The Public Eye: Sacramento County criticized for its review of fired caseworker

12/30/2012 12:00 AM

12/30/2012 12:57 PM

After learning that a social worker responsible for investigating child abuse had reportedly abused children herself, Sacramento County officials ordered a review of some of the cases she had investigated.

Blancho Brumfield lost her foster care license in 2007 because state investigators found she had abused children in her Vallejo home. Sacramento County cited the state action as one reason for firing Brumfield in July.

The review of Brumfield's casework at Child Protective Services turned up problems such as not interviewing victims privately and not backgrounding suspects, including sex offenders. The Bee obtained a copy of the review through a California Public Records Act request.

Nevertheless, the county reviewer concluded that Brumfield's work was of "at least standard quality."

In a written statement, CPS Deputy Director Michelle Callejas said she is satisfied there are no problem cases in Brumfield's past because of the review's findings and because of regular checks the agency does of all emergency response investigators.

She also noted that Brumfield's work has led to only one complaint filed with the county. The complaint was filed by a former foster child who notified CPS of Brumfield's alleged child abuse.

But Ed Howard, senior counsel at the Children's Advocacy Institute in San Diego, said the agency's conclusion isn't supported by its review. Howard examined the review at the request of The Bee.

He noted that Brumfield did not perform key tasks in more than half of the 21 cases reviewed by CPS.

"It is genuinely shocking to me that 'standard quality' consists of doing what you're supposed to be doing only half the time when it comes to the life or death of the children of this county," Howard said.

He said the county should have reviewed more than 21 cases, which make up just over 1 percent of the estimated 1,500 that Brumfield handled in more than seven years at the agency.

CPS also should have done more than just review files – it should have checked the welfare of all the children investigated by Brumfield, Howard said.

"When the fox has been guarding the henhouse, you don't do a record check," he said. "You check to make sure the hens are OK."

According to the statement from Callejas, the review of the 21 cases included interviews with the children who were the subject of the alleged abuse and neglect.

The county also found no red flags in the 29 cases that were transferred to other social workers when Brumfield was put on leave in February, Callejas said.

Howard said one of the most troubling findings is that in less than half the cases Brumfield did not make it clear that she interviewed child victims privately. Victims won't cooperate if attackers are present because they risk another beating, he said.

Brumfield also routinely failed to do timely background checks and obtain other documentation about people involved in an investigation, the review found. In two of the cases, Brumfield had such failures when there were allegations of sex offenders living in the house.

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