April 10, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

It was — what? — three days ago that I reported on the Ventura County, California case of Scott and Sara Rolick. They’re the ones with a five-year-old daughter, Stevie, who’ve had her taken into foster care. Why? What outrageous acts of abuse and neglect did they perpetrate against her? They allowed his father to live with them and, totally unbeknownst to them, Granddad sold illicit drugs miles away. Both Rolicks were investigated and tested for drug use and both were found to be clean and free of any allegation of child abuse or neglect. They also removed his father from their house.

So, given that her parents are fine, fit and loving, with no claims against them of any kind, why is Stevie in foster care? Well, local child protective caseworkers have spent an astonishing amount of time and agency resources trying to pin something — anything — on them. So one caseworker placed a report in their file claiming they’d been arrested and charged with possession of narcotics. That was completely false, but it remains in their file. That in turn led to a demand by CPS that Scott take a parenting course and drug and alcohol courses. He rightly refused, given that he has no history of bad parenting or inappropriate use of controlled substances. The whole thing looks very much like a campaign by CPS to keep Stevie in foster care so the agency can receive a check from Washington when she’s adopted.

In my first piece, I raised the issue that CPS workers often complain of overwork. Whenever a child dies in parental or foster care, we’re told that CPS has too much work to do to effectively monitor every complaint of abuse or neglect. And often that’s true, as the fiasco in Arizona — where caseworkers simply ignored over 6,000 complaints of abuse and neglect over a two-year period - demonstrates. But if CPS workers are so busy with real cases, what are they doing leaning on the Rolicks? They’ve wasted vast amounts of time and resources badgering perfectly good, capable parents in what looks like a revenge-motivated vendetta.

Now, although this case didn’t originate in Ventura County, it’s still one that rings the same bells we hear so often (CBS Local, 4/9/14). It looks like 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez was beaten to death by his mother and her boyfriend. They’re both in jail facing capital murder charges in the boy’s death, and, as we’ve come to expect, CPS knew he was in danger but lifted nary a finger to protect him.

Fernandez died from injuries suffered in his Palmdale home, despite numerous signs of ongoing abuse, such as bruised skin, cigarette burns, broken ribs and missing teeth.

The child’s grandparents claimed 62 instances of abuse were reported against Gabriel’s mother and her boyfriend, but nothing was done by authorities.

That’s right, CPS had a whopping 62 reports of abuse regarding Gabriel but never managed to get the message that he was in trouble. Or perhaps they got the message and ignored it. But if they did, it’s not because they didn’t know he was in trouble. Broken ribs and cigarette burns would likely tip off most people, but apparently not agency workers supposedly trained to spot child abuse. Whatever the case, the boy is dead, savagely beaten, and there’s been yet another audit of CPS.

The audit, which examined the policies and practices of child-protective agencies in Butte, Orange, and San Francisco counties, discovered inconsistencies in how risk assessments are made for children in potentially dangerous situations.

The problems are attributed to a lack of clear policies and timely oversight by agency supervisors.

The audit recommended that the agencies implement better supervisory review of cases and create quality-assurance units to help at-risk kids.

“The audit confirms our worst fears,” said Gatto. “While I have no doubt that most local social-work professionals have the best of intentions, the State Auditor has found enough deeply troubling flaws in these county agencies that they’ve called upon the state to step in.”

“Lack of timely oversight…” That sounds like another term for personnel having too much to do. “Inconsistencies in how risk assessments are made…” That sounds like caseworkers paying too much attention to cases that don’t need it and not enough to the ones that do. So, although this particular audit only dealt with Butte, Orange and San Francisco counties, it uncovered some of the same problems that are ongoing in the Rolick case in Ventura County. There, caseworkers have harassed the parents for weeks for no reason whatsoever and, in the process, ignored cases in which children are at risk. And of course supervisors have either ignored that behavior or participated in it.

Fortunately, the State of California is stepping in.

As a result, the State Department of Social Services has agreed to implement the recommended supervisory review and quality assurance processes in all 58 California counties.

If I were Scott Rolick, I’d contact the DSS right now and try to get them to pay attention to his case and the outrageous abuse of state power by Ventura County CPS officials. Of course, there’s a “fox guarding the henhouse” aspect to all this. After all, CPS is a sub-agency of DSS which means they work hand-in-glove on many things. How closely will DSS scrutinize local CPS agencies when, after all, those agencies answer to DSS anyway?

I’m going to guess the answer is “not much.” Still, with an audit in progress and with the media scrutiny that can entail, it may be that the Rolick case becomes too uncomfortable to maintain the status quo in.

Of course little Gabriel Fernandez wasn’t as lucky as Stevie Rolick; he didn’t have fit, loving parents caring for him. Some of us view the two cases and observe that CPS did nothing in the case in which they should have acted and are committing ridiculous amounts of time and resources examining a case in which the parents are fit and the child is healthy. Some of us notice that Stevie should be at home with her parents and Gabriel should be in foster care. Too bad none of us work for CPS.

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#childabuseandneglect, #VenturaCounty, #DepartmentofSocialServices, #stateaudit, #GabrielFernandez, #California

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