MADERA — Madera County officials have issued a statement regarding a report that surfaced earlier this week that a former Department of Social Services employee intentionally discarded more than 350 reports of potential child abuse taken in 2019. In a number of those cases, a follow up investigation was mandated by law given the alleged severity of the reported sexual or physical abuse.
After the report appeared Wednesday in the Fresno Bee, Sierra News Online reached out to Madera County officials for comment. County Counsel Regina Garza responded and issued this statement:
“In response to your inquiry regarding the Fresno Bee’s recent article on the Madera County Department of Social Services, be assured that Madera County immediately initiated, and continues to undertake, all necessary and available remedial action to address the situation. However, please understand that because this matter is presently the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, and due to the privacy issues related to potential abuse and/or neglect, the County is unable to provide any further comment at this time.”
Garza is a partner at Lozano Smith, the Fresno law firm Madera County contracts with to handle its legal services. Garza also serves as the deputy city attorney for Clovis and Fowler.
The Bee reported Wednesday (March 11) that a former employee in the Madera County Social Services Department “intentionally” discarded or did not properly file 357 reports of potential child abuse during a two-month period in late 2019. Some of the reports were found on discarded sticky notes or in trash bins near the employee’s work station, according to the Bee’s report, which was headlined “a horrific crisis.”
The employee in the center of the controversy, who reportedly was fired as soon as the neglect was uncovered, was responsible for taking telephone reports of potential cases of child abuse from so-called “mandatory reporters.” Mandatory reporters include teachers, counselors, coaches, therapists and first responders, who by law must report cases of suspected child abuse if they encounter them.
According to the County officials, investigators from both the Madera County Sheriff’s Department and California Department of Social Services (CDSS) are investigating the case.
Supervisors were briefed about the situation during the closed session portion of this week’s board meeting.
The Department of Social Services is one of the largest departments in the County, responsible for administering numerous programs including Child Protective Services. Deborah Martinez, the department’s director, has yet to comment publicly on the situation.