.Child Protective Services Criticized by Santa Cruz County Grand Jury

Santa Cruz County Child Protective Services workers prioritize reunifying children with their birth parents, and have been accused of insensitive treatment and intimidation of families, according to a report released June 17 by the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury.

The report is the first CPS review by the Grand Jury since 2002-03.

According to the report, over the past year, the Civil Grand Jury received complaints from Resource Families alleging that Santa Cruz County CPS prioritized reunifying children with their birth parents “at all costs.”

The Grand Jury expressed concerns over several issues:

• Disputes around visitation schedules, mainly when children express fear or resistance.

• Emotional distress caused by removal from stable foster placements. Hand-offs are not always warm, and lack of compassion was a constant theme.

• Complaints of false records by social workers.

• Social workers fail to consider established criteria meant to protect children at risk.

• Cases showing decisions consistently in favor of reunification over the well-being of children, including with potentially harmful birth parents who have not addressed issues leading to their removal.

• Concerns about insufficient information provided by CPS to Resource Families.

• Allegations that the county is not consistently applying “bypass” criteria in cases where reunification may not be appropriate.

A “bypass” in CPS refers to administrative or legal resolutions that deny reunification with parents. CPS offers various programs for birth families to retain eligibility for reuniting with the child.

Currently, follow-ups when a child reunites with the birth family can last up to 18 months. The Grand Jury expressed concern that this may not provide adequate time to determine a proper living situation for children.

The entirety of CPS information is safeguarded by privacy laws. Access to the proceedings and documents is exclusive to CPS staff and the court system.

Consequently, the Grand Jury is unable to investigate individual complaints. Instead, it examines long-term trends, analyzing data collected over the past decade.

After listening to and reading complaints, the Grand Jury interviewed CPS staff to comprehend if their information could provide a pattern of systematic bias.

The Grand Jury report highlighted a need for more direction for interviews with CPS staff. The CPS website does not include an organized information chart regarding the outcome of their services.

One interviewee admitted that the organized chart was not listed on the website, and assured that it would be corrected soon.

Lastly, the report considered that the complaint process has little to no transparency, claiming “there is no formal complaint process” and suggesting that the path is “ineffective and results in a lack of accountability or follow-up on the complaint.”

Furthermore, CPS does not provide data on the number of complaints received year by year and the resolution status.

The Grand Jury suggested that CPS publish an organizational chart by Oct. 31, 2024.

The Grand Jury believes that lack of perception may prevent a sufficient number of Resource Homes from applying as a valuable service for the protection of neglected and abused children in Santa Cruz County.

In response to the report, Human Services Department spokesman Adam Spickler released a statement:

“The Grand Jury’s report found no evidence to support the false claims made about our agency’s role in reunifying children with their birth families.”

Human services department staff, he said, complied with the Grand Jury investigation to the greatest extent possible, “given the strict confidentiality laws we are bound to.” Spickler noted these laws “will also prevent the county from taking some of the actions suggested by the Grand Jury.”

Spickler added that the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors has 90 days to respond to the report. Any changes would be noticed publicly on the Board of Supervisors agenda.


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