despite credible reports of sexual abuse.

“She has been molested. She has been battered. She has been photographed. And she is being trafficked through your agencies in this county,” said Malinda Sherwyn, an activist who follows court proceedings.

“It is one of the most shameful, horrific problems that I’ve ever bumped into,” Sherwyn told supervisors.

Another speaker, activist Ruth Hull, said she witnessed the girl pleading to not go back to her father.

“I have seen this girl begging to be removed from her father. I have seen her begging to be with her mother,” said Hull.

In brief response to the speakers, Supervisor John Moorlach announced that supervisors were expecting a briefing on the girl’s case from county staff.

The county’s social services director, Michael Ryan, is “working with county counsel and risk management to provide this board with an update on that case,” Moorlach said.

CPS ultimately conducted 16 investigations and found the abuse claims to be unfounded, according to court records. Those findings were given “great weight” in a family court ruling that the mother coached her daughter into making the claims.

Social services spokeswoman TerryLynn Fisher didn’t return a message seeking comment.  She and a court spokeswoman have previously declined to discuss the case.

In an interview last month, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks) said Orange County supervisors should “absolutely” take a close look at their CPS agency in light of Dillon’s case.

“Every aspect of it has been deeply troubling,” Donnelly said.

It’s unclear when supervisors last held an in-depth discussion about their child welfare agency, which handles roughly 5,000 abuse cases per year.

A recent state audit found that Orange County CPS and other counties sometimes failed to do basic background checks and assessments needed to ensure that vulnerable children, who have been neglected or abused, are not again put in unsafe situations.

“These agencies must provide better protection for abused and neglected children,” State Auditor Elaine Howe wrote in an April letter to Gov. Jerry Brown.

A review of meeting records shows no public discussion by supervisors of the audit or how to implement its recommendations.

In neighboring Los Angeles County, problems in its child protection agency recently emerged as a major campaign issue and led supervisors to pursue reforms.

“We know that our child protection system is in crisis,” LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina said last week, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We can’t wait any longer. We must act now.”

In the case of Dillon’s daughter, additional concerns have been raised by the girl’s former court-appointed therapist, Dr. Thea Reinhart, who has said she believes the girl is a crime victim.

Despite being put on call to testify during the custody trial, Reinhart said in a recent deposition, the court never heard her testimony and never gave her an explanation.

Reinhart said she believed the court was misled into making its custody orders in this case.

“I do not like to see a court system that I respect and that I’m a part of be so manipulated and duped. It’s very inappropriate,” said Reinhart, who estimated that she’s performed about 500 custody evaluations for courts.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department opened a perjury investigation into the custody case months ago, but as of last month court officials had yet to provide transcripts requested by the investigator. The reason for the delay was unclear.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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