Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Humboldt County’s Grand Jury has released an annual report that delves into child welfare issues that are “raw, disturbing and should be of concern to all members of our community.”
Protecting children from abuse and responding to it were main investigative items in the report, which was released in full last week.
Declaring that “the children of Humboldt County are ill-served by the intake system that is meant to protect them,” the report analyzes the effectiveness of child protection services.
“Unfortunately, the (Grand Jury) discovered that our children are not being afforded the protections that they deserve,” the report states.
According to the report, the county’s Child Welfare Services (CWS) division twice denied the Grand Jury’s requests for intake processing data based on confidentiality issues – and then “abruptly made notable changes to their policies and procedures at intake.”
The report allows that the new procedures may improve the timeliness of CWS responses to instances of abuse and neglect but states that the Grand Jury “cannot conclude that serious deficiencies have been corrected until CWS provides needed measures of timeliness.”
The report’s recommendations include having the county’s Department of Health and Human Services develop a “timeliness metric” for measuring response times once child abuse/neglect is reported.
In a related investigation, the Grand Jury probed the response effectiveness of three key entities – school districts, law enforcement and CWS.
The Grand Jury found “numerous problematic areas” with each, along with “major problems” in how agencies interact to address child abuse.
Recommendations include having the Humboldt County Office of Education instruct school personnel “on the importance of filing a written report” with CWS after making initial phone contact.
The county Sheriff’s Office is requested to file investigative reports even when allegations are not confirmed, to create a record that may show the need for “more in-depth investigation.”
The Grand Jury also looked into law enforcement readiness in outlying areas in a section of the report titled, “Rural policing in Humboldt County: Lawlessness Ignored?”
The report states that according to FBI data, violent crime in the county’s unincorporated area has increased by two-and-a-half times since 2012, “exceeding the national average for the first time in many years.”
Statistics between 2005 and 2014 show that Humboldt County has the highest arrest rate in the state, according to the report. It also states that “crime continues unabated” because criminals are “empowered by the perception that law enforcement will not respond when called.”
Finding that “rural areas of county are underserved by law enforcement and other emergency services,” the report acknowledges that recruitment and training requirements delay staff additions.
That’s especially relevant to adding deputies funded by the Measure Z public safety tax, which has been “slow,” according to the report.
The Grand Jury recommends increased funding for the Sheriff’s Office and streamlining hiring procedures and “staff retention protocol.” Measure Z expires in 2019 unless renewed by voters and the report recommends that the county find a “permanent funding model.”
The county’s $232.3 million employee pension funding liability as of June 30, 2015 is also probed in the report, which asks, “Will Unfunded County Pensions Un-fund Our Future?”
It threatens to, according to the report, “particularly if projected tax revenues do not materialize or if we have a business recession that affects county revenues.”
The report states that the pension liability “could jeopardize vital programs, even Humboldt County’s solvency.” A main recommendation is for the county to contribute at least $2 million to the trust fund dedicated to covering the liability in the 2017 to 2018 budget.
The Board of Supervisors approved the budget in late June and the pension liability fund will get a contribution equivalent to a half-percent of projected county employee salary costs for the fiscal year. That’s forecasted to amount to about $819,000.
The liability fund’s balance, not including the current fiscal year contribution, is about $1.2 million.
Also in the report, the Grand Jury analyzes accounts of employers seeking – and not finding – skilled workers for available jobs. The report recommends that the Workforce Investment Board “increase its effectiveness by focusing on targeted employment needs and opportunities and broaden program descriptions to include clearly-defined skill levels.”
The report also found that the 2015 consolidation of the county Sheriff’s Office and Coroner/Public Administrator office has led to “significant operational improvements” but not cost savings. However, the report notes that “the consolidation was most successful in rescuing an underfunded operation.”
The Board of Supervisors and other agencies evaluated in the report will issue responses to the Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations in the coming weeks.