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Transcript Of FAMILY AND CHILDREN S SERVICES Children at Risk

May 19, 2015

The Mendocino County Family and Children’s Services Agency is one of the lowestscoring child protective services agencies in the State of California (State). In spite of a dedicated, caring, hardworking staff, the agency appears to be falling further behind. Every performance indicator points to understaffing as the main culprit. The understaffing has many causes: noncompetitive compensation, work overload, poor management, and low morale. Senior management is aware of the issues and their consequences but has failed to address them.
A number of the interviewees expressed the grave concern, that because of the current state of affairs in Family and Children’s Services Agency, “a disaster is waiting to happen.” The purpose of this investigation is to find out why and to publish the facts.
The Grand Jury reminds the reader that beyond the dry recitation of facts, beneath the numbers and statistics, behind the charts and graphs, there are real human lives involved. There are children in harm’s way. If the reader thinks this is sensationalism then he/she is referred to a front page article in the Ukiah Daily Journal under “Police Roundup” dated Saturday, January 30, 2015. (Appendix A)

HHSA Management

California Child Welfare Indicators Project (a UC-Berkeley study)
Child Welfare Services/California Management System (a State-wide database into which information about child abuse/neglect is entered and stored). The database is also initialed CWS/CMS.
California Department of Social Services Manual of Social Work Policy and Procedures
Foundational training for CPS personnel at the worker and line supervisor levels
Child Protective Services (the old name for Family and Children’s Services)
Mendocino County Family and Children’s Services Agency (formerly CPS), a division of the Social Services Department in the Health and Human Services Agency. In this report FCS refers to the child protective services portion of the division.
Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency
Anyone who supervises supervisors in any capacity


Management System
Mandatory Reporter

Child Welfare Services/California Management System (see CMS above)
An individual who by law must report any indication of child abuse/neglect that comes to his/her attention.

MSW Referral SDM Social Worker

Masters of Social Work Any report of child abuse/neglect brought to FCS Structured Decision Making Hot Line Tool The entry level is Social Worker I with promotions available to the highest level of Social Worker V. California Welfare and Institutions Code

The Grand Jury received complaints about the performance of Family and Children’s Services in protecting the children of Mendocino County (County) from abuse and neglect. Family and Children’s Services (formerly Child Protective Services or CPS) is required by law to provide timely and appropriate services to children at risk. The complaints allege that these services are not provided in a timely manner, or not provided at all, due to staff shortages and management decisions.
Data were collected from multiple databases including the Child Protective Services California Management System and the California Child Welfare Indices Project. Board of Supervisors’ minutes, County organization charts, management report of employee retention records, and budgets were examined. State laws were researched, including the California Welfare and Institutions Code and the California Department of Social Services Social Work Manual of Policy and Procedures.
The Grand Jury looked at what happens when a child is referred to Family and Children Services. Particular attention was paid to the beginning of the process and the timeliness of intervention.
Over 15 interviews were conducted with staff, management, and present and former HHSA employees. The Grand Jury also looked at staff shortages, retention rates, and job satisfaction.
The Grand Jury examined the hiring, training, qualifications, and compensation of staff. Salary and benefits packages were compared with similar and neighboring counties. The Grand Jury also looked at the levels of responsibility vis-a-vis qualifications.
The performance of the County was compared to other counties in the State.


This report is about children in our community who may be at risk of bodily harm. It is about what State and Federal law say we are supposed to do and what we are, or are not, doing.
Family and Children’s Services (FCS) is the County name for the State and Federal mandated Child Protective Services program. FCS provides services to children who may be at risk of abuse or neglect. These services are funded in part by the State and Federal governments. FCS also administers other mandated programs.1 These programs require additional staff and management attention.
In 2011, Realignment changed the funding formula, tying it to State sales tax revenue rather than County need.2 Therefore, as a result, the County’s financial risk ranges from 15% of 2010 costs for FCS to 50% of all costs for all social services. If the economy worsens, the need for services may increase as sales tax revenue falls. There is no provision to address increased costs or increased needs.
By State measures, Mendocino County Family and Children’s Services is one of the poorest performing county Child Protective Services agencies in the State. FCS has experienced a significant decrease in the educational qualifications and work experience of the staff. This report looks at the resources and the level of service the County provides.
The Referral Process
This section describes what happens when a child is referred to FCS. The process is dictated by law and has been designed for the safety, protection, and well-being of the child. There are many mandated actions,3 all of which require sufficient qualified staff to adequately carry them out.
A report of potential abuse and/or neglect may arrive at FCS from a mandatory reporter such as law enforcement, a medical professional, or an educator. Also, it may come from any concerned person. The report may come in by letter, ‘walk-in’, or as a telephone call to the ‘Hot Line’ (707-463-7992). The call or report itself is called a Referral.
The Hot Line is staffed by an operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is a ‘Screener’, either on duty or on call. The Screener is a Social Worker III or higher. In addition, there is a Social Worker Supervisor either on duty or on call to address incoming referrals.
1 WIC Program - Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. A Federal
grant program to the states who pass the management to the counties (see Wikipedia for a detailed description). WRAP Program – California Wraparound Program. Individualized help programs for children at risk (see Katie A Program – Provides mental health and supportive services for children and youth in foster care in
California (see 2 See Appendix B 3 See Appendix C

The Hot Line operator or desk person receiving the Referral either fills in a form (Hot Line Tool) or passes the call to the on-duty Screener. The Screener evaluates the information and decides what action should be taken based on the immediate safety and potential risk to the child. The choices for action are:
• an Immediate Investigation (within 24 hours), • a Ten-Day Response (investigate within ten days), or • Evaluate Out (dismiss as no action is required)
The Screener passes the form to the on-duty Supervisor who either verifies the Screener’s decision or overrides it. This should happen within a few minutes of the call.
Then the Supervisor assigns the Referral to a social worker to contact and interview the child and the child’s caregivers. If the Referral has been designated for immediate investigation, and has not been initiated by a law enforcement call, the social worker will probably ask for law enforcement back-up for the interview(s).
If, during the investigation, the social worker determines that the child has been harmed, or is at high risk of harm, the social worker may call for immediate removal of the child from the environment. The child will then be taken to an emergency shelter. A Referral call from law enforcement always requires an immediate investigation and will almost certainly result in moving the child to a safe place.
The middle alternative is the social worker may decide that, while there is no immediate risk of harm to the child, the environment may not be conducive to the long-term wellbeing of the child. The social worker will monitor the situation until she/he determines that the Referral should be either Evaluate Out or that Family Maintenance is required. In the latter situation, the Referral becomes a Case and a team is assembled to evaluate the family and prepare a Safety Oriented Practices plan of action.
At the opposite end, the social worker may determine that there is no cause for agency intervention and the referral will be Evaluate Out.
The goal is the maintenance of the child in the family in a safe environment. All of the actions mentioned in this section can be initiated by FCS but may also be ordered by the court. The court always becomes involved when a child is removed from his/her home. Court involvement is initiated with the filing of a Petition for Removal within 24 hours of the removal.
Unless the decision is Evaluate Out, the child moves into Continuation care, which may include Family Maintenance. It may also include Family Reunification efforts, adoption, or foster care.
Performance Issues
Emergency response performance is measured by three criteria:
• percentage of on-time Immediate (24 hour) Responses
• percentage of on-time Ten-Day Responses
• percentage of on-time Thirty-Day Closures

The more important of these criteria are the immediate responses and the on-time Ten Day Responses. The Thirty Day Closures are a measure of completion of action goals. A Statewide program tracks county-by-county performance.4 Input data is extracted from the Child Welfare Services California Management System (Management System) database. The data is entered by the social worker staff of the individual counties as each case moves forward. Mendocino County has one of the worst performance records in the state for the first two criteria.

Rank among 58 Counties

Q u a rter

Im m e d ia te R e s p o n s e R a n k 10 day Rank

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 1st 2nd 3rd '11 '11 '11 '11 '12 '12 '12 '12 '13 '13 '13 '13 '14 '14 '14


1st place with 22 other

counties @ 100% on tim e






Figure 1 - Mendocino County rank among 58 counties for on-time 24-hour and ten day responses


Immediate % on time 10-day % on time
100 95 90 85 80 75 70 65 60 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 1st 2nd 3rd 4th '11 '11 '11 '11 '12 '12 '12 '12 '13 '13 '13 '13 '14 '14 '14 '14
Figure 2 - Mendocino County percentage of on-time 24 hour and 10 day responses

4 California Child Welfare Indicator Project (CCWIP) – see Appendix D

Why is this important? The longer a child is in an abusive/neglectful situation, the higher the probability the child will come to harm. Because of privacy issues this report does not include specific case information on any child.
FCS has a specific policy requiring that data for each case contact be entered within two weeks.5 Management does not follow this specific policy due to staff shortages. The actual data entry by FCS into the Management System may be delayed an additional one week to one month beyond the receipt of data because of staff shortages.
FCS performed a test to see the impacts of late data entry on these statistics. In October 2014, the statistics for FCS from Management System data were: Immediate Responses 100% on time and Ten Day Responses 86% on time. In November 2014, FCS instituted intermittent overtime sessions to bring reporting up to date. Upper management approved the sessions and overtime pay. In November 2014 the statistics were: Immediate Responses 93% on time and Ten Day Responses 83% on time. In December 2014 the statistics were: Immediate Responses 71% on time and for Ten Day Responses 75% on time. For the fourth quarter 2014 the agency was 88% on time for Immediate Referrals, and 80% on time for Ten Day referrals.
State law requires case workers to file up to twelve different types of reports with the courts.6 Many reports have mandated time limits for submittal, and some require extensive background investigations. Each report is specific to an individual case and requires writing on specific issues of that case. In addition, some reports must be filed multiple times.
A late court report may lead to a hearing continuation. The erratic performance in filing timely court reports for the period of September 2013 through January 2015 is shown in Figure 3, which management and staff attribute in part to lack of experienced personnel and staff shortages.
Percent Late Court Reports by Month 35% 30% 25% 20% 15% 10%
5% 0%
9/13 11/13 1/14 3/14 5/14 7/14 9/14 11/14 1/15
Time Period
Figure 3 - Late Court report record
5 Policy and Procedure No. 07-99, revised 12/2014 6 See Appendix E

Percent Late

Case workers are required to make periodic visits to the children under their care. Mendocino County FCS averages between 85% and 90% of visits on time. The State average is between 80% and 85% of required visits on time. In this instance, Mendocino County FCS is performing above the State average.
Staffing Issues
The staff of FCS is recognized for their work ethic and dedication to achieving the goals of FCS. This was stated by many individuals interviewed for this investigation.
To understand staffing issues in FCS it is helpful to realize there are primarily four classifications of employees:
• Clerical staff
• Social Worker Assistants I, II, and III – paraprofessional level staff of FCS
• Social Workers I, II, III, IV, and V who comprise the professional staff of FCS
• Supervisors I and II who directly supervise the Social Workers, Social Worker Assistants and Clerical staff
• Management who are responsible for managing the Supervisors.
A major problem for FCS is understaffing. More than one-third of the allocated social worker positions are unfilled. Many, that are filled, are filled by employing and using workers without the educational or experience requirements. Interviewees, management and staff, all acknowledged this problem. This issue was directly acknowledged by management with a change in policy concerning ‘Evaluation Out Referrals’ in February 2011:7
“Due to staffing issues and budgetary constraints, the following issues have been identified as criteria for non-investigation of referrals effective February 11, 2011.”
Lack of staff has translated into work overload and a significant number of late or unscreened referrals, which may not be processed within the guidelines FCS uses. Lack of educated, experienced staff can translate into more time to complete a task and increases work for supervisors. For example, the time expended for preparation of court reports and accompanying new hires on investigations, whether immediate or ten day response, can increase.
The workload is growing. The average annual number of referrals (allegations of child abuse) to Family and Children’s Services has increased by over 12% in the last six years. Currently, Case Worker active cases are between 30 and 40 mixed Emergency Response Referrals and Continuation Cases. Best Practices recommends case loads for FCS social workers between 17 and 20 mixed cases.8
7 See Appendix F 8 Child Welfare League of America manual for standards of excellence for services to abused or neglected children and their families 1999.

The State has established educational requirements for FCS professional staff and supervisors9:
• a minimum of 50% of the professional social worker staff shall have a Master of Social Work (MSW), all are required to have a BA in the social sciences
• all professional social worker supervisors are required to have an MSW
Although the State does provide for training and experience to be certified as educational equivalency, there are no County FCS employees at any level with such certification.
As of mid-February 2015, the requirements are not being met:
• there were 24 filled professional social worker (non-supervisor) positions in FCS • there were not 24 holders of a BA • less than 50% of the professional staff have MSWs • there are nine professional social worker supervisor positions in FCS • there are not nine social worker supervisors holding MSWs Further, eleven professional positions were vacant; Social Worker I (trainee level) applicants were being interviewed. FCS staffing did not meet the required ratio of at least 50% MSWs for non-supervisory staff in 2013 or 2014. The State does allow a county to request a deferral from these staffing requirements each year. This request must be accompanied by a plan for a county to come into compliance, and document the results of the previous year’s efforts. Such a request was made in April 2007, but there was no plan on file with the State. The next request for a deferral was made by letter on January 6, 2015.10 Many of the County’s social workers assigned to Emergency Response hold only an Associate of Arts degree. The legal requirement for Emergency Response workers is a Bachelor’s Degree. Additionally, the requirement for Emergency Response workers to investigate, by themselves, is at least a year of experience. Yet many of these Emergency Response workers are new hires, without that important field experience. This requires much closer monitoring by senior staff, thus placing an added burden on supervisors. There was an exodus of experienced staff in the period 2011-2014 (Figure 4). The base salaries were cut in 2011 by 10%. This cut was followed by the reorganization of FCS in 2013. This reorganization caused controversy among the staff and supervisors and also significantly decreased morale. Testimony termed the level of morale as “almost malignant.”
9 See Appendix G 10 See Appendix H

The staff losses over the period 2011-2014 represent a loss of about 300 years of experience with the County. This represents a loss both of institutional and individual case knowledge.

Number Number Departing

14 12 10
8 6 4 2 0



2006 2008 Ye ar

Number Hirered Number Departed
2010 2012 2014

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 0-5

Retired Departed



Years of Service


Figure 4– Changes in staffing and loss of experience
Social Services and Family and Children’s Services were reorganized in early 2013. Management calls this reorganization a reshuffling, but no matter what it is termed, the effects are still the same. The change combined the investigative duties with the court reporting duties of the employees. Interviewees stated expansion of duties with the shortage of staff has negatively impacted the morale, particularly the morale of experienced employees. Many employees expressed high concern about the changes and a number of experienced employees left.
Individuals affected were not given prior notice or allowed prior input to management decisions affecting assignment of personnel.
There is no apparent mechanism or effort to explain to staff what staffing changes are planned, or why. Interviewees expressed concern over the negative impact on morale of staff changes occurring “suddenly” and without consultation. Staff felt excluded from the decision-making process.
Prior to April 2011, a leadership team composed of line supervisors and program managers gave advice to Management. At that time, the leadership team was directly involved in making personnel and staffing decisions.
Former staff believes that Management was making poor decisions to the detriment of the Agency. They believe that the decision to place an emphasis on hiring MSW level social workers decreases the ability to adequately staff Family and Children’s Services with social workers at lower levels. However, this emphasis by Management is an attempt to bring the County into compliance with State standards.
In response to the loss of experience, Management has increased Core training and advanced educational opportunities for staff moving into higher positions. Many interviewees praised Management for providing additional training opportunities.


In interviews, various levels of Management gave three primary reasons for staffing shortages:
• salary levels
• two separate personnel systems: County Human Resources and State Merit System
• Mendocino County is “not a desirable place to live.”
The interviewees did not mention whether there was an outreach effort to recruit Social Workers. This was compounded by the failure to post ads for Social Workers. The County website showed no mention of openings for Social Workers under “Employment Opportunities” when the Grand Jury reviewed for postings. Also, no link or reference to the State Merit System services website was found.
In fact, there were no postings or advertising for Social Workers for the three months prior to January 1, 2015. As of January 11, 2015, there were postings and ads to fill positions in FCS. As of January 12, 2015, there were also postings on the State Merit System Services website for positions in FCS. These positions were to be open for two weeks.
This changed. As of February 15, 2015, the Social Worker positions listed for Mendocino County were to remain open until filled. Whether this recruiting has been successful is not clear.
Upper Management expressed concern that staffing issues in Mendocino County may be related in part to the general living conditions, living environment, and compensation issues, to wit:
• salary differential and benefits • the lack of a 4-year university • inaccessibility to a major airport • a low housing inventory • high home prices • poor shopping opportunities
Many management, staff, complainants, and past employees believed that low salary levels contributed to the inability of the County to hire and retain Social Workers. Specifically mentioned was a perceived compensation differential between Mendocino and surrounding counties.
A survey by the Grand Jury found that entry level salaries for Social Workers in Mendocino County were higher than the adjacent counties of Humboldt and Lake. But starting salaries for these counties and Mendocino County were more than 20% lower than in Marin, Napa and Sonoma.11 When the pay differentials are considered for the level of SW II through SW IV, this pay differential is more pronounced.11
Multiple interviewees also cited benefits as being lower in Mendocino County than in the neighboring counties. The Grand Jury found this to be a complex issue. Mendocino County
11 See Appendix I