National child welfare group to troubleshoot with CPS officials

Sacramento County officials announced Monday that they have invited a national child welfare group to meet with the county's troubled Child Protective Services agency to discuss possible improvements inside CPS.

The move follows a critical review of the agency by an independent consulting firm that found widespread problems inside CPS and recommended bringing in outside help to correct problems.

Representatives from the Child Welfare League of America are scheduled to visit April 21 with CPS representatives and local children's groups, then meet with the Board of Supervisors the next day.

The Child Welfare League of America is a private non-profit group based in Arlington, Va., whose members include CPS' parent agency at the county, the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Child Welfare League has consulted in the past with other California child protection agencies, including those in Kern and Solano counties.

In Solano County, for instance, the league was brought in after that county's grand jury issued a scathing report in 2004 on its local Child Protective Services.

Sacramento County's announcement Monday that it will solicit the group's input followed the recent release of the $100,000 review of CPS by MGT of America, Inc., which spent several months investigating the agency at the county's request. In its report, MGT found that at least four children had died of abuse or neglect after CPS missed "clear opportunities" to remove them from danger.

The county ordered the report after a Bee investigation found chronic problems inside CPS, including a spike in child abuse and neglect deaths, and the altering of internal case files.

MGT concluded that 10 children known to the agency had died between September 2007 and December 2008, and that an outside consultant should be brought in to oversee changes in CPS practices.

Those 10 deaths represented "a substantial increase in the occurrence of these tragic events," the consultant found.

The Board of Supervisors agreed March 31 to have CPS officials and administrative staff return in 90 days to report on what they are doing – or planning to do – about MGT's findings. But board chairwoman Susan Peters said Monday that she wants to cut that time frame to 45 days on several key issues to instill a "sense of urgency."

Peters said she was especially troubled by the audit's conclusion that CPS' internal guidelines are cumbersome and confusing, spanning 1,300 pages of policies – many of them conflicting or outdated.

"That was very distressing to learn that," said Peters, who stressed that she believes that CPS leadership is receptive to change.

The Sacramento County grand jury is expected to issue its own report soon on Child Protective Services – the seventh report by the grand jury on Sacramento CPS in the past decade.