Los Angeles County facing fines for operating unlicensed foster care shelter, missing deadlines

How Could You? Hall of Shame-UK-Arshid Hussain and Rotherham CPS“Too often in the past eight months, L.A. County has missed this deadline, according to state regulators. And as soon as Wednesday, California’s Department of Social Services said the county could be subject to fines of $200 a day for operating an “unlicensed emergency shelter.” As of Wednesday morning, state officials had not taken action.”

“As social workers make 10, 20, sometimes 100 calls to place a child, the kid waits in one of two places: For those under 11, there’s the Children’s Welcome Center, a converted daycare; for older kids, a converted break room in the fifth floor of an office building just south of Downtown L.A.”

“For instance, in a 10-day period in July, 22 kids stayed at the Children’s Welcome Center for more than 24 hours—of them, nine stayed over two days; four stayed more than three days; and in one case, it took over four days to place a child in foster care.

The problem’s not a new one: L.A. was cited by state regulators for “overstays” in July 2011. The numbers dropped in 2012, but climbed again in 2013 and brought a new round of state reprimands.

Nor is Los Angeles County alone in citations for overstays.

Last year, the state scolded Humboldt County for bunking incoming foster kids at a Quality Inn hotel for more than 24 hours. In Santa Clara County, according to state regulators, one child spent 37 days in an intake center. But until now, not one of the 58 counties in the state has been fined, at least not in recent years.

“I think there might be a question in the mind of the state of how seriously we’re taking this,” said Philip Browning, director of L.A.’s Department of Children and Family Services.

His department, he said, is fully aware of the problem and on track to solve it, albeit maybe not as quickly as the state would like.

Among the steps the county proposed before the threat of fines came down, DCFS has reached out to the county’s probation department to conduct criminal background checks of the family members of detained kids who offer to take them in – a process previously handled by the state’s justice department and which has been slowed by budget cuts.

Browning said he’s also started pilot projects aimed at testing what might attract more people to sign up as foster parents. A shortage of homes, especially for smaller kids, is a major factor contributing to overstays, he said. Ideas include offering foster parents free baby formula and diapers, and on a limited basis, offering a stipend for childcare to foster parents who work.

The director said he’s also working with foster care agencies to rewrite certification policies that require incoming foster parents to apply as adoptive parents as well.

Browning said the state fines are serious, but not the only thing on his mind. While he’s concerned about keeping children in intake centers longer than the state mandate, he’s more concerned with making sure they’re going to the right home.

“I would rather exceed that 24 hour time frame and place the child with an aunt or a relative that the child knows instead of putting them in a foster home 60 miles away,” Browning said.

That said, over the next couple of weeks, the county will weigh quicker fixes to the overstay problem, Browning said. The state has indicated they’ll stop fining L.A. County if it applies to have the Children’s Welcome Center – where small children are taken – certified as an emergency shelter.

L.A. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said Tuesday that option is a non-starter for him.

For more than 20 years, the county did operate such a shelter, MacLaren Children’s Center, which was shut down in 2003. At the time, there were allegations MacLaren was a nasty place where children languished because there was no urgency to move them into proper placements.

“We don’t want to go back to those days,” Yaroslavsky said. “Compared to MacLaren, this is a walk in the park. We need to bring ourselves into compliance, and Phil Browning is working on it and the state and the stakeholders need to be a little tolerant.”

Browning said the other option is: “to get some of our residential providers who are already in the business to provide additional shelter care services.”

Miriam Krinsky, a policy consultant for the California Endowment and an expert in child welfare, said a county-operated shelter should not be an option.

“If you build it, it’ll quickly be filled,” she said.

Sheltering with community providers may be a better option, but it depends on the type of providers and how long kids would be kept with them.

“There needs to be strict understanding that there’d be a time limit,” Krinsky said. “Even under the best circumstances, when children have been removed from their home, what they need is stability and support. They don’t need to find themselves in a revolving door of temporary placements.”

Judge Michael Nash, who presides over LA County’s juvenile division, said the overstay problem has cropped up semi-frequently in the decade since MacLaren closed.

“The bottom line is there should have been some better planning about what to do a long time ago, so they’re reaping the result of not taking appropriate action when MacLaren closed,” Nash said.

Now, the problem’s compounded by an unusually high number of child abuse reports this year.

“I don’t know if the state fining them $200 a day is really much of a sanction,” Nash said. “But the negative publicity they’re receiving around this might be punishment enough.”

Over the coming weeks, the county will decide whether to take immediate action to stop the state from acting. Or it could simply eat the fines – and the stigma that comes along with them – to give Browning a chance to reduce overstays through long-term reforms.”

LA County facing fines for operating unlicensed foster care shelter, missing deadlines

A version of this column originally appeared in www.reformtalk.net.

As DCF Considers Changes, Former Foster Youth Speak Out

Daniel Pettus is the state-wide chair of Florida Youth Shine.

The Department of Children and Families’ recent troubles took center stage at the group’s Child Protection Summit this week in Orlando. The event drew record attendance with 2,500 guardians ad litem, DCF workers, and members of the justice system, along with a group of former foster kids who offered their take on issues facing the department.

In contrast to recent meetings about the rash of children who’ve died recently under the Department of Children and Families’ watch, the Child Protection summit’s kick off seemed more like a concert with music and cheering.

And while Interim DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo said she’s glad to see that kind of passion, she said it’s important to remember the challenges the group is facing.

"Before we talk about our promise, we need to speak several names. (LONG PAUSE) We speak their names because, through no fault of their own, they suffered and died. These are children who we collectively knew as a system of care. We start by speaking these names because they remind us of our challenge. They remind us of our commitment," Jacobo said.

And as DCF officials worked to change direction, several former foster kids talked about their own experiences and some changes they’d like to see. They’re part of the group Florida Youth Shine, which had a hand in getting a piece of legislation nicked-named “the normalcy bill” passed last legislative session.  The measure gives foster parents more say in what their kids can or can’t do, rather than having to get an okay from the courts. Daniel Pettus, a member of the group, said he thinks the new rule change will really help kids who are growing up in the foster care system now."

“It feels strange to ask someone if they want to hang out for the weekend or see a movie and you have to tell them ‘yeah, I’d love to do that, let me go ask the judge and see if I can get that passed by Friday. So, it really veers you away from having a lot of friendships and the normal experiences that you can have.” Pettus said.

This year, the group is pushing to make it easier for foster kids to get driver’s licenses.  Right now, it’s hard for foster kids to get licenses because they often don’t stay at one address for long and face both different insurance regulations and concerns about who’s liable if they get into an accident. But, as far as the department’s current problems? Pettus said based on his own experiences, more funding and more services for families would be a big help. He said his mom struggled with a drug addiction when he was a kid and often couldn’t find enough money to make ends meet.

“She loved us to death and she did the best she could to raise us and we all turned out great kids. We just had to go to foster homes because we were in poverty. So, we got taken from someone who loved us to live with strangers when some preventative services could have rearranged that and then we could have lived as a whole family and have had to experience any of that,” Pettus said.

Chelsea Bramblett said she had a similar experience when she was placed in foster care at the age of 15.

“My mother, she loved us to death. The one thing she, the one thing we didn’t lack in our household was love and support. My mother had everything besides the money and the services that she needed,” Bramblett said.

And Bramblett said besides providing more services, the DCF should focus more on educating parents about the services that are available to them now.

“When the court case was opened and they started coming in, she wasn’t really offered those programs and told ‘hey, these programs are available for you.’ If those programs would have been available she would have been on track to get her kids and take care of us, but we were placed into foster care and had to age out of foster care, but if she had had those services we wouldn’t have had to be separated from our family and face those problems,” Bramblett said.

Both Pettus and Bramblett said if a kid must be removed from their home, the state should put more emphasis on keeping siblings together. Bramblett,said it made a huge difference to be placed with her sister.

“I don’t think that I would have been able to make it through the foster care system if I hadn’t been placed with my sibling because as Daniel said we went through it together, we suffered together, we understood the problems that we faced and we were each other’s support system,” Bramblett said.

The group also said helping kids who come into foster care when they’re older -- and therefore aren’t as likely to be adopted -- prepare for the real world is an important focus. It’s something they say another piece of legislation passed last session will help with. It extends care eligibility to a foster kid’s 21st birthday.


A version of this column originally appeared in wfsu.org.

A version of this column originally appeared in feedproxy.google.com.

How Could You? Hall of Shame-Joshua Craig Cornish

How Could You? Hall of Shame-Joshua Craig CornishThis will be an archive of heinous actions by those involved in child welfare, foster care and adoption. We forewarn you that these are deeply disturbing stories that may involve sex abuse, murder, kidnapping and other horrendous actions.

From Waco, Texas, Joshua Craig Cornish,27, was arrested on August 20, 2013 and charged with online solicitation of a minor “for a referral made by CPS in November 2012.

Waco PD began investigating this case in 2012 after a referral from CPS. The case involved a girl who was staying with a foster family.

The foster mom had misplaced her iPod and found that the foster child had it. When the foster mom checked it, she found naked pictures of the girl and naked pictures of a man on the iPod.

The pictures of the girl had been sent to at least one man.

Investigators determined that Cornish was man exchanging photo with the girl and obtained a warrant for his arrest. Cornish was picked up by DPS Troopers and booked into McLennan County Jail on Tuesday.”

Local man arrested for online solicitation of a minor

[KXXV 8/21/13 by CJ Gardner]

“Based upon evidence gathered in the [CPS] interview, detectives requested a warrant for Cornish on May 28.

Cornish posted the $5,000 dollars bond late Wednesday [August 21, 2013] and was released.”

Waco: Local Man Charged With Solicitation Of A Minor

[KWTX 8/21/13]

“An arrest warrant affidavit states that Cornish and the girl met on Facebook. Cornish told detectives they had never met in person, according to the documents.”

Man charged with soliciting minor online


A version of this column originally appeared in www.reformtalk.net.

Former social worker pleads guilty to having sex with teens in facility

court_gavel_3[1]A woman described as a "social worker," who helped counsel young people who'd committed felonies, admits to having sex with several teenage boys locked-up in Butler County, FOX19 has confirmed through court documents and the Butler County Sheriff's Office.

33-year-old Amber Marie Harris of Fairfield appeared in court yesterday and admitted her crimes after an investigation that began three months ago, according to Sgt. Mike Craft. He says Harris has not worked with Butler County's juvenile justice agency for two years. But someone currently on-staff heard allegations about what Harris had done and contacted authorities.

Craft says investigators have confirmed there were at least three victims. Juvenile justice officials in Butler County have not yet responded to FOX19's inquiries, over approximately the past 24 hours, about Harris' time with their agency.


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Audit: W.Va. fails to address child abuse quickly

cps-gifCHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The agency charged with protecting West Virginia's children from abuse and neglect suffers from high staff turnover, consistently fails to do timely investigations and appears unwilling to fix its many shortcomings, according to a legislative audit.

Child Protective Services is part of the Department of Health and Human Resources' Bureau for Children and Families. The audit presented to lawmakers in Charleston says the bureau lacks a sense of urgency in recruiting, building and retaining a workforce capable of timely investigations.

While it has been aware of and studied the turnover problem for six years, the audit concludes, the bureau has done nothing to change the situation.

The Dominion Post (http://bit.ly/1dvVFeO) says interim bureau commissioner Susan Hage told lawmakers that she is taking the report seriously and committed to change. She also acknowledged the bureau should be farther along in addressing 14 recommendations.

But state Sen. Donald Cookman, a Hampshire County Democrat and retired circuit court judge, called the situations laid out in the audit "appalling."

While state law requires CPS workers to respond to abuse and neglect reports within 14 days — and within 72 hours in cases of imminent danger — the audit found workers met that standard less than half the time.

In 2011, it said, only 48 percent of the cases were handled promptly.

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