Supervisors Accept Progress Report on Fixing Child Welfare Agency

City News Service

(CNS) – The Board of Supervisors Tuesday accepted a report indicating that measures to improve operations within the controversy-plagued Riverside County Child Services Department are being applied but will take time.

In a 5-0 vote without comment, the board signed off on the Executive Office’s analysis and response to the 19-member Civil Grand Jury’s report from July identifying multiple areas that require action in CSD, a component of the Department of Public Social Services.

One of the chief concerns among jurors was the slow pace at which child welfare workers sometimes move in finding placement options for children in unsafe environments.

“Delays in placement or availability invariably create issues with the timing of removal, and in providing a safe environment for a child at a critical time,” according to the grand jury.

The investigative body interviewed CSD staffers who acknowledged that the “placement unit could work quicker.”

The Executive Office replied that “finding immediate placements due to the limited number of options, particularly for children with complex needs, is a challenge.”

However, the EO said that DPSS is working to increase the number of available foster families to expedite the placement process, and the agency has expanded emergency bed contracts to ensure temporary shelter is immediately available whenever necessary.

Another issue that ranked high on the jurors’ list was caseload management. In its findings, the grand jury noted that the average case worker is trying to juggle an average 40 cases on any given day. The preferred case ratio is 1:18.

The jury acknowledged the county has implemented strategies to lift the burden on agents, and according to the EO those efforts are continuing, with the use of a “line-of-sight dashboard to track workloads.”

Officials said case management will remain a key focus going forward.

According to the jurors, the annual turnover rate of 32% within the CSD signaled significant morale problems, as large numbers of child welfare employees make a permanent exit.

“DPSS agrees that a high turnover rate makes it difficult for management to effectively reduce caseloads,” the EO said.

Officials said changes in recruitment, salaries and culture were ongoing, with the aim of making the agency more appealing and valuable as a long-term career opportunity.

In its original report, jurors pointed out that unless top-to-bottom reforms were put in place, the CSD would remain at the center of controversy. It cited multiple ghastly examples of where the agency had failed.

In one instance, agents barely investigated complaints from a 13-year- old girl in 2017 that she was being sexually abused by her mother’s live-in boyfriend — until the child became pregnant with his baby.

In 2019, agents were assigned to investigate reports of abuse on 8- year-old Noah McIntosh of Corona. The special needs boy’s father had been accused of tying him up and submerging him in cold water. Child welfare workers failed to identify anything amiss. Noah disappeared months later. His father, Bryce McIntosh, is charged with murder.

More recently, the notoriety of the Turpin siblings cast the agency in a negative light.

The 13 Turpin children were removed from their parents’ Perris home in 2018 after the couple were arrested for perpetrating ongoing abuse. David and Louise Turpin ultimately pleaded guilty, and both were sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison.

The defendants operated what prosecutors and investigators described as a “house of horrors,” keeping some of the children caged or chained most times of the day, forcing them to subsist on peanut butter sandwiches and burritos, making them sleep up to 20 hours daily, and allowing them to shower only once a year.

After they were taken away from their parents, some of the victims suffered additional trauma when CSD agents placed them in what their attorney, Elan Zektser, described as a “known abusive foster home.”

He and another lawyer, Roger Booth, filed lawsuits in July against the county and Long Beach-based ChildNet based on what the Turpin youths allegedly suffered, seeking unspecified damage awards.

Six of the victims were placed in the Perris home of Marcelino Camacho Olguin, 63, his wife, Rosa Armida Olguin, 58, and their adult daughter, Lennys Giovanna Olguin, 37.

The trio were charged last November with nearly a dozen offenses, including child cruelty, false imprisonment and witness intimidation for alleged mistreatment of the victims. Marcelino Olguin was additionally charged with multiple counts of lewd acts on a child.

According to Zektser’s complaint, several of the Turpin girls were objects of lascivious attention from Olguin, with him “grabbing and fondling (their) buttocks, legs, breasts” and “kissing them on their mouths and making sexually suggestive comments.”

There were instances of the Olguins “pulling their hair, hitting them with a belt and striking their heads,” according to the complaint.

The document recited the following other alleged acts: “verbally abusing plaintiffs, cursing at them, and telling them that they were worthless and should commit suicide,” “forcing them to eat until they began to vomit,” then compelling them “to eat their own vomit.”

The case is awaiting adjudication in Riverside County Superior Court.

Copyright 2022, City News Service, Inc.

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