[Note: Many thanks to F.R.E.E. Member Patrick Wharton for getting the text of this in data format to us! This letter, while nearly two years old, only recently (within the past few months) was let out to the public. It is the result of the Grand Jury investigation into CPS as a result of the Alicia W. case. I am posting it to FREE-L because as a result of this and other investigations there is a move underway in California to revamp the DSS and CPS system - and I believe members in other states may well want to use this as a basis and model for similar thrusts in their own states.]Date: April 20, 1992
Dear Mr. Burton & Committee Members:
The San Diego County Grand Jury has spent nine months in an intensive study of the Juvenile Dependency System. This has included hundreds of professionals in the system, review of literally thousands of pages of documents, study of hundreds of Juvenile Court cases, observation of approximately one hundred Juvenile Court proceedings, and one month of sworn testimony. This study resulted in Grand Jury Report #2, "Families in Crisis."
Since issuing this report, the County Grand Jury has been inundated with an additional flood of citizens and professionals desiring to testify regarding their adverse personal experiences with Child Protective Services. The Jury has serious concerns that these abuses have seriously eroded public confidence in CPS' ability to fairly protect children and their families. If the legislature does not approve legislation to control social worker abuse of public confidence the Jury fears a public backlash which may seriously impact society's ability to protect children.
The S. D. County Grand Jury made ninety-two (92) recommendations to improve the system, including that the Board of Supervisors seek legislative changes in immunity provisions governing social workers and others involved in the child abuse system. This may, in fact, be the most important recommendation of the Jury because that single change carries the potential to remedy a great many of the other problems found in the system. The Jury believes the current system of absolute immunity is the single greatest deterrent to change. It is sad but true that many of us change our behavior primarily to avoid adverse results.
This Jury is well aware of the historical reasons for extending total immunity to social workers. This Jury recognizes that the majority of social workers perform their tasks appropriately. It is empathetic to the difficult decisions facing social workers and does not seek to impair their ability to perform these tasks. Police officers are faced with very similar situations. Wisely, they have only been granted qualified immunity. Social workers who perform their tasks in good faith will have nothing to fear protected by qualified immunity.
The San Diego County Grand Jury has witnessed the unfortunate truth of a statement made by a trial attorney within the Fourth District Court of Appeal. "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Absolute immunity is absolute power." The Jury was hesitant to reach the conclusion that absolute immunity must go, but having seen the results of this immunity in the lives of the citizenry, we adamantly believe it must.
The San Diego County Grand Jury has:
Absolute immunity fosters these wrongs and then when the system has wrought devastating financial and personal harm on individuals and families, leaves them no recourse. More significantly, however, absolute immunity promotes societal damage by removing any deterrent to repeating these same types of activities, thereby removing a primary incentive for change.
It is the view of the Jury that it is ultimately the children of California who have been most damaged. We have seen the results of the adoptions which must be undone, the relatives still seeking their children, the throw-away children on the streets, and the extraordinary costs of this system to the taxpayers.
This can not be totally rectified by this legislation but it will mean some accountability among the line social worker and every Department head. It will allow the system to purge itself of the the social worker who abuses power and leave in place those who are the willing to live within the standards of law. This highly sensitive and very vulnerable area of social service is not the place for the abuse of power.