Grand jury report cites problems, progress in county child protection

A disproportionately high number of foster children in Sacramento are shuffled in assembly line fashion through numerous placements, too many social workers and a disjointed medical system that even insiders don't understand, the Sacramento County grand jury has found.

As a result, the 19-member panel concluded the safety and well-being of Sacramento's most vulnerable children remain in jeopardy.

County Child Protective Services "has been structured for the convenience of the organization, not in a way that works best for the children," according to the latest grand jury report, released Thursday. "For CPS to succeed in its mission, it must change. It must focus on children."

The report marks the second time in two years the grand jury has drilled into the inner-workings of the county's child protection agency, the subject of an ongoing Bee investigation that began in 2007.

Yet unlike last year's scathing report - titled "Nothing Ever Changes - Ever" - the new report indicates the agency is beginning to move in the right direction.

Agency leadership "is attempting to implement systems that will make it more effective and efficient," the panel concluded, in spite of deep budget cuts and layoffs. Among the improvements cited is a reorganization to allow a single social worker to follow a child throughout the CPS system.

However, "while CPS has made changes in the last year to improve its operations, it has a substantial way to go," the panel cautioned.

In a prepared statement, CPS Director Laura Coulthard said the agency agrees "with many of the Grand Jury's observations about how the foster care system should improve and their recommended solutions," noting that many already are "in place or in progress."

"We share the Grand Jury's concerns that lack of resources will make continuing improvements a challenge," Coulthard added.