Attorney General Becerra Seeks Court Order to Compel Humboldt County's Compliance with 2018 Judgment to Protect Children from Risk of Harm
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced seeking a court order to require the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare Services Division (CWS) and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office to take steps to fully comply with a judgment secured by the California Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2018. Despite varying levels of progress, DOJ remains concerned with CWS’ implementation of and compliance with provisions of the 2018 judgment, which was entered after a DOJ investigation uncovered systemic noncompliance with California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) and Welfare and Institutions Code. As a result, the Attorney General’s Office is taking action to extend the judgment's corrective measures and monitoring of the county for an additional two years.
“There’s no room for half-measures when it comes to protecting our children against potential abuse or neglect,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Our local child welfare and law enforcement agencies must respond quickly, effectively, and appropriately. If they come up short, we have to be clear-eyed about the path forward and we owe it to the children of California to act decisively to get it fixed. Our filing is about doing just that for the children of Humboldt County. At the California Department of Justice, we’ll keep standing up for our state’s child safety laws and doing what we can to ensure those on the ground have the right tools to protect vulnerable children.”
Under CANRA, local child welfare and law enforcement agencies are required to accept all reports of abuse and neglect involving children and ensure that every single one is screened, cross-reported, coordinated, and investigated in a timely manner. A DOJ investigation initiated in 2015 revealed that Humboldt County authorities had not been complying with their legal duties to respond to reports of child abuse and neglect, resulting in reports falling through the cracks and an inadequate assessment of child safety risk. Additionally, CWS was not collaborating with local tribes as required by law. Each of these deficiencies created widespread distrust within the community, leaving children at greater risk of harm.
In order to resolve these issues, CWS and the Sheriff’s Office agreed to a comprehensive set of corrective actions in 2018 aimed at ensuring compliance with state laws and protecting the well-being of all children in the county, including those who are members or eligible for membership of a tribe. As part of the settlement, the county agreed to the entry of a judgment that included a three-year monitoring period, permitting DOJ to seek orders and extensions as necessary or appropriate to ensure compliance with the judgment's requirements. To date, those requirements have not been fully met, necessitating the action announced today.
DOJ is now seeking to extend the judgment and monitoring period to require ongoing and further affirmative corrective action, including with regards to provisions from the judgment with which the county agencies have failed to comply or consistently implement, such as:
- Emergency Response System, complying with statutory investigation completion timeline requirements, or extensions to exceed, as developed in policy and procedure in 95% of cases;
- Workforce Development Plan, developing and implementing a plan for maintaining, recruiting, employing, and supporting a high quality and stable workforce;
- Tribal Collaboration, taking additional steps to demonstrate compliance with requirements outlined in the judgment, including notice regarding referrals within 24 hours to the appropriate tribe for cases involving a child who is a member or eligible for membership of a tribe; and
- Child Fatality Review Process, ensuring a robust review of child welfare practices related to each child who dies in Humboldt County due to abuse or neglect or who previously received child welfare services.
Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting the rights of youth in California and across the country. In August, the Attorney General secured settlements with school districts in Barstow and Oroville to address discriminatory treatment of students based on race and disability status. He also announced a $600,000 settlement with an online special education services provider aimed at protecting schools and students with learning disabilities. In July, following troubling reports of discrimination and retaliation, Attorney General Becerra announced a wide-ranging settlement with the Mojave Unified School District. Last year, the Attorney General obtained a historic desegregation agreement with the Sausalito Marin City School District. He also reached an agreement with the Stockton Unified School District and its police department to address discriminatory treatment of minority students and students with disabilities. In addition, Attorney General Becerra issued an alert to all school districts in the state reminding school leaders of their obligation to protect the civil rights of students, especially in the face of reports indicating that implicit bias among school administrators leads to students of color and those with disabilities being disproportionately subjected to disciplinary action.
Attorney General Becerra encourages those with information regarding suspected practices in violation of state or federal law involving systems that support children in California to report them to the DOJ’s Bureau of Children’s Justice, through the online complaint form located at https://oag.ca.gov/bcj/complaint, or by email at email@example.com.