Why child welfare investigation delays are unacceptable

If your children reported that they had been mistreated or assaulted in any way, it wouldn’t take long for you to address the issue and assure your children that they would be kept safe. Then why is it that children in the child welfare system are not given the same decisive action? In a recent Los Angeles Times article, it was revealed that throughout the state there are approximately 1,000 complaints of abuse and neglect that have exceeded the mandatory period of time of three months required in which to investigate these allegations. The majority of the lagging investigations have been open for more than six months, it was reported. In Los Angeles County, there are 6,100 current investigations that have remained open for more than 30 days.

The time period is unacceptable, and further jeopardizes the well-being of the children entrusted to the child welfare system because of abuse and neglect in the first place. The article mentions how one government official justified the delays by saying that most of the backlog involves lower level complaints such as insufficient food and homes in disrepair. If that is the attitude of those charged with oversight, is it any wonder that children are mistreated and their safety is at risk while in the care of our social services programs? Poor nourishment and unsafe living conditions are not inconsequential, and often are signs of more serious concerns in a household. These “lower level complaints” should not be easily dismissed.

Clearly this situation is unacceptable and demands quick action to be rectified. Any allegation of mistreatment or neglect requires immediate attention and prompt resolution. According to the article, “To help ease that backlog, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration allowed the county to temporarily take 60 days instead of 30 to complete inquiries — a policy that continued under Brown until 2012.” The original intent to investigate within 30 days, not to mention 60 or 90 days, is much too long to wait when it comes to the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable of our children.

We all know that the solution is additional resources, at least in the short-term, to provide the personnel to investigate these allegations in an expeditious manner. The fact that the state finds itself in this situation is because, once again, in periods of fiscal constraints, the budget has been balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable.

The outrage of a number of elected officials was cited in this article, and yet it was also reported that it would be months before lawmakers could begin even considering increased funding for the backlog. Public outrage is insufficient. This public safety issue demands immediate action as would any emergency affecting the well-being of almost 1,000 of our state’s residents and those in our county whose cases are yet to be closed. Hillsides calls upon our state and local officials to take quick action to rectify this horrific situation. Failure to do so runs the risk of invalidating the very notion of a system of care we call “child welfare.”


Update as of September 25, 2014 at 10:34 a.m.:

A written statement by Armand Montiel, Public Affairs Director for Department of Children and Family Services

In March 2014, DCFS deployed an “ER Over 30 Project” team made up of a dozen reassigned managers and volunteer staffers with emergency response (ER) services experience to join five regional line staffers from four offices with the highest number of referral investigations exceeding 30 days open and to assist with the safe closure of the referral investigations while determining what improvements could be realized through our ER services.   Unlike the much larger ER “clean-up” or “strike” teams in previous years, the ER Over 30 Project team’s primary charge was to find-out what is delaying the completion of services, what tasks have potential for safe and efficient streamlining, and what community resources may be needed to improve timely and effective emergency response services for the families.  On September 19, 2014, the ER Over 30 Project team will have completed assessments of over 700 referral investigations  (regarding exclusively of alleged child abuse and/or neglect by parents and/or legal guardians; not foster care complaints) over a six-month period and assisted with completion of the necessary tasks to ensure the safe closure of all of the reviewed referral investigations final data and recommendations will not likely be available for a couple of months.  It is important to note that all children under investigation (whose whereabouts are known) are seen at least three times during the first month and at least monthly thereafter.  Generally, the length of our extended investigations is due to the additional safety and well-being measures we have added beyond the required investigation elements mandated by the State.  Also, ER Over 30 does not only occur in Los Angeles County; about half of the States’ 58 counties have a higher percentage of investigations open over 30 days than Los Angeles County.

Update as of September 25, 2014 at 2:51 p.m.:

Clarifications from Armand Montiel, Public Affairs Director, Department of Children and Family Services (Note: Clarifications have been edited/abbreviated by Hillsides.)

  1. The State’s investigations and the County’s investigations are not the same.  The State’s investigations involve complaints regarding state-licensed and FFA-certified foster homes.  The County investigations involve child abuse and neglect referrals we receive in our Hotline, the vast majority involving allegations of parental abuse and neglect.
  2. The investigation of these allegations are not delayed.  Statements [in the blog]  give  the impression that Los Angeles County has a backlog of investigations that are not being investigated, or that these investigations are delayed for 30 to 60 to 90 days.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  All of our  investigations start within one to five days after receipt of the referral (in fact, the state allows some investigations to begin within 10 days, but we best that by five days).  All of the children are seen at least three times during the first 30 days of the investigation and at least once monthly thereafter.

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