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Insiders Blocked by CPS

October 5, 2010 permalink

Insider John K Flynn, a former member of the Ventura County California Board of Supervisors, gives his experience with child protection. While his suggested solutions may fall a bit short, he gives an excellent view of the problems. When a child died, CPS did not respond in a timely manner. Later, when he tried to get information from CPS about the death to assist is crafting policies to prevent a recurrence, CPS refused to disclose the information, and his colleagues on the board refused to support him in his quest. Judges conduct secret "closed shop" hearings in which they listen only to CPS staff — family representatives are excluded.



Child Protective Services can do more

The performance or nonperformance of Ventura County’s Child Protective Services is a current news item. The stated purpose for CPS is laudable — especially during this time when there seems to be so much mistreatment of children.

The mission of CPS is to protect children from abuse and to remove children from conditions where they are not safe.

The law stipulates that if safe conditions can be provided, it is best to keep the child with the family or relatives. Many times, grandmothers are called upon to accept this responsibility — and with good reason.

I believe it is important to identify serious issues, still unaddressed, that I experienced with CPS when I served as county supervisor. These are:

  • Complaints often go unanswered;
  • Investigators often lack investigative skills;
  • Investigations often lack thoroughness;
  • County counsel’s review of CPS recommendations often does not question conclusions;
  • Decisions are not always in the best interest of the child;
  • Juvenile judges often listen only to CPS staff recommendations. When I was on the board, the judge on one case conducted “closed shop” hearings and would not hear from anyone except staff;
  • CPS handles everything in secrecy, with virtually no oversight;
  • Good input and valuable information to investigators and top administrators are ignored.

Three cases illustrate the endemic problems within Child Protective Services’ performance of its mission:

According to The Star after the sad death of Alaina Stockdill, reports to CPS had been made with no adequate response. Neighbors’ and Alaina’s grandfather’s concerns went unheeded. There was an inadequate response to multiple warnings.

In the case of Brian E. Martin, former Rio School District board member, many complaints from the Rio superintendent and district officials went nowhere. Many people in the Rio district’s service area knew about and reported the relationship Martin had with a young foster child, but CPS seemed unaware and even unconcerned.

In the February 2008 fatal shooting of student (and CPS ward) Larry King at E.O. Green School in Oxnard, I was informed by the district attorney during the Board of Supervisors meeting. I left the meeting immediately and headed to the school.

While I was still on my way, Mayor Tom Holden, who was already at the school, called and told me that no one from CPS was there or even available by phone. The school, including its students, was locked down; worried parents were clamoring at the gates. The Oxnard police also wanted CPS to be there. CPS representatives finally arrived, but late — very late.

The following week, I asked the Board of Supervisors to support me in asking for information from the court about the King case.

I wanted the information in order that the other members of the board and I could study the circumstances to determine what steps could be taken to learn from this terrible death and to prevent incidents like this from happening again.

Rather than attempting to learn from this terrible incident, the board refused to join me.

One more example: Many times I was called upon by grandmothers and other relatives to find a way for them to take in the children from a daughter or son who was heavily into drugs. In too many cases, I found CPS officials who were abrupt, dismissive and abusive themselves. They were in charge and they abused their responsibility as public servants.

And county counsel would support them as would the judge in almost every case.

The judge in one case allowed no input from me because, as she said, I had “no standing in court.” The deputy county counsel and CPS administrators spread the rumor that I simply wanted publicity.

Supervisor Kathy Long’s statement about the Alaina Stockdill case as reported in The Star on Sept. 29 sums up the stance of the county: “Long said she had not heard evidence of a slip-up on the part of county agencies.”

Solutions are obvious. My and others’ experiences cited above can be turned around by:

  • Changing the CPS culture that has been created by lack of oversight and operating in secret;
  • Having psychologists and the district attorney or sheriff’s detectives train the CPS investigators;
  • Treating every complaint seriously;
  • Answering all calls;
  • Listening to elected people. In local government, they often have a very good feeling for what is needed and a finger on the pulse — the wishes — of the voters.

County departments were created according to law to serve the population within the county boundaries. It is the duty of elected people to make policy for those departments, not the other way around.

Source: Ventura County Star