Almost half of Sacramento County's child protection investigation workers were unavailable to probe abuse in the last fiscal year, according to a report presented today.
In its annual review of the county's long troubled child welfare agency, the CPS Oversight Committee focused on the emergency response unit responsible for detecting abuse and neglect. The committee, made up of child-welfare professionals and county employees not in CPS, presented its report to the Board of Supervisors.
On a daily basis, only 55 percent of the emergency response unit's 168 employees were available to investigate abuse and neglect reports in the fiscal year that ended June 30, the report found.
The absentees include Blancho Brumfield, who was put on leave after the county received a complaint about her background. She lost her state day care license because of alleged child abuse in a facility she ran in Vallejo.
Struggling to keep up with increased work demands, social workers use sick time and vacations to stay on top of caseloads, the report says.
The committee blamed county managers for accepting a "culture of absenteeism."
CPS Deputy Director Michelle Callejas disagreed with that complaint, saying that employees are often unavailable for legitimate reasons such as training.
Not having a full staff was just one of several problems identified by the oversight committee. As in previous reports, the committee found critical errors in cases that ended up with a child dying or almost dying.
While the report did not provide specifics, CPS has continued to face public scrutiny for its handling of some cases. 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.
David Ballard, chief executive officer of the Children's Receiving Home of Sacramento, said the problems of CPS are "more crucial than they have ever been."
CPS has lost about 30 percent of its staff to budget cuts in recent years. While emergency response has avoided those cuts, its workers have had to pick up some tasks of departed employees.
CPS needs to finish updating its policies and make them more readily available to investigators in the field, the report says.
The agency needs to provide more training to social workers, who are often confused about how to proceed with a case and how to make a final determination, the report says.
Callejas said the county agrees with most of the report's findings. "We have a lot of work to do," she said.