San Bernardino County in California is facing a class action lawsuit over its treatment of children in the foster care system.
The 68-page class action lawsuit, filed on May 25, was filed against the California Department of Social Services, CDSS Director Kim Johnson, Gov. Gavin Newsom, San Bernardino County, the county Board of Supervisors and Department of Children and Family Services and CFS Director Jeany Zepeda.
The lawsuit comes on the heals of a foster child sexual abuse case in September of 2022 the county settled for $7.8 million.
The suit alleges that Children and Family Services does not adequately screen would-be foster parents and does not monitor children properly once placed.
The suit also criticizes the workload of caseworkers which leads to poor planning, the inability to address short-term emergency housing needs, the inability to address healthcare needs and, most disturbingly, does not provide adequate protection for children who are mistreated while in care.
The suit alleges, “High caseloads prevent CFS’s caseworkers from adequately assessing a child’s safety or well-being, developing individualized case plans, facilitating reunification services, placing children in appropriate placements, or deciding when to petition to terminate parental rights, all of which are required under state and federal laws. Manageable caseloads can exist only when an agency develops and maintains an adequately funded and well-planned child welfare system that aggressively recruits, trains, and retains caseworkers.”
“Workers in San Bernardino County can’t possibly protect these children because of their high caseloads, no matter how hard they might try,” Marcia Robinson Lowry, director of A Better Childhood, the national nonprofit that brought the lawsuit, is quoted as saying in a news release issued Thursday.
“This is an ingrained system that ignores the needs of these children, and far too many children are suffering grievously because of it,” Lowry continued. “California should be doing far better for its most vulnerable children. Neither the state nor the county is stepping in to help these kids and reform is long overdue.”
San Bernardino County only learned of the lawsuit Thursday and did not immediately have a response, as officials were “still in the process of reviewing and evaluating the complaint,” according to spokesperson Martha Guzman-Hertado. Jason Montiel, a spokesperson for the California Department of Social Services, said the department does not comment on ongoing litigation.
A San Bernardino County grand jury issued a report in December calling the department “too broken to fix.” The report suggests the entire system should be “dismantled and replaced” for putting foster children in the county in danger.
The lawsuit requests the courts compel the county to:
- Maintain caseloads for each caseworkers providing direct supervision and planning for children following the accepted professional standards as developed by either with either Council on Accreditation (COA) or Child Welfare League of America (CWLA).
- Recruit and retain enough qualified employees to properly supervise children as set by COA or CWLA.
- Ensure, within 60 days of entering care, an adequate individualized plan for all children placed in CFS’s care.
- The requirement of a written plan for family reunification, adoption or another permanent family-like setting.
- The requirement of a written plan for children whose cases include special treatment, services or safety concerns.
- The requirement of an adequate short-term emergency housing options so foster children don’t have to sleep in the department’s offices.
- The proper screening of all prospective foster homes.
- Requirement of in-home visits at least once a month with a thorough home inspection and the interviewing of foster children separately from their foster parents.