FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) – Fresno County top officials have officially brought Catherine Huerta out of retirement to make sure children no longer sleep on the floors of county offices while awaiting a foster home.
Huerta was a Fresno County employee for 37 years, over a decade of that was working as the Assistant Director and Director of the Department of Child and Family Services.
“You know this isn’t a game anymore this is about real kids,” said Huerta.
When Huerta saw the photos of children sleeping on desks and floors of Fresno County Child Protective Service Offices, she had flashbacks to 2002.
“It was a little bit of PTSD,” said Huerta. “It was emotional.”
Back then, she was the Assistant Director of Children and Family Services for Fresno County.
Similar to today, Huerta said the department was under fire after around 16 children were placed in motels because the county couldn’t find them foster homes.
“The community went to the Board of Supervisors and was outraged!” exclaimed Huerta.
Huerta said with additional resources, supervisors’ support and a CPS Oversight community, all of the children found homes.
“We fixed it, and until I retired in 2011,” said Huerta. “We never had another kid in overnight, never put another child in a hotel.”
Huerta came out of retirement to help the county once again. She said the first step is getting to know the children and finding out why they aren’t able to find foster homes.
She said in the long term, the focus needs to be on improving community relations, department services and transparent communication.
“There will be a step forward,” said Huerta. “There will be a couple of steps back, but we are not here to hide those, those are real.”
Social Worker Liz Ridley said she recently considered leaving the department because of how bad the working conditions became. After seeing the changes and learning Huerta is coming back, Ridley says she’s now planning to stay.
“I like for the first time in a long time have hope,” said Ridley. “I have not had hope in a long time.
The county has now installed mobile showers in the temporary facility where several children are staying. Huerta hopes soon children will not sleep on office floors but in foster homes.