The variety of at-risk kids faraway from their properties in Santa Clara County has soared in current months, a dramatic shift for the county’s little one welfare company that got here beneath intense scrutiny after a child left in her father’s care died of a fentanyl overdose.
The brand new numbers had been launched by the county’s Division of Household and Youngsters’s Providers as a part of a progress report company leaders will current Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors who demanded reforms after the dying of 3-month-old Phoenix Castro raised critical questions in regards to the county’s mission to maintain troubled households collectively.
In an indication that the welfare company is giving elevated emphasis to little one security, a minimum of 52 kids had been faraway from their properties within the final two months of 2023 – that’s greater than triple the 2-month common for the earlier months of that yr, based on the brand new knowledge from the kid welfare company.
And in an obvious acknowledgment that leaving households to voluntarily enhance their parenting expertise isn’t at all times working, 18 children since November had been positioned beneath court docket supervision whereas nonetheless within the care of their households. That’s greater than double the variety of kids with court docket supervision residing at house for all different months of 2023 mixed.
County Supervisor Sylvia Arenas, who has known as for an overhaul of the company, stated Tuesday she is inspired by the stepped-up oversight of troubled households however nonetheless involved the efforts are being centered on kids who’re 5 and youthful.
“Check out the remainder of the children,” stated Arenas, who known as on leaders of the businesses tasked with defending kids to take motion. “We must be proactive now. And the board has requested them to try this. So I’m very confused about why they wouldn’t observe board path.”
Social employee supervisor Suzanne Romero, who known as for reforms alongside together with her colleagues at a particular board of supervisors listening to in December, stated she’s happy with the progress she has seen up to now. Particularly, she stated, attorneys within the County Counsel’s workplace who had been utilizing their authority to veto the suggestions of social staff to take away kids look like backing off.
“There have been speedy modifications, and I’ll say we’re doing a a lot a lot, significantly better job at defending kids and guaranteeing that they’re secure,” Romero stated. “We’re capable of make applicable interventions with out being thwarted, with out being stopped.”
Arenas and Supervisor Cindy Chavez have been main the reform efforts since an investigation by the Bay Space Information Group uncovered how the county disregarded a number of warning indicators about inserting child Phoenix in her mother and father’ care earlier than her dying Could 13. The San Jose lady was the primary of three South Bay kids youthful than 2 who ingested a deadly dose of fentanyl inside six months final yr.
Not solely had child Phoenix’s two older siblings already been faraway from their mother and father, the couple failed to finish the parenting and different lessons required to get their kids again. In addition they examined optimistic for medicine two months earlier than child Phoenix’s start. Warnings from a social employee that the toddler can be in mortal hazard if despatched house additionally went unheeded.
Social staff had lengthy feared that the kid welfare company’s household preservation mannequin imposed in 2021 – which set a a lot greater bar to take away kids from harmful properties – might result in tragedy.
“Whereas household preservation is a excessive precedence – and I feel all of us agree that that ought to be a excessive precedence – the give attention to the kid’s effectively being and security has acquired to be primary,” Chavez stated in an interview this week.
At Tuesday’s listening to, Chavez and Arenas will demand solutions from Damion Wright, the director of the Division and Household and Youngsters’s Providers, and his boss, Daniel Little, who leads the county’s Division of Social Providers. Little had helped provoke the household preservation mannequin three years in the past as a part of an effort to reverse long-standing discrimination in opposition to households of shade, who’ve been disproportionately caught up within the little one welfare system and separated from their kids who’re uncovered to a different supply of trauma in foster care.
In a press release Monday, Wright stated that whereas his division’s “interim focus” is on the youngest kids, practically half of these faraway from their properties in November and December had been older than 5. The company’s “continued focus is to maintain kids secure and guarantee that there’s the correct degree of intervention that matches a household’s want,” he stated.
Additionally, he stated, his workplace is working with dependency court docket “to assist the monitoring and oversight of those circumstances that want elevated involvement in assist of household preservation.”
Child Phoenix’s dying, nevertheless, urged the pendulum had swung too far in conserving households collectively on the expense of kid security.
Inside weeks of the Bay Space Information Group’s reporting, Wright launched modifications, together with robotically opening a case when a child is born with medicine in its system and giving heightened scrutiny to circumstances the place siblings have been eliminated.
Arenas has been particularly important of Little and Wright and on the particular listening to in December known as for appointing a deputy county government to instantly oversee the Division of Household and Youngsters’s Providers as an alternative of Little.
“Probably they is probably not the correct folks to steer our departments,” Arenas stated. “However what is basically going to inform me whether or not they’re the correct folks or not is that if they observe the path of the board and produce the sorts of outcomes that we wish for youngsters and households.”
Supervisors, nevertheless, don’t have any authority to switch division heads. In a complicating twist, that call can be left to County Govt James Williams, whose earlier job as head of the County Counsel’s workplace entwined him with the mission of conserving troubled households collectively. In an interview shortly after the arrest of Phoenix’s father, Williams instructed the Bay Space Information Group the county “dropped the ball” in its dealing with of the newborn’s case.
When requested whether or not he has confidence within the management of Wright and Little, Williams in a press release Monday expressed his “appreciation to all County workers — within the Division of Household and Youngsters’s Providers, the County Counsel’s Workplace, and throughout the County—who’ve devoted their skilled careers to the security and wellbeing of susceptible kids in our group.”
Below the management of the Board of Supervisors, he stated, “the County will proceed to innovate for, spend money on, and serve and safeguard our kids and households.”
Except for Arenas, who took workplace a yr in the past, there seems to be little urge for food amongst different board members to topple management. Board President Susan Ellenberg, specifically, says “completely I’ve belief” in county government Williams who “stays devoted” to enhancing county methods to guard kids.”
“When a baby dies, it’s so pure for there to be anger and frustration and a need to have some particular particular person or individuals deemed accountable and held individually accountable,” Ellenberg stated. “In my opinion, and on this case, that’s considerably of an empty answer, it doesn’t essentially forestall such a tragedy from occurring once more.”