A local family is demanding changes to how the county of San Diego handles children with disabilities after they say a social worker nearly cost them custody of their son with autism.
At just over a year old, Nathan was diagnosed at risk for autism. A decade later, his mother Ichun explained that taking care of him is still a round-the-clock job because he is non-verbal and has occasional seizures.
Last year, the family applied for help from the county’s In Home Supportive Services program, so a social worker was sent to interview the family about Nathan’s needs.
“And we gave her instances where Nathan has wandered off or found himself at the neighbor’s, and we though we're just describing who he is,” Ichun told NBC 7.
Not long after the interview, the family was contacted by Child Welfare Services because the social worker reported the family for child neglect, according to Ichun.
“Having that sort of allegation against me was unfathomable,” she said.
The family has filed several complaints with the state over the past year, claiming that the social worker “grossly distorted the facts.” Ichun said she had no training in children with autism and did not seem to understand their behaviors.
County child welfare investigators did eventually clear the family of the accusations.
The San Diego County Grand Jury recently looked into the case and found concerns with the county's in-home services program, according to its report. Among the listed concerns was "IHSS social workers may mistake some behaviors of disabled parents and their children as neglect or abuse."
The report recommends the county set up a separate unit specifically for children and give social workers special training.
Ichun told NBC 7 the grand jury’s findings not only vindicates her family, but all families like them.
"In telling other parents about what happened to us, there's been a lot of fear that's been expressed by them, saying what if I use the services? What if my kid gets reported too? I have a kid that does a lot of the same things your kid does,” she said.
The county’s Department of Health and Human Services has until Aug. 24 to issue a written response to the grand jury report.
NBC 7 reached out to the county multiple times to get their response to the family’s claims. A spokesperson said they would not comment on this case until that formal response to the grand jury is sent next month.