Editorial: Improved state oversight of foster care vital

State social services officials have finally done the right thing by removing Tracy Dossman from the roster of approved foster parents.

But it took too long for the Department of Social Services to conclude that Dossman's foster home in Sacramento presented "a threat to the health and safety" of children and to order her foster family agency to stop placing children with her.

Her string of troubling lapses goes back years and culminated in the January 2008 unsolved death of 4 1/2-year-old Amariana Crenshaw, who was in Dossman's charge when she was found burned beyond recognition. Dossman's record – checkered would be a charitable description – did not come to public attention until a series of stories last month in The Bee, which triggered the Social Services inquiry into her fitness to be a foster mother.

The department needs to do some internal soul-searching and pose this question to itself: In the future, how can it more quickly identify foster parents with problems – and decertify them before there's a needless tragedy?

Spokeswoman Lizelda Lopez said that the department would have no comment because it does not want to jeopardize the case against Dossman, in the event she decides to appeal the decision.

Another warning the department should heed is that it should tighten up on private foster family agencies that act as middlemen across California, recruiting, training and overseeing foster parents, and placing children with them.

Dossman went from one such agency to another as at least 46 children were placed with her since 2003.

Her last agency, Positive Option Family Service, came under state scrutiny late last year. In December, Social Services ordered the agency to make fixes or risk losing its license. Lopez said officials will meet with Positive Option this summer to check its progress, and if it is not in compliance, "we will take appropriate action then."

Unfortunately, the likelihood of bad foster parents being spotted early in Sacramento County almost certainly was diminished when county supervisors, to help plug a $10 million hole in the budget, voted last week to slash another 49 positions from Child Protective Services, nearly half the total job losses.

CPS officials say that 14 of them directly worked with foster families and that social workers now have double the recommended caseload, as many as 70 children in some programs.

It is one of the worst consequences of the recession and the subsequent budget-slashing: The most vulnerable among us will be the victims.