Child Welfare Services Update from Larry Sweet

By Larry Sweet, SDASA

I have been somewhat reluctant to respond to the many negative references to Child Welfare Services (CWS) in San Diego, since I fully understand that there are few events in the history of a family that can be as devastating as having a child removed from the parents’ custody. I worked for CWS in San Diego for 14 years, the majority of which I investigated child abuse complaints.

Lets start there, at the complaint. Child abuse complaints are received at the Child Abuse Hotline. Anyone can call this number and report child abuse, including SDPD and other professionals. A hotline call is handled by a Protective Services Worker that is trained to differentiate between the call from an angry spouse during a divorce and a real situation where a child may be in danger. The assessment is made by that PSW and perhaps their Supervisor as to the level of risk. The highest level are responded to immediately while the others may require contact within 24 hours, 3 days, etc.

That complaint creates a file that is transmitted to a Supervisor in one of the investigation units in the regional area where the child lives.

Once filed, all complaints must be investigated and either determined founded or unfounded by the investigating PSW.

The determination to remove a child from the custody of their parents is made by the PSW at the scene, with approval from the Supervisor who assigned the case for investigation. The criteria are clear and defined based generally on age and the type of abuse suspected. Obviously, children under 5 with head injuries are a far more critical issue than a 16 year old complaining of a spanking.

If the circumstances in the home require removal of the child from custody of the parent the child is taken to Polinsky as a rule. A new Court PSW is assigned to re-check the findings by the investigating PSW and either release the child back to the parents or set a Court date for formal CWS action. Many of these children are returned if the Court PSW in conjunction with their Supervisor determines it in the best interest of the child to return home while the Court case continues or is dropped altogether.

The other way children come into custody is through police action. If the police are involved in an action where the adults are going to be arrested they typically call CWS to send a PSW to take the child into custody as there will be no supervision for the child with the parents in custody. When called in this manner CWS does essentially the same thing as a hotline call, except the child is already in custody when the PSW gets there. The PSW is simply taking the custody of the child from the SDPD and taking the child to Polinsky where the Court PSW can make the determination regarding the child’s safety. The majority of these children are released as soon as a suitable relative can be found.

The police may choose to file a charge of “Child Endangerment” or some such criminal charge against the parents. THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH CWS! The CWS codes for custody do not include “Child Endangerment”.

There are many members of our community that do not understand this.

One individual that I spoke to was complaining of CWS taking their child. Well, CWS did not take the child, the child was taken by SDPD and custody transferred to CWS who sent the child home because they found no problem. SDPD did continue to charge this individual with “Child Endangerment” and the individual continued to blame CWS, even though they agreed with him and helped him in every way they could. In this case and others CWS makes a convenient target for the outrage and shame felt by parents in this situation. Impotence in this situation makes people feel really crazy, and it is the hardest part of the job.

In summary, there are several things to remember when dealing with CWS.

  1. CWS is a reflection of the population at large, only far more liberal. Your PSW may have far more liberal views than you do, but they are there to protect a child, not discuss politics.
  2. Because SDPD believes you are a bad parent, does not make it so.
  3. Chlidren do need protection, who do you want doing the job, SDPD?
  4. CWS workers, from the Director to the clerks, love children. There is no other reason to put up with the low pay, impossible work load, and unrelenting bad press, and emotional turmoil.
  5. I am the kind of guy I want walking through the door to do a CWS investigation if it is my family involved. CWS is full of people like me.

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