From the Editor Sacramento Bee: Keeping mum on issues, CPS f

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From the Editor Sacramento Bee: Keeping mum on issues, CPS f

Postby tommixx » Sun Mar 22, 2009 8:04 pm

From the Editor: Keeping mum on issues, CPS fails public
By Melanie Sill
[email protected]
Published: Sunday, Mar. 22, 2009 - 12:00 am | Page 1E

We expect strong reaction to today's front-page story about people with criminal pasts working in Sacramento's Child Protective Services division.

Some of it will be aimed at the agency. But you can also expect criticism of The Bee.

That's no surprise. Over the past nine months, reporting by Marjie Lundstrom and Sam Stanton has spotlighted multiple problems at CPS and has prompted a grand jury investigation and audit of the agency.

In that time, the agency has clamped down on information and defenders have counterattacked by questioning The Bee's motives.

Our motives are simple: to hold CPS accountable for its performance; to explain and amplify its difficulties and report on possible solutions.

Like most good journalism, this work began with basic questions. Sacramento County reformed its child protection system a decade ago in response to highly publicized breakdowns, but new cases led Lundstrom to ask whether those reforms had worked.

Beginning in June 2008, readers learned what Lundstrom had found over months of reporting: that despite a jump in funding, Sacramento's CPS had significant problems and performance lapses.

More dramatically, children were still dying of abuse and neglect after coming into contact with the government agency charged with guarding their safety.

Later, our reporters confirmed that the social worker handling the case of 3-year-old Valeeya Brazile, who was beaten to death last year, had a criminal record.

They heard that other CPS workers had been hired despite criminal problems. Was it true?

This question seems straightforward. But answering it took months of painstaking work by Lundstrom and Stanton to identify workers, check criminal backgrounds and verify information.

The answer was yes: At least 7 percent of CPS' 969 workers had criminal histories.

A convicted child sex offender still on the Megan's Law registry had worked for a time in a CPS reception area around children and families.

Social workers and the larger CPS operation deal with difficult challenges and people in crisis. Their problems are the community's problems; their successes and shortcomings have an impact on parents, children and the public welfare.

The Bee isn't out to do harm when it holds CPS or any other entity accountable to the rest of us. Quite the opposite.

The questions about CPS' performance (some coming from inside the agency) are the sort that demand answers. We would have failed our community by ignoring them.

From the start of the reporting on criminal backgrounds, CPS officials were uncooperative. The agency's leaders effectively discouraged workers from talking, then offered them counseling.

The people at the top of the agency, through intermediaries, said they were too busy to answer questions. Among them: How did they determine CPS policies on hiring or keeping people with criminal records? How do they balance worker rights and client safety?

I tried to reach Lynn Frank, Sacramento County health and human services director, to find out why she and CPS director Laura Coulthard had refused interviews.

Her boss, county services deputy administrator Ann Edwards-Buckley, called back with the same reply our reporters had heard: Frank and CPS leaders were too busy to speak for their agency.

This is more than a power struggle between a major social-services agency and the local paper. In failing to answer The Bee's questions, CPS fails the public.

Reach The Bee's editor, Melanie Sill, at (916) 321-1002.

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