Fresno, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – A new Department of Social Services (DSS) building is up and running after the old building made national headlines after disturbing photos showed foster children sleeping on floors and desks.
The new building is located on Ashlan and Peach avenues in the old Costco building.
“It takes a long time to change systems,” said DSS Director Sanja Bugay.
Nine months ago, leaked photos showed the pictures of foster children sleeping on the floor and conference tables at the old DSS building on L Street. The children were sleeping on the floor and conference tables with only a thin blanket and yoga mats as they awaited a foster home.
The photos sparked outrage from the staff and community, and while the County Chief Administrative Officer said state law, lack of staffing, and the pandemic led to the issues, the county promised better conditions when the department moved into the new building in Clovis.
While the move took longer than expected, it finally happened.
Our station got the first public tour. Child Welfare Services Deputy Director Tricia Gonzalez showed us the larger visitations and conference rooms.
The building also has showers, a washer and dryer, and a kitchen which the old building did not.
“We will be able to bring in hot meals and things like that,” said Gonzalez. “Right now we are bringing into Denny’s and things like that. “
Bugay said while the building isn’t meant to house children for longer than 24 hours, if children cannot be placed quickly, they will have cots, sleeping bags, and other necessities.
“Having a space that has resources so that kids are comfortable is really important and this space is so so much better for our youth and social workers so that piece of that is incredible,” said Bugay.
County Supervisors also increased social workers’ pay by 4.5% and on Tuesday the board voted to approve additional legal counsel positions, which Bugay said will help reunite families quicker, decrease social worker caseload, and increase training.
“This is a real significant structural improvement and I am appreciative of how engaged this board is,” said Bugay.
Over 500 employees have moved into the new building and the ribbon cutting will be later this week. The county is also working with the state in hopes of setting up a temporary shelter for those children that take longer to be placed into a home.