Tulare County Grand Jury Stonewalled by CPS

The first ever investigation of the County’s foster care program by the Tulare County Grand Jury was met with stonewalling by child protective services.

Chanting the familiar mantra of confidentiality, the Tulare County Child Welfare Services agency denied Grand Jury members a review of random case files.

Nor were Grand Jury members allowed to ride along with child-welfare caseworkers, or attend a juvenile court hearing, according to the report.

Child Welfare Services based its denials on two California Welfare and Institutions Codes: Code 827, restricting access of records and information on minors in the system; and Code 10859, involving confidentiality about those receiving public services.

The Jury’s investigation involved interviews with foster parents, agency workers, court-appointed advocates for foster children, court personnel, and young adults who had recently graduated from the the foster care program.

In its final report for 2009-10, the Grand Jury recommended that Child Welfare Services follow its own guidelines. Those guidelines call for caseworkers to visit children in foster care every month and to have all children undergo mental-health evaluation.

The Grand Jury also recommended that caseworkers make periodic, unannounced visits to foster homes, and that the agency provide the Grand Jury with access to foster-care records “to monitor the progress of social workers and ensure the health and safety of children in foster care.”

Officials reportedly did not respond to a request as basic as providing the number of children in the county’s foster care system. With the information the Grand Jury did receive, members came to these conclusions:

Some foster children have gone six months or more without visits by social workers, and those leaving the foster system are given little or no instruction on how to access medical services, the Social Security system or money for education.

The report also notes that California has eliminated the Independent Living Program, intended to prepare foster children to live on their own.

As of 2 PM, Eastern Standard Time, 7/13/10, the Jury had yet to post its report on the web, however it should be available soon.