San Bernardino County Grand Jury

By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 07/01/16 – 2:52 PM PDT |

San Bernardino County’s child welfare system is rife with systemic failures, including shoddy documentation practices, a communication breakdown between social workers and law enforcement that thwarts child abuse investigations, and a reluctance by social workers to remove children from abusive homes, according to grand jury findings.

In its annual report released Friday, the San Bernardino County Grand Jury suggested 14 changes in the Department of Children and Family Services after a yearlong investigation revealed disturbing practices resulting in the death of children in some cases.

• Document: Read the report

“We appreciate the findings and recommendations made by the grand jury,” said Marlene Hagen, director of Children and Family Services, in an email Friday. “The county will review the report and implement any suggestions that we think might lead to better outcomes for children and families in San Bernardino County.”

The grand jury’s findings come a week after state Attorney General Kamala Harris announced her office had launched its own investigation into the department based on similar allegations. It was unclear if the two were connected. Attorney General spokeswoman Rachele Huennekens could not be reached for comment.

The grand jury found CFS did not record interviews with clients due to confidentiality and out of concern it would be intimidating to the clients.

When the grand jury raised the question as to whether that could create problems with conflicting testimony at juvenile dependency hearings, CFS was still “uniformly opposed to the idea of tape-recording client interviews.”

The grand jury recommended this change.

Among the grand jury’s most serious findings were that social workers and law enforcement appear to be on completely different pages when investigating allegations of child abuse. CFS does not immediately provide case documents to police upon request. Instead, the reports are sent to County Counsel for review before being released to police, and when they are released, they are redacted, hindering criminal investigations.

Hagen said seldom are CFS documents redacted before they are provided to law enforcement.

“The release of records to law enforcement is very routine, and only on very rare occasions does the law require the redaction of information other than social security numbers,” Hagen said in an email.

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