SAN DIEGO — A grand jury report released Wednesday found multiple gaps in institutional safety and training in the Child Welfare Services division of San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency.
The grand jury reviewed the workloads of social workers in the CWS division, as well as how CWS workers are trained to provide support and care to foster children and parents. The panel also looked into the effects of the state’s Continuum of Care Reform Act, which required regional foster care systems to increase support for foster families and improve outcomes for foster youth.
The grand jury found that most social workers are overworked and often spend as much or more time on administrative work than interacting with foster children and families, resulting in poor communication and coordination. CWS staff and foster parents also lack the proper training to offer trauma- informed care or support for victims of human trafficking, according to the report.
The grand jury launched the study after the San Diego Union-Tribune reported last July on a lawsuit alleging multiple instances of abuse of foster children over a seven-year period.
Through interviews with county officials and a review of current CWS practices, the grand jury received reports that nearly one-third of foster children were abused in some way in their foster homes. In addition, roughly 20% of all calls to the county’s child abuse hotline were from foster youth.
“Even though foster families have 12 hours of initial training including an orientation and eight hours of continuing education/year, the grand jury believes increased training in trauma and parent education will decrease maltreatment in (the Resource Family Approval program) and kinship care,” the report says.
The grand jury issued nearly 10 recommendations to the county to improve the foster care system and ensure the safety of foster youth, including an annual study of abuse and mistreatment and a dedicated oversight board to investigate cases of abuse in foster homes.
Currently, cases of abuse in the county’s foster youth system are handled by a group of protective service workers and records clerks. Those workers coordinate with local law enforcement to investigate abuse and mistreatment allegations.
The panel also recommended that the county study both current workloads for its social workers and overall turnover rates to improve recruitment and retention efforts. The study should also focus on how to increase interaction between social workers, foster youth and their foster families, according to the grand jury.