AUTUMN CRUZ / Bee file, 2008

Blancho Brumfield, center, talks with Sacramento police during a child abuse investigation she worked for Sacramento County. In a state probe of a foster home Brumfield ran, she was barred from licensed care but allowed to work for the county's Child Protective Services.

Sacramento child abuse investigator target of state foster-care probe

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 25, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 26, 2012 - 11:57 pm

In 2007, the state Department of Social Services revoked the foster care license of a Vallejo woman whom the agency accused of locking children in her garage "for hours without food or water" and taunting one foster boy with the words "faggot" and "queer."

The state forbade Blancho Brumfield from ever working in a facility licensed by the department – except when it came to her job as a child abuse investigator for Sacramento County.

In fact, Sacramento County's Child Protective Services hired Brumfield four months after the Department of Social Services launched its investigation into abuse allegations at Brumfield's foster home in May 2004, records show.

Until Feb. 2, when she was placed on paid administrative leave from her $75,000-a-year job, Brumfield had been working in the emergency response unit at CPS, which is responsible for investigating the most pressing claims of abuse and neglect.

Laura McCasland, a CPS spokeswoman, said Brumfield was placed on leave a day after a county ombudsman received a complaint about her. McCasland would not disclose the nature of the complaint, but said the county is examining Brumfield's background, including the cases she handled at CPS.

McCasland said the state notified "a low-level" CPS employee about the investigation into abuse allegations at Brumfield's foster home. But it never informed the local agency about the outcome, she said.

Michael Weston, a spokesman for the state Department of Social Services, said his agency notified CPS on Sept. 27, 2004, about the investigation. That was three days after she started work for the county. He said his agency has no record of contacting CPS about the outcome of the investigation.

However, county officials should have been aware of the complaints because of a related 2006 lawsuit that was filed by the mother of a foster child allegedly abused in Brumfield's home. Besides Brumfield, the lawsuit named CPS and the Department of Social Services among the defendants.

The probe into Brumfield's background is the latest in a string of disclosures about Sacramento County's child welfare agency. In recent months, it has come to light that CPS failed to keep track of a baby boy who now has been missing for a year and that the agency did not properly document its reasons for returning a baby girl to the home of her parents, where she later died of medical neglect.

Bill Grimm, senior counsel at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, sees a troubling pattern.

"The agency needs to be put back under the microscope," he said. "People need to ask why these things are happening again."

In the Brumfield case, the social worker and her husband, Gary, were licensed to have up to six foster children in their home from 1999 to 2007. The state Department of Social Services filed a complaint in 2006 leveling several accusations about the couple. Among them:

• The Brumfields verbally abused foster children, including calling one child "faggot" and "queer."

• The Brumfields encouraged foster children to fight one another, and allowed a child who visited the home to physically and verbally abuse foster children.

• Blancho Brumfield locked foster children in her garage, which did not have air conditioning or heating.

The material provided by the state did not say who made the original allegations of abuse or how many children allegedly were involved. Before the Department of Social Services made its formal findings in the investigation, the agency reached a settlement with the couple that stripped them of their foster care license and prevents either of them from working in a facility licensed by the department.

However, the department made an exception for Blancho Brumfield to allow her to work with people in state-licensed facilities "in the course of her employment with and under the supervision of the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services Child Protective Services agency," according to a copy of the agreement.

Weston said the provision was included in the interest of settling the case and making sure that "foster children would no longer be in her home."

Brumfield declined to talk to a Bee reporter about the case and did not return subsequent voice mail messages.

Kristin McAllister has a son who she alleges was abused during the years he lived in Brumfield's foster home. CPS did the investigation that resulted in McAllister's son being removed from her care, following allegations of abuse that she said were untrue. In 2006, McAllister filed a lawsuit on her son's behalf against Brumfield, CPS and others. The suit was settled in 2010 for an undisclosed amount.

McAllister said she was "sickened and infuriated" to learn that Brumfield was still employed at CPS earlier this year, when an acquaintance told her about a case that was handled by the social worker.

CPS changed its procedures for conducting background checks on job applicants following a 2009 Bee investigation that revealed at least 68 people at the agency had criminal records in Sacramento County. But it's not clear whether those changes would have made a difference in Brumfield's case.

The state didn't finish its investigation until after Brumfield had been hired by the county, and criminal charges were never filed against her. While the state notified Vallejo police of the allegations against Brumfield, the Police Department did not investigate because the state found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, Sgt. Jeff Bassett said.

Grimm of the National Center for Youth Law said Vallejo police should have examined the case more. "I'm just astounded these people were not convicted of violating child abuse laws," he said. "It appears they only got a slap on the wrist."

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