I’m Back

It’s been a little hectic work and home-wise, so I took a few weeks off. In doing so, several things have happened including this:

The $131,000-a-year administrator of San Francisco’s troubled foster child care program has gone out on indefinite “stress leave” — checking out just as she was about to be suspended.

The sudden departure of Department of Human Services deputy director Janice Anderson-Santos came just as she was facing a two-week benching for what her bosses concluded was her failure to do her job over the past couple of years.

Among the accusations: that she fell woefully behind in keeping a list of eligible foster-care parents up to date. At one point, department sources say, the backlog of parents waiting to be recertified grew to 1,600.

Anderson-Santos was also being investigated for any part she may have had in that department scandal we told you about a couple of weeks back — the one in which a child welfare worker and a supervisor were accused of downloading and distributing pictures of a foster care program psychiatrist from an X-rated S&M Web site.

Department officials questioned whether Anderson-Santos had acted swiftly enough to stop the photo pass-around, and whether she had reported the supervisor’s actions to the proper authorities, as she was supposed to do.

Anderson-Santos stepped away in the wake of a new report by the National Center for Youth Law that ranked San Francisco as the third-worst county in the state when it comes to providing safe and permanent homes for foster care children.

Mayor Gavin Newsom has vowed to clean up the department.

Good luck. Turns out there’s no shortage of intrigue in the troubled foster care program.

Beth Huber, the attorney representing Anderson-Santos, says her client was really suspended in retaliation for having filed a discrimination lawsuit two years ago against her boss, Human Services Director Trent Rhorer.

The suit, which accused Rhorer of race and sex discrimination, claimed he constantly overrode Anderson-Santos’ recommendations and undermined her staffing decisions.

A judge tossed the complaint in March, but Anderson-Santos has appealed.

Upshot: Even if Rhorer wanted to replace her, he couldn’t — at least not without taking progressive disciplinary steps first. And those steps could take months or years to play out.

Anderson-Santos had already cut quite a swath through the agency. She was promoted to her job in 2001, and department records show that before the next year was out, Rhorer put her on notice to improve her performance. A few months later, she filed her discrimination claim.

Then, early last year, she went on a medical leave for a shoulder injury and stayed out for seven months, according to department records.

Huber predicted that her client would return from her current stress leave in about a month — at which point she’ll still face a two-week suspension.

Huber says Anderson-Santos did the best she could, under the circumstances, in certifying foster parents. As for the porn pix, Anderson-Santos told the people she was supposed to tell, the lawyer says.

“She inherited a department in disarray,” Huber said of her client, who began her career in the department 13 years ago as a social worker. “Then there were a couple of hiring freezes, and changes in the computers she utilizes — things out of her control.”

As for fixing the bottom-rated department?

Rhorer, while declining to comment on the particulars of Anderson-Santos’ case, insisted things weren’t as bleak as that private study suggested.

“The challenges we face are unique to San Francisco because of the level of crisis our families are in, both in the Bayview and Visitacion Valley,” Rhorer said.

But real changes have been started, he said, “and we have made the necessary staffing moves to ensure the reforms progress in spite of (Anderson-Santos’) absence.”

Sounds like all the good things are all wrapped up in here. Performance, FMLA, sexual harassment, hostile environment, discrimination claims and more FMLA.

Of course I wasn’t there, so I don’t know all the facts. And it is civil service, which means that it has its own sets of rules. Unfortunately this is all happening in a department that provides services to foster kids, which means that they also suffer the consequences of this disfunctional workplace.