Unlicensed sleepovers: Sacramento County’s foster care unit faces imminent closure for stranding kids in office

Officials mum on plan to replace intake unit for children taken into foster care

This is an expanded version of a story that appeared in the August 24, 2017, issue.

A troubled way station for children awaiting placement in foster care or group homes has been ordered to shut its doors by the end of next month.

Acting as an entry point for children brought into the foster care system, Sacramento County’s Centralized Placement Support Unit leases an office from the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento.

Problems first surfaced in February of last year, when the California Department of Social Services cited the county-run intake unit for “operating as an unlicensed shelter due to the extended stays of youth in the CPSU,” the state agency said in documents obtained by SN&R. The state found that children brought to the CPSU often stayed for extended periods of time, slept on the floor and went unsupervised. The state also noted that the office’s location in a high-crime area made children vulnerable to recruitment efforts by sex traffickers.

In May, the San Francisco Chronicle broke the story about what was occurring at the CPSU. Last month, the state issued the county a letter telling it to close the intake office by September 30.

Don Nottoli, chairman of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, acknowledged that supervisors knew of the problems for nearly a year, but decided against going public until a plan was in place to address them. “We were alerted to this some months ago,” he told SN&R. “The groundwork has been laid and some efforts are already being made to create more capacity. Whether it was quiet or not, there’s been work. The work just didn’t start in earnest in the last few weeks.”

The CPSU was established in 2010 with a stated goal of conducting comprehensive assessments for each child before deciding where to place them. It occupies an office on the Auburn Boulevard property of the Children’s Receiving Home, which issued a statement on its website distancing its operation from the intake unit.

According to county data, the CPSU hosted a total of 1,705 children over a 13-month period ending in May of this year. On average, the office saw 131 kids a month. While 64 percent of the youths were placed in a foster or group home setting within 24 hours, the average length of stay was 38.5 hours, with some staying as long as 30 days.

Nottoli says the board will consider short- and long-term solutions during a public meeting before the state’s September 30 deadline. “Obviously, when we have people there for hours, days and, at least in a couple circumstances, even weeks, [that] shows that we need to find other means to deal with this,” Nottoli said. “We need to have a plan. We need to move quickly, but in a way that will hopefully be successful.”

According to a report provided by county spokeswoman Samantha Mott, Child Protective Services had been trying to sort out the bottleneck issues since at least September of last year, when the agency spent $280,000 to hire additional staff for the intake unit.

The county has been working nearly three years to expand its foster care network, by making it easier for relatives to take in foster children and by freeing up approximately $17 million in annual federal funding to prevent children from entering the system in the first place. Those efforts have yet to pay substantial dividends, Nottoli admitted.