You are on page 1of 10



A Report by the
1991-92 San Diego County Grand Jury
June 29, 1992



"Families in Crisis" (Part I & II) was released February 6,

1992. This report was released early in the 1991-92 Grand Jury
term to allow the agencies and offices addressed in the report
to respond to the findings and recommendations while this Grand
Jury was still sitting.

The Juvenile Dependency System and County Administration

responded to "Families in Crisis" in an overwhelmingly positive
manner. This is not to say that all of the recommendations made
by the Grand Jury and subsequently by the Juvenile Justice
Commission have been embraced wholeheartedly. However, the
majority of recommendations made in these two reports are being
implemented, and almost all parts of the system appear to be
making good-faith efforts towards self-examination of policies
and procedures.

Due to this immediate and comprehensive response, Juvenile

Dependency is a system in flux. It is impossible to report on
what "is" at this moment, because much is changing on an almost
daily basis. Therefore, this supplemental report, rather than
being an expanded critique of the system, as was intended, will
address responses within the system and continued concerns. Two
additional reports relevant to the juvenile dependency system
are being released separately. These reports are in the areas
of response of various county agencies to charges of sexual
abuse of children and the crisis in foster care.



The Grand Jury has worked closely with leadership in the

juvenile dependency system, as they have responded to Grand Jury
recommendations and made changes. County Administration,
Department of Social Services, Children's Services Bureau,
Juvenile Court, Office of the Public Defender, Office of
Alternate Public Defender, and the Juvenile Justice Bar
Association have kept Jurors informed on an ongoing basis.

In contrast, the District Attorney and the County Counsel

appear to remain critical of "Families in Crisis" and have not
responded to date. Correspondingly, to the best of the Grand
Jury's current information, these two public law offices have
neither accepted any responsibility for the crisis which
occurred in the juvenile dependency system nor critically
examined existing policies and procedures within their offices.

The San Diego County Grand Jury recommended legislative

changes which would affect the juvenile dependency system.
There are several bi-partisan Bills currently pending in the
Assembly and Senate. The Jury has taken an active role in
supporting this legislation. The Jury's position on various
legislation can be found in the 1991-92 Grand Jury Annual Report
in the report of the Legislation Committee.

It is important to note that the State Supreme Court has

recently announced that it will be hearing several important
pending appeals. Decisions in these cases may eliminate the need
for some proposed legislative changes. In addition, the Fourth
District Court of Appeal has recently reversed a number of child
abuse cases in the Juvenile and Criminal arenas.


There have been so many changes within the system that it

is unlikely the Jury is aware of all of them. However, many of
those which have come to the Jury's attention do deserve comment.

Task Forces

The Children's Services Bureau has established a number of

short-term multi-disciplinary task forces to address some of the
critical areas addressed in "Families in Crisis." These task
forces also include members of the community and members of the
Juvenile Justice Commission.

Cultural Competency

The Department of Social Services has placed a priority on

cultural competency in training and in practice which,
hopefully, will improve the disparity of ethnic placement in
foster care. The courts are also placing emphasis on training
all attorneys and judicial officers in cultural competency.

Regionalization (coordination of community resources by

locale) is planned in order to coordinate more closely with
community services. Implementation of this plan should
eliminate recurrent problems of foster care placement far
removed geographically from natural parents.


The Ombudsman's office of the Children's Services Bureau

has been fully-staffed and is working with members of the Grand
Jury to examine the several hundred complaints of abuse within
the system received by the l991-92 Grand Jury. This has been a
cooperative effort with the Juvenile Court. The Presiding Judge
has given the Ombudsman standing in the Court. The Deputy
Director of Children's Services Bureau has also given the
Ombudsman full support. The Jury has witnessed progress, as the
Ombudsman expedites the complaint response process. However,
the sheer magnitude of trying to investigate and repair years of
problems has overwhelmed the office and remains a concern of the

The Ombudsman is severely handicapped by the rigid time-

lines imposed by AB 243. Many of the most troubling cases are
in the back-end of the system at the point of termination of
parental rights. There is desperate need for either new
legislation or greatly increased flexibility in interpretation.

Juvenile Court Facility

The Juvenile Court has been cooperative throughout the

tenure of this Grand Jury. The Court response to "Families in
Crisis" began before its release. Each time members of the Jury
visit Juvenile Court to observe proceedings, changes for the
better have been observed. These changes include, but are not
limited to: negotiation conferences; a complaint box; an
information booth staffed by Grand Parents Offering Love and
Devotion (G.O.L.D.) volunteers; orientation sessions for
families in the system; development and distribution of
informative pamphlets about each phase of the juvenile process;
cases called by first names and last initial to maintain
privacy; parents seated at the counsel table; a children's area;
improved enforcement of notice to minors' counsel for change in
placement; and topical task forces.
Alternate Public Defender

The Alternate Public Defender has created a much needed

Family Advocacy volunteer auxiliary. It is modeled after the
Children's Advocacy group Voices for Children, but with the goal
of helping families complete reunification plans.

Family Court Services

Family Court Services is attempting to expand the Family

Court Case Consultation Team effort to handle numerous cases.
The present protocol of the team is unwieldy and requires the
expenditure of too much time by the team and financial resources
by the family court client to be used on a large scale. With
improvements and some funding, the team could play an important
role by keeping cases out of the system, resolving custody
disputes where allegations of abuse or molest are made, and
ultimately lowering the cost in time, finances, and emotion,
that these cases impose on the system.

Family Preservation

Since the Family Preservation Unit started several months

ago, 138 children have been returned home. Departmental support
of this program has encouraged referrals from line caseworkers
and has resulted in a long waiting list for family preservation
services. Expansion of this unit should follow from the
philosophical changes being made by the Department.


Conceived by an impacted parent, Juvenile Court has

recently implemented monthly evening orientation for families
affected by the Juvenile Court system. The planning committee
has included judicial officers, DSS, private panel attorneys,
public law office attorneys, and impacted parents. Orientation
will provide information to parents and allow for a question and
answer period.

Negotiation Conferences

As a result of a newly-initiated negotiation conference

protocol, two negotiation conferences have occurred. "Families
in Crisis" related concerns of professionals in the field that
these negotiations would be unsuccessful without mediators. It
is premature to judge the effectiveness of the negotiation
conference concept, with only two completed negotiations to
date. However, early reports strongly indicate that a mediator
is required. The original guidelines for the negotiation
conferences specified that they would not be used on molest
cases. Of only two cases, one was a molest. Despite poor
expectations, the negotiation went well, and an agreement was
reached by the parties. Unfortunately, the social worker is now
unwilling to implement. This is cause for concern and raises
specters of plea bargains gone bad.

Department of Family Services

The possibility of having a separate Department of Family

Services is being studied by County Administration. There is
some hope that this recommendation will be implemented without a
loss of funds to the County.


The Jury continues to have concern about the court-approved

list of therapists. The subjects of concern include: assessment
of professional competency; ongoing personal relationships with
social workers; level of cultural competency; bias;
independence; and inadequate professional scrutiny.

The Jury has heard repeated professional testimony that not

all of the children and adults in the system need therapy and
further that individual therapy, particularly for young
children, may be contra-indicated.

The local Parents United policy of requiring participants

to "admit" molestation in order to complete the program required
for reunification is not supported by many area psychologists.
This policy should be examined thoroughly.

Higher Levels of Placement

The use of higher level of care homes and 24-hour schools

should be closely scrutinized. Sending children far away from
families and regular family visitation and giving essential case
authority to "school directors" or "home managers" (when these
parties stand to gain financially from keeping children in
placement) appears to present conflicts.

Military Involvement

Military documents originating from Naval Family Advocacy

and classified for "commanding officer eyes only" were found in
dependency files. There was also evidence of "off-the-record"
inappropriate communication between Naval Family Advocacy and
social workers.

Cultural/Ethnic Balance in County Counsel

The Juvenile Dependency Unit of County Counsel has an

insufficient cultural and ethnic balance (1991-92 Grand Jury
Report #4, " Mismanagement in the Office of County Counsel").
Because of the nature of dependency work, it is essential that
composition of this unit begin to reflect the diversity of the

Lack of Support to the Private Panel

The Juvenile Panel Attorneys are underpaid (1990-91 Grand
Jury Report #11 and l991-92 Grand Jury Report #2) and, until
recently, were subjected to unreasonable delays in payment by
the County. This has put the stability of this panel at risk.
Most of this problem appears to be mismanagement by the Office
of the Alternate Defense Counsel. While there were many panel
attorneys who attributed this problem to an intent by the public
law offices and perhaps even some in County Administration to
eliminate the private panel, this intent is emphatically denied
by the County Chief Administrator. Given the escalating legal
costs of the juvenile dependency system, the Juvenile Justice
Bar Association recommendations for cost containment made this
spring deserve the serious attention and evaluation which the
Jury has been informed they are receiving.

Attempts to eliminate minor's counsel

In what might seem to be a cost-containment measure, County

Administration and the Office of County Counsel appear intent on
eliminating or severely limiting the appointment of minors'
counsel. Minors' counsel has the opportunity, if it properly
performs its mandated investigatory function, to be the only
totally objective party to proceedings. Jury opinion and
recommendations in this area are found in "Families in Crisis"
page 33 and Recommendation #92-12: "Continue to support
independent counsel for minors and not consider this an
appropriate area for budget cutting."

The Children's Center

The Jury strongly supports the development of the Polinsky

Center, with a cautionary note. The majority of the children in
the Juvenile Dependency System are there because of neglect.
Much of that neglect centers around poverty and a society, which
for one reson or another, no longer provides sufficient services
to the poor. Pulling a child from a very poor home, placing
him/her in the relative luxury of the Polinsky Center, and then
returning him/her to his home may be well-intentioned but may
not be entirely in the child's best interest. This same problem
exists when poor children are placed with relatively affluent
foster parents. Natural parents may feel ashamed that they
cannot provide as well. Reunification may be seriously impacted
by this inequity. Implementation of current leadership's
philosophy of foster placement whenever possible with family,
kinship, or community groupings should do much to alleviate this
The Polinsky Center will provide a location for inter-
disciplinary investigations which should include law
enforcement, the District Attorney, and the Department of Social
Services. The Jury strongly urges the Polinsky Center to
provide comfortable areas for parent visitation and especially
for parents to spend extended time with infants to ensure that
bonding is not disrupted.

It is rare to see any bureaucracy respond to a crisis with

the good faith effort exhibited by the Juvenile Court and
Department of Social Services. The Juvenile Dependency System is
fortunate to have key leaders who were able to respond non-
defensively and with creative vision to what could have been a
complete breakdown in the ability to protect the children in San
Diego County.

The Board of Supervisors has made improvement in the

Juvenile Dependency System and family preservation a matter of
high priority, and the quarterly reviews will keep attention on
this issue until San Diego County does have a system which
protects both children and families.


You might also like