1992-93 Santa Clara County Grand Jury
1. INVESTIGATION: THE DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY AND
INVESTIGATION: THE DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY AND CHILDREN'S SERVICES
The Department of Family and Children's Services in the
Social Services Agency (SSA) is charged with providing child
welfare services to abused and neglected children in accordance
with the California Welfare and Institution Code.
The Grand Jury was informed by the independent auditor that
the Department of Family and Children's Services (DFCS) has made
more progress within the last two years than it had made in the
previous twenty years. The Grand Jury acknowledges that progress
has been made but found major areas in need of attention. These
include: practices and procedures in the foster care system;
child abuse reporting; checks and balances relating to internal
processes within the department; and a noticeable absence of
management and individual accountability in decision-making.
U.S. Public Law 96-272, the Adoption Assistance and Child
Welfare Act of 1980, reflects a dramatic change in the goals and
philosophy of child welfare practices. Historically, the practice
of separating neglected and abused children from their families
and placing them in out-of-home care had been in place since the
first Elizabethan "poor laws" in England during the sixteenth
century. Public Law 96-272 mandates prevention of unnecessary
separation of children from their families by providing social
services to these families. Since the impetus for the law was the
problem of "foster drift,"(1) the goal of the act was to ensure
permanence for children, preferably with their natural families.
The interpretation and implementation of Public Law 96-272,
however, was left to the states, thereby providing no minimum
standards. A recent national study(2) found that the majority of
the time and effort of the staff of social service agencies is
spent on services available once the child has been removed from
the home rather than on primary prevention services. This finding
suggests that the states' prevention efforts are directed
primarily toward children identified to be at risk of-or already
in out-of-home placement, rather than prevention of risk itself.
(1)"Foster drift" is defined as excessive time spent by a child
in the foster care system prior to a definitive resolution of his
or her status.
(2) Ref. 9
In 1990 the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors
commissioned an audit by the Harvey M. Rose Accountancy
Corporation of the county's system of services for the protection
of abused and neglected children. The report made several
recommendations designed to improve the level of service provided
by DFCS. Based on this report and in response to community
concerns the Grand Jury elected to revisit the agency to
determine what changes, if any, had been made regarding the
protection of abused and neglected children.
A Santa Clara County Social Services Agency publication(3)
states that approximately 26,000 child abuse and neglect reports
are filed annually. The Department of Family and Children's
Services places over 3,000 children in foster homes and another
159 children in adoptive homes. This department is charged with
the responsibility of protecting the interests of Santa Clara
County children who are victims of child abuse and neglect. DFCS
has approximately 550 employees and an annual budget of
approximately $40 million. It is divided into nine units. Each
unit is supervised by a program manager. Grand Jurors interviewed
the Director of the Social Services Agency, the Director of the
DFCS, and representatives of each unit. Others interviewed
included judges, child advocates, psychologists, the SSA
ombudsman, social workers, natural parents, foster parents, and
representatives from both the district attorney's office and
county counsel. The jurors also visited the Children's Shelter,
including the Assessment Center, the Child Abuse and Neglect
(CA/N) Center, and Clover House and Monroe House, both of which
are county visitation centers where parents can have supervised
or unsupervised visits with their children. With the support
received from the Superior Court, the Grand Jury reviewed a
selection of case files. The jurors spent time in Juvenile Court
listening to and observing pending cases, and attended a training
seminar on court report writing which was sponsored by the Social
Reports of Child Abuse
The Child Abuse and Prevention Treatment Act of 1974,
commonly known as the Mondale Act, has been expanded several
times. In order to qualify for federal funds, Public Law 96-272
requires that states had to pass legislation that provided
immunity from prosecution for all those reporting child abuse.
In addition, states were also required to pass laws mandating
that specified persons report suspected child abuse and neglect
to the appropriate child protection agency.
Although California's child abuse reporting law dates back to
1963, the basic reporting system used today was established in
1980 with the passage of SB 781, a bill supported by the
California Department of Justice. There have been several
amendments to the reporting law since 1981. California's child
abuse reporting law is found in Penal Code Sections 11165 through
The purposes of the child abuse reporting law are:
1. To protect children by the earliest possible
identification of child abuse;
2. To provide help to families in trouble;
3. To identify persons suspected of crimes against
The primary intent of the California reporting law is to
foster and establish cooperation between persons mandated to
report child abuse and the public agencies charged with the
responsibility to protect children and help families.
Penal Code Section 11165, subdivision 9, contains the legal
definition of child abuse. The subcategories of the child abuse
definition are further defined in Penal Code Section 11165,
subdivisions B through F.
The reporting law also establishes a system, the entry
point, which is the CA/N System. Senate Bill 14 is California's
implementing legislation which sets priorities for working with
reports entering the CA/N System. In effect since October 1,
1982, the bill directs efforts toward:
1. Preplacement preventive services;
2. Family reunification;
3. Permanent out-of-home placement.
The Santa Clara County CA/N Center, a unit of DFCS, receives
all reports of alleged child abuse and neglect and determines
whether the reports should be forwarded to the Emergency Response
(ER) unit for investigation or should be handled on a nonemergency
basis. The CA/N System is vast and complex. As mandated by law,
cooperation and coordination is required from many agencies
including the Juvenile Court, education, the police and mental
health. The Grand Jury found evidence of communication, cooperation
and coordination among some of the agencies. DFCS has personnel
assigned to the juvenile unit of some police departments within
the county, such as San Jose and Sunnyvale. Their job is to act as
a liaison between the police and DFCS. The assigned social worker
can conduct joint interviews with the police officer and do
diversions on site. Further, the social worker can work with
officers in fostering community awareness of social service
matters. In roughly 90 percent of the cases, it is the police
officer who actually removes the child from the home.
In January 1993 the Child Interview Center was opened. This
joint effort between the DFCS and the San Jose Police Department
is another example of cooperation, coordination and communication
among the agencies and was a response to the recommendation of a
prior Grand Jury investigation. Personnel for both departments
attended a state-sponsored training session in Long Beach.
The CA/N Center receives 120-140 calls per day and operates,
as mandated by law, on a 24-hour basis. The majority of calls come
from child care and health care providers. A segment on child
abuse by a popular television talk show or a local news article
about the failure to report child abuse by a child or health care
provider prompts calls to the CA/N Center to skyrocket. Managers
within the department agree that over-reporting takes place for
varied reasons with the primary reason being one of fear: fear on
the part of child and health care providers because of the
possibility of the loss of job, prosecution and jail, or fear of
potential harm to the child. Some parents will report child abuse
in an attempt to gain sole custody of a child. The department
acknowledges that these types of reports drain already limited
resources allocated to children's services.
The Grand Jury visited the CA/N Center and listened to the
taking of reports and reviewed existing initial reports. The
jurors learned that sometimes it does not take much of an
allegation to land a child "into the system." In one particular
case a seven-and-a-half-year old boy was reported, by the principal
of the school, as a sexual abuser because he "inappropriately
touched" two playmates. Because of this report the child will be
questioned about possible sexual abuse by his parents. Further, the
parents will be subjected to the same type of questioning
regarding the possibility of sexually molesting their child. It
appears that there may be a tendency to jump to an unwarranted
conclusion for what could possibly be nothing more than a case of
innocent, although inappropriate child play. When the Grand Jurors
voiced concern about this particular case, a manager responded
with, "Where else would a child learn that type of behavior?" The
jurors invited the CA/N manager to watch television.
Many within the department appear to overlook the fact that
there are ways, other than sexual molestation, that children can
be exposed to what is termed "inappropriate behavior." The jurors
reviewed a case where a child was actually removed from the home
based on a report from a child care provider. In this particular
case the child, age four, was alleged to have "French kissed"
another playmate. On the theory that this behavior could only have
been learned at home, an allegation of child abuse was lodged
against the father. The child was subsequently removed from the
home because the mother would not believe the allegation and was
therefore believed to be incapable of protecting the child. It was
only after the father removed himself from the home that the child
was returned to the mother. The parents have been financially
ruined as all their assets have been funneled into efforts to end
Also in this particular case the Grand Jury has learned that
the reporting child care director incorrectly reported the facts
as relayed by a teacher. The teacher who witnessed the incident
reported to the Grand Jury that the matter was blown out of
proportion. The children did not kiss, and contrary to the report
to DFCS the child had not been involved in a prior incident. The
teacher also said she was contacted by phone by the District
Attorney's Office and DFCS. However, they did not meet in person
and a formal statement was not taken. She believes the reason for
this was simply that she did not say what either of them wanted to
The work performed by social workers at the CA/N Center, and
subsequently at the Emergency Response Center, is of the utmost
importance. Sixty percent of reports to the CA/N are sent on to
the Emergency Response Center for further assessment. It is at
these initial processing stages that decisions are made that can,
forever, affect the lives of parents and children. As the law is
currently interpreted by mandated reporters, any type of sexual
behavior may be reported as "inappropriate sexual behavior." There
is no latitude for child play. This lack of common sense is
further exacerbated by the frequent assumption that any type of
behavior must have been learned at home, thus going from
unjustified evaluation of child behavior to equally invalid
conclusions about parents' culpability.
In another case which the Grand Jurors reviewed, the principal
of a school reported emotional abuse by a parent. After the
principal let the student know that he would have to notify the
parent of continued poor academic performance, the student said
she would be afraid to go home if such a call was made. Based upon
this conversation, the principal suspected emotional child abuse
and made "the call" that changed the life of this family. The
parent was later given an hour's notice of the detention hearing.
He couldn't make it, and his daughter was taken from his care. This
occurred in 1991 and, as of May 1993, the student remains out of
the home. In its review of this case the Grand Jury did not find
any reasonable evidence of abuse on the part of the parent. What
was found was a parent who appeared to care greatly for his
daughter and her welfare but would not admit to something he did
not do. His refusal to admit to abuse was viewed as a lack of
cooperation on his part; therefore, his child was not returned.
Federal law mandates immunity from prosecution for those
reporting child abuse. Therefore, there is no deterrent for
reports made for other than honorable purposes. This law needs to
be changed to reflect and acknowledge that untrue reporting
occurs, and there should be a penalty for reporting other than
legitimate and well-founded child welfare considerations.
There is no doubt on the part of most people interviewed, and
from most of the cases read by this Grand Jury, that the majority
of the reports of child abuse are valid. However, there is growing
concern about the number of unsubstantiated child abuse reports.
For example, it is believed by some in the DFCS that in child
custody battles, sexual molestation allegations have become a tool
used to gain custody of children. Managers within the DFCS
acknowledge that this is a growing trend but appear confident that
they are able to identify these cases and handle them in a fair
and timely manner. The Grand Jury is not as confident of the
department's ability to identify and dispose of these cases. Once
an allegation is made, the accused parent immediately loses contact
with the child. This lack of contact can last for more than one
year. There appears to be a standard line of thinking: that the
alleged perpetrator must admit to the act as a condition for the
return of the child. Further, that to not admit means one is in
denial and will offend again. Therefore, the child cannot be
Assessments and Investigation
The law mandates that CA/N assume the leadership role to carry
out the intent of the reporting law. The Grand Jurors were
surprised to find the manager of the unit was unaware of this
requirement. Although there is positive interaction between the
unit and various police departments within the county, it is clear
that more can be done and more needs to be done. As it stands, the
CA/N system does not foster enough coordination and collaboration
among all agencies responsible for the protection of children.
The safety of children is left in the hands of the dependency
investigator in the Social Services Agency whose primary
responsibility according to documentation . . .is to investigate
allegations of abuse in a timely manner. Within 48 hours of the
time a child is taken into custody, the investigator must talk with
the child (if over 4 years of age), the parents, and any other
principals about the allegations that have been made that caused
the child to be taken into custody. The dependency investigator
must determine what, if any, services can be provided so that the
child can safely be returned home and make arrangements for these
services to be provided. If the child cannot be returned home
safely, a petition must be filed within 48 hours of the time the
child is taken into custody.
Having read a number of cases and interviewed both line and
management staff, the Grand Jury believes that a major problem
exists in the functioning of the dependency investigator. When the
investigative function was transferred from the Juvenile Probation
Department to the Social Services Agency, the social worker had to
assume responsibility for investigation as well as assessments.
Foster Care System
Foster care is one of many child welfare services provided
by the Department of Family and Children's Services. A child
enters the foster care system as a result of having been a
victim of physical, emotional, sexual abuse; neglect;
exploitation; parental absence or abandonment.
According to statistics provided by the Santa Clara County
Social Services Agency, 25,499 cases of child abuse were
reported to the CA/N Center in fiscal year 1991-1992.
Dispositional action was taken on 25,614 cases which include
actions on cases coming in from a previous time period. The
categories of child abuse are as follows:
Sexual abuse 5,114 20.0%
Physical abuse 8,627 33.7%
Severe neglect 1,679 6.5%
General neglect 4,261 16.7%
Emotional abuse 1,752 6.8%
Exploitation 63 .2%
Caretaker absence or incapacity. . . 4,118 16.1%
Disposition of the 25,614 (include actions on cases coming
in from previous time period) cases were as follows:
Case work completed by emergency
response social worker including
evaluation, assessment and
specified social services. . . 23,760 92.8%
Referred by emergency response
social worker for additional
services: family maintenance,
family reunification, permanency
planning, adoption, guardianship 1,854 7.2%
Since the implementation of the 1974 Child Abuse Prevention
and Treatment Act, which was designed to correct the problem of
under reporting of child abuse cases, the number of reported
cases continues to rise at an alarming rate. The Little Hoover
Commission Report, Mending our Broken Children: Restructuring
Foster Care in California, states:
Over 81,000 children are in the foster care system in
California. They are either in foster family homes,
group homes, fost-adopt homes, or family agency homes
at a total cost to taxpayers of approximately $1.4
billion a year.
When a case of child abuse is reported to the Emergency
Response unit (the intake unit) a determination is made
whether the child needs to be removed from the home for safety
reasons. This is the most critical assessment period in the
foster care process. In the words of more than one program
manager, once you are in the system you are in for life."
The law mandates that, once it is determined that the safety
of the child is predicated upon removal from the home,
consideration for out-of-home placement first be given to
relatives. The Grand Jury did not always find clear and convincing
evidence that appropriate efforts were made to find placements with
If the child is not placed with a relative, the child is taken
into protective custody. A petition is filed within 48 hours to
determine whether the child should become a dependent of the
court. A detention hearing is the next order of progression and
the juvenile court will determine whether the child shall be
further detained. A jurisdictional hearing is held to determine
whether the petition is true. The next hearing is the
dispositional hearing which will address removal of the child,
reasonable reunification efforts, and visitation rights. From this
point there is a six-month review, twelve-month review, eighteen-
month review, permanency plan hearing, post-permanency planning
hearing and, finally, dismissal hearing. Until the post-permanency
planning hearing, the child is in foster care. The time period is
years in some cases. This is an example of the failure to meet the
intent of the federal law to prevent "foster-drift."
While foster care is an integral part of child welfare
services, there continues to be concern about Santa Clara County's
foster care system. Sometimes, foster care placements are made
that are just as abusive, if not more so, than the home from which
the child was removed. The Grand Jury learned of placements where
sexual and physical abuse took place. There was even a case where
the infant died.
Unnecessary Removal of Children From Homes
In Public Law 96-272 the definition of child welfare services
was redefined and in essence shifted from the practice of
separating children from their families to assisting families in
order to prevent unnecessary removal of children from the home.
Santa Clara County DFCS now provides a service, the Family
Maintenance (FM) Program, specifically designed to provide time-
limited protective services to prevent or remedy neglect, abuse or
exploitation for the purposes of preventing separation of children
from their families. Services are provided to the child and family
while the child remains in the home with caseworker supervision.
However, the Grand Jury notes that this is merely a pilot program
at the Agency. It needs to become a permanent program and expanded
in order to prevent the costly expense, both monetary and
psychological, of family breakdown.
The Grand Jury heard from staff members of the DFCS and others
outside the department that the department puts too much money
into "back-end services," i.e., therapists and attorneys, and not
enough money into "front-end" or basic services. The county does
not receive as much in federal funds for "front-end" services,
which could help solve the problems causing family inadequacies, as
it receives for out-of-home placements or foster care services. In
other words, the Agency benefits, financially, from placing
children in foster homes.
One of the most controversial programs in the Social Services
Agency involving child welfare services is the Fost-Adopt Program.
There is even controversy as to which children are selected for
the program. These children are referred to as "marketable
children," meaning they are young and cute.
According to the DFCS, one of the primary goals of fost-adopt
placement is to provide stability and consistency through
continuing care in a nurturing family environment. The department
goes on to say that the program was designed to minimize the number
of moves for children prior to adoption and that it takes a
special kind of person to become a fost-adopt parent because of the
dual role of foster parent and prospective adoptive parents.
The Grand Jury reviewed cases involving fost-adopt and heard
from professionals inside and outside the department on this issue.
There are two major concerns:
1. The conflict in terms: Foster care is temporary
care whereas adoption connotes permanency.
2. Reunification efforts can be adversely affected by
a fost-adopt parent who wants to adopt the child.
While the department recognizes the unique position of the
fost-adopt parent, it believes the fost-adopt parent is capable of
handling the dual role. The Grand Jury disagrees.
There are two possible outcomes to any given fost-adopt case:
1. The child is reunified with the birth parent(s), or
2. The birth parent(s) lose parental rights and the
child is ultimately adopted by the fost/adopt parents.
The Fost-Adopt Program makes alternative (1.) more difficult
since the prospective adoptive parents cannot help but try to
influence the child. It can cause failure of reunification efforts
or, at the very least, make reunification efforts more difficult
than they might otherwise be.
In deciding that a child should be assigned to the Fost-Adopt
Program, the case worker makes a judgment call, namely, that
reunification efforts will fail. This looks like half a decision
just waiting for the court's concurrence or nonconcurrence. A
judgment call has been made before the natural parents have had a
chance to prove their fitness, or to show that they are not unfit.
A case reviewed by the Grand Jury involved a parent who
worked, against all odds, to complete satisfactorily her
reunification plan. Had it not been for the tenacity of a very
strong, highly principled and sensitive social worker and her
supervisor, a child would have been adopted by fost-adopt parents
even though the birth parent had met all of the reunification
goals. The social worker put her job in jeopardy and refused to be
intimidated by administrators within the department, the court-
appointed evaluator, and the district attorney's office. It was
obvious that DFCS managers and members of a private family agency
intended to circumvent the positive reunification results and to
allow the fost-adopt parents to adopt the child. This was only
one of several instances in which the integrity of the department
and adherence to its mission appear to be questionable.
Another instance involves a case in which the law mandates
that the adoptive parents, prior to finalization of the adoption,
receive a copy of a form documenting the psychosocial and medical
history of the child and that the adoptive parent acknowledge, in
writing, receipt of the form. The required form was omitted in this
case. Upon learning of a similar case in another county, where
this form had not been provided to the adoptive parents, the
department requested that a social worker complete the form and
insert it in the file. The social worker refused and the case was
taken away from her. The following day the social worker observed
that the newly assigned social worker had typed the form and
inserted it in the file. Rather than face its mistake and take
corrective action to prevent reoccurrence, the agency chose this
questionable and inappropriate method to protect itself. Actions
of this nature erode the agency's credibility and foster the
belief of some that the agency operates under the cloak of secrecy
and is answerable to no one.
In January 1990, the Harvey Rose Accountancy Corporation,
commissioned by the Board of Supervisors, completed a report that
was critical of the Department of Family and Children's Services
as lacking comprehensive written policies, practices and
procedures for handling complaints and service- related inquiries
from child welfare recipients. The report went so far as to
recommend the creation of a complaint investigation officer
position in the Juvenile Division of the Superior Court. The
report further recommended distributing informational pamphlets to
all recipients of services in order to provide them with a better
understanding of the child welfare system and to promote more
In August 1992, the Department hired a part-time ombudsman. At
the time of the selection a job description had not been
developed. In the Grand Jury's first meeting with SSA in August
1992 it was clear that one responsibility of the ombudsman was to
implement a procedure for tracking and handling complaints from
recipients of services. As of November 25, 1992 the ombudsman had
discussed five cases with the director of the Agency. As of May
1993, there is not in place the formalized complaint-handling
process referenced in the Harvey Rose audit report. It was learned
by the Grand Jury that very little, if any, change has taken place
as the result of the new position. Families receiving services and
department personnel alike gave the ombudsman low marks for
accomplishments for the time period on the job.
In respect to the audit report's recommendation regarding
distribution of information pamphlets to recipients of services,
the Grand Jury is aware of an informative guide produced by the
Agency that is easy to read and answers basic questions. The
department says it gives the guide to recipients of services;
however, the Grand Jury could not find one parent who acknowledged
receiving the guide.
The Grand Jury questions the wisdom of hiring an ombudsman
on a part-time basis. Further, in later conversation with
administrative staff it was learned that it was the intention to
utilize the ombudsman for the entire Agency, not just the
Department of Family and Children's Services.
The ombudsman was hired by and reports to the very agency
that he is charged to monitor objectively. The Harvey Rose audit
report recommended that the ombudsman report directly to the
Juvenile Division of the Superior Court. The Grand Jury supports
Role of Evaluators
At the time of the 1990 Harvey Rose audit, department policy
allowed the social worker, who provided child welfare services to
a dependent child and family, to select an evaluator to conduct
court-ordered psychological evaluations. There is continuing
concern that there is bias in the selection of evaluators.
Court-ordered psychological evaluations can have a significant
impact on dependency matters. Evaluators are asked to address such
1. Should the child be declared a dependent of the
2. Would the child be adversely affected by removal
from the home?
3. Are the parents capable of meeting the needs of the
4. In cases where the father is accused of sexual
abuse, can the mother protect the child?
In addressing these and other important issues, evaluators
have to be qualified, independent and objective in performing
The Harvey Rose audit pointed to the economic leverage the
department has over the court-appointed evaluators and to the fact
that because of the interest of both county counsel and the social
worker in the juvenile court proceedings, a potential exists that
county counsel and the social worker will select evaluators who
have a history of supporting the position of the department in
dependency hearings. It was the recommendation of the Harvey Rose
audit that the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors authorize
funding for 30 hours per week for the position of evaluator-
coordinator within the office of the Superior Court. It was
further recommended that the Santa Clara County Juvenile Division
of the Superior Court assume responsibility for selecting all
court-appointed evaluators and for mediating differences among
attorneys regarding the selection of such evaluators.
The department is to be commended for implementing some of the
recommendations of the Harvey Rose audit. However, the Grand Jury
does not believe the issue of independent and unbiased referrals
has been resolved. There still remain, today, allegations of
evaluators being "black-listed" or slotted as pro- or anti-parent
or child. Equally important, the Grand Jury questions the wisdom
of housing the evaluator-coordinator at the SSA which does not give
the appearance of independence or impartiality. In discussions
with the evaluator-coordinator there were many references both to
the district attorney and the public defender not wanting certain
The Grand Jury heard comments about certain evaluators lacking
competence; yet they are still on the list. When asked why, the
jurors were advised that less competent evaluators were used to
evaluate "less important" matters. The Grand Jury sees no valid
reason for an incompetent evaluator remaining on the list.
One of the primary responsibilities of an evaluator-
coordinator is to develop and administer a system for follow-up
and review of evaluations to ensure quality and consistency of
services. There is no evidence that this requirement has been met.
The evaluator-coordinator acknowledges this fact and attributes it
to a lack of time.
Large Numbers of Ethnic "Out-of-Home" Placements
Statistics show that minority children make up a large
percentage of "out-of-home" placements. However, few agree on the
reason for this phenomenon. Some argue that the reason is poverty
while others argue that the reason is simply one of racism and the
inability of minorities to gain access to a very complicated and
secretive system. While the reasons are varied, the fact remains
that there is a disproportionate number of minority children
removed from their homes.
Legislation passed in 1990 (AB 548, Moore) requires:
With full consideration for the proximity of the
natural parents to the placement so as to facilitate
visitation and family reunification, whenever a child
is being considered for placement in foster care, the
following order of placement preference regarding
racial or ethnic background shall be used, except
where application of these priorities would not be in
the best interests of the child:
(A) . . .In the home of a relative .
(B) . . .With a foster parent with the same racial
background or ethnic identification as the child. . .
(C) . . .With a family of a different racial
background or ethnic identification where there is
evidence of sensitivity to the child's race, ethnicity,
and culture. The child's religious background shall
also be considered. . .
Department personnel explained that one reason for over-all
high out-of-home placements stems from the fact that a larger
percent of minorities receive medical and other services from
county agencies which are more apt to report child abuse. Since
minority children in many cases do not have private physicians and
must seek assistance from county medical facilities, they are
easier to identify and thus account for a greater number of
reports of child abuse.
The Grand Jury was told that the perception among Santa Clara
County minority groups is that they have the least clout, both
economically and politically, and thus are more vulnerable, given
the fact that they often cannot fight back. Reporting agencies are
more inclined to report suspected cases of child abuse when
minorities are involved. Once the reports are made, because of
preconceived ideas about minorities, the reports are believed and
the process becomes one of substantiating the belief rather than
completing an impartial assessment.
Another reason given is racial bias. The Grand Jury was told
of a systematic bias on the part of the very individuals charged
with protecting the best interests of children. It was explained
that the bias touched those in the department as well as others
involved in the dependency process and that the bias was at times
on a conscious level but at other times was automatic and
ingrained. For example, an Hispanic father was told that he and
"his kind" are known for sexually abusing their children.
The department acknowledges that out-of-home-minority
placement is of great concern to the minority community and is
beginning to address this issue. The department has three
specialized units, Hispanic, Asian and African-American, to
heighten the level of cultural sensitivity within the department.
The department has also begun to meet with the minority community
to assist and to seek assistance in meeting the needs of minority
children. The Grand Jury applauds these recent efforts and
encourages the department to be more aggressive in this critical
area. Regardless of the reason for the disproportionate number of
minority out-of-home placements, the future of the children of
this county depends upon the efforts of all involved to correct
the problem expeditiously.
Each year, the number of children entering foster care in
Santa Clara County increases. Child care providers and others
mandated to report suspected child abuse may report because of fear
of prosecution rather than a real belief that a child is in real
danger. Yet, they have little confidence that once the call is made
the child will be better off.
As stated in the Little Hoover Commission report:
When government intervenes and takes over the
responsibility of parenting children, it should be
held to the same standards as the children's parents.
That is to say, it is not enough for the state and
counties administering the foster care system to be
responsible only for the immediate safety and
well-being of the children under their charge; rather,
these governmental bodies are accountable for the
growth and development of these children into
productive, well-adjusted adult members of society. It
does not matter that these victims of abuse and
neglect came to the government at a disadvantage; the
success or failure of these children's lives are the
measurements by which the government should be judged.
Many parents and professionals whom the Grand Jurors
interviewed believe that the foster care system operates as if it
is accountable to no one. The fact that it does not have a
comprehensive written policy in place for addressing complaints
and other service-related inquiries from child welfare recipients
supports this belief.
The Grand Jury did not see clear and convincing evidence that
the foster care system operates with the best interest of the child
in mind. It did find that the interest of the child often took a
back seat to the interest of others.
The only answer to this sad commentary is that every effort
must be made to assist families in securing the skills necessary
to keep families intact. Additional funds must be allocated to
family maintenance or to what are called "front-end" services.
Failure to do less will assure that children and parents will
continue to be traumatized to a point where it is doubtful that
they will ever recover.
Some of the foregoing deficiencies are the result of the
inadequacies of Federal and State laws. Dishonest and inaccurate
reporting must be made punitive so that families will not be
destroyed under the cloak of confidentiality. If there is but one
"alleged sexual abuser" who has been wrongfully accused, and the
inadequacies of the system and incompetence of assigned staff have
compounded the problem, then the law must be scrutinized and
The Grand Jury recommends:
The Grand Jury requests that the DFCS report to the
Grand Jury the status of its compliance with the
recommendations of the Harvey Rose report. This reply
should be by specific recommendation number and should
be furnished no later than January 1, 1994.
2. Family Preservation
A. Increase allocation of funds for
front-end services for family preservation
B. Increase the use of mediation in order to
assure that the focus is always on the
interest of the child rather than the
interest of the participants and in order to
minimize the adversarial nature of the
dependency hearing process and the sparring
of the attorneys.
3. Public Complaints
A. Make the ombudsman a full-time position,
responsible to the Juvenile Division of the
B. Establish formal, written-procedures to
review and respond to complaints consistently
and in a timely manner.
In view of the critical role of the evaluator
A. Increase the evaluator-coordinator from
part-time to full-time basis and assure the
independence of the coordinator in order to
obtain objectivity and impartiality.
B. Allocate a greater portion of the
evaluator-coordinator's time to reviewing
evaluation reports and addressing
deficiencies, one-on-one, with the
C. Assemble a new list of evaluators and
classify them by level of education,
experience, and expertise. Aggressively seek
qualified minority evaluators. Remove
unqualified evaluators from the list.
A. Make personnel responsible for and hold
them accountable for providing timely notice
of hearings to parents and attorneys. The
same applies to notification of child's and
parents' counsel of a proposed change in
placement, condition of child, or change in
B. Eliminate fost-adopt program or, at least,
make it departmental policy to restrict
participants to children whose parent's
parental rights have been terminated.
C. Give the highest preference for
out-of-home placements to responsible
relatives when it becomes necessary to move a
child from the home.
D. Take appropriate steps to protect the
integrity of departmental files.
6. Cultural Issues
A. Train workers to differentiate between
class issues and cultural issues, and train
social workers to be culturally sensitive.
B. Undertake training of all employees for
A. Have the Child Abuse and Neglect Center
assume its role as the primary administrator
and coordinator of the CA/N System. Work more
closely with all agencies: Police
Department, Juvenile Probation Department,
health facilities, Children's Shelter,
educational facilities. Assure that every
effort is made to make accurate, proper and
timely decisions about the welfare of
children brought to its attention.
B. Direct the Social Services Agency to take
an advocacy role to eliminate the
shortcomings of State and Federal laws.
1. Bloom, Barbara and David Steinhart. Why Punish the
Children? San Francisco: National Council on Crime and
Delinquency, 1993. 87 pp.
2. Barthel, Joan. For Children's Sake. New York: Office of
Communications, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, 1992. 79 pp.
3. California. Commission on California State Government
Organization and Economy. Mending Our Broken Children:
Restructuring Foster Care in California. Sacramento: Little
Hoover Commission, 1992. 111 pp.
4. Clark, L. Michael (Office of County Counsel). A Brief
Overview of the Juvenile Court Dependency Process. Prepared for
the Santa Clara County Grand Jury, April 1993.
5. Gardner, Richard A. "Modern Witch Hunt--Child Abuse
Charges," The Wall Street Journal, February 22, 1993.
6. Lange, Linda, Ed. Making Reasonable Efforts: Steps for
Keeping Families Together. Consortium of Agencies: National
Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges; Child Welfare League
of America; Youth Law Center of San Francisco; National Center
for Youth Law. New York: Office of Communications, Edna McConnell
Clark Foundation, n.d. 1 20 pp.
7. Norman Abigail. Keeping Families Together: The Case
for Family Preservation. New York: Edna McConnell Clark
Foundation, 1 985. 41 pp.
8. Rose, Harvey M. Accountancy Corporation, C.P.A. Review
of the County's System of Services for the Protection of Abused
and Neglected Children. Report to the Board of Supervisors of the
County of Santa Clara. San Francisco, January, 1990.
9. Samantrai, Krishna. "To Prevent Unnecessary Separation
of Children and Families: Public Law 96-272--Policy and
Practice," Social Work, 37 (July, 1992), 295-302.
10. County of Santa Clara. Social Services Agency. "Fact
Sheet," January, 1992.
PASSED AND ADOPTED by the Grand Jury of Santa Clara County
this fourteenth day of June, 1993.