Child welfare agency criticized for outdated rules

Sacramento County's Child Protective Services needs to step up progress on completing its policy manual, more than a year after the troubled agency was warned that its guidelines were outdated, inconsistent and contradictory, according to a new citizens' report scheduled to go before county officials today.

While expressing overall confidence in the county's child protection administrators, the CPS Oversight Committee singled out the agency's sluggish progress in its annual report to the Board of Supervisors.

The Oversight Committee acknowledged the toll of budget cuts at CPS, but noted that workers there have been accused of failing to follow policies and procedures in children's deaths - yet an updated manual has yet to materialize.

"With the staff layoffs and position-shifting that has occurred in the last year, it is more important than ever for CPS to have up-to-date policies and procedures to guide staff in carrying out duties with which they are unfamiliar and inexperienced," according to the committee, which has monitored CPS since 1996.

The child protection agency experienced an alarming spike in child deaths in 2008, detailed in a series of stories by The Bee. At the time, CPS officials laid much of the blame on mistakes and lapses in judgment by front-line social workers.

But CPS management soon faced its own criticism from multiple fronts, with a key complaint being the agency's cumbersome, 1,300-page manual.

Today's report to supervisors adopted the usual polite, understated tone that has been a hallmark of the Oversight Committee, which over the years has detailed serious problems within the agency that have contributed to children's deaths.