Fresno County’s Child Protection Service, California, has admitted that staff shortages and overwhelming numbers of homeless children have resulted in children in his care staying in the agency’s main office building, sleeping on the floor and peeing in bottles.
Fresno County Administrator Jean Rousseau apologized to the children after their living conditions were revealed in a report in The Fresno Bee. The children in the building are waiting for a new home after being rejected by their biological families and foster families.
“When I saw the conditions in the office, when I saw that the mats were being used as beds, I said, ‘This is unacceptable.’ I should have known earlier and we will correct it immediately, “Rousseau said, according to the Associated Press.
Members of Service Employees International Union 521, which represents social workers, said the children’s living conditions in the building were due to an under-staffed office. Cases of children are mounting, the union said, as agency staff feel overworked and undervalued.
The union also said the poor training and retention of staff had led to the current situation and put the safety and well-being of the children in the agency’s care at risk, the bee reported.
A California child custody agency was so overwhelmed by cases that children in their care were forced to sleep on the floor and pee in bottles in an office building. In this photo illustration, a young person is sleeping on a floor next to a bottle filled with a yellow liquid.
AntonioGuillem / Getty
The children will be taken into the building until the workers find a new home for them, Lorraine Ramirez, a social worker with the Fresno District Social Services Children’s Department, told the bee.
Children can stay in the office from a few hours to several weeks. While there, the kids will be fed fast food, share a toilet, and may not get showers, Ramirez added.
“Our department is not a good parent,” she said. “The conditions under which the children live are unbearable, it’s inhuman. If that were my grandson or my child in there, I would be totally angry.”
The lack of emergency shelters and alternative housing options has contributed to this. New state laws passed in 2018 have significantly reduced housing options for the “most challenged youth,” according to an August report by Fresno County Social Services. The lack of federal funding has also contributed to this problem.
“Some of these youths display disruptive, destructive and / or violent behavior in the CWS office and therefore require additional monitoring beyond what is currently required,” the August report said. These behaviors include breaking office items, threatening workers, and stealing keys to circuit vehicles, Ramirez said.
Children with behavioral problems are sometimes referred to the police and placed in temporary mental health facilities for 72 hours. But they return to the office building afterwards.
Since the first reports on living conditions were published, employees have been buying cots and inflatable mattresses for the children sleeping in the office building.
Rousseau said the office’s children will be moved to a building on the campus of the old university hospital on Saturday. In about a month they will be relocated to a newly completed residential area.
“The reality is on the UMC campus, it’s against the law. It’s not a licensed facility,” Rousseau said, according to Bee. “It is not licensed by the state, but we have no choice. We have no place to host these young people.”
Newsweek contacted Fresno County’s Child Welfare Service for comment.