Oversight committee doubts Sacramento County’s commitment to saving endangered children

Understaffed CPS not getting enough help, report asserts

This is an extended version of a story that appeared in the August 18, 2016, issue.

Sacramento County officials aren’t fully committed to keeping children alive, relinquishing their share of the responsibility to an overworked, understaffed agency, an influential oversight committee determined in its latest annual report.

The Child Protective Systems Oversight Committee unveiled its latest temperature-take on the beleaguered Child Protective Services agency August 9 to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. Along with carrying over a finding from last year—that too many social workers lack critical thinking skills and don’t ably coordinate with their partners in law enforcement, hospitals and schools—the report opined that the county lacked a sense of urgency for stopping the deaths of children from abuse and neglect.

“This community-wide commitment appears lacking in Sacramento County,” the report states. “We recognize that a continued lack of adequate attention and resources means these deaths and critical incidents will continue to happen.”

That damning assessment came courtesy of a subcommittee that examined eight incidents from 2015 that each led to a child’s death or near-death. The children ranged in age from 11 weeks to 10 years. In one case, CPS wasn’t alerted when a parent was admitted on a psychiatric hold, leaving her child with the boyfriend who ultimately killed the child.

The subcommittee alleged the county as a whole lacked “an overarching government commitment to the prevention of these deaths, and that the responsibility for prevention appears to be relegated only to CPS and not shared with … all the many other county and city agencies … that interact in the lives of families.”

The committee recommended the county invest the same resources as it does through a multi-agency pilot program devoted to commercially sexually exploited minors, where CPS and other agencies works hand-in-hand with victims.

In its response, the county Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees CPS, largely agreed with the findings and diplomatically disagreed with a few others. As to the documented staffing shortages—according to national guidelines, CPS is short 50 permanency placement social workers and 43 emergency response social workers—the department says it’s been having a difficult time hiring and retaining workers. For instance, of the 472 job candidates contacted following three mass hiring events last year, a full 60 percent said they weren’t interested in the job or didn’t respond.