Dragon Info

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

Dependency Court System Overwhelmed

Not Enough Social Workers to Serve Clients

by Richard Bermack

On January 16, 2001 SEIU Local 535 conducted a focus group in Santa Clara County on issues confronting social workers. Workers stated that one of the main reasons they feel the county is not able to fully staff children's protective services is the difficulty in retaining workers. They stated that the adversarial and abusive atmosphere in dependency court is one of the issues that is causing new workers to leave the county. By and large workers have a high respect for the court, judges, and referees, and understand that the judicial officers are overworked. However, the workers feel that certain structural problems in the system are preventing the courts from fulfilling their mission to serve families in need.

The following is a summary of what workers stated about the courts in a general discussion about their jobs. They described a downward spiral. Caseloads are too high because of a lack of workers, so workers don't have time to fulfill the minimal requirements of their jobs. The courts get frustrated with the social workers' failures to meet deadlines. Greater pressure is put on workers, causing more workers to quit. Older seasoned workers are replaced by rookie workers, who are even less able to meet deadlines and perform adequately, increasing the cumulative stress level in the courts. The high turnover makes it even harder for the department of children and family services to prepare workers adequately to go to court. Many departments have adopted a sink or swim attitude toward new workers, and unfortunately, more are sinking than swimming.

  • High caseloads make it nearly impossible for social workers to fulfill all the Welfare and Institution Code requirements, making them very vulnerable in court proceedings.

    • Judges are rightfully distressed with the failure of the department of children and family services to provide the services required by law in a timely fashion.

    • Social workers are being held accountable for a situation they have no ability to control.

    • They become an easy target for all the attorneys involved.

  • The social worker is treated like a second class citizen in court proceedings.

    • Social workers are subject to attack and abuse and have no standing or means to defend themselves.

    • County counsel does not represent the social worker, and there is often a conflict between the social worker's interests and the county's.

    • The social worker is the only party charged with representing the interests of the family as a whole, children, and parents, and therefore is subject to attack from all sides.

    • Social workers are not necessarily present at in camera discussions, where their views may be misrepresented and decisions are made about the case.

  • There is not enough uniformity between courtrooms, even in the same county. Each referee or commissioner may have different standards for the parents and workers.

  • The adversarial nature of the court system is out of control and no longer serves the best interests of the children or families.

    • Although workers support the intent of legislation that gave each party an attorney, they feel that it has reached a point where the adversarial nature has created a climate in which the best interests of the child and parent have been lost in a legal morass.

    • Workers feel that cases are determined by a contest of legal maneuvers between attorneys whose focus is on winning for their client, rather than being determined by social work standards focusing on what is good for the family as a whole.

    • Workers reported that attorneys often tell their clients, the parents, to refuse to talk to or cooperate with the social worker. This makes sense from the standpoint of legal strategy, but it makes providing reunification services impossible, and keeps parents and children in limbo for a needlessly long time.

    • Social workers are often unable to engage in candid conversations with attorneys representing the parents for fear that the conversation will be misrepresented in court and used against them.

    • The social worker becomes the scapegoat for all parties, including the county. This not only is abusive to the worker, but it sets a poor therapy model for the client. The authority of the social worker is often undermined by attacks by attorneys in front of the client. Well-intentioned regulations, such as "reasonable effort to provide services," can often be used to reward clients for failing to take responsibility, such as failing to get into a substance abuse program, turning the system into a co-dependent.

    • The system has become so much about winning that the hostile conduct of attorneys can undermine the healing process for parents and children. Even social workers reported at times feeling compelled to over state the case against a parent just to prove a point in court, at the cost of doing psychological damage to the client. (Social workers in several other counties have reported being threatened with discipline by their supervisors if they didn't go along with county counsel's legal strategy, even if that included the introduction of facts that the social worker knew were false.)

    • On an optimistic note, workers were encouraged by experimental models, such as Judge Edwards' Drug Court. They would like to see that type of collaborative model replace the current adversarial court model.