Today's Law As Amended

Add To My Favorites | print page

SB-39 County welfare agencies and departments: child abuse and neglect: files.(2007-2008)



SECTION 1.
 The Legislature finds and declares the following:
(a) During 2002, approximately 140 children in California were officially reported as having died as a result of abuse or neglect. The State Death Review Council has concluded that official reports of child abuse deaths represent a significant undercount of the actual number of child abuse and neglect fatalities.
(b) A child’s death from abuse or neglect often leads to calls for reform of the public child protection system. Without accurate and complete information about the circumstances leading to the child’s death, public debate is stymied and the reforms, if adopted at all, may do little to prevent further tragedies.
(c) Providing public access to juvenile case files in cases where a child fatality occurs as a result of abuse or neglect will promote public scrutiny and an informed debate of the circumstances that led to the fatality thereby promoting the development of child protection policies, procedures, practices, and strategies that will reduce or avoid future child deaths and injuries.
(d) The current procedures for accessing information about a child’s death from abuse or neglect are costly, at times resulting in lengthy delays in the release of that information, fail to provide adequate guidance for what information should and should not be disclosed, and permit significant variation from one jurisdiction to another in the nature and extent of the information released.
(e) Thus, it is the intent of the Legislature to maximize public access to juvenile case files in cases where a child fatality occurs as a result of child abuse or neglect by both providing for an administrative release of certain documents without the filing of a legal petition pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) of Section 827 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, while also ensuring that basic privacy protections are consistently afforded, and by enacting reforms to the current process of filing a petition pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) of Section 827 of the Welfare and Institutions Code that will offer clarifying guidance to juvenile courts of the legal standards that apply to those petitions and an expedited process for their disposition.
(f) In petitions governed by paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) of Section 827 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, the Legislature has concluded that when a dependent child dies within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, the presumption of confidentiality for juvenile case files evaporates and the requirement of an expedited decision becomes manifest, because community reaction to the child’s death may abate with the passage of time and, without a prompt investigation and assessment, the opportunity to effect positive change may be lost.

SEC. 2.

 Section 826.7 is added to the Welfare and Institutions Code, to read:

826.7.
 Juvenile case files that pertain to a child who died as the result of abuse or neglect shall be released by the custodian of records of the county welfare department or agency to the public pursuant to Section 10850.4 or an order issued pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) of Section 827.

SEC. 3.

 Section 827 of the Welfare and Institutions Code is amended to read:

827.
 (a) (1) Except as provided in Section 828, a case file may be inspected only by the following:
(A) Court personnel.
(B) The district attorney, a city attorney, or city prosecutor authorized to prosecute criminal or juvenile cases under state law.
(C) The minor who is the subject of the proceeding.
(D)   The minor’s parent parents  or guardian.
(E) The attorneys for the parties, judges, referees, other hearing officers, probation officers, and law enforcement officers who are actively participating in criminal or juvenile proceedings involving the minor.
(F) The county counsel, city attorney, or any other attorney representing the petitioning agency in a dependency action.
(G) The superintendent or designee of the school district where the minor is enrolled or attending school.
(H) Members of the child protective agencies as described defined  in Section 11165.9 of the Penal Code.
(I) The State Department of Social Services, to carry out its duties pursuant to Division 9 (commencing with Section 10000) of this code  10000),  and Part 5 (commencing with Section 7900) of Division 12 12,  of the Family Code to oversee and monitor county child welfare agencies, children in foster care or receiving foster care assistance, and out-of-state placements, Section 10850.4, and paragraph (2).
(J) (i) Authorized staff who are employed by, or authorized staff of entities who are licensed by, the State Department of Social Services, as necessary to the performance of their duties related to resource family approval, and authorized staff who are employed by the State Department of Social Services as necessary to inspect, approve, or license, and monitor or investigate community care facilities or resource families, and to ensure that the standards of care and services provided in those facilities are adequate and appropriate, and to ascertain compliance with the rules and regulations to which the facilities are subject.
(ii) (J)  Authorized legal staff or special investigators who are peace officers who are employed by, or who are authorized representatives of, the State Department of Social Services, as necessary to the performance of their duties to inspect, license, and investigate community care facilities, and to ensure that the standards of care and services provided in those facilities are adequate and appropriate and to ascertain compliance with the rules and regulations to which the facilities are subject.  The confidential information shall remain confidential except for purposes of inspection, approval or  licensing, or monitoring or  investigation pursuant to Chapter 3 (commencing with Section 1500) and Chapter 3.4 (commencing with Section 1596.70) of Division 2 of the Health and Safety Code and Article 2 (commencing with Section 16519.5) of Chapter 5 of Part 4 of Division 9.  Code, or a criminal, civil, or administrative proceeding in relation thereto.  The confidential information may also  be used by the State Department of Social Services in a criminal, civil, or administrative proceeding. The confidential information shall be available only to the judge or hearing officer and to the parties to the case. Names that are confidential shall be listed in attachments separate to the general pleadings. The confidential information shall be sealed after the conclusion of the criminal, civil, or administrative hearings, and may not subsequently be released except in accordance with this subdivision. If the confidential information does not result in a criminal, civil, or administrative proceeding, it shall be sealed after the State Department of Social Services determines decides  that no further action will be taken in the matter.  matter of suspected licensing violations.  Except as otherwise provided in this subdivision, confidential information shall  in the possession of the State Department of Social Services may  not contain the name of the minor.
(K) Members of children’s multidisciplinary teams, persons, or agencies providing treatment or supervision of the minor.
(L) A judge, commissioner, or other hearing officer assigned to a family law case with issues concerning custody or visitation, or both, involving the minor, and the following persons, if actively participating in the family law case: a family court mediator assigned to a case involving the minor pursuant to Article 1 (commencing with Section 3160) of Chapter 11 of Part 2 of Division 8 of the Family Code, a court-appointed evaluator or a person conducting a court-connected child custody evaluation, investigation, or assessment pursuant to Section 3111 or 3118 of the Family Code, and counsel appointed for the minor in the family law case pursuant to Section 3150 of the Family Code. Prior to allowing counsel appointed for the minor in the family law case to inspect the file, the court clerk may require counsel to provide a certified copy of the court order appointing him or her as the minor’s counsel.
(M) When acting within the scope of investigative duties of an active case, a statutorily authorized or  A  court-appointed investigator who is conducting an investigation pursuant to Section 7663, 7851, or 9001 of the Family Code, or who is  actively participating in a guardianship case involving a minor pursuant to Part 2 (commencing with Section 1500) of Division 4 of the Probate Code and acting within the scope of his or her duties in that case.
(N) A local child support agency for the purpose of establishing paternity and establishing and enforcing child support orders.
(O) Juvenile justice commissions as established under Section 225. The confidentiality provisions of Section 10850 shall apply to a juvenile justice commission and its members.
(P) The Department of Justice, to carry out its duties pursuant to Sections 290.008 and 290.08 of the Penal Code as the repository for sex offender registration and notification in California.
(Q) (P)  Any other person who may be designated by court order of the judge of the juvenile court upon filing a petition.
(R) A probation officer who is preparing a report pursuant to Section 1178 on behalf of a person who was in the custody of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice and who has petitioned the Board of Juvenile Hearings for an honorable discharge.
(2) (A) Notwithstanding any other law and subject to subparagraph (A) of paragraph (3), juvenile case files, except those relating to matters within the jurisdiction of the court pursuant to Section 601 or 602, that pertain to a deceased child who was within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court pursuant to Section 300, shall be released to the public pursuant to an order by the juvenile court after a petition has been filed and interested parties have been afforded an opportunity to file an objection. Any information relating to another child or which could identify another child, except for information about the deceased, shall be redacted from the juvenile case file prior to release, unless a specific order is made by the juvenile court to the contrary. Except as provided in this paragraph, the presiding judge of the juvenile court may issue an order prohibiting or limiting access to the juvenile case file, or any portion thereof, of a deceased child only upon a showing by a preponderance of evidence that release of the juvenile case file or any portion thereof is detrimental to the safety, protection, or physical or emotional well-being of another child who is directly or indirectly connected to the juvenile case that is the subject of the petition.
(B) This paragraph represents a presumption in favor of the release of documents when a child is deceased unless the statutory reasons for confidentiality are shown to exist.
(C) If a child whose records are sought has died, and documents are sought pursuant to this paragraph, no weighing or balancing of the interests of those other than a child is permitted.
(D) A petition filed under this paragraph shall be served on interested parties by the petitioner, if the petitioner is in possession of their identity and address, and on the custodian of records. Upon receiving a petition, the custodian of records shall serve a copy of the request upon all interested parties that have not been served by the petitioner or on the interested parties served by the petitioner if the custodian of records possesses information, such as a more recent address, indicating that the service by the petitioner may have been ineffective.
(E) The custodian of records shall serve the petition within 10 calendar days of receipt. If any interested party, including the custodian of records, objects to the petition, the party shall file and serve the objection on the petitioning party no later than 15 calendar days after of  service of the petition.
(F) The petitioning party shall have 10 calendar days to file any reply. The juvenile court shall set the matter for hearing no more than 60 calendar days from the date the petition is served on the custodian of records. The court shall render its decision within 30 days of the hearing. The matter shall be decided solely upon the basis of the petition and supporting exhibits and declarations, if any, the objection and any supporting exhibits or declarations, if any, and the reply and any supporting declarations or exhibits thereto, and argument at hearing. The court may solely upon its own motion order the appearance of witnesses. If no objection is filed to the petition, the court shall review the petition and issue its decision within 10 calendar days of the final day for filing the objection. Any order of the court shall be immediately reviewable by petition to the appellate court for the issuance of an extraordinary writ.
(3) Access to juvenile case files pertaining to matters within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court pursuant to Section 300 shall be limited as follows:
(A) If a juvenile case file, or any portion thereof, is privileged or confidential pursuant to any other state law or federal law or regulation, the requirements of that state law or federal law or regulation prohibiting or limiting release of the juvenile case file or any portions thereof shall prevail. Unless a person is listed in subparagraphs (A) to (P), (O),  inclusive, of paragraph (1) and is entitled to access under the other state law or federal law or regulation without a court order, all those seeking access, pursuant to other authorization, to portions of, or information relating to the contents of, juvenile case files protected under another state law or federal law or regulation, shall petition the juvenile court. The juvenile court may only release the portion of, or information relating to the contents of, juvenile case files protected by another state law or federal law or regulation if disclosure is not detrimental to the safety, protection, or physical or emotional well-being of a child who is directly or indirectly connected to the juvenile case that is the subject of the petition. This paragraph does not  shall not be construed to  limit the ability of the juvenile court to carry out its duties in conducting juvenile court proceedings.
(B) Prior to the release of the juvenile case file or any portion thereof, the court shall afford due process, including a notice of and an opportunity to file an objection to the release of the record or report to all interested parties.
(4) A juvenile case file, any portion thereof, and information relating to the content of the juvenile case file, may not be disseminated by the receiving agencies to any persons or agencies, other than those persons or agencies authorized to receive documents pursuant to this section. Further, a juvenile case file, any portion thereof, and information relating to the content of the juvenile case file, may not be made as an attachment to any other documents without the prior approval of the presiding judge of the juvenile court, unless it is used in connection with and in the course of a criminal investigation or a proceeding brought to declare a person a dependent child or ward of the juvenile court.
(5) Individuals listed in subparagraphs (A), (B), (C), (D), (E), (F), (H), (I),  and (J) (I)  of paragraph (1) may also receive copies of the case file. For authorized staff of entities who are licensed by the State Department of Social Services, the confidential information shall be obtained through a child protective agency, as defined in subparagraph (H) of paragraph (1).  In these circumstances, the requirements of paragraph (4) shall continue to apply to the information received.
(6) An individual other than a person described in subparagraphs (A) to (P), inclusive, of paragraph (1) who files a notice of appeal or petition for writ challenging a juvenile court order, or who is a respondent in that appeal or real party in interest in that writ proceeding, may, for purposes of that appeal or writ proceeding, inspect and copy any records in a juvenile case file to which the individual was previously granted access by the juvenile court pursuant to subparagraph (Q) of paragraph (1), including any records or portions thereof that are made a part of the appellate record. The requirements of paragraph (3) shall continue to apply to any other record, or a portion thereof, in the juvenile case file or made a part of the appellate record. The requirements of paragraph (4) shall continue to apply to files received pursuant to this paragraph. The Judicial Council shall adopt rules to implement this paragraph.
(b) (1) While the Legislature reaffirms its belief that juvenile court records, in general, should be confidential, it is the intent of the Legislature in enacting this subdivision to provide for a limited exception to juvenile court record confidentiality to promote more effective communication among juvenile courts, family courts, law enforcement agencies, and schools to ensure the rehabilitation of juvenile criminal offenders as well as to lessen the potential for drug use, violence, other forms of delinquency, and child abuse.
(2) (A)  Notwithstanding subdivision (a), written notice that a minor enrolled in a public school, kindergarten to grade 12, inclusive, has been found by a court of competent jurisdiction to have committed any felony or any misdemeanor involving curfew, gambling, alcohol, drugs, tobacco products, carrying of weapons, a sex offense listed in Section 290 of the Penal Code, assault or battery, larceny, vandalism, or graffiti shall be provided by the court, within seven days, to the superintendent of the school district of attendance. Written notice shall include only the offense found to have been committed by the minor and the disposition of the minor’s case. This notice shall be expeditiously transmitted by the district superintendent to the principal at the school of attendance. The principal shall expeditiously disseminate the information to those counselors directly supervising or reporting on the behavior or progress of the minor. In addition, the principal shall disseminate the information to any teacher or administrator directly supervising or reporting on the behavior or progress of the minor whom the principal believes needs the information to work with the pupil in an appropriate fashion, to avoid being needlessly vulnerable or to protect other persons from needless vulnerability.
(B)  Any information received by a teacher, counselor, or administrator under this subdivision shall be received in confidence for the limited purpose of rehabilitating the minor and protecting students and staff, and shall not be further disseminated by the teacher, counselor, or administrator, except insofar as communication with the juvenile, his or her parents or guardians, law enforcement personnel, and the juvenile’s probation officer is necessary to effectuate the juvenile’s rehabilitation or to protect students and staff.
(C)  An intentional violation of the confidentiality provisions of this paragraph is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed five hundred dollars ($500).
(3) If a minor is removed from public school as a result of the court’s finding described in subdivision (b), the superintendent shall maintain the information in a confidential file and shall defer transmittal of the information received from the court until the minor is returned to public school. If the minor is returned to a school district other than the one from which the minor came, the parole or probation officer having jurisdiction over the minor shall so notify the superintendent of the last district of attendance, who shall transmit the notice received from the court to the superintendent of the new district of attendance.
(c) Each probation report filed with the court concerning a minor whose record is subject to dissemination pursuant to subdivision (b) shall include on the face sheet the school at which the minor is currently enrolled. The county superintendent shall provide the court with a listing of all of the schools within each school district, within the county, along with the name and mailing address of each district superintendent.
(d) (1)  Each notice sent by the court pursuant to subdivision (b) shall be stamped with the instruction: “Unlawful Dissemination Of This Information Is A Misdemeanor.” Any information received from the court shall be kept in a separate confidential file at the school of attendance and shall be transferred to the minor’s subsequent schools of attendance and maintained until the minor graduates from high school, is released from juvenile court jurisdiction, or reaches 18 years of age,  the age of 18 years,  whichever occurs first. After that time the confidential record shall be destroyed. At any time after the date by which a record required to be destroyed by this section should have been destroyed, the minor or his or her parent or guardian shall have the right to make a written request to the principal of the school that the minor’s school records be reviewed to ensure that the record has been destroyed. Upon completion of any requested review and no later than 30 days after the request for the review was received, the principal or his or her designee shall respond in writing to the written request and either shall confirm that the record has been destroyed or, if the record has not been destroyed, shall explain why destruction has not yet occurred.
(2)  Except as provided in paragraph (2) of subdivision (b), no liability shall attach to any person who transmits or fails to transmit any notice or information required under subdivision (b).
(e) For purposes of this section, a “juvenile case file” means a petition filed in any juvenile court proceeding, reports of the probation officer, and all other documents filed in that case or made available to the probation officer in making his or her report, or to the judge, referee, or other hearing officer, and thereafter retained by the probation officer, judge, referee, or other hearing officer.
(f) The persons described in subparagraphs (A), (E), (F), (H), (K), (L), (M), and (N) of paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) include persons serving in a similar capacity for an Indian tribe, reservation, or tribal court when the case file involves a child who is a member of, or who is eligible for membership in, that tribe.
(g) A case file that is covered by, or included in, an order of the court sealing a record pursuant to Section 781 or 786 may not be inspected, except as specified by Section 781 or 786.

SEC. 4.

 Section 10850.4 is added to the Welfare and Institutions Code, to read:

10850.4.
 (a) Within five business days of learning that a child fatality has occurred in the county and that there is a reasonable suspicion that the fatality was caused by abuse or neglect, the custodian of records for the county child welfare agency, upon request, shall release the following information:
(1) The age and gender of the child.
(2) The date of death.
(3) Whether the child was in foster care or in the home of his or her parent or guardian at the time of death.
(4) Whether an investigation is being conducted by a law enforcement agency or the county child welfare agency.
(b) All cases in which abuse or neglect leads to a child’s death shall be subject to the disclosures required in subdivision (c). Abuse or neglect is determined to have led to a child’s death if one or more of the following conditions are met:
(1) A county child protective services agency determines that the abuse or neglect was substantiated.
(2) A law enforcement investigation concludes that abuse or neglect occurred.
(3) A coroner or medical examiner concludes that the child who died had suffered abuse or neglect.
(c) Upon completion of the child abuse or neglect investigation into the child’s death, as described in subdivision (b), the following documents from the juvenile case file shall be released by the custodian of records upon request, subject to the redactions set forth in subdivision (e):
(1) All of the information in subdivision (a).
(2) For cases in which the child’s death occurred while living with a parent or guardian, all previous referrals of abuse or neglect of the deceased child while living with that parent or guardian shall be disclosed along with the following documents:
(A) The emergency response referral information form and the emergency response notice of referral disposition form completed by the county child welfare agency relating to the abuse or neglect that caused the death of the child.
(B) Any cross reports completed by the county child welfare agency to law enforcement relating to the deceased child.
(C) All risk and safety assessments completed by the county child welfare services agency relating to the deceased child.
(D) All health care records of the deceased child, excluding mental health records, related to the child’s death and previous injuries reflective of a pattern of abuse or neglect.
(E) Copies of police reports about the person against whom the child abuse or neglect was substantiated.
(3) For cases in which the child’s death occurred while the child was in foster care, the following documents in addition to those specified in paragraphs (1) and (2) generated while the child was living in the foster care placement that was the placement at the time of the child’s death:
(A) Records pertaining to the foster parents’ initial licensing and renewals and type of license or licenses held, if in the case file.
(B) All reported licensing violations, including notices of action, if in the case file.
(C) Records of the training completed by the foster parents, if in the case file.
(d) The documents listed in subdivision (c) shall be released to the public by the custodian of records within 10 business days of the request or the disposition of the investigation, whichever is later.
(e) (1) Prior to releasing any document pursuant to subdivision (c), the custodian of records shall redact the following information:
(A) The names, addresses, telephone numbers, ethnicity, religion, or any other identifying information of any person or institution, other than the county or the State Department of Social Services, that is mentioned in the documents listed in paragraphs (2) and (3) of subdivision (c).
(B) Any information that would, after consultation with the district attorney, jeopardize a criminal investigation or proceeding.
(C) Any information that is privileged, confidential, or not subject to disclosure pursuant to any other state or federal law.
(2) (A) The State Department of Social Services shall promulgate a regulation listing the laws described in subparagraph (C) of paragraph (1) and setting forth standards governing redactions.
(B) Notwithstanding the rulemaking provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 11340) of Part 1 of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code), until emergency regulations are filed with the Secretary of State, the State Department of Social Services may implement the changes made to Section 827 and this section at the 2007–08 Regular Session of the Legislature through all county letters or similar instructions from the director. The department shall adopt as emergency regulations, as necessary to implement those changes, no later than January 1, 2009.
(C) The adoption of regulations pursuant to this paragraph shall be deemed to be an emergency necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety, or general welfare. The emergency regulations authorized by this section shall be exempt from review by the Office of Administrative Law. The emergency regulations authorized by this section shall be submitted for filing with the Secretary of State and shall remain in effect for no more than 180 days, by which time the final regulations shall be adopted.
(f) Upon receiving a request for the documents listed in subdivision (c), the custodian of records shall notify and provide a copy of the request upon counsel for any child who is directly or indirectly connected to the juvenile case file. If counsel for a child, including the deceased child or any sibling of the deceased child, objects to the release of any part of the documents listed in paragraphs (2) and (3) of subdivision (c), they may petition the juvenile court for relief to prevent the release of any document or part of a document requested pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) of Section 827.
(g) Documents from the juvenile case file, other than those listed in paragraphs (2) and (3) of subdivision (c), shall only be disclosed upon an order by the juvenile court pursuant to Section 827.
(h) Once documents pursuant to this section have been released by the custodian of records, the State Department of Social Services or the county welfare department or agency may comment on the case within the scope of the release.
(i) Information released by a custodian of records consistent with the requirements of this section does not require prior notice to any other individual.
(j) Each county welfare department or agency shall notify the State Department of Social Services of every child fatality that occurred within its jurisdiction that was the result of child abuse or neglect. Based on these notices and any other relevant information in the State Department of Social Services’ possession, the department shall annually issue a report identifying the child fatalities and any systemic issues or patterns revealed by the notices and other relevant information. The State Department of Social Services, after consultation with interested stakeholders, shall provide instructions by an all county letter regarding the procedure for notification.
(k) For purposes of this section, the following definitions apply:
(1) “Child abuse or neglect” has the same meaning as defined in Section 11165.6 of the Penal Code.
(2) “Custodian of records,” for the purposes of this section and paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) of Section 827, means the county welfare department or agency.
(3) “Juvenile case files” or “case files” include any juvenile court files, as defined in Rule 5.552 of the California Rules of Court, and any county child welfare department or agency or State Department of Social Services records regardless of whether they are maintained electronically or in paper form.
(4) “Substantiated” has the same meaning as defined in Section 11165.12 of the Penal Code.
(l) A person disclosing juvenile case file information as required by this section shall not be subject to suit in civil or criminal proceedings for complying with the requirements of this section.
(m) This section shall apply only to deaths that occur on or after January 1, 2008.
(n) Nothing in this section shall require a custodian of records to retain documents beyond any date otherwise required by law.
(o) Nothing in this section shall be construed as requiring a custodian of records to obtain documents not in the case file.
SEC. 5.
 If the Commission on State Mandates determines that this act contains costs mandated by the state, reimbursement to local agencies and school districts for those costs shall be made pursuant to Part 7 (commencing with Section 17500) of Division 4 of Title 2 of the Government Code.