CPS gets green light to hire outside consultant

Sacramento's embattled Child Protective Services got the nod Tuesday from the Board of Supervisors to hire an outside consultant, but a panel of citizens wants to make sure the agency gets its money's worth.

Under fire for an escalating number of child deaths – and a string of internal problems – CPS officials expressed optimism over their plan to pay more than $100,000 to the Child Welfare League of America for expert advice.

But the CPS oversight committee, created after the 1996 murder of 3-year-old Adrian Conway, cautioned the board about the "vagueness" of the league's proposal and promised to monitor the deal.

"With the extremely tight budget times we have, if we are spending money on a contract, and that contract is not yielding results, we need to be able to terminate that contract," said Alyson Collier, chairwoman of the oversight committee. "There needs to be some accountability for the contractor as well as for our CPS team."

The hiring of the Child Welfare League came in response to two highly critical reports this year of Sacramento County CPS. On Tuesday, CPS Director Laura Coulthard laid out the agency's progress since the grand jury and an outside auditor detailed chronic problems. Coulthard said her staff's timely completion of safety assessments of children has jumped from about 20 percent last year to more than 80 percent.

Tuesday's meeting got testy as supervisors and county officials debated how seriously CPS was taking the issue of staff evaluations. The grand jury harshly criticized CPS for rarely evaluating its workers.

Board Chairwoman Susan Peters drilled into the issue, saying she wanted more specifics from CPS and that she believed Jim Hunt, acting administrator of the Countywide Services Agency, which oversees CPS, was being "dismissive" of the topic.

Supervisor Roger Dickinson defended CPS, saying it was clear that children and families must come first.