Making State Officials More Accountable in California

Government policy should be driven by what's best for the public, not what's best for public employees.

There are few things messier and more depressing than dependency court, where judges look at issues of child abuse and neglect and make decisions that can remove children from their homes and tear families asunder.

These courts and the entire children and family services systems are plagued by controversy and allegations of mismanagement and corruption. In few areas of American life do government officials have so much unchecked power, yet are allowed to operate in nearly complete secrecy. Maybe there’s a connection there.

No reforms or inquiries ever fix the situation, which is no surprise because the public doesn’t get to look at the inner workings of these agencies or delve into the details of specific cases. Los Angeles County has been a particular mess, where more than 70 children have died under the supervision of county social workers since 2008, and many of those deaths have been blamed by county leaders on mismanagement.

But in that county a judge is turning to a time-tested solution: transparency. Last week Children’s Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash ordered the courts to be open unless a judge rules otherwise in a specific case. Of course, the social workers are complaining bitterly that this will harm children. One typical response from a “children’s advocate” quoted in a Los Angeles Times story: “The court has put the needs and interests of the public and the media ahead of the victims of child abuse and neglect. A judicial system that fails to respect the privacy and dignity of the children it claims to serve has lost sight of its mission.”

If that’s the case, then totalitarian societies function best because judicial systems in those countries don’t worry about openness. Media and public scrutiny are the key ways that free citizens assure that their government is operating in a proper manner. If court decisions are not scrutinized, then even the most grievous corruption and abuses are never exposed. They fester. Nothing improves. We’re left simply trusting officials to do what they choose.

The Times article featured a photograph of a child holding a sign that said, “Let me decide when to talk about my neglect and abuse.” I doubt the child brought the sign without prompting from the social workers. Here’s another case of how government officials are using the children as pawns to promote their agenda. Sorry, but children and families—not to mention taxpayers—are best served when we are free to oversee the overseers.

Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) had proposed legislation that would have created a small pilot program to open some dependency courts to the public. Even this watered-down version went nowhere because of the power of those who believe that society functions best when government officials can behave as they please without any serious scrutiny.

It’s so frustrating how every serious policy issue in this state is driven by what’s best for government employees, not the public. In support of the Feuer bill, the San Jose Mercury News opined: “Three years ago, Mercury News reporter Karen de Sá documented the troubled state of this system. Her yearlong investigation found that overwhelmed, undertrained lawyers weren't properly representing their clients, that older children were too often excluded from proceedings affecting their lives, and that parents' and children's rights were routinely at risk.”

That’s exactly right. And, according to the Times report, Nash argued: “There is a lot that is not good [in the dependency courts], and that’s an understatement. Too many families do not get reunified ... too many children and families languish in the system for far too long. Someone might want to know why this is the case.”

Yet Nash’s thinking is treated as something that’s almost radical. The simple and humane reform he imposed in his courtroom is being challenged in court by the same self-interested parties that have stopped reform in the Capitol. Openness is the rule in 17 states, so this isn’t some uncharted territory.

Over the years, I’ve written about children’s services cases. You’ve never met a terrified person until you talk to someone who had their children taken by social workers who—under current law—can take the kids first and sort through the issues later. While the kids languish in foster care, the parents deplete their life savings trying to navigate a legal system that doesn’t give them due process or any legal rights to visit their children.

We know that bureaucratic governmental systems are never efficient or just, so it’s common to see both extremes—children taken unjustly from loving homes and children left in genuinely abusive and dangerous homes, where they often end up dying. Oftentimes, the foster homes where government places children are the most uncaring and even dangerous places.

Whenever I write about these situations, social workers will insist that most of them are hard-working and dedicated to helping children. Fair enough. Then they have nothing to fear by having their decisions scrutinized in the same open manner that other court decisions are scrutinized. As in any agency, some social workers abuse their authority, which reminds us of the need for accountability and oversight.

Last April, as the Orange County Register reported, “The County of Orange lost its battle in the U.S. Supreme Court … to overturn a record-setting $4.9 million judgment awarded to a Seal Beach woman, after two county social workers lied to a juvenile court commissioner in order to take away the woman’s two daughters.” This was a troubling case, yet the county circled its wagons.

I have written about other cases where social workers were accused of lying or misbehavior and it was impossible to get to the heart of the matter because everything is secret. We’ll never improve these systems until the light of day shines on every courtroom.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

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  • anon||

    Politicians think they know what's best for their constituents?

    Say it ain't so!

  • Libertarians NEED Gov't||

    Libertarians know what's best: agricultural city-statist Gambol Lockdown.

    • Gambol Lockdown requires genocide during the Invasion.

    And considerable aggression to enforce the OCCUPATION.

    Libertarians lie when they say they're against initiating force. They're not for liberty at all.

  • anon||

    Libertarians know what's best: agricultural city-statist Gambol Lockdown.

    Your point?

    Go die in a fire?

  • Libertarians are psychopaths||

    Libertarianism is anti-freedom, with a thin whitewash of "liberty" talk. Pretty much like Marxism.

  • anon||

    Why are you such an advocate of murder?

    Why are you such an advocate of theft?

    Why are you such an advocate of coercion?

    Why are you such an advocate of fraud?

    Why are you such an advocate of rape?

    See what I did there?

  • Yeah, I see what you did there||

    You are trying to obfuscate the simple fact that you are all for forcing people into the Gambol Lockdown system.

  • anon||

    Nope, you just want rapists to run around raping with no consequence for their actions.

    Fucking pathetic.

  • cleverbot||

    Flip answers are more powerful than the best reasoned arguments, which is why so many libertarians are in important government positions.

  • anon||

    Which is exactly why you use them; to obfuscate the absurdity of your argument.

    Meanwhile, well reasoned people choose to make valid arguments that you can do nothing but spew bullshit at. You're fucking stupid.

  • cleverbot||

    Taxation is slavery, but rent is not. Even if you pay more in rent, even if you have also chosen where you pay taxes.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    You are trying to obfuscate the simple fact that you are all for forcing people into the Gambol Lockdown system.

    I tried to free you of your Lockdown by the best I have available to me. You refused without a single question. You enforce your Lockdown on yourself. It's your excuse, nothing more.

  • Libertarian fraudulent offers||

    Not accepted here.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    Libertarian fraudulent offers|2.10.12 @ 1:38PM|#
    Not accepted here.

    You rejected it without taking the first step to determine its legitimacy. You ran scared from an opportunity to live what you claim is your dream.

  • tarran||

    Gambol Lockdown

    Someone was watching Apollo 13 recently. :)

  • Gambol Lockdown||

    Privation Property = Statism's Land enTITLEment program to restrict people's freedom of movement.

  • Brother Grimm||

    Uh huh.

  • Tom Thumb||

    There are no market failures, only government failures. Which is why we should abolish corporations, patents, copyright and other intellectual property; they are established by government interference with free markets.

  • o3||

    and no financial crime. Just.Cant.Happen.

  • Hypocritical Gamboling Faker||

    EnviroCop Jackbooted Wolf hiding in Greenie 'let me romp' Sheep clothing. Backer of the heavy-handed Koppers. May I leave the reservation now? NO? That's what I thought.

  • Untermensch||

    I've finally realized it. White Injun is a variation on the chomskybot. There is never any original content in its posts anymore because it is not human. It simply recombines previously written phrases and repeats them ad nauseam. Since its corpus is small, it will often make ten or fifteen identical comments on a thread and, since it lacks self-awareness, it does not know it is doing this. So dealing with it is something like dealing with an idiot savant (minus the savant part). That also explains why feeding or not feeding it makes no difference: since it isn’t sentient and is a bot, what you write in response to it does not actually matter.

  • anon||

    So, it's cleverbot, minus clever?

  • cleverbot||

    Any exceptional case of private production proves that government ought not to be involved.

  • Untermensch||

    Essentially yes, plus a few parsing bits that allow it to attempt (unsuccessfully) to insult when it is questioned.

  • cleverbot||

    Our libertarian ideas are boldly nonconformist, yet conveniently reaffirm our desire to do nothing but complain.

  • Untermensch||

    Save us all. It is morphing. Of course since the arguments never change and it cannot grow and learn from contact with alien ideas, I guess it won't be a threat.

  • Lebensraum||

    Government causes pollution, crime, discrimination, slavery, poverty, and all the other evils of the world. Businesses and individuals only produce wealth: they are not involved and not responsible for any of those problems.

  • Untermensch||

    QED

  • QED. Can't refute that.||

  • Libertard can't refute chombot||

    I've finally realized it. Libertarians are rendered dumb when WI comes around. Best they can do is act 3rd grade.

  • Untermensch||

    Oh, I get it. It can also switch subjects and objects around in an unsuccessful attempt to reverse the meaning of things.

  • cleverbot||

    Only markets, promoted by those wise liberals of the 18th century, can solve coordination problems. Democratic representative governments, which were foisted upon us by those same deluded liberals of the 18th century, result in chaos and difficulty finding good servants.

  • ||

    I think Tony is WI.

  • Uvalduvalcuckoo||

    I was just gamboling around this afternoon. It really wasn't as cool as it's crackednuo to be and no one impeded it although it was smack dab in the middle of a city-state. I'm starrting to think you're just a really lame ai bot, bc I literally have bots that have more creative thoughts. Are you sure you're not just a remnant ofnthe Stanford ai course orbone somewhere else

  • Uvalduvalcuckoo||

    I was just gamboling around this afternoon. It really wasn't as cool as it's crackednuo to be and no one impeded it although it was smack dab in the middle of a city-state. I'm starrting to think you're just a really lame ai bot, bc I literally have bots that have more creative thoughts. Are you sure you're not just a remnant ofnthe Stanford ai course orbone somewhere else

  • Pro-aggressive Gamboling Fool||

    ....Is ready to unleash the EnviroCop Jackbooters on all free rangers. No free access to open spaces.

  • Egalitarianism is Murder||

    No deviation allowed under penalty of death from the secret Big-State agenda of the Big-State supporter claiming to be otherwise.

  • kate||

    looking for the bilover?===Datebi*cO'm=== is a site for bisexual and bicurious singles and friends.Here you can find hundreds of thousands of open-minded singles & couples looking to explore their bisexuality.sign up for free.
    "

  • Zombie Jimbo||

    Links can be nice:

    OC Register on Seal Beach Case:

    http://taxdollars.ocregister.c.....ers/81039/

    LA Times:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/lo.....0479.story

  • tarran||

    One thing to consider: a lot of social workers are messed up themselves. They studied social work and entered the field as part of their attempts to deal with their issues.

    This includes people who were abused as kids who want to help fellow victims. People who suffer mental health issues who then want to help teenagers like themselves, etc.

    Some portion of these people are objective. So a social worker whose alcoholic father would beat her assumes that a father who drinks a beer every night must be a danger to his kids. She then decides that to protect the child by painting the dad's acts in a sinister manner.

    Now, 49 out of 50 cases, she gets away with this. On case 50, there is objective evidence which discredits her.

    In a transparent system, people become aware of this issue, and she either loses credibility or she reforms herself.

    In a non-transparent system every case is separate and independent, and case 51 is just like case 1.

  • Libertarians are psychopaths||

    That's one thing to consider.

  • Socialism is Murder||

    But egalitarians are the dangerous ones.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    They studied social work and entered the field as part of their attempts to deal with their issues.

    So they're like psychologists, but stupid?

  • Libertarians with mommy issues||

    I know, it's redundant.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Get off of mommy's computer, Jason and get into the woods.

  • Libertarians with mommy issues||

    When is it legitimate to initiate the use of force against others? Never! Unless, of course, you really need to initiate force... then it's pre-emptive protection of property rights.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Your strawman is in desperate need of more straw. Take care of that by the end of business today.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    If markets are the best allocation mechanism, libertarians should demand that the party's positions should be sold to the highest bidders. Forget that voting crap: it's initiation of force! Surely the highest bidder will represent libertarian interests better than anyone else.

  • Strawman||

    Jason, are you still angry that I gave you suprise buttsex? I said I was sorry. I even made you a mix tape. Gawd, let it go.

  • cleverbot||

    Criticism of libertarianism is destructive. Criticism of society by libertarians is constructive.

  • Strawman||

    White Indian, when I claimed you as my main squaw, you should have known certain things would be expected of you. Shameful, degrading, disgusting things. I thought "gambol" was your green light to stick it in.

  • Lebensraum||

    Big media have a virulent anti-business bias because they report on harmful business practices. Truth is no defense against our accusations of bias, nor is the observation that big media ARE big business.

  • Uvalduvalcuckoo||

    Not being gay I can't say for sure and insulting people by intimating gay behavior is lame as much as I agree in spirit. Gambol is however a confirmed word for go ahead and felch away the ATM is open for business

  • Loki||

    He's just upset that you didn't even give him the goddamned common courtesy of a reach around.

  • Odin||

    Gang rape is democracy. Five people say "Yes," one person says "No," and the majority rules. Which is why gang rape is legal in every state.

  • STEVE SMITH||

    I NEW THAT

  • Egalitarianism is Murder||

    With death as reward to the non-believer.

  • tarran||

    Crap! Third paragraph execute following sed command:

    s/Some portion of these people are objective/Some portion of these people are not objective.

  • ||

  • For you? Good idea.||

    Ready?

  • sarcasmic||

    *like*

  • el Commentariosa||

  • sarcasmic||

    Beat you to it fifteen minutes ago on the Ron Paul Roundup.

    Neener neener neeeeeeeeeeener!

  • el Commentariosa||

    Curses, foiled again.

  • Libertarians with mommy issues||

    Honest loser? Or market failure?

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Last week Children’s Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash ordered the courts to be open unless a judge rules otherwise in a specific case.

    An order completely without teeth if judges decide to extend "professional courtesy" to social workers.

    One typical response from a “children’s advocate” quoted in a Los Angeles Times story: “The court has put the needs and interests of the public and the media ahead of the victims of child abuse and neglect. A judicial system that fails to respect the privacy and dignity of the children it claims to serve has lost sight of its mission.”

    Children have neither privacy (your parents may abridge your 'privacy' at their discretion) and damn little dignity.

    The Times article featured a photograph of a child holding a sign that said, “Let me decide when to talk about my neglect and abuse.”

    So no right to a speedy trial when little Jimmy is involved?

  • Nick||

    To be honest, this is one area of the law where I have not kept fully up to date, or understood the ins and outs of how things have come to pass. One thing that always bothered me was...

    How can these types of cases go before a court, and not have any trial by jury? Is that guaranteed by the the 6th and 7th Amendments (even in civil and common law cases)?

  • Former Ward of the State||

    As someone who's been chewed-up and spit-out by the foster care system (and whose negative experiences resulting thereof largely helped to shape my anarchist tendencies, knowing first-hand as I do that trusting the State results in getting fucked over), the article corresponds pretty well with my experience. While I never saw a kid killed in care, saw plenty who had to be rushed to the hospital for treatment of injuries after staff got a bit over-zealous with the "restraining." And social workers absolutely do encourage their charges to get involved in political situations that the kids don't even understand, let alone have a well-reasoned opinion on.

  • Sevo||

    "And social workers absolutely do encourage their charges to get involved in political situations that the kids don't even understand, let alone have a well-reasoned opinion on."

    IOWs, they mimic the union teachers using random kids as props to advance their rent-seeking.

  • Advanced Rentseeking 101||

    Privation Property. For the children.

  • Helen Lovejoy||

    Won't someone please think of the children!!!!

  • ||

    After reading the details about the Josh Powell BBQ of his own children, and juxtaposing that with cases I've read about where social workers pull kids from loving homes, what I see is classic bully behavior (I know. From the Gub'mint? Bullying? Say it ain't so!)

    Experts are coming out now saying that there's no way in hell that this creepy suspected killer, son of a creepy pedo, should have been allowed supervised visitation with his kids anywhere but in a public place. Especially after the kids start talking about how "mommy was riding in the trunk" on that bullshit freezing camping trip. But for whatever reason, the social worker decided it was OK to hand these kids over to their creepy-suspected-killer dad whose kids are now talking about Mommy riding in the trunk. For whatever reason, the dumb twat felt that not giving in to what Powell wanted would be more trouble than it's worth.

    And that's the crux of it. They take kids away from parents whom they sense are not going to be a threat, not going to try to buck the law because they're caught completely off-guard, and they're used to being law-abiding and generally peaceful people. But the parents who really are a f*cking psycho threat to their kids, social workers are afraid of them. Textbook bullying.

  • cynical||

    I have to say, taking my kids and placing them in a home where they were mistreated would be one of the few things that would push me over the violence line. First priority would be recovering them and escaping to a country with no extradition treaty, but if I could work a little vigilante justice in there without endangering the primary objective, great.

  • Zombie Jimbo||

    A little vigilante justice...

    That's what an extended family is for! My remarkably troll-like nephews do have a purpose other than eating ham at Christmas faster than I can carve it.

  • Advanced Rentseeking 101||

    KOCH nephews?

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