Wednesday, March 13, 2002
Board Votes to Seek High Court Review of Order for Monthly Social Worker Visits to Foster Children
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
A sharply divided Board of Supervisors yesterday voted to ask the state Supreme Court to overturn a court order tightening requirements that social workers visit each of the county’s nearly 60,000 foster children at least once a month.
On a 3-2 vote, the supervisors instructed county lawyers to file petition for review in the case of Alliance for Children’s Rights v. Department of Children and Family Services. A majority of supervisors backed department chief Anita Bock, who said the order mandating the visits did not take into account a dearth of county resources and what she has called the virtual impossibility of complying fully.
But Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky staunchly opposed the move, saying it put the financial interests of the county ahead of the best interests of the foster child.
Antonovich rejected the department’s assertion that a broader policy on child visits would benefit foster children more than Judge Terry Friedman’s order would.
“Your record has been dismal,” Antonovich said. “That’s why the court intervened....Now you want to go to the Supreme Court, but it makes more sense to spend time with children and resolve their issues than spending valuable resources going to the Supreme Court and having them tell us what the other courts have already told us.”
At issue is a decision more than a year ago by Friedman, then the presiding juvenile court judge, to allow the county to opt out of the monthly visits to foster children only upon an order of the dependency judge with jurisdiction over the individual child.
Formerly, the department made its own decision on waivers of the statutorily required monthly visits.
Bock has steadfastly defended the decision to try to overturn Friedman’s order, calling it a court-imposed unfunded mandate. She has been negotiating with a county workforce of social workers who already must handle enormous caseloads and are demanding more pay.
County lawyers cited separation-of-powers principles in filing their appeal, saying judges lack power to review a policy decision of the department and may not require the department to spend money.
The county lost its appeal in a Feb. 1 ruling from Div. One of this district’s Court of Appeal. Last month, the supervisors had a bitter showdown over whether to seek rehearing from the court, ending in the same 3-2 split.
Rehearing was denied earlier this month.
Meanwhile, county officials have been in talks with Friedman’s successor, Judge Michael Nash, over what Bock called a “refinement” of the Juvenile Court order that would give each dependency judge more discretion in relieving the department from monthly visits.
Bock said Nash appeared open to the idea.
“Judge Nash did make it clear that he was inclined to favorably review a refinement to the order which would move it from a blanket order to an order based on the discretion of the court in an individual case, which is the position that we have taken all along as the preferred way to go,” Bock said.
But Antonovich criticized county lawyers for sending Nash a letter Friday that put in writing some of their discussions without first bringing it to the board. The supervisors’ vote—on a motion by Gloria Molina—included an agreement that no discussions with Nash would be deemed final until a board vote.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company