Investigations

Sacramento County official steps down amid CPS controversy

Lynn Frank, the embattled head of the Sacramento County agency that oversees Child Protective Services, announced Tuesday that she is resigning.

Her resignation came on the eve of the release of a county grand jury report that is expected to be harshly critical of CPS management and of the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency Frank ran for three years.

"I have decided to step down as your Director," Frank said in a memo e-mailed to workers, which was excerpted in a county press release. "It was not an easy decision."

Frank said she was leaving to take "personal time off to regain my health and my perspective." She will be on leave until June 30, then take a new, unspecified job with the county until Dec. 31, when she will retire after 24 years with the county.

Frank was not available for comment, a spokeswoman said, and county officials said she had not been pushed out.

Though not contained in the news release, in the e-mail to her workers, Frank added that she thought "that my departure will allow DHHS to move forward more quickly and may remove some of the focus that has been cast on DHHS."

Susan Peters, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, said she had not been part of the discussions that preceded Frank's departure but added, "I do think it's time to look at new ways for DHHS to view its charge."

"It's been a very difficult time for that department," added Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan. "It's a very large department. We know that there need to be changes made and changes are being made at Child Protective Services. It's a good time for Lynn to move on to other things."

The agency has been under fire in the past year, particularly since the July 21 death of 4-year-old Jahmaurae Allen, who had been reported to CPS in June as a possible abuse victim. Despite that report, CPS did not make contact with Jahmaurae's family for a week, then closed the case as "unfounded."

He was beaten to death a month later – allegedly by his mother's live-in boyfriend – and The Bee subsequently reported that the case files were altered twice after that to change the finding from "unfounded" to "inconclusive" and, finally, to "substantiated."

The grand jury began its probe of Child Protective Services after Jahmaurae's death. Since then, criticism of both CPS and Frank's agency has mounted as more information has surfaced about deaths of children who had been known to CPS.

Child advocate Robert Wilson, who repeatedly has called for leadership changes in the county's child protection system, said he was guardedly optimistic about Tuesday's announcement.

"If it's emblematic of the Board of Supervisors' intention to focus on the leadership faults within CPS, then I applaud it and hope they continue their efforts," said Wilson, executive director of Sacramento Child Advocates, whose attorneys represent children in dependency court.

"If, however, she's being used as a scapegoat to justify the delay by the Board of Supervisors to respond, then the Board of Supervisors should be replaced."

Tuesday's top-level resignation harkened back to a strikingly similar era in Sacramento child welfare history, when one of Frank's predecessors left the county amid public outcry over another child's death. Robert Caulk presided over the department during the firestorm that followed the 1996 beating death of 3-year-old Adrian Conway, which prompted the supervisors to demand an overhaul of the agency.

Caulk announced his resignation 18 months after the boy was tortured and murdered by his mother, whose troubled history of drugs and abuse was known to CPS before the boy's death. At the time, the Board of Supervisors pressed to make child safety and protection CPS' highest priority, rather than working to keep dysfunctional families together.

However, a Bee investigative series published last June revealed that – despite hefty budget and staff increases since Adrian's death – many problems persisted. The CPS oversight committee, a citizens group created after Adrian's death, had repeatedly warned that danger signs for children were being missed, and that workers lacked proper training and supervision.

The death of Jahmaurae Allen reignited concerns about CPS, and the county ordered a $100,000 review of the agency by an independent consulting firm. The consultant found that a spike in child deaths had occurred in recent years, with 10 children known to CPS dying of abuse or neglect between September 2007 and December 2008. In a close-up look at seven recent deaths, it identified four where the agency had missed "clear opportunities" to intervene.

The consultant also found problems so chronic that it recommended an outside agency be brought in to work with CPS to improve its practices. One group, the Child Welfare League of America, is scheduled to meet with CPS and the board next week and submit a bid to help reform the agency.

Despite the recent criticism of the child protection agency, one top county official said Tuesday that Frank's departure was simply a retirement and that the fact it comes as the grand jury report is about to be released is "coincidental."

"This is her decision," said Jim Hunt, acting director of the countywide services agency, which oversees DHHS.

Hunt is a familiar face in the county. In 1997, he moved up in the department to replace his outgoing boss, Caulk, as interim head of DHHS. Hunt retired from the county after 34 years but returned in January in his new interim post – stepping into controversy similar to that of the Adrian Conway era.

Hunt said he expects to place Frank in a variety of health-related jobs between July and December.

"She's got a lot of talent," he said. "She is a certified public accountant, and I think she could be very helpful as we chart the troubled financial waters that we're facing."

Hunt's deputy, Ann Edwards-Buckley, will take over Frank's job on an interim basis while a new director is sought for the agency, which has 1,900 employees and a $500 million budget.

Supervisor Jimmie Yee said he considered Frank to be "a good employee," and he commiserated with her position in the line of fire.

"Personally, I've been going through a lot myself regarding CPS," Yee added. "If you take it personally, it gets to you. There comes a time when you've had enough."

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