Board of Supervisors Looks to Potentially Alter Bypass of Family Reunification Services Policy

child-dependency-court

At their last meeting, on March 22, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors looked into organizational and policy changes within Child Welfare Services.  As a result of that meeting, an ad hoc subcommittee of Supervisors Jim Provenza and Matt Rexroad was created.

According to the staff report, on March 30 they met with staff to review a draft action plan and an interim bypass policy. However, on the matter of a bypass of family reunification services policy, the Board ad hoc subcommittee was divided regarding the approach set forth in the draft provided for their review on March 30.

According to staff, “Supervisor Rexroad did not support the proposed policy and, instead, supports maintaining the policy direction provided on March 22.” Staff writes, “Supervisor Provenza and staff support the policy that will be presented as part of this item, as well as regular reports to the Board regarding bypass actions (including Court decisions) taken in connection with the policy going forward.”

Under the law, the county under certain circumstances has the ability to effectively bypass the provision of family reunification services because the past conduct of the biological parent is such that reunification is unlikely or altogether implausible.

The staff report notes that “the HHSA [Health & Human Services Agency] Director has legal authority over many aspects of dependency matters—including recommendations regarding bypass to the court.”

Supervisor Matt Rexroad contends that the department is not seeking bypass in all cases where they legally can do so or at least as much as they should. This policy, he argues, creates a huge amount of harm to the children because they spend a sizable portion of their early childhood in a reunification system when it is unlikely that the child will be reunited with the parents, or where the child faces severe hardship if they are reunited.

He says their standard is to do reunification every time even when it is a bad decision to even attempt it. He believes the department will attempt reunification every chance they get.  However, he believes that the law doesn’t require them to do this.

Supervisor Rexroad two weeks ago attempted to direct the County CAO (County Administrator’s Office) to change the leadership in the department, but was not permitted to do so.  So, as an alternative, he wants the county to pursue all bypasses. That doesn’t mean bypass will occur – that is still up to the judge.  But he wants the county position to be to at least pursue bypass all the time and allow the judges to stop it in the rare case where it appears the detrimental conduct was in the distant past or has mitigating circumstances.

In the ideal world, he says, he would like someone with good discretion to be able to make those decisions on a case by case basis, but in the absence of that judgment and trust, he would prefer them to pursue bypass every time.

Two weeks ago, Matt Rexroad made that motion and it was passed unanimously.  The county, however, along with Supervisor Jim Provenza is seeking to backtrack.

The county counsel in their staff report is arguing that “the Board lacks legal authority to prescribe such recommendations through a policy directive or similar means.”

They write, “The HHSA Director acts as (among other things) the County Social Services Director under state law and the Yolo County Code.  In turn, the Board of Supervisors exercises ‘general direction and supervision’ of the HHSA Director in her capacity as the Social Services Director.”

According to the Attorney General, “Section 10801 provides that the director of the county department shall ‘have full charge of the county department and the responsibility for administering and enforcing the provisions of this code pertaining to public social services under the regulations of the department and the State Department of Health Services.’  Section 10801 describes the function of the board of supervisors in terms of ‘general direction and supervision’ over the county director.  The latter term does not contemplate control. While the scope of the term ‘supervision’ is impossible to delineate, it is not generally understood to encompass authority to control activities expressly conferred by law upon a department.”

The county counsel notes that “the Board of Supervisors must therefore bear in mind that (a) its role is ‘general direction and supervision,’ not ‘control,’ and (b) individual social workers have a legal duty to ‘prepare social study reports and make recommendations to assist the court.'”

In their view, “These legal considerations permit the Board to require the HHSA Director to prepare and submit bypass recommendations to the Court, but the Office of the County Counsel does not believe that the Board can take the further step of controlling the content of such recommendations.”

They add, “Any Board policy attempting to limit or eliminate the expression of a social worker’s subjective opinion—for instance, by declaring that it is always in the best interests of a child to bypass reunification services in certain circumstances—would thus be of limited practical value.”

The proposed bypass policy notes, “California Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) § 361.5(a) specifies that whenever a child is removed from the custody of a parent or guardian, the juvenile court shall order the social worker to provide reunification services to the parent(s).”

However, there are numerous exceptions to this mandate (as set forth in WIC §§ 361.5(b) and 361.5(e)(1).).  “Reunification services need not be provided to a parent if the court finds, by clear and convincing evidence that any of the bypass exceptions apply.”

In all such cases, Yolo County Child Welfare Services (CWS) “will present a recommendation regarding bypass to the court and request a decision.”

Yolo County CWS will recommend bypass when:

  • Any of the criteria under WIC § 361.5(b) applies unless there is clear and convincing evidence that reunification services are determined to be in the best interest of the child as detailed below;
  • If WIC § 361.5(b)(5) applies, Yolo County CWS will recommend that the court bypass family reunification (FR) services unless services are likely to be successful in preventing re-abuse and the failure to order reunification services would be detrimental to the child; and
  • Yolo County CWS will recommend that the court bypass FR services if WIC §361.5(e)(1) applies and there is clear and convincing evidence that offering reunification services would be detrimental to the child.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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13 Comments

  1. Anon

    Best interests of the child is defined by state law.  The county doesn’t have the right to change state law, as much as the county might disagree with state law.  Interestingly, CA state law allows the bypass of reunification.  So I think the real sticking point is probably more apt to be the mindset of judges and social workers, who generally believe it will be in the best interests of the child to be with his/her biological parents.  What is in the best interests of the child, IMO having gone through much of this nonsense, is a stable and loving home, free of abuse and neglect.  The bloodline is largely irrelevant to the child…

    1. tj

      “The bloodline is largely irrelevant to the child”—

      Actually, it’s very important that children feel that their parents love, or loved, them.

      At the same time, they may need help to understand that their parents are unable to properly care for them and they should live elsewhere.

  2. ryankelly

    Are they really asking for the County to pursue bypassing family reunification in all cases, unless a Judge overrules it, as a policy?

    Or is there a description of cases that this policy would be enforced – violent felonies or extreme health and safety violations?

     

    1. David Greenwald

      Ryan: The latter not the former. Rexroad explained that there are a class of situations felonies, sex abuse, neglect (there are actually 17 listed on the county staff report) where they can pursue bypass. He is then suggesting if htere are mitigating circumstances the judge has the discretion to overrule the county request. That’s not his preferred action but he doesn’t trust those in charge right now.

  3. tj

    I wonder what the issue here really is?  Is it the safety of children, or pumping up foster care numbers or increasing the number of children available for adoption?

    1. The Pugilist

      As I understand it, the issue is that the courts are attempting to reunify children with parents who have a long history of substance abuse, physical and sexual abuse, and that the county is not acting with the discretion they have to avoid a long drawn out reunification process.

    1. The Pugilist

      How is it any different from now.  The question is whether you think the county should utilize scarce resources on people with serious flags in their record.

  4. ryankelly

    Poverty should not be a reason to break up families.  I think we have an obligation to help families in crisis.   We will end up paying for services one way or another.

  5. ryankelly

    Here are roughly the instances of when reunification can be bypassed:

    1) The whereabouts of the parent or guardian are unknown; 2) the parent or guardian is suffering from a mental disability that renders him or her incapable of utilizing services; 3) physical or sexual abuse of the child or a sibling; 4) caused the death of another child 5) the child is a juvenile delinquent because of the conduct of the parent or guardian; 6) the parent or guardian is not receiving reunification services already because of stated offenses; 7) the child was conceived by rape by the parent or guardian; 8) the parent or guardian willfully abandoned the child; 8) the parent or guardian has been convicted of a violent felony.

    Additionally, here’s the one that I think Rexroad is personally concerned about, the parent or guardian has a history of chronic use of drugs and alcohol and has resisted prior court-ordered treatment for this problem in the 3 years prior to being brought to the Family court’s attention or has refused to comply with a drug or alcohol treatment plan on at least two prior occasions, even though the programs identified were available and accessible.   Most of these are clear, but the last one is fuzzy with lots of what ifs and chances built in.  I’ve seen it set up that mother’s have to pass regular drug tests and a positive test will mean losing their children, etc.  However, I think Rexroad would like to have any history of drug use be grounds for a mandatory bypass of family reunification.  Is that correct?

     

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