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Team 10: California department does not maintain data on all foster care deaths

Posted: 6:02 PM, Nov 15, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-16 03:27:06Z

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A 10News investigation has revealed that the California department responsible for the state’s child welfare program does not maintain data regarding all deaths of children in foster care.  The revelation is prompting calls for immediate action to child welfare services from at least one San Diego-based politician.

State law requires counties to report  any child death that is determined to be suspected to be the result of abuse or neglect to the California Department of Social Services.  According to the CDSS, each county in California is required to keep track of every foster child that dies while in its custody.

Counties are also responsible for reporting all high profile incidents that occur in foster homes to the State Department of Social Services. High profile incidents would include incidents involving death or serious injury. 

But the CDSS has no master data list available regarding foster deaths and says that information is maintained at the county level.

Using open records laws Team 10 collected the total number fatalities of children residing in a foster placement from all 58 counties in the state since 2010.

The numbers show more than 250 kids died during that time across the state.


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"When you have a death, that should trigger a major inquiry every time because children don't normally die; they don't die easily,” Professor Robert Fellmeth, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego.

CDSS tells 10News the department produces a  child fatality report . However, the report only covers fatalities and near fatalities determined to be the result of abuse or neglect.

A spokesperson for CDSS told 10News, “The department works very closely with county child welfare agencies and provides direction regarding fatality reporting. We also monitor media stories regarding child fatalities. The department also conducts county child welfare service program reviews.”

Statistics regarding all deaths in the state are maintained by the California Department of Public Health.

A spokesperson for that department said it does not track the number of children who die for any reason in foster care each year.

"In order to make decisions you have to have the data,” said California State Assemblyman Brian Maienschein.

Team 10 showed Maienschein the numbers we collected and the state's response to our questions.

He said it's time to make a change.

"Next session I intend to bring forward some legislation,” he said.

According to CDSS, funding for child welfare services is a mixture of federal, state, and local dollars.