Four Tribes voice urgent concerns about the Humboldt child welfare system
California Attorney General aims to address systemic failures that put children at risk
Today, the Yurok Tribe, Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria, the Wiyot Tribe and the Trinidad Rancheria announced their support of the California Attorney General’s effort to pursue a court order requiring the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare Services Division and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office to fully and transparently implement the terms of a 2018 court ruling regarding the agencies’ mismanagement of child abuse and neglect cases.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra recently took a first step toward extending the conditions in the Court-ordered Judgment against the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office. Preserving the provisions for a longer period of time would compel the agencies to resolve ongoing and substantial structural deficiencies within the child welfare system.
Coupled with a substantial list of mandatory reforms, the 2018 Judgment forced the county agencies to comply with the California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act. Humboldt DHHS and the Sheriff’s Office were also required to hire an independent entity to oversee the complete implementation of the order. DHHS recently objected to the Attorney General’s decision to seek a resolution from the court, claiming that an extension of the terms is a reflection of “the state’s desire to waste taxpayer money on unnecessary consultants and monitors.”
“Humboldt County’s assertion that child safety is a waste of taxpayer money is akin to stating that our next generations and our shared future in this county are a misuse of taxpayer funding,” said Frankie Myers, the Yurok Tribe’s Vice Chairman and a recently appointed member of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s newly Truth and Healing Council. “The Truth and Healing Council was formed to prevent history from repeating itself, which is clearly happening in Humboldt County, where my grandmother and many other elders suffered horrific abuses at the hands of the state. The widespread and ongoing systemic failures with Humboldt DHHS and the Sheriff’s Office put our children at risk and they cannot be allowed to persist.”
“It’s disappointing and frankly discouraging that after years of well-documented systemic failures by the County’s DHHS, the County still considers the protection of children and the prevention of child abuse and neglect a waste of taxpayers’ money. Unfortunately, the County’s actions and comments demonstrate a continued lack of understanding of DHHS’s failures and underscore the need for continued oversight to best protect children who are suffering or at risk of abuse in Humboldt County,” said Wendell Freeman, the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria’s Tribal Council Treasurer. “The third-party compliance monitors have played an essential role in improving the agencies’ response to cases of child abuse and neglect by proactively identifying issues and assisting with development of solutions to the problems outlined in court-ordered settlement.”
“This is about more than money, it is about the safety of our kids. We’re talking about children, the quality of their lives and the future of our communities. While the county purports that improvements have been made, when it comes to the safety of local children, not much has been changed since the court ordered settlement was announced,” said Ted Hernandez, Wiyot Tribe Chair.
Trinidad Rancheria Vice-Chairman, Robert Hemsted added, “In order to effect meaningful change within DHHS, County leadership must embrace the spirit and extension of the AG Judgement, which is meant to protect our children. Denying that problems still exist is not acceptable. DHHS must also implement training for staff beginning with the DHHS Director. DHHS Director Beck’s press release stating that monitors are a waste of taxpayer dollars reflects a lack of cultural sensitivity as well as understanding and willingness for true collaboration. Nothing can change until the County embraces its internal issues and comes to the table without excuses as to why they are unable to fulfill the judgement mandates. We have been willing to work with the County and will continue to work with them through Government to Government Consultation, Collaboration and Communication. Our children’s lives and well-being depend on it.”
The four Northern California tribes vigorously support an extension of the Judgment and categorically disagree with DHHS’s characterization of its progress. From the Tribes’ perspective, the newly formed policies and procedures are not adhered to or adequately measured to show definitive progress. A report by the third-party monitor documents the agency’s failure to comply with the order, which is why there is a continued need for the extension proposed by the AG’s office.
According to a motion filed by the Attorney General, “the monitor is concerned that while (Humboldt) DHHS-CWS may have revised its policies and procedures in paper form, DHHS-CWS has failed to ensure staff is consistently implementing these changes, as required under the Final Judgment and DHHS-CWS is not holding staff accountable for lapses.”
Because tribes share jurisdiction with DHHS over child welfare matters involving tribal children, tribes have a unique view into the daily practices of DHHS child welfare services and its structural failings. Yurok Vice Chairman Frankie Myers commented, “Tribes see the daily practices of DHHS child welfare services. While some improvements have been made, a report by the third-party monitor documents the agency’s failure to comply with the order, which why we strongly believe that there is a continued need for the extension proposed by the AG’s office.”
The initial investigation, launched in 2016 by then Attorney General, now Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and completed by Attorney General Becerra, found numerous deficiencies in Humboldt DHHS’s and Sheriff’s Office’s management of cases involving child abuse and neglect, especially those involving Native American children. AG Becerra was recently nominated to lead the US Department of Health and Human Services. In 2017, a Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury released two reports concerning DHHS’s mishandling of child abuse and neglect reports. In both instances, the Grand Jury found: “Too often, our children are being neglected and abused by parents and family members, and when Mandated Reporters make allegations of abuse and neglect to CWS, the system is failing to respond in a timely manner, or to respond at all.” The Grand Jury further found these failings occurred in spite of clear requirements laid out in state law and internal policies.
According to the Grand Jury, before 2018 DHHS was not meeting basic legal requirements and issues reported by the oversight body remain unresolved. Children are left in unsafe situations where the worst possible outcomes, potentially preventable child deaths, have occurred since the Judgment was entered. Lengthening the 2018 terms serves as the best mechanism to repair the system and keep all children safe.
The Court was scheduled to decide on the Attorney General’s request for extension of the Judgment on January 15, 2021 however, the County requested a continuance to February 9, 2021.