Before last fall, there were virtually no Contra Costa County cities with policies guiding training employees to report suspected child abuse to authorities, and even now few cities have implemented such training, according to a new report released by the county's civil grand jury.
That must change immediately, according to a Contra Costa County Grand Jury report released this week that analyzed the training of city personnel in reporting suspected child abuse. The report finds that there is an "almost uniform" lack of adequate training in cities across the county.
"If an effective and comprehensive training program prevents only one child from being abused, one family from having to endure the hardships of an abused child, one city from having to pay millions to settle a child abuse lawsuit, then there is no reason for any district to resist implementing the same," according to the report.
Ultimately, grand jurors made numerous recommendations, including that all 19 Contra Costa cities adopt a "mandated reporter" policy, identify which employees are required by law to report child abuse to police or other authorities, train those employees on an annual basis and consider training volunteers who have contact with children.
The report stated "almost none" of the 19 cities contacted had a policy on reporting abuse, let alone a training program, until the last several months. It gives examples of responses by officials from cities like Clayton, who said after receiving the grand jury's inquiry in November, "city staff accelerated the task" of creating a policy, which was then adopted in December.
"Almost all the cities are scrambling to enact policies. But policies alone are not enough," according to the report, which insists actual trainings occur and points to the county's Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa County as a free resource for all cities for making that happen.
Carol Carrillo, executive director of the abuse prevention council, commends the report.
"I think it's terrific and it definitely sheds a light on the importance of quality mandated reporter training," she said. "I also think it's important to realize that mandated reporter training should be consistent in Contra Costa so there isn't any misunderstanding about the process."
Still, many cities have yet to contact her office, she said.
While school districts have been the targets of recent lawsuits over officials' alleged failures to report abuse, the grand jury's concern over city policies grew out of a 2012 case in Walnut Creek, where a part-time city employee was accused of -- and later pleaded guilty to -- child molestation. Some employees were made aware of allegations of an inappropriate relationship between the staffer and a teenage girl, but did not report it to police. It later came out that those employees, some placed on administrative leave for months, believed a law enforcement agency outside Walnut Creek was already investigating.
The ordeal, documented in a city-funded internal investigation report, revealed the Walnut Creek employees didn't know they were required by law to report suspicions of child abuse. And some did not know that they themselves were mandated reporters, according to the grand jury report.
"This incident cost Walnut Creek far more than the expenses of the investigative report," according to the grand jury. "The city ended up paying the attorneys' fees for at least some of the suspended employees. The damage to the city's reputation and morale is unknown."
While cities may not have had a formal policy on mandated reporting, Walnut Creek now does, and even before that the "vast majority" of employees who have contact with children have always received the training, said City Manager Ken Nordhoff.
"It's also clear that there were a handful of employees who were not identified as being mandated reporters, and thus did not receive the training," he said. "In developing our new mandated reporter policy, we did a comprehensive review of who is a mandated reporter to ensure that every mandated reporter in the city is identified and receives regular training."
Walnut Creek, along with the other 18 cities, are required to respond to the grand jury findings and recommendations.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.