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


INTRODUCTION "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. DEALING WITH THE CRISIS RESPONSES TO "FAMILIES IN CRISIS" 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. CHANGES IN THE JUVENILE DEPENDENCY SYSTEM 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 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.

Ombudsman 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 Jury. The Ombudsman is severely handicapped by the rigid timelines 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. Orientation 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.

CONTINUED CONCERNS Therapists 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 community. 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 problem.

The Polinsky Center will provide a location for interdisciplinary 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.

CONCLUSION 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 nondefensively 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.