County child protection director out amid allegations of failed Child Abuse investigations
RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA – Riverside County’s top child protection official, Susan von Zabern, left her job Monday as the county fights two civil cases alleging that severe child abuse continued after the department had finished their investigations.
“….these disturbing cases indicate department leadership is failing to effectively stop child abuse.”
The two civil cases were filed by attorney Roger Booth on behalf of the juvenile victims seeking damages for the trauma they suffered as a result of the botched investigations.
“Child protective services is supposed to be there for kids whose parents can’t and won’t protect them.” Booth said.
In one case, filed in November 2017, a thirteen-year-old girl suffered repeated sexual abuse, rape, and eventually was impregnated by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. In another, filed in March, a three-year-old suffered severe neglect and was found in a filthy home hugging her dead infant sibling.
The complaints in both cases show staff from the Riverside County Children’s Services Division of the Department of Public Social Services repeatedly visited the homes of the victims, but failed to stop the abuse, and closed the investigations prematurely.
The County Board of Supervisors held closed-door meetings in recent months regarding the allegations, and said they will fight the cases, the Press-Enterprise reported.
Ray Smith, a spokesperson for the county, said that von Zabern “separated” from the county on Monday, but could not provide further comment due to department policies on personnel matters and the open status of the civil cases.
“The county constantly works to improve processes and programs that protect residents who are at-risk,” Smith said. “The county will aggressively continue that work.”
Social services staff knew a juvenile victim suffered repeated sexual abuse by her mother’s boyfriend, according to the lawsuit, but the agency closed the investigation anyway.
The complaint alleges that the department failed to report that the victim’s mother was not capable of protecting her, that the sexual abuse would likely continue, and that they led the victim to believe the department was the only hope for her protection.
At one point the department even asked the suspect to sign a safety plan they drafted, designating him as one of her caregivers, according to the complaint.
About a year later, the victim, 13 at the time, gave birth to a baby and put it up for adoption. Blood tests confirmed that the suspect was the father.
The suspect is facing 22 counts of child sexual abuse and is due in court on Sept. 28.
Another case, filed in March, alleges that a young child was routinely neglected by her mother, who struggled with drug addiction and mental illness.
The mother later became pregnant and reported to the department that she was not receiving prenatal care and had stopped using her medication.
On several occasions, the department visited the home, but ultimately considered the case inconclusive and closed the investigation.
Days after one of the department’s final visits in April 2016, a neighbor flagged down a passing police car and reported a foul smell from the victim’s apartment.
Inside, police found a horrific scene, according to court documents: The three-year-old was laying on a mattress, hugging the decaying corpse of her infant sibling.
Both of the juvenile plaintiffs in the civil cases have been appointed a guardian by the courts.
The cases specifically name 10 staff in the Department of Public Social Services alleging they failed at their duties and violated the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act.
To Booth, these disturbing cases indicate department leadership is failing to effectively stop child abuse.
“Child protective services is supposed to be there for kids whose parents can’t and won’t protect them.” Booth said. “They just simply failed to do that in these cases.”
The cases seek compensation for the victims and for punitive damages against specific staff named in the complaint.
“What these kids went through is horrific,” Booth said. “They’re entitled to compensation commensurate with the harm that was done to them.”