Editorial: More work to do to fix children's safety agency

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 8A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 7:38 am

To hear county officials tell it, Sacramento County's much-scrutinized Child Protective Services is turning the corner.

A report going to the Board of Supervisors today does show some progress, but there's a long, long way to go to turn around this long-troubled agency. To keep our most vulnerable children safe, this is no time to ease up on CPS.

Supervisors can't just receive the report at face value and move on. They need to ask tough questions about whether these signs of improvement are genuine and meaningful. They need to be more hands-on in tackling a culture at CPS that has been long on bureaucracy and short on accountability.

They could take a cue from Los Angeles County, where the director brought in to fix its distressed CPS answers directly to county supervisors. The Los Angeles Times reported this month on a secret report sent to supervisors in which investigators found widespread CPS failures that had significantly contributed to the majority of child deaths.

According to the new report on Sacramento CPS, it is doing better at reunifying families and is completing adoptions faster than the national goal. But two-thirds of children who turned 18 while in foster care had been in the system for three years or longer, nearly double the national goal.

CPS is also doing worse than the national average in responding promptly to case referrals. Here's one possible reason: An independent oversight committee reported last September that nearly half of emergency child abuse investigators were unavailable to handle cases. CPS says it is working on the oversight panel's recommendations.

At that September meeting, supervisors did ask some good questions and gave indications of being more engaged. If improved finances allow supervisors to start restoring some budget cuts to CPS, that would help, too. But more staffing and money aren't enough.

No doubt CPS has a tough job, yet its shortcomings have been clearly demonstrated, including the need for better training and greater oversight of caseworkers. As some recent high-profile cases attest, there is cause to be skeptical that the culture has truly changed.

There's Blancho Brumfield, who was kept on as a child abuse investigator for years after she lost her foster care license for reportedly abusing children in her Vallejo home. The Bee's Brad Branan obtained an internal review showing that Brumfield was lax in her duties, such as not doing background checks and not interviewing victims privately.

There's Dwight Stallings, the little boy that CPS staffers inexplicably failed to report missing for months. He hasn't been seen since April 2011, his mother won't talk, and leads appear to have dried up. The Sheriff's Department believes he might be dead.

And there's Lily Manning – the "girl with 100 scars" – whose story The Bee's Marjie Lundstrom told in heartbreaking detail. Manning has filed a lawsuit claiming that CPS didn't protect her from the adoptive mother who tortured her.

Where's the outrage from supervisors? We're not in favor of political pandering, but when the system fails this spectacularly, some righteous indignation is justified – especially when it leads to real change.

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