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The children of Santa Clara County are suffering because the social service workers of the county are suffering, workers said at a news conference Thursday.

During a news conference at the county’s Social Services Agency building in San Jose, wRen Bradley, a social worker with the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, said:

“We are here to say today that we are struggling.”

Bradley added:

“We have failed these children. The streets are no place for any of our children under our care under any circumstances.”

On Thursday, workers and representatives with Service Employees International Union Local 521 held a “Where is home?” exhibit to emphasize what they say are the shortcomings of Santa Clara County in serving its foster children and families.

Hundreds of pairs of children’s shoes were spread across five different displays set up by the social workers from organizations such as Stations of the Cross, to represent the trials and tribulations the county faces in serving foster children as social workers take on longer days for no more pay.

The workers are asking for more staffing and support from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

According to SEIU Local 521, 672 children enter foster care every year and 975 children are under the care of county foster parents every day. There were also 1,219 allegations of child abuse between July 1 and Sept. 30 last year that needed to be addressed within 10 days, but 195 of those were not addressed in time.

Emerald Perkins, a Santa Clara County foster mother of five children ages 6 to 12, said Thursday:

“I feel like it’s not the fault of the child and the child is not failing the system.”

“I feel like the system is failing the child.”

Perkins said she has experience navigating the county’s dilapidated and inundated child welfare system. She said the county especially lacks transportation services for children who have appointments to attend.

Perkins said:

“Social workers are scrambling to provide transportation to get the children to their events and appointments.”

She continued:

“As a county foster parent, I got into the system to support these families, not create hardship for myself and my family.”

Evelia Haro, an 18-year social services analyst for the county, said she’s never experienced such large caseloads until now, and said workers are regularly pulling mandatory overtime to try to catch up.

Haro said she knows of some children who are missing school because of lice, some who experience early pregnancies and some that get involved in gang violence, all while experiencing trauma from entering the welfare system.

Haro said:

“It is shameful that in such a wealthy county, we cannot keep our compliance rates up with the national goal.”

Unionized workers with the county’s Social Services Agency, without contracts since June last year, are again demanding that county labor administrators address widespread understaffing and overwork throughout the departments in charge of handling the county’s hundreds of at-risk and vulnerable foster children and families.

Supervisor Dave Cortese, who attended the demonstration, offered his support for the union workers.

Cortese said:

“What you’re doing here is right.”

“I think we can do better.”

When asked in an interview why the county’s negotiators refuse to offer what the union is asking for, which includes higher wages and more funding for social services and workers, he said he was unsure.

Cortese said:

“I feel like the Board of Supervisors has given sufficient direction to get this resolved.”

The supervisor added:

“And why things break down at the bargaining table despite our best efforts to give positive direction to give ample resources — I don’t know, I’m not at the bargaining table.”

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