Gail Fry – Contributor
After a series of critical grand jury reports about the San Bernardino County Children & Family Services, the 2022 Grand Jury Report, obtained by The San Bernardino American News, concluded San Bernardino County Children & Family Services is too broken to fix strongly recommending the department be abolished, and a new community-based system be created to help raise and parent our foster children in the county.
“The bureaucracy that permeates the San Bernardino County CFS is so extensive, complicated, secretive, and inefficient,” the 2022 Grand Jury found determining that the department is too broken to fix and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.
“The investigation revealed to the GJ that foster children in SB County were still being abused in foster settings in alarming numbers,” the 2022 Grand Jury Report revealed.
Despite new laws and changes since 2018, at San Bernardino County Children & Family Services (CFS), the 2022 Grand Jury questioned whether the changes were enough to keep foster children safe.
The grand jury notes that CFS assumes the role of parenting traumatized children when they are removed from their biological families and has attempted to provide for their safety, however, does not have significant preventative measures to stop the abuse or minimize it leaving foster children at significant and unacceptable risk for continued abuse within their care.
After interviewing CFS employees, directors, and social workers, reviewing its Policies and Procedures Manual, the grand jury found that all the measures and positive policies initiated since 2018 were reactive, not proactive, addressing the abuse after it happens, describing its actions taken as mere rebranding of CFS.
The grand jury detailed finding no measures taken to prevent foster children from being placed into potentially abusive Resource Family Homes (RFH), no evidence of effective and ongoing checks or monitoring of abuse, no proactive or effective measures to prevent foster children removed from one RFH for placement in another RFH from being again placed in a potentially abusive situation.
In reviewing data of substantiated abuse cases from 2019 through the first half of 2022, the grand jury found substantiated abuse cases had significantly increased every year, there were no proactive measures in place, the problem was ongoing, the measures CFS took ineffective, concluding the problem had not been solved.
Further, the grand jury questioned citizen complainants, medical personnel, Foster Family Agency (FFA) employees, experts on foster care systems, and a former foster care child, now an adult and visited CFS offices, a Children’s Assessment Center (CAC), group settings, and an out-of-county temporary care facility for foster children.
The grand jury reported, “[S]ome interviewees were reluctant to, and refused to, answer or claimed they had no knowledge in specific divisions even though they had been working in these particular areas for years.”
The 2022 Grand Jury obtained a court order authorizing the release of confidential information regarding substantiated cases of abuse to foster children within CFS’ care with appropriate redactions, citing the legal authorities for the redactions, for the years of 2019-2021 and through May of 2022.
The cases involved sexual abuse, physical abuse, and deaths, which were substantiated by the CFS Open Case Investigations (OCI) unit finding sufficient evidence to support and prove the allegations occurred. The grand jury reported in almost all the cases, the appropriate law enforcement agency with jurisdiction was notified.
The grand jury determined there were 307 foster children who had been physically or sexually abused from January 1, 2019 through May 31, 2022, finding these numbers to be eye-opening, significant and alarming for a system that was created to protect children already traumatized only to have these children further physically or sexually abused while under the care of CFS.
According to the data CFS provided to the grand jury, 67 of the most vulnerable children from newborn to four years old suffered abuse under the care of CFS, 100 were five to nine years old, 75 were ten to fourteen years old, 46 were fifteen to eighteen years old, and 19 were of unknown age.
204 were physically abused and 103 were sexually abused, 134 were male, 160 were females, and 13 were of unknown gender.
According to the California Child Welfare Indicators Project during year 2021, 28,734 children in San Bernardino County alleged they were maltreated, of that amount 4,853 were Black, 5,669 were white, 16,148 were Hispanic, 547 were Asian, 95 were Native American, and 1,422 did not report their race.
One physical abuse case resulted in the death of a child was investigated in 2022. While the grand jury only received data through May for 2022, they noted the 2022 data was trending toward a potential annual decrease.
The grand jury credited CFS with the creation of Risk Assessment Meetings (RAMs) and the OCI unit in 2018, measures they find as reactive.
RAMs include two CFS supervisors, one social worker, CFS management, and sometimes law enforcement, and/or the foster child, if appropriate, to discuss what went wrong, find solutions and plan a path forward.
The OCI unit investigates ‘open cases’ of alleged abused foster children generated by complaints from the hotline, social workers, teachers, other adults, children, law enforcement, medical personnel and others. The OCI unit removes social workers from investigating their own cases, providing more eyes on the alleged abuses, and a higher level of assessment and effectiveness.
CFS conducts criminal background checks, carries out interviews, completes a DMV check once per year on prospective resource foster parents, and conducts physical inspections of prospective settings, but those measures, the grand jury noted do not extend to visitors to the home, risk factors found to have contributed to many of the substantiated sexual and physical abuse cases.
Another concern of the grand jury was learning that there are no temporary shelter facilities in San Bernardino County where already traumatized children could go to have a place to feel safe, instead foster children are housed at the offices of CFS during the search for placement.
The grand jury examined the role of several other public/private agencies involved in the foster care system such as The Children’s Assessment Center, the Foster Family Agency, the Children’s Network, the Children’s Fund, and Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital.
The grand jury spoke of the lack of an integrated virtual environment where data collection systems kept by CFS and law enforcement would have the inter-department ability to reflect and statistically track every foster child abuse allegation and investigation. Another concern of the grand jury was the lack of a statewide database of similar information to make it less likely that foster children would be placed in abusive settings.
The grand jury discovered that the San Bernardino County Sheriff Department does not separately identify or differentiate foster children abuse cases from other types of child abuse cases and as a result cannot determine how many instances of actual abuse of foster children has occurred in San Bernardino County.
“Law enforcement needs to classify reports indicating that these reports are part of the foster children care system so they can be tracked and evaluated,” the grand jury recommended as well as quarterly meetings between CFS and SBCSD to review foster child abuse cases.
The grand jury found CFS has no local accountability, operates behind an air of confidentiality, and that there is a critical need for an independent ‘checks and balances’ system to oversee CFS, and without such oversight any accountability for their actions is extremely difficult. The grand jury recommended the county form, authorize and empower such an independent oversight commission to ensure that foster children are provided the level of care expected by the people of San Bernardino County.
The grand jury reported evidence established that foster children in San Bernardino County are vulnerable to significant risks that in an alarming number of instances have led to abuses and further traumatization. The Grand jury found that most actions taken were reactive not proactive, concluding children are still vulnerable to abuse.