The Public Eye: Sacramento County fires Child Protective Services worker
12/09/2012 12:00 AM
12/09/2012 11:22 AM
Sacramento County has fired a Child Protective Services investigator because she allegedly abused children in her foster home, used a county car to commute to work each day and counted the commutes on her timecard, records show.
As The Bee reported earlier this year, the county hired Blancho Brumfield as an emergency response investigator in 2004, when she was under scrutiny by the California Department of Social Services for abuse reports at her Vallejo foster home.
In January of this year, one of Brumfield's former foster children called the county to say she shouldn't be working with children. The county placed Brumfield on administrative leave and launched an investigation.
The investigation raises a number of questions about the county's hiring of Brumfield and how it responded to the news about her background. The Bee obtained a copy of the investigation through a California Public Records Act request.
Brumfield was fired July 31. In its letter to Brumfield explaining the decision, the county cited an investigation by the Department of Social Services that was completed in 2005.
The department interviewed five of Brumfield's former foster children, and upheld allegations that she and her husband locked children in a garage without food or water for long periods, encouraged the children to fight and ridiculed them by saying things such as they were foster children because no one loved them, records state.
In its dismissal letter, the county cited its own investigation, which found that Blancho Brumfield stole public funds by using a county car to get to and from her CPS job each day and by including the commutes on her timecard. Her actions, both violations of county policy, cost the county about $35,000 in the two years reviewed, records state.
Brumfield did not return messages from The Bee. According to county records, she admitted using county vehicles to get to and from work and marking commutes as work time.
She denied at least some of the abuse allegations and tried to submit an old psychological exam of a former foster child to try to discredit his story. The county said she violated privacy law and ethical standards by doing so, and noted that she didn't dispute the state's findings when she lost her foster care license.
Brumfield is "not taking responsibility for her actions and continues to blame the child," a hearing officer wrote in a review of the case, adding that a request by her union representative to consider a child's state of mind was "outrageous."
Brumfield lost her first appeal of the decision, and will receive another hearing before an arbitrator next month.
The findings about her beg further investigation, child welfare advocates say.
"This casts a shadow over all the investigations she has done in her 7 1/2 years at the county," said Bill Grimm, senior counsel at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland.
Grimm estimates that Brumfield handled about 1,500 investigations at CPS, where she was assigned the most pressing cases of alleged abuse and neglect of children.
CPS Deputy Director Michelle Callejas said in an interview Thursday that the agency reviewed some of Brumfield's work and found no problems.
Callejas said she did not know how many cases were reviewed or how the agency reviewed her work, but was satisfied with the review.
In its dismissal letter, the county accused Brumfield of increasing community distrust of CPS, which has faced repeated criticism for systemic problems that have contributed to the deaths of children under its responsibility.
In the investigative records, the county repeatedly said Brumfield, the state and Brumfield's foster care agency failed to notify the county about her record of abuse.
But Grimm and Ed Howard, senior counsel at the Children's Advocacy Institute in San Diego, said Sacramento County had a duty to find out about her background.
Callejas said she doesn't know what the county did to check her references, but said employers are often limited about what they can say about a past employee.
A Department of Social Services spokesman said earlier this year that the department told the county about the investigation in 2004, after Brumfield was hired by the county.
But Callejas said the contact consisted of a state investigator wanting to talk to a social worker about the case and didn't include any effort to notify CPS management about Brumfield's involvement.
When a state official completed the abuse investigation in 2005, she summarized the findings and included a warning: "It should be noted that Blancho Brumfield is a Sacramento County Emergency Response Social Worker."
Nevertheless, when the state agreed to settle the case with Brumfield two years later and banned her from working in state-licensed facilities, it specifically exempted her work as a Sacramento County social worker. In records, the county said it wasn't informed about the agreement and would never have accepted it if asked.
At least one of Brumfield's supervisors was aware of her past record, though.
In a statement given to the county, Mary Ingram, now retired, said Brumfield told her about the abuse investigation. Ingram said Brumfield told her that she was "accused of slapping a child all she said was that she was accused and not found guilty and by her choice she would not have foster children again."
Callejas said steps have been taken to prevent similar problems from happening in the future. The state Department of Social Services has agreed to notify the county about similar investigations involving CPS employees and will let the county search its licensing database to check on job candidates, she said.
The county also started using an FBI database to check for criminal records nationwide, she said.
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