County Says AG's Push to Extend Monitoring of CWS 'Waste of Taxpayer Money'

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Xavier Becerra
  • Xavier Becerra
Nearly two years after the California Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Sheriff's Office reached an agreement regarding an AG investigation into local adherence to the California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced today he would be seeking a court order requiring the county to "fully comply."

The AG is asking to “extend the judgment’s corrective measures and monitoring of the county for an additional two years,” according to a news release, which states the county has made “varying levels of progress” in the handling of child abuse and child neglect reports but the DOJ remains concerned about the Child Welfare Services Division’s implementation of a set of corrective measures.

County officials said in a statement to the Journal that they were aware of the AG's intended actions, saying DHHS had "already offered to stipulate to an additional one-year monitoring period in which we would report directly to the Attorney General’s Office, with continued oversight by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS)."

The statement also describes the actions Becerra is requesting as "the state’s desire to waste taxpayer money on unnecessary consultants and monitors," stating that
"the current dispute between the parties does not involve any current or existing violations of the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA)."

“The investigation happened in 2015, and since 2018, when the Attorney General’s judgement was filed, we have increased staffing by 30 percent and have implemented numerous program strategies to assist staff to do the work necessary in our community," Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services Director Connie Beck said in the statement. "We’ve made tremendous strides and stand behind our staff, and we will continue to do the good work that we are doing in collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office and work in partnership with our community, law enforcement and tribes to keep children safe.” 

According to the county, more than $1.5 million has been paid to third party monitors and consultants since the 2018 stipulated judgement and "the issues which gave rise to the Attorney General’s intervention have already been corrected."

“The Sheriff’s Office and CWS work closely to protect county children which is our top priority," Sheriff William Honsal said in the statement. "Through our refined systems and protocols, we have continued to ensure that mandated reports of child abuse and neglect are quickly investigated and that children are protected.”

The AG investigation dates back to 2015, and in 2016 the state subpoenaed a vast number of records from the county, including documentation of every report of child abuse or neglect received between 2011 and 2015.

(Read more about the investigation and the stipulated judgement here and here.)

The AG’s Office release states the initial investigation found “Humboldt County authorities had not been complying with their legal duties to respond to reports of child abuse and neglect, resulting in reports falling through the cracks and an inadequate assessment of child safety risk.”

It also states the AG found CWS “was not collaborating with local tribes as required by law.”

“There’s no room for half-measures when it comes to protecting our children against potential abuse or neglect,” Becerra said in the announcement. “Our local child welfare and law enforcement agencies must respond quickly, effectively, and appropriately. If they come up short, we have to be clear-eyed about the path forward and we owe it to the children of California to act decisively to get it fixed. Our filing is about doing just that for the children of Humboldt County. At the California Department of Justice, we’ll keep standing up for our state’s child safety laws and doing what we can to ensure those on the ground have the right tools to protect vulnerable children.”

Read the AG’s news release below: 
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced seeking a court order to require the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare Services Division (CWS) and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office to take steps to fully comply with a judgment secured by the California Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2018.

Despite varying levels of progress, DOJ remains concerned with CWS’ implementation of and compliance with provisions of the 2018 judgment, which was entered after a DOJ investigation uncovered systemic noncompliance with California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) and Welfare and Institutions Code. As a result, the Attorney General’s Office is taking action to extend the judgment’s corrective measures and monitoring of the county for an additional two years.

“There’s no room for half-measures when it comes to protecting our children against potential abuse or neglect,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Our local child welfare and law enforcement agencies must respond quickly, effectively, and appropriately. If they come up short, we have to be clear-eyed about the path forward and we owe it to the children of California to act decisively to get it fixed. Our filing is about doing just that for the children of Humboldt County. At the California Department of Justice, we’ll keep standing up for our state’s child safety laws and doing what we can to ensure those on the ground have the right tools to protect vulnerable children.”

Under CANRA, local child welfare and law enforcement agencies are required to accept all reports of abuse and neglect involving children and ensure that every single one is screened, cross-reported, coordinated, and investigated in a timely manner.

A DOJ investigation initiated in 2015 revealed that Humboldt County authorities had not been complying with their legal duties to respond to reports of child abuse and neglect, resulting in reports falling through the cracks and an inadequate assessment of child safety risk. Additionally, CWS was not collaborating with local tribes as required by law. Each of these deficiencies created widespread distrust within the community, leaving children at greater risk of harm.

In order to resolve these issues, CWS and the Sheriff’s Office agreed to a comprehensive set of corrective actions in 2018 aimed at ensuring compliance with state laws and protecting the well-being of all children in the county, including those who are members or eligible for membership of a tribe. As part of the settlement, the county agreed to the entry of a judgment that included a three-year monitoring period, permitting DOJ to seek orders and extensions as necessary or appropriate to ensure compliance with the judgment’s requirements.

To date, those requirements have not been fully met, necessitating the action announced today. DOJ is now seeking to extend the judgment and monitoring period to require ongoing and further affirmative corrective action, including with regards to provisions from the judgment with which the county agencies have failed to comply or consistently implement, such as: Emergency Response System, complying with statutory investigation completion timeline requirements, or extensions to exceed, as developed in policy and procedure in 95% of cases; Workforce Development Plan, developing and implementing a plan for maintaining, recruiting, employing, and supporting a high quality and stable workforce; Tribal Collaboration, taking additional steps to demonstrate compliance with requirements outlined in the judgment, including notice regarding referrals within 24 hours to the appropriate tribe for cases involving a child who is a member or eligible for membership of a tribe; and Child Fatality Review Process, ensuring a robust review of child welfare practices related to each child who dies in Humboldt County due to abuse or neglect or who previously received child welfare services.

Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting the rights of youth in California and across the country.

In August, the Attorney General secured settlements with school districts in Barstow and Oroville to address discriminatory treatment of students based on race and disability status. He also announced a $600,000 settlement with an online special education services provider aimed at protecting schools and students with learning disabilities.

In July, following troubling reports of discrimination and retaliation, Attorney General Becerra announced a wide-ranging settlement with the Mojave Unified School District.

Last year, the Attorney General obtained a historic desegregation agreement with the Sausalito Marin City School District. He also reached an agreement with the Stockton Unified School District and its police department to address discriminatory treatment of minority students and students with disabilities.

In addition, Attorney General Becerra issued an alert to all school districts in the state reminding school leaders of their obligation to protect the civil rights of students, especially in the face of reports indicating that implicit bias among school administrators leads to students of color and those with disabilities being disproportionately subjected to disciplinary action.

Attorney General Becerra encourages those with information regarding suspected practices in violation of state or federal law involving systems that support children in California to report them to the DOJ’s Bureau of Children’s Justice, through the online complaint form located at https://oag.ca.gov/bcj/complaint, or by email at bcj@doj.ca.gov. A copy of DOJ’s motion requesting the court order is available here. A copy of the proposed supplemental judgment is available here.

Read the county's statement below:
The Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) is aware of the Attorney General’s press release today regarding his office’s intent to pursue an extended monitoring period and for the imposition of additional terms and requirements to the existing Stipulated Final Judgment. To be clear, the current dispute between the parties does not involve any current or existing violations of the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA), but rather the state’s desire to waste taxpayer money on unnecessary consultants and monitors. DHHS has already offered to stipulate to an additional one-year monitoring period in which we would report directly to the Attorney General’s Office, with continued oversight by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS). Indeed, CDSS already conducts this exact type of monitoring activity for all 58 California counties and also disseminates guidelines and regulations that DHHS, and each of the other 57 counties, must comply with and follow. Additionally, DHHS is already required to submit a System Improvement Plan to CDSS, which incorporates and aligns with the Stipulated Final Judgment. Yet despite this, and despite spending more than $1.5 million in third party monitors and consultants and despite that the issues which gave rise to the Attorney General’s intervention have already been corrected, the Attorney General continues to insist that our community pay for an additional two years of monitors and consultants who have no actual or specific experience in California child welfare laws and practices. This is fiscally irresponsible to do so, particularly in the middle of a global pandemic and amid an economic downturn. DHHS remains committed to protecting children and families in Humboldt County, but simply desires the flexibility to identify and retain monitors and consultants who will benefit our community long after the Attorney General moves on to its next project. Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services Director Connie Beck said, “The investigation happened in 2015, and since 2018, when the Attorney General’s judgement was filed, we have increased staffing by 30% and have implemented numerous program strategies to assist staff to do the work necessary in our community. We’ve made tremendous strides and stand behind our staff, and we will continue to do the good work that we are doing in collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office and work in partnership with our community, law enforcement and tribes to keep children safe.” Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said, “The Sheriff’s Office and CWS work closely to protect county children which is our top priority. Through our refined systems and protocols, we have continued to ensure that mandated reports of child abuse and neglect are quickly investigated and that children are protected.”

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