What We Do
With a budget of about $3.5 million, County Counsel has roughly 21 full-time equivalent staff members who protect the County from liability and enable the Board of Supervisors to carry out its programs and policies within the limits of the law.
County Counsel does this by providing day-to-day legal advice to the County Board of Supervisors and approximately 70 County boards, commissions, departments, agencies, and divisions. The department also provides litigation services to the County in complex legal matters, representing and defending the County and special districts.
What We Did in 2014
Setting the Standards for Child Welfare Law
Every day, County of San Luis Obispo social workers investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect in our community. They work with families to create safer, more stable homes for the children they serve.
In some cases, homes are not safe enough for children and that’s where the juvenile court comes in. The juvenile court protects children who are unable to remain safely in their home or are placed in foster care while their family works on overcoming challenges including domestic violence, substance abuse or significant mental health problems.
When this happens, a team of attorneys represents the Department of Social Services and the County in court. The County Counsel’s Office has two designated full-time attorneys who specialize in child welfare law and work closely with the social workers, the court and other attorneys appointed to represent the children and parents in ensuring the families are provided timely and appropriate legal proceedings. An additional attorney represents the County in all child welfare cases pending before the Second District Court of Appeal.
“We have three of the best County Counsel deputies in the state regarding this type of representation,” said County Counsel Rita Neal. “Attorneys from other counties often look to our team for guidance on these particular types of cases.”
These confidential cases deal with difficult personal issues and are governed by state and federal laws that focus on promoting the best interests of the children involved.
“The goal of the proceedings is to allow children to safely return to their family of origin whenever possible,” said Deputy County Counsel Debra K. Barriger, one of the two County Counsel attorneys who manage these cases. “In cases where it is not possible to safely return children to their parents, the goal is to find safe, stable permanent homes with relatives or appropriate caretakers.”
The County has an average of 450 open court cases like these. Additionally, child welfare attorneys manage a high-volume caseload and appear in court regularly for contested and uncontested hearings. When not in court this team of attorneys provides legal advice to the Department of Social Services, the Family Treatment Court (dependency drug court) and Juvenile Justice Commission, and participate in many mediations throughout the year.
“This work directly impacts a vulnerable segment of our community and our office is pleased to have experienced attorneys who are dedicated to the practice of child welfare law,” Neal said. “We’ll continue to do good work in this and other areas, serving the best interests of the citizens of our County.”