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Child Protective Systems - another carceral system?

Thank you so much to the awesome community members and social justice allies who made the creation of this piece possible.

We want to highlight the contributions to this write-up from Nia Moore-Weathers, an advocate for social justice as it relates to young folx within the City of Sacramento.

Nia is a Community Organizer at Youth Forward (site linked here), an org fighting to improve the living conditions of our most vulnerable youth populations. Youth Forward is the coordinating entity for the Sac Kids First Coalition (site linked here), a grassroots coalition advocating for the adequate provision of funds needed to support children within the City of Sacramento.

On 2/8/22 the Sac County Board of Supervisors received the annual presentation from the Sacramento County Children’s Coalition’s Child Protective Systems Oversight Committee (Oversight Committee). This committee exists to:

[provide] community-level surveillance of the County’s child protective systems

Text taken from the meeting doc, linked here.

Being reviewed today are: Items 32 & 33 - related to Social Services, more specifically, the Department of Child, Family, and Adult Services and Child Protective Services

Brief summary of what happens in the child protective system:

  • There are 2 simultaneous investigations that happen when a report comes in about child abuse/neglect and it is decided that the report meets the criteria required to investigate:

- Law Enforcement - determines if a crime has been committed

- CPS - investigates child safety, determines if placement is necessary, and works to reunite families when possible

  • Sometimes CPS will close a case because it determines that the child is safe, but law enforcement will still be required to investigate a crime

What happened?

First up: Item 32, Child Protective Services Oversight Committee 2019-2020 Annual Report

This item covered the benchmarks achieved, goals set, and services provided by the Child Protective System during the year of 2019-2020.

  • “Child Protective System” is not just CPS, it includes the other systems responsible for responding to reports of suspected child abuse/neglect

The overarching message of the report highlighted the high demand for child abuse investigation compared to local law enforcement's (LE) capacity to meet that demand. They shared that LE has a very very very large backlog of child abuse cases that they have been unable to address.

Other issues mentioned by the Oversight Committee about flaws in the system:

  • Social workers not using the risk assessment tools consistently (note: we have questions about what racial biases exist within these "risk assessment tools")

  • No “warm handoffs” being completed in order to connect families to referral resources

  • Cases being closed before all relevant collaterals in community have been explored (schools, other agencies involved, LE)

  • BIG EMPHASIS ON - the amount of reports coming in and the inability for all reports to be investigated by LE

  • Decisions made by LE are often based on which report they believe will lead to successfully prosecuting the suspect vs. the safety/well-being of child

The presentation included a brief mention of the research showing that, domestic violence, mental health, and substance abuse issues are present in fatal/near fatal cases

  • Brief call for DV, MH, and SA resources for prevention purposes, but this was not the focus of the presentation - why focus on prevention right??

Solutions provided in the report ranged from lowering the caseload #'s for LE to 12-14 per officer, ensuring that officers meet with every suspected victim, and that we increase the amount of funding for LE personnel. (obviously LE needs MORE funding)

Other proposed solutions included the creation of the Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Report System (ESCAR) system, which would allow for easier facilitation of reporting child abuse, and for simplified cross-collaboration across departmental services. Going through this new system took up a significant portion of the item's discussion time.

Notice that these recommendations include no mention of prevention/resources for families at risk of child abuse/neglect…instead they only focus on how we respond to reports of abuse/neglect…at which point, the harm to children has already been done.

What did the Supervisors have to say?

Supervisor Serna:

This presentation was very forthright and candid, disconcerting to say the least -that law enforcement is woefully under-resourced to deal with these issues

Serna was supportive of developing the new reporting system but wanted to make sure that this was not being looked as THE comprehensive solution. He also made the following points:

  • E-SCAR wont fix everything, but more data will help

  • Noted that programs like the Black Child Legacy Campaign are great for prevention

  • Expressed concern about the caseloads assigned to detectives, and stated that LE is too “under-resourced” to effectively look at cases (we beg to differ)

  • Suggested creating a committee of 2 BOS members to engage on these issues, the two members being: Serna and Desmond (please note Desmond's steadfast commitment to funding law enforcement)

Supervisor Desmond:

Desmond stated that we need to improve the way we serve our most vulnerable youth.

There is a lot of work to be done - I see other boards and councils creating councils or committees to delve into matters of importance in their respective bodies. I would be glad to join you Supervisor Serna

Awesome. More support from the retired California Highway Patrol officer.

Supervisor Frost: stated that she was fine with what Serna suggested AKA forming the 2-person committee

Supervisor Nottoli:

The oversight committee's [the Sacramento County Children’s Coalition’s Child Protective Systems Oversight Committee] efforts in concert with our efforts and other agencies has helped to strengthen the safety net for our children

Nottoli expressed his concern that there are gaps in personnel and resources within child protective systems to effectively do the job and prosecute cases.

He also expressed support for implementing the new ESCAR system.

OF CONCERN: Nottoli mentioned that this committee of 2 that will be focusing on child abuse/neglect can propose a “Budgeting Growth Request” because

We need more LE to investigate cases


Result: BOS voted unanimously to coordinate and create this 2-person committee


What did community members have to say?

Stephanie from Child Abuse Prevention Services:

  • Thanked Nottoli for creating the oversight committee

  • Notes that PREVENTION reduces reports of child abuse/neglect

  • Mentioned the Black Child Legacy Campaign (site linked here) and Birth and Beyond Family Resource Centers (site linked here) as great resources - data has shown reductions in childhood abuse/neglect fatalities from these programs

  • Prevention supports families before an investigation would be initiated

  • Currently there is a team of 24 experts creating a county-wide child abuse prevention plan that will be presented in April

Sheila from Child Abuse Prevention Center:

  • We should focus on prevention

  • We should wait for the prevention plan in April before making final decisions

  • Family Resource Centers are effective in preventing child abuse

Cost of prevention is MUCH lower than cost of investigation and foster care

Keyan Bliss - from Social Justice PolitiCorps, People's Budget Sacramento, the Anti-Police Terror Project, Decarcerate Sacramento, and others:

This presentation around data systems is not examining the root of the problem
  • The community is being gaslit - this is NOT a resource issue

  • More $$ is being demanded to address capacity issues, when we know that there is no data demonstrating that the Sheriff is prioritizing these cases or responding well to them. Are they even effective?

  • We over invest in LE when we really need to invest in CBOs that are providing resources and support to families

This overinvestment is a reflection of our systemic criminal punishment culture that views LE as our society's savior
  • This is being presented as a paper crisis that LE, DA, and CPS are dealing with when really it is about the power and responsibility that they refuse to give up

  • This presentation shows that the County values “punishment and institutional growth over prevention, intervention and rehab”

  • We need to hear about a plan that requires the Sheriff to address these investigation issues before blindly giving the department more money

David - public commentor

  • Identifies as an adult survivor of child abuse

  • Supports new systems/tools, but worries they may fall into the wrong hands

  • Data system could be abused by LE

Next up: Item 33, The Department of Child, Family, and Adult Services provided their response in presentation format to the Child Protective Systems Oversight Committee Report

This report mainly focused on the Department's Operations and Practice, Law Enforcement Partners, Cross-Systems Collaboration and Information Sharing.

Several recommendations were made by Director Michelle Callejas, but arguably the most important was the recommendation to continue to research, strategize, and learn about the disparities that we see in the CPS System and to implement strategies that departments can use moving forward to ameliorate issues. Additionally, she mentioned specific efforts around racial bias training for CPS Officers, and a thorough evaluation of support services. Michelle also spoke to the importance of wraparound services supported by the Black Child Legacy Campaign

Was there a vote (both items)?

Item 32: There was no vote, but there was a motion to move forward with the committee idea that Serna proposed. Serna made the motion, and Nottoli seconded. Serna and Desmond both volunteered to sit on that committee.

Item 33: There was no motion to receive and file, or vote.

Following the cash (both items):

Item 32: In relation to the budget, there were several allusions to the fact that, in order to revamp the Child Protective Services agency here in Sacramento, and make it a more effective and functioning unit, we will need to increase funding towards local LE.

Serna and Nottoli both vocally backed this idea.

One public caller/commenter voiced "outrage" that the Sherriff's Department would ask for any more funding, considering the fact that their budget sits at $600 million, the highest of any department, and that they are the most well-staffed


Item 33: There were no budget-related conversations during this item.

Why were these items important to social justice?

Item 32:

This item is extremely important to youth related issues - as it is yet ANOTHER example of our County BOS letting us know that funding youth over law enforcement is a decision they are unwilling to make. Additionally, support for the "idea" of continuing to fund an overgrown Sheriff's Department budget, is ACTUALLY a decision to fund public violence over prevention.

There were a few public callers who spoke to the amazing benefits of early intervention, and of the community-based organizations that are providing services that LE simply cannot provide. Their comments did not sway the Board.

SJPC readers can get more involved in this issue by attending future BOS/City Council meetings, and continuing to address local LE funding issues at these meetings, and/or via personal outreach to their County/City representative.

Item 33:

Very similar to Item 32, this item is important because the overall recommendations made by the Department of Children, Family, and Adult Services will have far reaching impacts for the population of youth being served by CPS - at least hopefully in terms of addressing racial disparities and providing actual help.

Again, this item highlighted the overwhelming amount of imbalanced caseloads that most general CPS officers deal with. Due to this imbalance, we see many cases go unaddressed. As always, readers should get involved locally, and preferably, at the grassroots level.

An important takeaway from Nia's report-back:

In order to properly inform oneself on a social issue, one must take due diligence and educate themselves on the experiences of those dealing with marginalization in their schools, places of work, neighborhoods, etc.

Stay tuned!

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