The Claim

The Claim

The Mountain Messenger Newspaper reported recently on a claim received by the county from a social worker in Health and Human Services.   The Messenger’s report HERE describes how the testimony in the claim supports a growing awareness that, at least in one case, Sierra County Child Welfare Services has “helped a family too much.”  

A copy of the claim is located HERE.

The messenger has been increasingly angry with the proceedings in a particular case, and has argued that this case, the “Gag Order” case, is probably an indicator of a general over-involvement in county families.  The claim seems to bear out those arguments.  

The claim primarily seeks appropriate compensation to the social worker, and that is the content of the narrative.  However, as the Messenger article indicates, there is enough evidence in that narrative to convince some observers that what has seemed so, is now proven true: Sierra County Health and Human Services personnel have engaged in inappropriate, perhaps illegal behavior, and as a result a staff member, and clearly also a family, has suffered harm.

The claim against the county is for disallowed administrative and personnel procedures against a respected social worker with a very long history in the county.  Those primarily named are the social worker supervisor, and the Director of Health and Human Services, Carol Roberts.

It should be remembered that the allegations in the claim may not be true.  There may be no truth to them; the Board of Supervisors, the insurer, and eventually most likely a court will attempt to decide the accuracy of the allegations in the claim.

However, it is useful to borrow a page from the procedures of child welfare services and proceed, until there is contradictory and compelling evidence, to assume the allegations are true.  

Therefore, this Prospect analysis begins each assertion with “if true” assumed, though not stated.

On behalf of the claimant, the following is alleged:

 Claimant has been harassed, intimidated, humiliated, and deprived of her Civil Rights by the Agency, including without limitation being removed from her office in front of other personnel, falsely accused, without probable cause, of drinking on the job, and forcibly subjected to a knowingly unnecessary drug and alcohol test, the results of which proved to be negative. The causes of this incident and the incidents subsequently described herein are primarily due to the negligent hiring practices and disregard of civil rights protections of employees by Sierra County, among other things.  

Here, the claim only speaks of the disallowed administrative procedures for evaluating, notifying, meeting, and correcting the employee as needed.  Taken “as if true” the County did not provide clear, impartial and confidential supervision to the Claimant, nor did they follow a clear and graduated procedure to correct her.  

The allegations stem from agency reaction to the Claimant when she was assigned a Child Welfare Services case.  The case is not specified.

What does become clear from the narrative is that the agency did not handle the CWS case appropriately.  That is of concern to everyone who loves children in the county.  

It is specified in the claim that the Claimant was primarily an Adult Protective Services caseworker, but she was assigned the Child Welfare Services case.  This is not unusual even in counties larger than Sierra County, and there is nothing in the narrative to describe either a clearly defined objection to her work on the CWS case, or evidence of the objective and dispassionate evaluation and correction which would have been indicated.  There are significant differences in the law between the two, mostly recognizing that adults can speak for themselves but the state may more easily intercede for children.  The essentials of good social work are not dissimilar beyond that.  

Instead, we learn that the Claimant, a person of some experience both in life and as a social worker, determined that the family was being over served, and that the case had been mismanaged to the point of fraud.

 Thereafter, on or about July 28, 2010, Claimant determined that Benson's management of the case was faulty and incompetent, and that Benson had allegedly broken confidentiality and fabricated allegations against the family involved in said CPS case.

Though not stated in the narrative, breaking confidentiality and fabricating allegations are potential criminal violations.  “If true” this should require administrative leave, or at least an investigation toward dismissal for those involved.  

Further, it is possible the agency was working without protection of law:

Claimant subsequently learned, on or about August 5, 2010, that the Court had checked a box on a prior Findings and Order After Hearing dismissing the case.

At this point, a “check box” is not the determination of the court, but it would be foolhardy for the agency to continue the case plan if the case was dismissed and not sent to family reunification or court ordered family maintenance.  The case court documents should have described if the judge had made the determination that the children were no longer at risk of abuse or neglect under the definition of law.  The case was re-instated with a finding by a second judge that the first “check box” was in error.  This “aberration” is enough to require a complete administrative review of the case; the Prospect doesn’t know if this review was conducted. This information is not contained in the claim.

The claim goes on to describe how the Claimant became alarmed at what is clearly a breach of accepted protocol:

On or about August 20, 2010, Marks requested Claimant to prepare a progress report on the CPS case, which Claimant wrote up in her standard fashion, i.e. straight and to the point, but which upset Marks for unclear reasons. Marks then rewrote Claimant's report and submitted it to James Curtis, County Counsel. Claimant was extremely upset by Marks' actions because claimant did not feel the rewritten report was honest or accurate and on or about August 23, 2010, she informed Curtis of the chain of events. Curtis assured Claimant that the case would not be "railroaded," as Marks desired.

It is not appropriate for the supervisor to re-write the progress report.  The correct procedure is to meet with the social worker, review the evidence against the case plan, and make a recommendation which the case carrying social worker can author.  Though it does not say so in the narrative, when the supervisor rewrote the Claimants report, the case became his responsibility.

Because Child Welfare Services court actions are not criminal, it is not the District Attorney’s role to represent the county, but that of County Council Jim Curtis.  However, it is not Curtis’ role to second guess the recommendations of the agency, but simply to prepare the documents correctly.  Still, one wonders how Curtis could advise the Board in this matter, since he is implicated in the treatment the Claimant and the family thereafter.

Thereafter, on or about September 22, 2010, Marks prepared a CPS Court report on the case. Because it contained numerous untruths and harsh, unjustified recommendations, Claimant would not sign off on it, whereupon Marks abruptly and viciously removed her from the case, causing Claimant to suffer an extreme attack of violent shaking, with chest and arm pain. She was life-flighted to Reno Renown Hospital and was on stress leave from September 23 to October 17, 2010.   

Significant to the Claimant is the pain and suffering she experienced as the result of inappropriate supervision.  If true, she should be well compensated.

Of significance to the people of the county is that the case was no longer being handled professionally.  Once again, the supervisor does not write the court report, nor should any worker be required to sign a report prepared by another; to do so when the report contains falsehood and untruth is perjury, and fraud.

Claimant as well as other Health & Human Service Department employees had been subpoena'd by the defense attorney for said CPS case for the October 27, 2010 Court hearing. Carol Roberts, Social Services Director, falsely informed County Counsel Curtis that the Office Assistant was unable to attend. Claimant believes and thereon alleges that Roberts' purpose in making such false representations to Curtis was to exclude any evidence in favor of the defense.

Taking this “as if true” Dr. Roberts should be put on administrative leave at once.  

Indeed, the claim goes on to make very clear and specific allegations regarding the supervision of CWS and HHS.  If true, these allegations put the county in a very poor position for lawsuit, and hopefully will see some staff brought up on criminal charges.  

Claimant is informed and believes and thereon alleges that Jodi Benson and James Marks have an inappropriate personal relationship outside of the office setting creating additional hostility in an already hostile work environment. Slanderous accusations have been fabricated against claimant as well as other staff members interfering with the ability of claimant and other staff members to perform their duties effectively. A climate of fear and distrust has been created which affects the ability of staff members to properly meet their obligations to the clients of the Agency.  
Management, including other County agencies, are aware of the untenable situation created by Roberts, Benson, and Marks, yet have chosen to ignore their actions (perhaps in self-defense), despite the physical, emotional, and legal assaults on Claimant and the other staff members.

Aside from the issues of a hostile workplace, a personal relationship between a supervisor and co-worker might constitute a specific kind of sexual harassment of the Claimant.  Welfare and Institutions Code, prohibits personal relationship between agency personnel in some instances.  

If true, this Claim requires the Board of Supervisors to take the active role they’ve been promising since April, 2010.  At this point, no one knows if the allegations in the claim are true, but looking back over the last year, re-reading articles from the Mountain Messenger and the Sierra County Prospect, the allegations fit a pattern which describes a Health and Human Services department that is determined to exact revenge on a local family and anyone who supports them.

The Director and staff of HHS serve the public on our behalf; they represent us when they take children from parents.  They’ve defrauded us.

If this claim makes its way to a successful court decision, the family would be very likely to win a well put together case for damages against the county, seen by some as long overdue.  

It is unfortunate it’s come to this, unfortunate that a county employee has been subjected to such unprofessional management, but criminal that a family has been hounded.  Further, it gives support to the stories of other families in Sierra County who have been “helped” by CWS to a near criminal degree.

It’s now up to the Board to take long overdue action.
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