Santa Clara County's new intake center for kids entering foster care is cramped and dangerous, according to a scathing report Thursday that calls for an urgent relocation of the facility just weeks after it opened in the basement of a downtown medical building.
An inspection by members of the Superior Court's juvenile justice commission Jan. 17 found "very Spartan and unwelcoming" rooms and no greenery in sight. Outside the building, the inspectors found abandoned medical equipment and a garbage Dumpster filled with large shards of glass.
The kitchenette had "only processed food: donut holes, cupcakes, frozen pizza and frozen corn dogs." And instead of fresh fruit for the children pulled from their homes by social workers, the cupboards held only "syrupy fruit salads." The report comes shortly after the county moved the receiving center from an 8-acre campus that once boasted 132 beds, a full cafeteria, ball field, art studios and computer lab. The county shifted from a model of a large-scale shelter for needy kids that quickly grew out of step with the child welfare field. Experts now emphasize the importance of families and small, home-like settings.
County officials did not dispute the findings in the new report, but noted that many of the immediate concerns have already been addressed.
"We have gone from a wonderfully state-of-the-art, large facility to a very small facility in a different community, and that has heightened
The justice commission report is based on a visit, just three days after the Receiving, Assessment and Intake Center moved from a suburban Union Avenue location to a stretch of East Santa Clara Street known for gang disturbances and other crimes.
In addition to concerns about the new location, the report also criticized county officials for violating one of the main objectives of turning to a 24-hour temporary receiving center model: The smaller confines are designed as a way station -- not a long-term home -- to prompt rapid placements with foster parents or relatives in more suitable homelike settings.
But during the inspection, commissioners found that one teenager who had moved from the old location had spent 21 days in the county's facilities.
"While minors are not supposed to remain for 24 hours or more, this is occurring on a distressingly routine basis," the report states, later noting, "This repurposed old medical building does not lend itself to a homelike environment for minors."
The report calls for the county to "initiate an immediate and thorough planning process to secure a new facility, in a central and safe location, that is child-friendly." It also calls on the county to immediately halt the practice of keeping kids past 24 hours, which violates state licensing laws, and to clean up debris outside the building.
County officials have never called the new setting ideal, and describe it as a temporary site for the next three to five years. Still, the opening was delayed a month because of construction setbacks, and when the justice commissioners arrived, the lighting and security system still was not fully installed.
The new receiving center has only eight beds, and is designed to serve just two or three children at a time.
Medina said that while her department agrees with the justice commissioners' concerns about children staying beyond 24 hours, it disagrees that those stays are "distressingly routine." In the past year, 11 children have been in the receiving center for longer than a day -- a range between 25 hours, and in one case 37 days.
Contact Karen de Sá at 408-920-5781.