Child Protective Services: Who’s holding them accountable?

Child abuse investigations in Kern County have risen nearly 20 percent within the last year. CPS workers are supposed to protect the children behind those numbers, but are they doing a good job, who's holding them accountable, and are they open to public scrutiny?
Child abuse investigations in Kern County have risen nearly 20 percent within the last year. CPS workers are supposed to protect the children behind those numbers, but are they doing a good job, who's holding them accountable, and are they open to public scrutiny?

When a child is the victim of abuse or neglect, CPS usually will not comment on the case. Officials say state law doesn't allow them to tell the public if they've been out to the home before or if the child was ever placed in foster care.

You may remember the case of little Angelo Mendoza, Jr. Police say his father bit out one of his eyes and nearly blinded the boy.

“I would hear his dad threatening him and running in the house. And you could hear the screaming and stuff like that,” neighbor Misti Gill said.

When 17News covered the story, neighbors told us they suspected neglect but didn't think calling CPS would make a difference.

“About a week before that something happened back there and he was yelling and screaming at the kid. And I thought, he’s screaming pretty bad at him,” Briseno said.

Just last week another child abuse case, 2-year-old Guillermo Alvarez died after police say he was beaten by his mother's boyfriend.

“The few times that I got involved was when I saw the kids playing in the yard...I would tell them to get back in the house,” neighbor Pedro Hernandez said.

Two years ago Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 39. When investigators suspect a child died because of abuse or neglect, the bill allows CPS workers to share basic information like the child's age, where, and when the child died.

But even with this law in place, CPS usually tells the public and the media it can't discuss details surrounding its investigation because of privacy laws.

“As many times as people say that we are hiding, at the same we are saying that we are unable to defend ourselves. We are unable to share the work that so many of this county's social workers do day in and day out,” assistant director of CPS Bethany Christman.

Christman agrees with the state's privacy laws and says information about the type of abuse some children are forced to endure should not be released to the public. But Christman wishes CPS officials could tell taxpayers what they did to prevent a death or help a child.

“If we have one death a year, two deaths a year, five deaths a year, those are all too many and we should not tolerate that in our community. At the same time, when we go in and extract children and take the work necessary to remove them from families, those are looked at as saves and no one talks about that,” Christman said.

In the month of March, CPS workers say they investigated about 1,600 child abuse tips from the community. So although there is little transparency and they usually can't discuss the work they do, CPS officials are asking the community to simply trust them. If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, case workers say you may never know it but you could be helping them build a case and you may save a child's life.

If you suspect a child is being abused, you should report it right away. You can call the Child Abuse Hotline at 631-6011. The hotline is answered 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. But if you feel a child's life is in immediate danger, you should call 9-1-1.
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