County Responds to Critical Grand Jury Report on Foster Care System

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Orange County officials are taking issue with a recent grand jury report that found the county has an inadequate number of foster homes, overworked social workers, and a lack of oversight on the contracts of outside foster care agencies.

The report, titled “Fostering a Better Foster Care System,” contends that the county is unprepared to abide by the 2015 Continuum of Care Act, which, among other things, is meant to “improve the quality of life for dependent youth” in the foster care system, move kids into “stable and supportive homes,” and strengthen the training and improve the qualifications of prospective foster families.

The grand jury found the county has a “severe” shortage of foster homes and will need to license between 100 to 150 “quality homes” by January 2017. The county issues licenses to approximately 100 new homes each year, however, “approximately the same number [of homes] leave the pool, thereby negating any potential increase in placement homes,” the report found.

The report goes on to say that the county has “an estimated 400 foster homes, but only 140 of these homes currently accept placements.” Though the county offered reasons for why some licensed homes aren’t taking foster kids, “Children and Family Services keeps no data on the expressed reasons licensed families do not accept children,” the report said.

County staff, in a report to the county Board of Supervisors, acknowledged that the county has an inadequate number of homes for foster children in special circumstances, but disputed findings regarding a lack of oversight of outside foster care agencies and the workload of caseworkers. However, the county’s response was often lacking in specifics.

The report was delivered to supervisors during their meeting Tuesday, but none made comments about the grand jury report or the county’s response.

The grand jury said the county’s own reporting on foster homes found that nearly half of them were considered merely “adequate” or “poor.” Among the up to 20 per cent of homes considered “poor,” there were accounts of kids being denied food given to other family members.

“They described foster parents who frequently told the children in their care how ‘expensive’ they were,” and how “children [were] left behind when the family vacationed,” the report said.

Beyond its critique of the county’s overall system, the grand jury said the county is particularly falling short when it comes to “hard to place” children, which includes teens, sibling sets, and children with “serious medical and psychological needs.” The county only has 20 homes that are considered “multi-dimensional treatment homes” and have zero “intensive therapeutic foster care homes,” according to the report.

Furthermore, the county not only needs more foster parents, but it also needs to recruit parents that are “trained, certified and willing to nurture children with severe behavioral, emotional and psychological challenges,” according to the report.

The county did acknowledge that there is a lack of families willing to take on “hard to place” children. “The current pool of available homes is not sufficiently meeting the need for placements for many foster children with specialized needs,” said Elizabeth DenBleyker, the public information officer for the county Social Services Agency.

The report also said that the county does a poor job when it comes to the oversight of private foster care agencies it contracts with. Grand jurors were alarmed by the lack of county “oversight, monitoring, and evaluating” of its 51 outside contractors.

They could not find any instances of contractors providing any intensive or specialized care for children with medical and mental needs, offering homes for “hard to place teens,” and finding homes for large sibling sets.

County staff disputed this claim and explained they are not primarily responsible for overseeing these outside contractors. That burden lies with the state Department of Social Services’ community care licensing division, which licenses and monitors private foster care agencies. The county, in partnership with the state, sets the standards of care to be provided to foster children by these outside agencies, the county response said.

Finally, the grand jury highlighted the problem of “overburdened county caseworkers.” The national recommended caseload for a social worker is 16, but Orange County social workers tend to have between 23 and 30 cases at a time, according to the report.

The report found “no evidence of any implemented or anticipated effort to reduce caseloads.”

The county disputed the method by which the grand jury came up with those figures; and said based on their own calculations, a social worker has an average of about 15 cases at a time.

Kaitlin Washburn is a news intern from the University of Missouri. She can be reached at kaitlinewashburn@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter: @kwashy12.

  • Shirley L. Grindle

    I have been contacted by several individuals over the years who have been caught up in the Child Protective Services of the Social Services Agency – and who have unfairly and in my opinion, illegally lost custody of their children. In spite of numerous complaints made to the Board of Supervisors regarding these matters, the Supervisors are incapable of delving into the corrupt CPS and Family Court system because they rely on input from the heads of these departments who are not about to admit fault or corruption. There is a massive cover-up mentality existing at the Social Services Agency because of the huge amounts of Federal funding they get for housing children or the mentally ill. Unfortunately, the Board persists in ignoring the complaints of parents who inform them of these unfair and illegal practices. One of these days the truth is bound to come out – most likely from a major lawsuit – and the Board will have a lot of explaining to do as to why they did not seriously consider these complaints. In any event — the big problem is that the Social Services Agency brings in tons of money from the Federal government and neither the Agency or the Board of Supervisors want to jeopardize these funds.

  • Greg Lamon

    Non case carrying workers perform tasks that case carrying workers would otherwise have to perform. In funding the counties the state counts all workers performing child welfare work whether they actually carry cases or perform specialized casework tasks that case carrying workers would otherwise have to do. The fact that California’s 58 counties organize tasks differently makes a comparison of caseload between counties confusing and misleading unless total child welfare funded caseworker count is used. With that clarification,everyone should acknowledge that child welfare workers have a tough, demanding and stressful job where there is zero tolerance for mistakes.

  • Michael P Byron

    It is NOT TRUE that caseloads are 15. That could only be the result of averaging non-case-carrying worker numbers with case-carrying, resulting in a false average of 15. Actual caseloads are around 30, and sometimes are over 40. Even brand-new social workers have caseloads of 20, which is significantly above the recommended standard.

    The public has been told that the number of cases have declined (that is true), so they conclude that the caseloads have also declined. But it is very inaccurate, because what also has declined is the number of social workers. Therefore, the average caseloads have INCREASED. The number of workers has decreased due to people taking early retirement because they can’t take it anymore, quitting because they can’t take it anymore, getting fired because they are unable to accomplish the impossible, and dying due to stress-related illnesses.

    The case-carrying social workers are so overloaded that they are experiencing severe health issues due to the unrelenting stress. Social workers are suffering from the entire gamut of stress-related ailments, including skin rashes, ulcers, cancers, hair falling out, insomnia, miscarriages, early death, etc. Social workers are unable to take care of themselves by regular exercise and rest, because they are working late in the offices and then again from home, even while “on vacation.” Some social workers actually take vacation so they will be taken off the case assignment rotation for a brief spell, and then use that time to work and catch up. It’s insane and getting worse every day.

    Further, the casework continues to increase with unfunded mandates from the federal and state governments, with no end in sight.

    • John Claxton

      Sounds like you have thorough knowledge of the facts. Thank you for setting the record straight.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Thank you for speaking out. As a caseworker with SSA, I can support that every word you say is absolutely true. These men and women, the honest ones, are working themselves into early graves, because they have no support of their own agency directors, or the BoS. They are exhausted, and, like me, many exhibit symptoms of Complex PTSD, a disorder caused by abusive, assaultive and incompetent workplaces. Add into that the unacceptable and unhealthy buildings that many work in, it is a miracle that they do as much as they can. Many are downright heroic, in their efforts to trudge on through the sludge, and help these vulnerable victims. I have enormous respect for them. They are the unsung heroes of the county, the good ones. Sadly, the bad ones are promoted more, and the morale is bleak. I have seen workers sitting at the lunchroom tables, working as they eat, exhaustion on their faces. They deserve a better, cleaner, more supportive and less corrupted workplace. As bad as it is for them, imagine what that means to the children falling through the cracks.

  • Debby Bodkin

    IMO, the OC Board of Supervisors (and other elected officials) care less about Orange County’s vulnerable children–they only care about their own children and grandchildren. Out of sight, out of mind…. Orange County government’s well known core life values.

    It is tragic that the safety of OC’s children means nothing to DA Rackauckas, OC Sheriffs (Carona and Hutchens) AND the OC Board of Supervisors (especially former OC Supe Bill Campbell). OC’s government officials knew for years that a former Diocese of Orange Catholic priest, G. Plesetz, fathered a daughter with a minor Mater Dei HS student; however, Plesetz maintained employment with the Orange County Healthcare Agency County for 20 plus years. What makes anyone think that the welfare of OC’s foster children will be protected when a former priest with a daughter given up for adoption secures employment with the County of Orange? The current OC Supervisors (majority are lawyers) will utilize a strategically worded response to the OC Grand Jury and the subject will disappear from public scrutiny forever!

    In sum, children do not contribute to political campaigns and do not vote…. in the OC, this means children cannot play to pay. This equals serious public safety crimes under the supervision of corrupt elected officials. Will the USDOJ and FBI ignore another disgraceful OC Grand Jury Report because they cannot rationalize a worth of $10 million if crimes committed by OC officials are criminally prosecuted?

  • Jacki Livingston

    Blah, blah, blahblahblah…oh, lookee, Homer? The Grand Jury wrote a report! *eyeroll* I testified three times for these do-nothings, and I am shocked that any of them can string a coherent sentence together, considering the inane questions they asked me. The county entrusts foster care to a private company called Crittendon Services. Go see how much they pay these people, and then go see how much the owners of this company pay to the campaign funds for the BoS. Do the math.

    It used to be that the County promoted caseworkers from SSA into social worker jobs. Not so much, anymore, and for good reason. Many were promoted because of who they were related to, or “relating” to, and they were ill trained and even less equipped. This is how the County wound up in front of the Supreme Court of the US, and lost, paying out a 10mil judgement for their failures. Just one more area of the county that is crippled by the nepotism and cronyism, and it is, as always, the children who suffer.

    • Debby Bodkin

      You are very correct…. IMO, the OC Board of Supes care less about Orange County’s vulnerable children, only their own children will be safe from civil rights violations and sexual predators.
      It is tragic that is now a factual truth in OC’s history that DA Rackauckas, OC Sheriffs AND OC Board of Supervisors (especially former OC Supe Bill Campbell) knew for years that a former Diocese of Orange Catholic priest, G. Plesetz, fathered a daughter with a minor Mater Dei HS student; however, Plesetz maintained employment with the Orange County Healthcare Agency County for 20 plus years. What makes anyone think that the welfare of OC’s foster children will be protected.
      In sum, children do not contribute to political campaigns and do not vote…. in the OC, this means children cannot play to pay.
      Will the USDOJ and FBI ignore another disgraceful OC Grand Jury Report because they cannot rationalize a worth of $10 million if crimes committed by OC officials are criminally prosecuted?

      • Jacki Livingston

        They won’t do a thing. And I would not be so sure about their own kids and grandkids. These people are sociopaths, perhaps even psychotic. I would not be surprised by anything they do, at home or anywhere else.

        • Jasenn

          Sociopaths, yes. Self-interested, yes. Disregarding the health of children because they do not contribute to their campaign coffers, yes. Not psychotic but very clever narcissists whose rhetoric indicates the severe limits in their caring about young human beings who are not of their own white race and social class. Remember, with no exception, these are a group of right wing Republicans who embrace GOP social and economic delusions…I guess in that way they are psychotic, even though they reflect the majority of OC residents.

          • Jacki Livingston

            Very true. During my experience with their worker’s comp practices, one of their own doctors told me that eighty five percent of people who rise to the top of government or public service positions are diagnosible sociopaths. I found that hilarious, their own doctor telling me that these people are insane, and I should run as far as I could from them because I was too ethical to survive. I think the county paid that guy something like fourteen grand, and he said that about them. That is irony, at its best.

  • David Zenger
  • Paul Lucas

    its disturbing how our society treats the most vulnerable among us while propping up those unworthy and un-needed of support like the 560 million giveaway to disney.