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Child Welfare Articles

Social Worker Awareness Campaign

Overview: Providing Services on the Run

Children's Services Committee Plans Social Worker Awareness Campaign

Social Workers, Foster Kids and Community Suggest Issues

SB 2030 Findings

Special Reports

Dependency Court Overwhelmed

Social Worker Meltdown Series

Protecting Children, Restoring Families, It takes Time


July 2001
Crisis in Transitional Services for Foster Youth -- Independent Living Programs Make a Difference

Housing Is A Major Problem

Leonard Moncure and Jennifer

From Homeless to College Graduate

The social worker may be the only one you can trust

Kathy Garcia: I try to be that one adult a child can feel safe talking to.

February 2001
Assemblywoman Dion Aroner "The union needs to take leadership in providing best practices for taking care of kids and families"

Making a Difference, Jacob Ocampo takes social work to the community

September 2000
Social Worker Awareness Campaign

Riding Along with Bilingual Worker Frederick Machado

Social Worker Heartbeat

February 2000
Are Social Workers Entitled to a Life?
Just Say No to Excessive Overtime


October 1997
Caseload State of Emergency

CWS/CMS Computer Crashes Child Welfare System

Seeing Through The CWS/CMS Mess

February 1997
Adoptions:Parent v. Child

Los Angeles County:Working in the Adoption Factory

Creating New Families

June 1996
Kathleen Schormann and the Unquiet Death of Lance Helms

Family Reunification Workers Speak Out


SEIU Local 535 Dragon--Voice of  the Union-- American Federation of Nurses & Social Services Unioin


6-1, January 2000Maryellen with her son, who is wearing a baseball cap

by Richard Bermack

“I missed all my son’s junior college baseball games, my daughter’s 15th birthday, for what? So I could have a breakdown and end up on medication?”

Maryellen McFadden has a recurring nightmare: she is trying to wrap a blanket around 15 or 20 kittens who are badly wounded. “I can see large holes in them with blood pouring out. I’m trying to get them help. I’m trying to find a place to take them, but the doctor’s office is closed and no one will help me.”
McFadden has been working as a children’s protective services worker for Contra Costa County since 1987, but in the last couple of years the job has became more and more unmanageable. In 1998 and 1999 she was averaging 20 to 40 hours of overtime per pay period. She worked so much overtime that in 1998 she made 50% above her normal salary. “I did it because that was the only way to manage the job, and even then it was not manageable,” she explains. The introduction of the child welfare computer system made her job almost impossible. Beginning last June she began regularly informing her supervisor and the division manager that she was unable to do all the work the courts and federal regulations require. “I kept telling them things aren’t getting done, and the county could be liable.”

Worried About Not Serving the Clients
McFadden works as a juvenile court case worker. Once a child is removed from a home by the police (in Contra Costa, the police rather than a CPS worker, remove the child), she investigates the case and makes a recommendation to the court whether to return the child or to begin the family reunification process, in which the parent is given a case plan with services to repair the family. McFadden’s cases last anywhere from six weeks to over a year. She feels that this is an unconscionably long time and has an adverse effect on the clients’ ability to make the changes in their lives that are necessary to become successful, healthy parents.

Portraint of Maryellen sitting at a table wiht a coffee cup“I personally believe that in the beginning, when a parent first loses the child, no matter how lacking they are in parenting or life skills, the devastation of losing their child shocks them into action,” McFadden says. “But the longer it goes before we can provide them services, the less motivated they become. Now the court worker is expected to provide services as well as do the court work, but if I’m in court four days a week, I’m not available to the client. I return from court and my voice mail is full. It is pretty frustrating for the clients. I’m lucky to provide even basic services. About all I can do is say, ‘Call so and so for counseling, and here is the number for drug testing.’ We’re not available to the client at the beginning, when it would do the most good.”

Day in the Life
McFadden describes her job as a court worker: When the police remove a child from a family, a court worker has 48 hours to file a petition, and then must appear in court 24 hours after that for the hearing. At the hearing the child is either returned home or kept in custody. “That is when it all starts,” she states. “If the child isn’t returned, the parents are desperate for a visit, so the court will say, ‘Ms. McFadden, I want you to arrange a visit.’ Back at the office I ask a parent aide to arrange a visit, but she says, ‘We can’t do it for two or three weeks.’ So I go to my supervisor, who tells me, ‘It’s your case, you do the visit.’ She doesn’t supervise the parent aides, so she can’t tell them to do it. The problem is there are not enough workers.
“We are supposed to place the child with relatives, which means the foster placement may be anywhere from Vallejo to San Jose. And social workers are required to visit a foster child a minimum of three times in the first 30 days, and once a month after that. Besides visits, the court may also want the parent drug tested by next Tuesday, and a referral for psychological testing. None of these are monumental by themselves, but that’s not all.

“When I check my voice mail, there are two emergency calls. A foster parent wants a kid moved immediately and another kid has tried to commit suicide in a group home. I also have a petition to write and file by the end of the day and a court appearance. So I chase down the emergency response worker on the case that needs a petition, only to find the ER worker is still trying to get the police report. So I can’t write the petition yet. Then another parent aide informs me that she wasn’t able to do a court-ordered visit last week, when it was supposed to be done, and this week she is sick. So now I have to call around and find someone else to do the visit or just give it up and figure I’ll take the consequences from the court. I still haven’t had time to call the hospital in Walnut Creek to check on the kid who tried to commit suicide, but I do talk with the foster mother of the other child, who calls to tell me she wants the child removed from her home immediately because he is acting out sexually and she found him in bed with her three-year-old daughter. So I call shelter care and ask them to find a home for a seven- year-old boy who is acting out and can’t be in a home with younger children. They start going down their list, and I start trying to contact the foster parents they suggest. Meanwhile I’m still trying to get all the info for the petition, which is supposed to get to clerical staff by 1 p.m. so that it can be fax-filed by 3 p.m.

“I start writing the report, but before I can finish, the hospital calls to say the kid who tried to commit suicide has recovered, and I have to come and take him. The hospital is in Walnut Creek, at least a half-hour away, and I’m due in court in Martinez for a 2 p.m. trial on another case. I still haven’t made the drug referrals the court ordered, the procedure for which has changed five times in the last six months. The foster mother calls again, saying that she is going to put the kid out on the porch with his belongings and leave him there until someone gets him. I’m leaving for court, where I’ll be for the rest of the day, so I call a social worker assistant and ask her to pick up the kid at Walnut Creek Psych and take him to the receiving center until a home can be found. Driving to court, which is about 30 or 40 minutes away, I call another social worker assistant on my cell phone and arrange for them to pick up the kid who was left on the porch.

“And the next day it begins all over again, only I’m in the hole from the day before. I’m in court at 9 a.m. for a detention hearing, and also a regularly scheduled case where, sure enough, it’s the case where the parent’s aide was sick, and everyone is upset that there was no visit. I feel like I’m bailing water out of the Titanic with a teaspoon. I have nothing to work with.

“I’m not saying every day is like that but I have had a lot of days like that.”

About six months ago, the situation in McFadden’s department started deteriorating, with an influx of cases into the system and an exodus of workers. “People can’t take it. We put up a welcome banner for new workers when they come to the department, and often they leave before the welcome banner comes down,” she states. “The pressure is just too great. I thought I was one of the strongest people, but then I crashed. I got the flu over Thanksgiving and missed a few days of work. When I got back everything was piling up. There was no one to cover my cases.”

Maryellen standing in her backyard with a swiming pool in the background, the scene looks very suburban and lonely.On January 10, 2000, after working for the county for over 12 years and carrying one of the highest caseloads, Maryellen McFadden had a nervous breakdown at her desk and had to be taken to a hospital by ambulance. She was crying hysterically and having chest pains and trouble breathing. She has been on stress leave since then. To add insult to injury, when she applied for disability the state informed her that there is no record she ever worked for Contra Costa County. (The disability pay has since been resolved.)