The children who reside in the San Mateo County Receiving Home (CRH), a shelter which is operated by the San Mateo County Human Services Agency (HSA), are abandoned, abused or neglected by their families. Child Protective Services (CPS) social workers place the children, ages eight to 18, at the temporary residential facility. The average period of time the children stay at the CRH is between a few days to six months. Only a few children remain more than six months. Because these children have been removed from their homes by the CPS solely for their protection, they may not be placed in a locked facility, such as a detention center or mental hospital.
Because the CRH is a shelter and not a locked facility, the children are free to come and go at will. The lack of control of the children's whereabouts at any given time is an issue raised by the CRH staff. It is difficult for the staff to assure the safety and protection of the children when they have little or no control over their whereabouts. The children often leave the CRH without permission or authorization at any time of the night or day and, in some cases, for extended periods.
When a child leaves the CRH, the current policy is for the staff to report the unauthorized absence to the local police department, which attempts to locate the missing child and return him or her to the CRH. When the child is returned to the CRH, the staff may restrict the child's privileges.
When the children are away from the CRH without permission, there is a greater likelihood of their being harmed or doing damage to other people or property. The County has the responsibility to protect the well-being of the children sheltered at the CRH.
The San Mateo County 1999 Grand Jury visited the CRH. During the visit, the HSA management informed the Grand Jury of the dilemma they faced regarding the control of the children's whereabouts at any given time. Since the CRH is not a locked facility, the staff is unable to restrict the children's ability to leave the CRH without permission. Upon removal of these children from their homes, the court assumes control of these children as dependents of the court. If during these unauthorized absences, a child were victimized, injured, mischievous or got into serious trouble, the County and its employees could be held liable by the children's parents or guardians or by the community. There does not appear to be any effort between the various State and county agencies charged with the care and control of abused and neglected children to resolve the issue of control of these children while they reside in a shelter like the CRH.
The Grand Jury concurs with the CRH's staff regarding the safety of these children. The Grand Jury is also concerned about the legal and financial accountability of the County and its employees who are responsible for the protection of the children as well as for the actions of the children when they are away from the CRH.
The San Mateo County 1999 Grand Jury recommends that the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors direct the County Counsel and the Director of the Human Services Agency to address the issues of accountability for the children's safety and well-being and the inability of the Children's Receiving Home staff to control the children's movements and activities while away from the shelter.
The San Mateo County
1999 Grand Jury recommends that the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors
direct the County Counsel and the Director of Human Services Agency
to determine what the County can do to reduce the liability of the County
and its employees should the children at the County Receiving Home either
be harmed or do damage to persons or property while away from the shelter.
In order to avoid possible claims of poor judgment of the staff by third
parties, a contingency plan should be written explaining the procedures
to be taken by the Children's Receiving Home staff when unforeseen events