Thursday, December 29, 2011

Poverty is an inadequate reason to take children from families - Michigan

By Vivek Sankaran

Detroit Free Press Guest Writer

A loving father sees a judge place his children in foster care because his Walmart job doesn't pay enough, and he and his child live with his sister.

Another father can't get his two boys out of foster care because he can't afford to buy them separate beds.

And a baby is removed from her parents' custody and placed with strangers simply because the family is homeless -- despite the parents' attempt to place the baby with family friends, instead.

All three Michigan families share a common denominator: poverty.

The foster care system exists to protect children from being abused by their parents. Yet, every day, children are separated from their families and placed in the system for no better reason than their parents' low income.

A short conversation with lawyers, caseworkers and judges bears this truth out. And in a state like Michigan, where the child poverty rate has increased by more than 60% in the last 10 years, recent cuts in public assistance and a staggering economy have only made things worse.

The Legislature, courts and the Department of Human Services must take immediate actions to address this growing problem. Here are steps they should consider taking:

• First, Michigan's Legislature should join other states around the country and revise current laws to clarify that a child cannot be placed in foster care -- nor can a parent's rights be terminated -- solely because of poverty. As noted by the California Court of Appeals, "Indigency, by itself, does not make one an unfit parent."

• Second, courts must enforce federal laws that require the Department of Human Service to make "reasonable efforts" to prevent a child's removal from his or her home. When dealing with poor families, this must include providing services such as emergency cash and housing services, day care or assistance in paying utilities, which may be the only barriers preventing the family from being able to take care of itself. Making these types of efforts is far cheaper than paying for children to live in the homes of licensed foster parents.

• Finally, the DHS must offer comprehensive training and enact policies to help its caseworkers, hundreds of whom are brand new, understand the difference between poverty and neglect. Too many caseworkers seem to be confusing the two and, as a direct result, Michigan children face a risk of being unnecessarily separated from their families.

The unfortunate reality in our state is that some families will continue to struggle for as long as the economy does.

But we need to remember: Society's failure to eradicate the evil of poverty can never justify taking children from their loving parents.

Vivek Sankaran is a clinical assistant professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School and the founder of the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy.


CPS caseworkers tell of own lives in system


What Gaby Valladares remembers most about many past Christmas holidays is receiving a drugstore alarm clock. Year after year, for five years in a row.

It was not a gift she particularly wanted, but it reminded her of one thing: She was in foster care. The clock was a present from her foster families that was provided to them by a child placement agency.

"It's one of the reasons, to this day, that I can't use an alarm clock," she said.

Valladares, now 27, spent almost all of her teens in foster care in the Houston region until she "aged out," becoming too old to be in Child Protective Services.

The one-time foster child went on to make her career as a CPS youth specialist in Harris County, helping teenagers who grew up in the same environment she did.

She mentors teens who age out of CPS, trying to help them cope with life after years of foster care.

It is not uncommon for people who went through the system to find careers as adults in the agency or with other social service organizations, said Estella Olguin, CPS spokeswoman for the county.

Some, like Valladares, say that working for CPS allows them to use their personal experiences to make a difference in others' lives.

CPS custody at age 7

They can also help improve an agency they were intimately familiar with for years.

"I do what I do because of what happened to me," said 23-year-old Megan Davis, a CPS caseworker in the intensive investigations unit in Harris County.

Davis said she and her twin sister were placed into CPS custody at age 7 after suffering physical abuse by their stepfather.

She recalls at least three caseworkers coming to her home to investigate her parents when she was a girl. The caseworker she remembers most is the one who made a second visit and finally removed the twins from the home.

Davis and her sister were fortunate enough to be placed in the same foster care home, and by the time they were 14, both had been adopted by the same family.

"I can honestly say she (the caseworker) saved me and my sister's life," Davis said. "It was the fact that she didn't forget us. It was nice to finally be remembered."

That experience not only led Davis to become a CPS caseworker herself but also shaped the way she works with the children assigned to her. For one thing, she says, it has taught her to spend time building a rapport with each child and to look for the same signs of abuse that she herself exhibited.

"It also always reminds me not to remove (children from parents' custody) too quickly," she said.

Although Davis has many cases - at one point she had at least 42 - she remembers every child's name.

"Because I don't forget them, the way my caseworker didn't forget me," she said.

Valladares also knows that her own experiences help her make better connections with the young people she works with.

"At least they can know, I may not feel what you feel, but I can relate," she said.

By the time she was 15, Valladares and her younger brother and sister were living in a Houston homeless shelter with their mother.

Eventually, a CPS caseworker was called to the shelter and the children were removed from their mother's custody. The decision was mostly based on the fact that the children had been out of school for two consecutive years, Valladares said.

Siblings separarted

The caseworker tried hard to keep Valladares and her siblings together, but the children were split up not long after being taken away from their mother.

Valladares ended up living in five foster care homes in less than a year.

It wasn't until she ended up in a home in La Porte that she was able to finish high school. Because she had missed so much school, however, Valladares said she started her freshman year at 17.

Many people tried to convince her that she should get her GED, but Valladares decided to stay in school.

"I had so many obstacles to get there, and once I had the opportunity to knock high school out of the way I was like, 'I'm going to do this,' " she said.

While many children age out of foster care at 18, Valladares stayed in the system until she finished high school at 20.

Sharing her struggles

After graduation, Valladares moved to Houston and began attending classes at Texas Southern University. She worked graveyard shifts at McDonald's to supplement an allowance the state began paying her when she left foster care.

In 2006, she went to work for CPS when the youth specialist positions were created in the agency.

Valladares works at the The Houston Alumni and Youth Center, a transitional facility where teens aging out the system can come for assistance.

Part of her job at the H.A.Y. Center is to help youngsters in foster care understand what resources are available to them after they age out.

One of the most important parts of her job is being open about sharing her own struggles in foster care, and in life afterward.

"The more personal, the better," Valladares said. "I feel like sometimes they need to look at me not as a (CPS) worker, but as someone who takes pride in having made it out of the system."

Juanetta Smith, 27, is another CPS employee who spent several years in foster care. Smith, however, had no aspirations of making a career at CPS.

"In all honesty, I did not want to work for CPS, because I had known CPS from a negative perspective as a child," she said.

Smith said she entered foster care at age 14 after being taken from her parents because they were cocaine addicts.

After going into state custody, Smith had a difficult time in several foster homes. At one point, she even ran away and ended up spending time in a juvenile facility.

She eventually was placed with a foster family near Austin. That turned out to be a good match, and she stayed with the family until she aged out of the system at 18.

Destiny at work

After graduating from college, Smith filled out several job applications, and CPS was the first to call her back.

She gave the job a chance, and found that she loved it.

"I feel like I'm destined to be here," she said.

Smith started out as an investigator, but now works in the foster and adoption department at the agency in Harris County. Her job is providing the training to help prepare people who want to become foster or adoptive parents.

She enjoys being able to offer people her perspective on what life was like in foster care, as well as explain the problems she had coming into it.

"I tell them, 'Anything you want to ask me, I am open to answer,' " Smith said. "I want them to know that these kids coming into their homes are going to have some issues, a lot of issues similar to the things I went through."


Reasons unclear for fatal CPS decision to return a child to her parents

Blogger Note:


It is obvious that CPS does not know a good home or good parents from bad ones.

By Brad Branan

Giovanni Melchor was just a year old when he drowned in the stagnant water of his family's backyard swimming pool in late 2006.

The family's single-story, purple-trimmed home in south Sacramento seemed well maintained on the outside. But inside, a neighbor said, the house was infested with roaches and city inspectors later cited Giovanni's father for an unsecured pool fence, the lack of a door closing off the garage from the pool, and a host of other health and safety code violations.

Not even three years later, Giovanni's sister, Yeinira, who had been removed from the home and then returned, was also dead, a victim of medical neglect by her parents.

Case files from Sacramento County Child Protective Services, recently obtained by The Bee, show how the 2-year-old girl died. Court records show that her parents, Jose Jaime Melchor, 35, and Elizabeth Melchor, 29, pleaded no contest to child endangerment charges in July and were deported this year.

What the records don't explain is how the agency made the decision to return the child to care that led to her death.

County officials say they cannot discuss the case or the records because of confidentiality laws.

But without documentation, evaluating the agency's actions is difficult, said Ed Howard, senior counsel at the Children's Advocacy Institute in San Diego, who reviewed Yeinira's file at the request of The Bee.

"If we take them at face value – that there is no documentation for reuniting this child with a very troubled family – then this is a fiasco," Howard said. "You can't do this job without documenting your reasons for making such a decision."

Specifically, CPS records for Yeinira do not show whether the agency conducted an assessment about the risk of returning her to the home – using what's called the Structured Decision Making tool – in violation of its own policies.

"In all of its reports, the (CPS) Oversight Committee has recommended comprehensive and consistent use of the tool," said Gina Roberson, co-chair of the committee. "It means social workers are using the best practices in trying to prevent child abuse."

The CPS Oversight Committee, echoing the complaints of experts and child welfare advocates, has repeatedly found the agency's social workers have made questionable decisions and serious errors in high-risk cases such as the Melchor's. That assessment was repeated in other reports this year, including one by the California State Auditor.

CPS released two sets of files on the Yeinira case. The first contained 12 pages and no information about the family's extensive record with CPS. The second, released after The Bee requested it under the California Public Records Act, had 124 pages.

County Health and Human Services Director Ann Edwards said the release of the incomplete file was unintentional. But neither set answers the questions about the fatal decision to return her to her parents.

A troubled history

The year Giovanni died, the Melchors were living in a working-class neighborhood on Center Parkway. They had five children.

Neighbors, attorneys and a social worker who had contact over the years with the Melchors, an immigrant family from Mexico, said the family needed help. They said Elizabeth Melchor seemed incapable of caring for her children and, according to court records, Jose Jaime Melchor physically abused his wife.

Five reports of alleged abuse or neglect involving the family were made to CPS prior to Yeinira's birth in July 2006, court records show.

Some of the reports involved the father, who allegedly had a drinking problem and abused his wife, according to court and CPS files. Other reports involved the mother, accused of hitting the children. Two of the reports were upheld by CPS.

Yeinira had a heart defect and a cleft palate that made feeding her difficult. Less than a month after she was born, CPS received another complaint, noting the mother wasn't learning how to take care of her fragile daughter. The child was still in the hospital and at risk of dehydration if not properly nourished.

Melchor "admits she is depressed and overwhelmed," according to an unidentified reporter quoted in the CPS case file. The mother and the father were refusing the training needed to feed Yeinira, according to the report. The source recommended placing Yeinira in a special foster home for her medical needs.

The complaint was upheld. CPS started monitoring the child, but allowed her to go home with her mother. Yvette Washington, a home visitation worker with the county's Birth and Beyond program, was assigned to counsel the family.

"She seemed withdrawn," Washington said of Elizabeth Melchor in an interview with The Bee.
Washington said she brought a public health nurse to the family's home to explain the risks of having a pool with stagnant water and a small and unsecured fence.

The mother didn't seem to take the matter seriously, Washington said, adding that she stopped providing service to the family in 2006 because Melchor was unreceptive.

Giovanni drowned in October that year. Melchor told police she was taking care of Yeinira, and left her other children unattended in the garage for about an hour, records show. Giovanni apparently wandered from the garage and into the pool.

Police found the missing garage door and the unsecured pool fence. Neither parent was charged. CPS also initially declined to take protective action, determining that an allegation of neglect was unfounded, court records show.

That reluctance befuddled some of the Melchors' neighbors.

Andrea Garcia, who lived next door to the family, said the Melchors were troubled. Her interactions with the family usually came when something went wrong, she said, such as when the children were left outside in diapers in cold weather.

The Garcias watched the other Melchor children while the parents dealt with the emergency of finding Giovanni in the pool.

Andrea Garcia said the children were filthy. She said she entered the Melchor home for clean clothes and saw cockroaches everywhere.

Her father, Jesus Garcia, said he had worried about the safety of the Melchor children under their mother's care."We never understood why CPS let her keep the kids," he said.

Taken away, brought back

Ten months after the drowning, the four Melchor children became dependents of the county as a result of abuse and neglect, court records show.

In Yeinira's case, her parents repeatedly failed to bring her to doctor's appointments, CPS records show. She missed eight appointments in seven months. Doctor's notes indicated a growing concern about her well-being.

In foster care, she had surgery for her ailments and had recovered well. But in May 2008, less than two months after her surgery, Yeinira returned to her parents' home, joining her siblings who had been reunited with them several months earlier.

To place a foster child back in a parent's home, CPS must convince a dependency court judge that the conditions that originally made the home unsafe had been fixed. For Yeinira, CPS needed to ensure the issues at home had been addressed, said Bill Grimm, senior counsel at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, who reviewed the child's file at The Bee's request.

"Given all that was going on before, there was a pretty high threshold for them to resume care," Grimm said.

The lack of documentation calls the agency's decisions into question, said Grimm, adding that returning Yeinira home without doing a risk assessment would have been a serious error, if that's what happened.

Without care

After Yeinira returned, she did not see a doctor for about a year because the family didn't have insurance, her father told Sacramento police investigators in 2009.

During that time, Yeinira had a seizure, her mother told police. She said she put rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and placed it under Yeinira's nose to revive her.

A couple of months later, Yeinira had another seizure. Yeinira "fell back, arched her back, and her feet twisted" as she fell onto concrete, her mother said, according to the investigative report. She again used rubbing alcohol and an onion to revive Yeinira.

The problem returned the next day, as Yeinira "fell forward, and her head hit the wall and her eyes went up," her mother said.

Again, Melchor turned to an onion and rubbing alcohol to revive her daughter. Her father was holding Yeinira in his lap when the mother noticed Yeinira wasn't breathing, she told investigators.

The father brought her to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, south Sacramento, minutes away from their home. Two days later, April 20, 2009, Yeinira died at Kaiser's Roseville hospital because of a lack of oxygen in the brain, an autopsy found.

The Coroner's Office said physical abuse also may have contributed to her death, noting that she'd had a broken arm and other recent injuries.

In court documents, Dr. Michael Myette of Kaiser said he could say with "95 percent to 99 percent certainty that if the parents had accessed care when she began seizing, she would still be alive."

One of the Melchors' attorneys, Lori Calvert, said the couple grew up without doctors and that Elizabeth Melchor had been taught to revive her mother, who also suffered from seizures, as she had revived Yeinira.

The Melchors faced a number of obstacles, their attorneys said. They were illiterate in their native Spanish, couldn't speak English and were poor.

The prosecutor handling their neglect case agreed and cited those factors when explaining to a judge why she sought approval for a plea agreement resulting in a two-year jail sentence for the Melchors, the lowest under sentencing guidelines.

The judge agreed to the sentencing recommendation. The Melchors had served about a year in jail awaiting trial and, with various credits, were released in July after pleading no contest to the charges. They were deported to Mexico shortly afterward, without any of their children. Their attorneys said the children were put up for adoption by the county.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mother says her autistic son was put in bag as discipline at school - Kentucky

Blogger note:
What do you bet not much becomes of this unless there were a lot more adult witnesses to the event than is noted in the article? Not much usually happens when a school abuses your child.

From Kiran Khalid

(CNN) -- A Kentucky woman says special education teachers put her autistic 9-year-old son inside a net ball bag as punishment at his school.

The mother, Sandra Baker, told CNN Monday that she was called to her son's elementary school on December 14, because he was being unruly.

"I saw a big green bag with the drawstring pulled and the (teacher's) aide sitting next to him," Baker said. "As I approached the bag, I heard Christopher say, 'Who's out there?' "

The head of Mercer County public schools did not directly address Baker's accusations in a statement, but Superintendent Dennis Davis acknowledged that, "The Mercer County School District is aware of recent reports of conduct directed by staff toward a student in one of our schools."

Citing federal and state confidentiality laws regarding students, David said the district could not confirm or deny "the specific allegations which are being raised in the public."

But he added, "Upon learning of the allegations, the school system reviewed the incident immediately, and the matter is being handled consistently with School District policies and with State and Federal law."

"The employees of the Mercer County Public Schools are qualified professionals who treat students with respect and dignity while providing a safe and nurturing learning environment," the statement added.

Baker, meanwhile, said Monday that she was stunned to arrive at the school to find her son trapped in a bag.

Baker said the bag was made of net and, in addition to her son, it contained dozens of small plastic balls like the ones found in inflatable bounce houses for children.

She said she demanded that her son be removed from the bag immediately, and she became more alarmed to see the aide struggle with the tied knot to free the boy.

"That shook me up because what if he had gotten sick in there, or there would have been an emergency and no one could get him out?" Baker said. Her son emerged from the bag "sweaty and scared," Baker told CNN. She added that her son, who is in the school's program for autistic children, may not have known whether he was being punished or was participating in a "game" of some sort.

Baker said she and her husband met with school officials the day after the incident, but she said the couple has no choice other than to return their son to the same school after the holiday break.

The incident has led to an online petition on a website calling on the school district to fire the teacher or teachers responsible and to institute a comprehensive training program in the school district. More than 10,000 people scattered through all 50 states endorsed the petition during the weekend, according to the website

New study suggests autism starts in the womb

The alleged incident in central Kentucky also has ignited the outrage of advocates for autism awareness.

"People with autism are especially vulnerable, and some may either be unaware that they are being mistreated or may be unable to effectively communicate that mistreatment has occurred," said Lisa Goring, vice president of the organization Autism Speaks.

"It's critical that we do everything possible to prevent mistreatment and abuse, by arming parents and children with key safety information, as well as improving our ability to detect and report any instance of wrongdoing."


Monday, December 26, 2011

Several DHS workers have been prosecuted - Oklahoma

Some of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services workers caught in wrongdoing at work ended up being prosecuted, too.


Some of the DHS workers caught in wrongdoing at work ended up being prosecuted, too.

The DHS worker who stole Christmas gift cards was charged with a misdemeanor, petit larceny.

Deborah Jean “Kasey” Parrish, 55, of Cherokee, was fired in August 2009 after pleading guilty.

A bank had donated nine Visa gift cards to be Christmas presents for foster children. They had been placed in gift bags to be handed out along with other presents, records show. A worker discovered four were missing three days before Christmas in 2008.

Parrish claimed she found four $50 cards on Dec. 17, 2008, in the DHS employee parking lot in Alva. She admitted using the cards to make personal purchases at J.C. Penney, Hobby Lobby, Cato and Walmart.

Parrish pleaded guilty in June 2009 to four counts of petit larceny and was put on probation for 30 months. She had to pay $1,649 in fines, fees and court costs and $200 in restitution. She was a social services specialist who had worked at DHS for 14 years.

In a discharge notice, she was told: “Your actions in using the Visa gift cards that belonged to someone else demonstrate you cannot be trusted to complete your job duties in the ethical and honorable manner required.”

Stole from elderly

A DHS worker who stole from elderly DHS clients was fired on Nov. 25, 2008. She eventually pleaded guilty to three felony charges of exploiting a vulnerable adult.

Debra Maxine Roberts, 53, of Chelsea, is on three years' probation. She also was required to serve a 30-day term in the Rogers County jail last year and to make restitution.

“I regret any harm which I have caused these individuals,” she wrote in a statement for a presentence report.

Prosecutors allege she stole $4,497 from an 84-year-old man, $5,905 from a 74-year-old mentally disabled man and $900 from an incapacitated 73-year-old man.

Roberts, an adult protective services specialist, had been appointed a temporary guardian for the men. She had access to their financial accounts so she could pay expenses such as nursing home bills.

Fictitious accounts

Two former DHS social services specialists are serving 10 years on probation for creating fictitious food stamp accounts.

Tsa E. King, 41, of Midwest City, and Douglas Ray Howard, 59, of Oklahoma City, pleaded guilty this year to two counts of conspiracy and two counts of computer fraud. They were fired last year.

Howard acknowledged they obtained more than $20,000 worth of food stamps through their fraud. Each was required to pay $10,346 in restitution.

In one instance, they used the identity of a California man who has never been to Oklahoma, a DHS investigator reported. The man was described on a DHS computer as needing food stamps because he was homeless and later because he had two newborn twin girls. He actually did not have any infant daughters. Howard had once known the man.

In the second instance, they used the identity of Howard's cousin, who had died at age 15 in California in 1967. They created fictitious children for the cousin, too.

Medicaid fraud

A fired child-welfare specialist, Eileen Filer-Whitson, is serving five years on probation for Medicaid fraud.

While at DHS, she held a second job as a private social worker. Prosecutors allege that at her second job she submitted false claims for Medicaid payments. Prosecutors said she lied in the claims about counseling children who actually received no services.

Filer-Whitson, 47, of Luther, pleaded guilty to the felony charge and was ordered to make $35,000 restitution.

A DHS investigation also found she had claimed to be working simultaneously at DHS and her second job 165 days. She was fired in March 2008.


Sheila Stogsdill


Some DHS workers allowed to keep jobs after child deaths - Oklahoma

Agency audit discovered ‘substantial violations,' blatant irresponsibility by child-welfare workers in three deaths


DHS workers are not always fired over mistakes that contributed to children's deaths.

In 2008, a Craig County child-welfare specialist, Jamie L. Veysey, was suspended without pay for only five days after a 3-year-old boy died.

A supervisor, Debra L. Grace, was suspended without pay for 60 days.

A DHS audit after the death found “substantial violations” of DHS child-welfare policy.

DHS workers had returned the medically fragile boy to his mother from foster care in February 2007. The boy, Blake Ragsdale, died of natural causes less than a month later.

He was placed with his mother even though she did not have a job, a telephone or a car, records show. The mother had failed to take care of him properly a year before during a reunification attempt.

He was in foster care because he had tested positive for methamphetamine at birth.

DHS found the workers failed to notify a judge the boy was being reunited with his mother, failed to make a safety assessment of the mother's home beforehand and failed to put any services into place to help the mother with the boy's care.

DHS found Veysey failed to check on the boy enough times after the reunification. DHS also found both did not notify the proper DHS authorities of the death.

Veysey resigned in 2010, records show. Grace no longer handles child-welfare cases, a DHS spokeswoman said.

Beaten to death

A Beckham County child-welfare specialist, Liberty Michelle Carter, was suspended for 15 days without pay in 2009 after a young boy, Ryan Weeks, was beaten to death. Carter was disciplined for her “action/inaction” in the case.

Ryan, 3, died on Nov. 4, 2008, after DHS placed him back in his mother's Elk City home from foster care. The mother's live-in boyfriend eventually pleaded no contest to first-degree murder.

A foster mother had pleaded with the agency not to return Ryan to his mother's home because he had returned from visits there with bruises. The foster mother complained to a DHS county director that Carter would not listen to her. DHS found Carter had concluded in July 2008 that the foster mother likely was making false allegations.

DHS also found Carter failed to properly look into an injury to the boy in September 2008 and failed to address Ryan's mother's fear that her boyfriend was overwhelmed.

Carter resigned in December 2010, the DHS spokeswoman said.

Medically fragile

An Oklahoma County child-welfare specialist, Glen E. Marshall, was at first offered more training after a medically fragile baby died a few days after he failed to get the child help.

“Your failure to ensure the safety of this infant demonstrated a blatant disregard of your responsibilities as a child-welfare specialist, poor judgment and egregious lack of risk assessment skills,” he was told.

Marshall was fired in November 2009 — more than a year after the child's death — after he continued to mishandle cases and lied to a supervisor, an assistant district attorney and an Oklahoma City police detective, the disciplinary records show.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Teacher Sentenced to Three Years' Probation for Child Abuse and Battery - Wisconsin

By Sara Kronenberg

Calumet County - A former teacher accused of abusing students was sentenced to probation Wednesday -- with the threat of a year in jail if she violates the requirements.

Calumet County prosecutors charged Mary Berglund this past March with ten counts, including five felonies, for allegedly abusing six disabled students at Janet Berry Elementary School back in 2009.

At Wednesday's court hearing, Berglund pleaded no contest in a plea agreement that amends the child abuse charges to five counts of misdemeanor battery and one felony count of child abuse.

As part of the plea deal, prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Berglund to probation and counseling.

The judge decided to put Berglund on probation for three years with anger management courses, counseling, and 100 hours of community service. She'll spend a year in jail if she doesn't follow through.


California courts redefining who counts as a parent

By Hudson Sangree

Even as the definition of family in America expands and shifts, California courts are trying to keep pace by redefining whom the law regards as parents.

Judges have moved beyond traditional notions of biology and adoption and have assigned parental rights to adults with no genetic or legal ties to kids.

In a recent Sacramento case, an appeals court said a woman who never adopted her ex-girlfriend's children was nevertheless their parent because she acted like one – providing for them financially, cleaning up after them when they got sick, and volunteering at their school.

"We're redefining what constitutes a family," said McGeorge School of Law Professor Larry Levine, an expert on sexual orientation and the law. "It's a whole new way of thinking about this."

In the Dec. 9 ruling, the Sacramento-based 3rd District Court of Appeal said the woman had a good reason for not adopting the children.

She was a colonel in the Air Force Reserve and was afraid of being expelled from the military if she violated the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in force at the time. The controversial policy, which began in 1993 and ended in September, barred openly gay men or lesbians from serving in the military.

Had the woman been open about her sexual orientation by forming a domestic partnership or adopting her girlfriend's children, it might have ended her military career.

The court referred to the woman and her former partner only by their initials: S.Y. and S.B. The Bee agreed to do the same to protect the privacy of the children.

"It was never even something we discussed about me participating in the adoption or formalizing the relationship," S.Y. said in an interview. "It was just a given because of 'don't ask, don't tell.' When it's something you can't do, you don't go there."

S.B. declined through her attorney to comment on the case.

Her lawyer, Elizabeth Niemi, said S.B. always planned to be the children's sole parent. She hadn't wanted S.Y. to jointly adopt the children, and S.Y. acknowledged that was true in trial testimony, she said.

"Neither party ever intended for S.Y. to have parental rights or obligations," Niemi said.

But the court said the adoptive mother's intentions weren't the deciding factor.

"Whether S.B intended for S.Y. to obtain legal rights with respect to the children is irrelevant where, as here, S.B. allowed and encouraged S.Y. to function as the children's second parent from birth, and S.Y. openly embraced the rights and obligations of being a parent," wrote acting Presiding Justice Cole Blease for the unanimous panel.

The three justices on the panel – including Justice George Nicholson and Justice Andrea Lynn Hoch – upheld a ruling by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Helena Gweon.

Experts said the case continues a trend in which courts have ruled that adults who aren't biological or adoptive parents can still be assigned parental rights and responsibilities.

The purpose: to promote the well-being of children and ensure their financial support, Levine said.

"The state has a great interest in having those who want the benefits of parenthood to take on the responsibilities and obligations that go with parenthood," he said. "That's true for straight and gay couples."

The string of cases that led to this month's ruling in S.Y. v. S.B. included the California Supreme Court's 2002 decision in a case involving a boy identified as Nicholas H. In that case, the court granted custody to a woman's former live-in boyfriend, who admitted he was not the boy's biological father but had acted as his father since birth.

The biological father was nowhere to be found.

Traditionally, adults not related by blood or adoption would have been deemed "legal strangers" to children, but things have changed, said Courtney Joslin, a professor at the UC Davis School of Law, who specializes in family law and sexual orientation and the law.

In the recent case, "the court says you have to look at the reality of families' lives, and the most important inquiry is whether a person is actually functioning as a parent."

Deborah Wald, the lawyer who argued the case for S.Y. at the appellate level, said the decision was part of "a sea change that started with In re Nicholas H."

"What we've seen is that the courts are starting to look at parentage issues from a child's perspective, which is a very big shift. Before, children were treated more like property.

"Now the courts are starting to ask, 'Who do these children think their parents are?' It's a child-centered approach that relies on looking at behavior. Courts aren't willing to take children away from people whom they rely upon."

Niemi, the lawyer for S.B., took away a different lesson from the case.

"If you are a single parent, and there's not another parent somewhere," she said, "you have to be careful about who you allow to have a relationship with your kids."


Sunlight May Not Be Enough To Disinfect A Corrupt Missouri Judiciary

Posted by CultureVigilante on December 20, 2011

Better Courts for Missouri released a statement, today, outlining a judge’s dereliction of duty as reported by the St Louis Post Dispatch. In the Post’s investigation, they found that Judge, Barbara T. Peebles took a two-week vacation to China, without reassigning her docket, and left her clerks in charge to make judicial decisions. Apparently, this was not the first time something like this has happened in Judge Peebles’ court, and the St. Louis Public Defender was quoted as saying that it was common knowledge the Peebles’ clerks acted on her behalf in the past. At least 350 cases were handled by court clerks in her most recent two-week absence.

What is even more disturbing is that no one, lawyers, clerks, officers of the court system felt the need to report this behavior to the proper authorities of the Missouri Bar Association. It is obvious there is a brotherhood among the judicial network that covers for its own.

Supreme Court rules state: A lawyer who knows that a judge has committed a violation of applicable rules of judicial conduct that raises a substantial question as to the judge’s fitness for office shall inform the appropriate authority.

It looks as if the passing of the buck now begins in the St. Louis Circuit Courts. While its presiding judge blamed Peebles and her lack of management over her own court, what of his own decision to sweep any disciplinary action, in this case, under the rug? While cases such as this should be reported to the Commission of Retirement, Removal and Discipline for investigation, it appears that Ohmer will just reassigned Peebles to another court. Apparently because discipline of this type, not having been administered to another judge in over 30 years, was deemed as too harsh a punishment to do so in this case.

St. Louis Circuit Court Presiding Judge Steven Ohmer called the conduct of both Peebles and her clerks “wrong.” He blamed an “overall lack of management and supervision.” …

… Ohmer said he considered — but decided against — removing Peebles from that division after the full scale of the problem was revealed. It would be the kind of action he said has not happened in 30 years. Next month, she will move to a civil trial division as planned.

Better Courts for Missouri, ”a coalition of Missourians from all walks of life, dedicated to fixing the method by which Missouri judges are selected.” as described on their web page, was formed to bring “Openness, Accountability, Independence and Excellence in our Judiciary,” and has worked to inform citizens of the dishonor and corruption in the Missouri Plan, which is the method now used in Missouri to select judges.

At the end of BCfM’s Get Involved page, they state:

The judiciary is too important to leave in the control of unaccountable special interests who stand to gain from picking judges in secret. Please join us as we fight to protect the rule of law.

The work of BCfM has been to promote openness and accountability in the selection process, which is absent from the current plan. However, there seems to be no mention, on their website, of the provision in the Missouri Constitution, that provides the power and authority of the State Legislature to impeach judges who are derelict in their responsibilities. While sunlight would certainly provide the public with ability to identify the corruption that has been allowed to mutate in the judiciary over the decades, there still seems to be no catalyst to provide discipline to those who have abused their power and authority.

Article 7: Section 1. All elective executive officials of the state, and judges of the supreme court, courts of appeals and circuit courts shall be liable to impeachment for crimes, misconduct, habitual drunkenness, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude or oppression in office.

Article 7: Section 2. The house of representatives shall have the sole power of impeachment. All impeachments shall be tried before the supreme court, except that the governor or a member of the supreme court shall be tried by a special commission of seven eminent jurists to be elected by the senate. The supreme court or special commission shall take an oath to try impartially the person impeached, and no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of five-sevenths of the court or special commission.

It would appear that the brotherhood among the judicial network has extended to the legislature since there has been no judge impeached, in Missouri, since the civil war according to the Missouri Court’s website:

Before the commission was created in 1972, an impeachment trial was the only means by which a judge could be removed from office. Since the Civil War era, however, the House has impeached only two Missouri judges – both St. Louis County circuit judges and both in the 1960s. In both cases, the judges resigned from office before the Supreme Court held their trials. While the impeachment mechanism is still available, the commission serves as a more efficient method of ensuring judges adhere to the code of conduct and remain subject to disciplinary review even for ethical lapses that may not rise to the level of impeachable offenses.

Would this be the same commission that is charged with oversight of the St. Louis Circuit Courts? It would also appear that the commission, and any other form of authority, from the circuit court to the legislature, has worked very hard to cover for their own since we all know there is much corruption in the judicial branch of government, and there has been very little, if nothing at all, done to stop its escalation of corruption.


Professor who helped youths in foster care systems charged with rape and sexual child abuse

Dwain Pellebon, 54, arrested for rape and lewd acts
Denies charges but admitted being 'affectionate and sensual'
Admitted watching child porn

By Rachel Quigley

A social work professor accused of rape and performing other lewd acts on teenage girls has been formally charged.

Dwain Pellebon, 54, of the University of Oklahoma, was arraigned on two counts of rape, two counts of lewd acts with a child and two counts of sexual child abuse.

The professor was arrested last week after authorities received allegations from a child welfare worker he had sexually abused two teenage girls in the past two years. He denies all the allegations.

A state Department of Human Services worker told Norman police that a 13-year-old reported seeing Pellebon fondle another 13-year-old during a sleepover at the suspect's Norman home, according to a search warrant affidavit.

The girl was interviewed by police last week, according to NewsOk, and told them she woke up in his home on at least two occasions with Pellebon lying beside her touching her 'from her hair to her ankles'.

The alleged abuse started when she was 11.

The social worker also said Pellebon sexually abused a mentally disabled 15-year-old at least twice.

The girl also told police the suspect would remove her from bed, take her clothes off and 'display her on a bed for viewing'.

Court documents also revealed the girl said Pellebon kept track of her menstrual cycle and showed her 'parts of the body you weren't supposed to see'.

The social work professor admitted taking off the girl's clothes but said he did it to apply cream to her 'chest, back and butt' while they were alone in his bedroom.

NewsOk reported that though Pellebon denies any sexual contact, he described himself to investigators as an 'affectionate, sensual man who liked to hug, kiss, cuddle and stroke young girls that he felt close to'.

He also told police that he had viewed child pornography once but did not download it.

In 2001, Pellebon was investigated by DHS under similar circumstances but no charges were filed because the alleged victim — the daughter of a former Norman police officer — failed to give investigators a statement, documents show.

He has been placed on administrative leave without pay and is free on $75,000 bail.
The 54-year-old was a director on a local board for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), which helps children in juvenile court and foster systems.

He took a leave of absence from the board earlier this year, a Cleveland County CASA spokesman told The Oklahoman.

Pellebon teaches a course on human sexuality that looks at ‘sexual behaviour, gender differences and sexual values’, reported CNN.

After he was arrested a university spokesman said they 'acted swiftly to suspend Pellebon from any contact with students and from use of any university facilities'.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Counselor charged with having sex with 17-year-old - Kentucky

By Valerie Chinn

MOUNT WASHINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) -- A counselor for abuse victims is now behind bars, charged with raping a teenager in her care.

Sunrise Children's Services says a child in its care made the allegations against Counselor Brooke Briscoe. The 27-year-old from Louisville is now at the Bullitt County Detention Center. Briscoe is charged with one count of rape and one count of sodomy.

The Sheriff's Department says she had intercourse and oral sex with a 17-year-old male resident at Sunrise Child Services in Mt. Washington on Sunrise's property. The organization says it cares for children who are victims of abuse or neglect.

Detective Scotty McGaha with the Bullitt County Sheriff's Department says, "16 is the legal consensual age in the state of Kentucky, however, even though he's of a consensual age, the problem with it is Rape in the Third because she is in a caretaker role with him. She was a counselor for him."

Briscoe's neighbors wouldn't go on camera, but say she has young children. The Sheriff's Department is looking into other possible victims at Sunrise. Briscoe was on administrative leave, pending the investigation. But Sunrise says her job is now terminated.

The Sheriff's Department says she did not have a prior criminal background.

Sunrise Children's Services issued the following statement:

"Allegations were brought against Ms. Briscoe by a child in our care. That day, we initiated the investigation by reporting the allegations to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and Child Protective Services (CPS). We immediately put Ms. Briscoe on Administrative Leave pending the investigation. We have cooperated fully with OIG, CPS and the Bullitt County Sheriff's Department. Per the information we received today, Ms. Briscoe has been terminated.

We are conducting an internal investigation and are reviewing our policies and procedures to determine if there is anything we need to change to avoid a situation like this in the future. We conduct a full background check on all of our employees. Moreover, we hold ourselves to the highest standards possible as the only child care agency in this area certified by the highest accreditation body for health care agencies.

We work, every day, to protect the children in our care and to provide them a better future. We take this situation very seriously and are shocked and saddened to find out the allegations are true. But we are grateful that someone stepped forward to alert us to the situation so we could stop it."


Kentucky child-welfare officials draw sharp criticism from lawmakers

Written by Deborah Yetter

FRANKFORT, KY. — At a packed committee hearing, Kentucky legislators berated the state’s top child-welfare officials Monday for failing to accurately report child-abuse fatalities.

And one lawmaker called for the resignation of the cabinet secretary who oversees Kentucky’s child-welfare programs, saying the state was withholding information.

“It concerns me the cabinet appears to have the attitude that it does not have to comply with the law, and it does not have to comply with court orders,” said Sen. Julie Denton, a Louisville Republican who is co-chairman of the interim joint Health and Welfare Committee, adding that the cabinet is “is broken, has gone rogue and is shrouded in secrecy.”

During a contentious committee hearing, several lawmakers said changes may be needed in state law to ensure that officials more accurately report cases of children that result in serious injuries or death.

State officials issued a report earlier this month that said 18 Kentucky children died of abuse or neglect in the fiscal year that ended June 30 — though The Courier-Journal reported Sunday that at least eight others were omitted.

Among those left out was the case of 9-year-old Amy Dye, a Todd County girl who was beaten to death by her adoptive brother.

Three Todd County school officials told the committee Monday that the case constitutes proof that Kentucky’s most vulnerable children must be better protected.

“One thing we want to make sure of, Amy Dye’s life did count for something,” said Todd County School Supt. Michael Kenner, testifying before the committee.

Lawmakers on the committee posed a number of questions, including why Amy’s death and others like it weren’t included in the cabinet’s annual report of child deaths and serious injuries.

Kenner said school officials had repeatedly tried to alert cabinet officials to suspected abuse of Amy after the agency approved her placement in the adoptive home — but to no avail.

“We’re not reporting cases just to be reporting them,” said Kenner, who appeared with an assistant superintendent and the principal from South Todd Elementary, Amy’s school. “It hurts when we feel like the things we report are not being taken seriously.”

The school officials said that they heard nothing back from the cabinet, despite repeated calls to a phone line designated for such matters, and that they never knew the outcome of any investigations.

“Out information goes into some big dark hole,” Kenner said. “We never know what is happening.”

The purpose of Monday’s hearing was for cabinet officials to explain its annual report on child abuse and neglect fatalities, which it released Dec. 1 — three months past the deadline under state law.

But discussion of Amy’s death dominated the discussion, even though the cabinet did not include her in that report, arguing that it didn’t have to because she was killed Feb. 4 by her 17-year-old brother, not a parent.

A judge has rejected that argument as a misinterpretation of state law, as did several lawmakers Monday.

“I do think the General Assembly meant to have these kinds of cases included in this report,” Denton said.

Denton, accusing the cabinet of obstructing lawmakers and withholding information, demanded the resignation of secretary Janie Miller.

Denton noted that the cabinet missed the deadline for filing its annual child-abuse report and has continued a legal fight over disclosure of records in cases involving child abuse deaths and serious injuries long after Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd first ordered their release under open records law.

“I’m calling for the resignation of the secretary,” she said. “The buck stops with the secretary.”

Miller did not attend the hearing and through a spokeswoman declined to respond directly to Denton’s demand.

“I am very disappointed that Sen. Denton has resorted to a personal attack rather than deal with these very difficult issues,” she said in a statement.

Speaking for the cabinet on her last day of the job was Patricia Wilson, commissioner of social services, who has resigned.

Wilson described in general how the cabinet conducts child abuse investigations and reports fatalities from abuse and neglect. Amy’s death, she said, was not counted as an abuse death because the law requires the cabinet to report only those deaths caused by a parent, guardian or other person exercising custodial control.

And she stopped short of saying the cabinet failed Amy when she was asked by Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, whether “the system” failed her.

“No I don’t believe we violated any of our policies or practices,” she said.

Some lawmakers objected to that statement.

“If Amy Dye is cold in the ground, the system failed her,” said Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, a Lexington Republican.

Said Givens: “The death you are not counting is a death of neglect. We all need to prevent the next Amy Dye.”

Wilson said that because a sibling killed Amy her death was not included in the annual report, which lists 18 child deaths from abuse or neglect during the most recent fiscal year.

Shepherd already rejected that argument in a ruling last month, saying the death was abuse — or at a minimum — neglect by adults in the home who allowed the abuse.

“To be clear, a parent need not personally administer the fatal blow in order to be held responsible for abuse or neglect,” Shepherd said in his order that the cabinet must release its records related to Amy’s death.

State law, conforming to federal law, allows the disclosure of cabinet records in the event of a child death or serious injury from abuse or neglect.

Several lawmakers expressed skepticism about the cabinet’s refusal to count Amy’s death or other such deaths in its annual report of child abuse deaths.

Sen. Joey Pendleton, D-Hopkinsville, wondered how many other cases are not in the report.

“I want to know how many children are murdered or killed within the home by a parent or sibling,” Pendleton said.

The Courier-Journal reported Sunday that at least eight other child deaths were not included in the report — most in cases in which parents or caregivers were charged with abuse, neglect or murder. Midkiff took exception with that report, saying that child fatalities are reported “consistent with the statutes.”

Rep. Martha Jane King, D-Lewisburg, whose district includes Todd County, said after the hearing that lawmakers should act if the law needs to be clearer.

“It’s out responsibility to make sure that if there’s a loophole, we go ahead and address it,” she said.

Camille Dillingham, the principal at Amy’s school, said after the hearing that she hopes the girl’s death brings about some changes.

“She was a quiet girl, she was very loving,” Dillingham said. “She was a very good student.”


Iraq War Veteran, Fit Father Has Parental Rights Terminated

by Robert Franklin, Esq.

A veteran of the Iraq war has had his parental rights terminated despite having in no way wronged his child or its mother. Read about it here (Booneville Democrat, 12/8/11).

The facts of the case are straightforward. Edward Glover served in the U.S. armed services. He was deployed to Iraq. His wife, Michelle gave birth to a child, E.G. in November of 2008. While Edward was serving abroad, Michelle took up with one Maliki Raheem who had a history of domestic violence. In April, 2009, it came to the attention of the Arkansas Department of Human Services that E.G. had been severely abused by Raheem. Here is how the dissenting judge of the Arkansas Court of Appeals described the child’s injuries.

The abuse was severe: E.G. had scalding on his chest and abdomen, bruising, blood inside his eyes, head injuries, perforation of his stomach, a liver contusion, three rib fractures, bilateral retinal hemorrhages, bruising around the eyes and scalp consistent with trauma, a possible lung contusion, and burns to the abdomen, shoulder, right thigh, and left scrotum.

Edward Glover obtained emergency leave and returned home, but was sent back to Iraq 10 days later. Glover remained deployed oversees while legal proceedings played out. The ADHS of course took his son into foster care and eventually succeeded in terminating Michelle’s parental rights. At all but two hearings, Glover was neither present in person nor represented by counsel.

Irrespective of the fact that Glover had done nothing wrong and was never accused of any form of wrongdoing toward anyone, the trial court, at the request of ADHS, terminated Glover’s parental rights and the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling. Indeed, if there was a claim by anyone at any time that Glover had ever in his life done anything to indicate unfitness as a parent, neither the trial nor the appellate court mentioned it.

So how is it possible for a father, who has not a single black mark by his name, to entirely lose his rights to a child, born during his marriage and therefore presumptively his? The cogent dissent from the Appellate Court’s decision says he can’t, but more about that in a bit.

Apparently the reason the trial judge terminated Glover’s rights is that he didn’t follow the court’s orders to avail himself of certain “services” of the ADHS. Now, remember, that ADHS is an agency of the State of Arkansas, but during most of the court proceedings, Glover was nowhere near Arkansas and therefore could not be ”served” by ADHS. More importantly, the “services” ordered are transparently aimed at a parent who has abused his/her child. Here they are:

-provide complete medical history for juvenile
-parenting classes
-anger management classes
-forensic psychological evaluation – follow recommendations
-random drug screens
-remain drug free
-remain alcohol free
-provide vital info for fetal alcohol syndrome assessment
-drug and alcohol assessment – follow recommendations
-medication assessment and follow recommendations
-maintain stable and suitable housing
-attend staffings at DHS
-cooperate with Department
-maintain contact with Department
-attend visitation with juvenile
-demonstrate improved parenting
-maintain reliable transportation or seek reasonable assistance from DHS
-complete affidavit of Financial Means
-refrain from criminal or illegal activity

So what we have is a state agency and four separate judges who couldn’t quite grasp the fact that, although there was an abused child and although there was a father in court, the father hadn’t abused the child. Glover didn’t need any of the “services” ADHS said he needed.

Likewise, the fact that he was out of the country most of the time and in the hospital part of the time when he returned from abroad and was honorably discharged from military service, and therefore unable to avail himself of the “services” never sank in on the judges or ADHS.

Late in the game, the court appointed counsel to “represent” Glover. I use quotation marks around the word “represent” because the dissenting justice at the appellate court described that representation this way:

The quality of the appointed counsel’s representation at this late stage of the case supports an inference that the purpose of the appointment was not to assist Mr. Glover in negotiating his way through the juvenile courts to gain custody of E.G., but rather to facilitate his exit by terminating his parental rights.

The dissent’s description is given considerably more weight by the fact that Glover’s lawyer made no effort to assert at trial any of the very obvious legal issues presented by the termination of a fit father’s parental rights. Having failed to assert them at trial, they couldn’t be asserted on appeal. To make her malpractice still more obvious, Glover’s attorney filed his appeal but under a “no-merit” procedure. That’s one in which the lawyer files the appeal because her client demands it, but tells the court it has no merit. This was “zealous representation” by an attorney? It’s more like a bad joke.

In short, the lawyer worked hand-in-glove with ADHS and the judges to cut the father out of his child’s life. My strong belief is that ADHS wanted that all along. That’s why its counsel convinced the judges to order the long list of “services” for Glover to comply with. ADHS hoped that Glover wouldn’t comply due to his deployment overseas and failure to comply would lose him his parental rights. And that’s just what happened. Some people may call that justice. I call it a conspiracy.

Not surprisingly, Glover lost his appeal. The appellate majority said he hadn’t raised any of his issues on appeal, so there was no way he could win. Fair enough. Or was it?

On the contrary, the dissenting judge, Josephine Hart, completely destroyed the majority’s summary dismissal of Glover’s appeal. She points out that, due to a case decided by the Arkansas Supreme Court (the Mahone case) during the pendency of Glover’s case, the state cannot interfere with the parenting rights of a fit parent.

The Mahone court overruled Judkins and held that custody of a child taken from a custodial parent should result in first shifting custody to the nonoffending, noncustodial parent.

Importantly, the Mahone court relied on U.S. Supreme Court precedent in so ruling.

The United States Supreme Court has stated that it is a fundamental right to parent a child without interference by the state. Accordingly, there first must be a showing of unfitness before the state may intervene. The fact that one parent is unfit does not alter the state’s burden to prove that the other parent is also unable to care for the child before it may interfere in the family… Without a finding of unfitness, the state has no constitutional authority to exercise that power. Under current Supreme Court authority, the existence of a single fit parent, regardless of the acts of the other parent, negates the state’s ability to interfere in the family unit.

Those are, once again, Judge Josephine Hart’s. She was writing at the appellate level in Mahone and, when the case got to it, the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed.

More importantly still, the trial court in Glover’s case had no jurisdiction. In order to exercise any authority over his rights, it had to first find that he was unfit. It didn’t because he wasn’t. Therefore, the matter could be raised for the first time on appeal.

It can therefore be raised before the Arkansas Supreme Court. From here, it looks like a slam-dunk win.

To date, however, the lesson Edward Glover’s case teaches us is just how determined child welfare agencies are to cut fathers out of the lives of their children and how willing courts are to comply.


Niveen Ismail Seemed Prison-Bound for Plot to Kidnap Son Until Jurors Heard Her on Tape

By Matt Coker

Niveen Ismail headed into a Santa Ana courtroom last week facing the possibility of a three-year prison sentence for allegedly asking a private investigator to kidnap her 7-year-old son from his foster parents.

But, after three hours of deliberations, the jury found the Newport Beach 45-year-old not guilty, and based on the press accounts from the trial, it's easy to see why.

Ismail, who lost parental rights to her son in 2005 when officers found him home alone, contacted and met P.I. Robert Young in November 2009. According to the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA), Ismail proposed paying Young a large sum of money to kidnap her son from his foster family in Lake Forest and take him to Tijuana. From there, prosecutors alleged, Ismail planned to take her son to Europe or her native Egypt.

But the investigator later contacted the Newport Beach Police Department, and another meeting was set up on Dec. 4, 2009, that had Ismail joined by the P.I. and an undercover cop she believed was working with her point person. At that meeting, the OCDA claimed, Ismail discussed obtaining passports for her and her son, asking again for her son to be kidnapped in exchange for money. She was then arrested, and when trial began Dec. 7 Ismail was facing one felony count of solicitation to commit kidnapping.

What blew the case for prosecutors were the secretly recorded tapes from Ismail's meeting with Young and the undercover, according to Jon Cassidy's coverage in the Orange County Register. Young testified that Ismail threw out the kidnapping idea as a "what if" at the first meeting, but while she is heard discussing such a plot at the follow-up meeting, she did not actually request it, Cassidy reports. Instead, Ismail is heard continually trying to steer the conversation back to another idea: spying on the foster family, according to Cassidy, who adds it was the investigators who were heard repeatedly bringing up the kidnapping.

Ismail was told a kidnapping would cost $5,000 versus $500 for surveillance on the foster family. After initially providing Young and his fake partner with a photo of her son--and indication she was in on the kidnapping--she later changed her mind and only paid $500, Cassidy reports.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Beth Costello presented circumstantial evidence that Ismail had begun applying for an Egyptian passport and looked online for driving directions to the Mexican border and flight information from Mexico to Europe, but that obviously was not enough for the jury to buy that the mom had, as the charges suggest, solicited to commit a kidnapping.

"We had an intelligent jury that sifted through rumor, innuendo and distraction thrown at them by the prosecution," Ismail's attorney, Ann Cunningham, reportedly told Cassidy. "The case was all on tape."


Sacramento's 'girl with a hundred scars' files claim for damages

By Marjie Lundstrom

Since the moment she was born 10 weeks premature, with cocaine rippling through her 21/2-pound body, Lilly Manning has been the recipient of other people's poor choices, bad judgment and terrible timing.

Now, the 19-year-old woman who escaped torture in a south Sacramento home is seeking retribution.

Last week, lawyers for Manning filed a claim for damages against Sacramento County's Child Protective Services and the Sacramento City Unified School District.

The claim, a precursor to any lawsuit, alleges child welfare workers and school employees failed to protect her from the violent household into which she was adopted.

"Lilly and her siblings were kept in a virtual prisoner-of-war camp where they were repeatedly, systematically and sadistically beaten and tortured by their adoptive mother, Lillian Manning-Horvath, and her husband, Joseph Horvath," according to the claim.

The legal matter has opened the curtain on Lilly Manning's past, and how she and her four siblings wound up in their great-aunt's care, only to endure savage beatings, tongue-lashings and death threats.

Confidential records recently released by the county reveal how one CPS social worker aggressively promoted the Manning children's adoption in the 1990s. The worker lavished praise on Lillian Manning-Horvath, while dismissing alarms raised by others, according to CPS and Juvenile Court documents.

The claim also singles out six workers associated with the Sacramento City Unified School District for allegedly failing to report their own suspicions of abuse, as required by law. The workers include a teacher, a school nurse, a Head Start coordinator, a vice principal, an assistant principal and an attendance clerk.

"The failure of all these mandated reporters to file (abuse) reports – it just drives me nuts," said Sacramento attorney Joseph C. George, who is representing Lilly Manning.

Yet again, timing and judgment will play a critical role in the case – for both Lilly Manning and for the government entities she seeks to sue.

In California, government is generally immune from civil liability, with exceptions. Timeliness also plays a key role, because a claim involving death or injury must be brought within six months of the alleged harm.

Manning was 15 when she escaped in October 2007 from a locked closet in the home of her adoptive mother.

The teenager, who suffered the bulk of the abuse, was stabbed, burned and beaten with 2-by-4s, broomsticks, shoes, a hammer and a swinging padlock. After she fled, the secrets tumbled out as doctors discovered a young body ravaged with more than 100 scars and injuries.

The Bee has chronicled her story since July, when the Manning children's adoptive mother was sentenced to a mental hospital and life in state prison. Horvath was convicted by a jury in 2009 and sentenced to consecutive life terms.

Now, a Superior Court judge may ultimately decide if Manning, who turns 20 in January, can pursue civil damages.

At issue: Does her claim have merit? And even if the government agrees that it does, was it filed in time?

"I feel like this is something I should do," said Lilly Manning, who returned to Sacramento last month after a short stay on the East Coast. "Somebody should pay. Hopefully this is a message to everybody to do their job right."

'The only mom I knew'

Laura McCasland, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees CPS, said the county would not comment on pending litigation.

School district spokesman Gabe Ross issued a statement Friday saying:
"Anyone who has heard Lilly Manning's story would find it both tragic and heartbreaking. The district and its legal representatives are appropriately evaluating and responding to the claims filed by the Manning family. The safety and security of our students and employees is a top priority for SCUSD."

Manning's attorneys also have filed a claim on behalf of her younger brother, Kenyata Manning. George, a lawyer and psychologist who has worked with numerous child-abuse victims, said the core of the Lilly Manning case is the number of public workers who suspected abuse but did not formally report it.

In her claim, attorneys contend that the young woman suffers from Stockholm syndrome and was unable to recognize that she was a victim – or take any legal action – until her adoptive mother was sentenced this year.

The claim defines Stockholm syndrome as a "psychiatric disease and psychological phenomenon where hostages express empathy and have positive feelings toward their captors."

"Lilly's adoptive mother … was viewed as the person who was in control of her basic needs for survival and for her life itself," according to the claim. "In short, Lillian Manning-Horvath was viewed by Lilly as giving Lilly life simply by not killing her."

In interviews with The Bee last summer, Manning described her conflicted feelings about her adoptive mother and acknowledged making efforts to stay in touch with her.

"She was the only mom I really knew," Manning said in July.

Others to blame

But Manning also said she believes that others bear responsibility for her torturous upbringing.
Confidential Juvenile Court documents obtained earlier this year by The Bee revealed that four different agencies visited the family at least 11 times on reports of suspected abuse or neglect in a five-year period, but did not move to protect Manning or her siblings. Numerous attempts by the children to get help went unrecognized or unheeded.

The newly released CPS records show how the agency – and one social worker in particular – ramrodded the adoption, despite a series of red flags.

The five children were taken into protective custody in February 1994 after being found "abandoned by their mother … in a filthy crack house" littered with feces, used condoms, crack pipes and an open 40-ounce beer bottle, according to a CPS report to the Juvenile Court.
CPS placed Lilly Manning and her two brothers "on a trial basis" with their great-aunt a month later, and the two older sisters joined them seven months after that. At the time, Manning's home in North Highlands was found by CPS to be "appropriate for placement."

Lillian Manning renamed all five children and eventually proceeded with adoption after the CPS caseworker filed numerous glowing reports about the home.

In one confidential court document, the woman who later smashed her adoptive daughter's fingers with a hammer and burned her with boiling water and a curling iron was described as "capable, experienced and energetic."

The lead social worker who pressed for their adoption repeatedly fended off criticism of the elder Lillian Manning, describing in reports how the children thrived in the "loving environment."

"Their caretaker, Lillian Manning, manages the seemingly herculean task of caring for these children with great strength and a great sense of humor," the CPS worker wrote in July 1995. "The children are all well-bonded with her. They hover around her, and their interactions are laced with affection."

The social worker continued to defend the household, even after a social worker for Sacramento Child Advocates raised "numerous concerns" about the children's safety.

The second social worker, acting on behalf of the children's court-appointed attorneys, said one child had informed her that the caregiver was using corporal punishment. And she expressed concern that Lillian Manning was requiring the children to "sleep on the living room floor so she could monitor them."

"The minors' caretaker, Ms. Manning, has displayed a lack of insight regarding the special needs of these minors," according to the social worker's 1996 declaration to the court.

"Ms. Manning becomes defensive when concerns are raised, and has made statements about wanting to give the minors back to the Dept. because it is too much hassle now."

The social worker complained that her concerns "went unheard or were discounted" by CPS. The worker requested and got a mediation with the parties, but documents show there was little resolution – and the adoption went forward.

Alarms go unanswered

Health workers, too, raised alarms about the home.

In 1997, Lilly Manning's 6-year-old sister was examined at the UC Davis Medical Center, where a nurse identified injuries consistent with battered child syndrome, medical records show.
A physician who viewed the semi-circular "closed loop" injuries on the girl's body said they were "classical for ones inflicted by an electrical cord," according to the doctor's notes.
The physician did not believe the story that the girl had been struck with a coat hanger by her older sister, saying the injuries were not consistent with that scenario.

However, the CPS worker continued to champion the adoption and told the court the abuse allegations were unsubstantiated. The social worker said she "feels strongly that this (adoption) plan is in the children's best interest."

Documents show that the social worker had been told a week earlier about previous abuse in the household. A counselor seeing the family told the CPS worker in a June 1997 letter that Lillian Manning "does not hit any of the children and has not done so since 1994 when she was using a plastic spoon, on occasion, to discipline the children."

In the newly filed government claim, Lilly Manning's attorney cited the spoon beating as one in a series of allegations that fell on deaf ears.

The claim also singles out six workers associated with the Sacramento City Unified School District.

As reported earlier in The Bee, the school workers are described in documents as having varying degrees of concern and suspicion about the Manning home. At one point, the school nurse and a Head Start coordinator scheduled a home visit to follow up on Lilly Manning's numerous scratches but left the home without seeing her. Neither filed a child abuse report, according to the claim.


CPS taking down videos of parents and foster parents exposing the truth

DYFS worker accused of child endangerment - New Jersey

ELIZABETH — Authorities say an adoption specialist with New Jersey’s child welfare agency sent sexually charged messages to a 15-year-old boy that he met through church.

Frednel Lambert also worked as a choir director at the church in Newark.

Authorities say the 34-year-old Union Township resident is charged with 3rd Degree Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow says the boy’s mother contacted the Springfield Police Department in September. The prosecutor says the chats were conducted through Facebook over a two-week period.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

DSS finds disproportionate contact with blacks - North Carolina

By Melody Guyton Butts

DURHAM – African-American children are nearly four times more likely than the general population to be the subjects of child abuse or neglect reports in Durham County and more than seven times more likely to be placed in foster care, county Department of Social Services officials reported this week at a DSS board meeting.

“Our system is overloaded with contact with African-American families as opposed to any other family in Durham,” said Toina Coley, an in-home services social worker who serves on a committee looking to tackle the issue of disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in agencies across the county.

DSS decided to look at its DMC numbers after the N.C. Central University Juvenile Justice Institute, through a grant from the Governor’s Crime Commission, issued a report on disproportionality within Durham County’s juvenile justice system.

That report found that in fiscal year 2006, African-American youths were 3.2 times more likely than the general population to have a court petition filed. In 2010, that number skyrocketed to 7.22 times more likely.

Coley dissected local DSS numbers from fiscal year 2011, finding that African-American children were the subjects of child abuse or neglect reports at a 3.78 higher rate than the general population. Disproportionality in the child welfare system hovers around 4.0 through investigations, case substantiations and in-home services – until spiking to 7.54 with initial entries into foster care.

That’s something DSS officials want to address, and the solution starts with awareness of the problem, said Catherine Williamson-Hardy, assistant director of customer accountability with the agency. From individuals reporting abuse or neglect to the social workers investigating it, everyone has cultural biases, she said.

“It’s not about sugarcoating it and pretending we don’t have them – it’s about being aware of them so that we can manage them,” she said.

Just as with race playing a role in which new mothers are drug-tested at the hospital, a school teacher might be more apt to make a report about a black child not dressed for cold weather than a white child, Williamson-Hardy gave as an example.

Awareness is beginning to take hold within DSS, suggested John Holtkamp, the agency’s assistant director for family safety and permanency. “There was just kind of a murmur that went through our people” when the DMC numbers were presented at a division meeting last week, he said.

“Most of them don’t know. You work day by day,” he said. “No one’s intentionally doing this.”

Coley’s data collection suggests that disproportionality isn’t a currently significant concern for the Latino community, as the reports rate was 1.39, and the initial entry into foster care rate was 0.0. But Holtkamp worries that it might become an issue in the future, as juvenile justice system officials recently reported a growing DMC for that population in their system.

Dean. F. Duncan, a professor at the UNC School of Social Work, examined DMC data from across the nation and across North Carolina in a 2009 report, looking at 2007-08 data. He found that North Carolina’s DMC with regard to African-American youths in foster care (2.07) was below the U.S. as a whole (3.32). However, in that same report, he noted that Durham was one of just two counties in North Carolina – the other was Mecklenberg – with DMCs with regard to child protective investigations of black children greater than 4.0, and among 11 counties with DMCs with regard to black youths in foster care greater than 4.0.

Reached this week, Duncan said he no longer had access to the exact figures for counties and that he hasn’t revisited the data since the 2009 study. His analysis then led him to believe that factors of poverty played a large part in African-Americans’ DMC, and he cautioned against assuming that it’s only a race issue.

Holtkamp noted that Arnold Dennis, executive director of N.C. Central’s Juvenile Justice Institute, has also suggested that poverty contributes to DMC. He cited Dennis as having suggested that family-of-origin issues, like child-rearing practices and family support, and policies and practices of systems of intervention, like DSS and law enforcement, play a part.

The DMC committee of which Coley is a member was launched early this year, and its focus is now on spreading awareness of the issue, she said. The committee is looking to reach out to other parts of the community, like faith-based organizations. Committee members are also looking at hosting some sort of community meeting to help spread the word.

Stan Holt, chairman of the DSS board, asked that the board be briefed on possible solutions to the disproportionality problem at its February meeting.

It must be understood that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to addressing disproportionality, Duncan said.

One method might be prevention programs, although there’s not a “major funding stream” for that, he said. Preventing abuse and neglect isn’t the work of DSS alone – it requires the partnership of the whole community, from schools to faith-based organizations to mental health agencies, he continued.

He’s pleased that Durham is looking to address the issue.

“There’s a need to come up with very tailored solutions,” he said, “and be able to track it over time to see if we get the outcomes we want to achieve.”


Orange County Deputy arrested and relieved from duty - Florida

Blogger note:
Finally, we can say that a CPS call turned out to help. The sad part is, the people we are to trust, such as this Deputy Sheriff, prove to be the offenders of the very thing that many of us have been accused of. Yet, people like this testify in courtrooms everyday and are believed without question when the accusations are made against regular people, even though what they testify to is usually a blatant lie.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. (WOFL Fox 35) - An Orange County Deputy has been arrested for battery with bodily injury and relieved from duty.

On Friday, just before 7pm, a Lake Mary Police Officer was responding to the residence of Deputy Sheriff Michael Shambaugh to assist with a Child Protection Services investigation. While at the residence, the Lake Mary Police Officer observed the physical condition of Shambaugh’s wife and determined there was probable cause to take Deputy Sheriff Shambaugh into custody. Deputy Shambaugh was transported to the Seminole County Jail for processing.

An Orange County Watch Commander responded to the Seminole County Jail and confiscated Deputy Shambaugh's law enforcement credentials and firearms, and relieved him from duty as an Orange County Deputy Sheriff.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office Professional Standards Section will be conducting an administrative review of the circumstances.


Abuse, native foster care focus of Unity Rally - South Dakota

by David Montgomery

A small group of activists rallied Friday in Rapid City to protest sexual abuse of children and the state's foster care system.

The two-issue Unity Rally for the Children took place at 1 p.m. at Memorial Park. Addressing the issue of sexual abuse were Mayor Sam Kooiker and Robert Brancato, director of the Rapid City chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Tate Walker of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota and Evelyn Red Lodge, a reporter for the Native Sun News, talked about problems they see with the state's foster care system.

Galvanizing Kooiker and Brancato was a 2010 law limiting the time frame within which people can bring lawsuits for childhood sexual abuse. Both men say that statute of limitations should be repealed.

"It is time that South Dakota joins our friends in Montana and other states that have repealed the civil and criminal statutes of limitations on childhood sexual abuse," Kooiker said. "It's very important that victims have the right to bring this up later in life, to not have an arbitrary barrier stand in their way."

Brancato, an abuse survivor himself, pledged to "do everything I can" to rescind what he called "such a horrible law."

After Kooiker and Brancato spoke on sexual abuse, Walker and Red Lodge tackled the foster care issue. An NPR investigative report published this fall alleged that South Dakota's Department of Social Services violated the federal Indian Child Welfare Act by placing Native American children in non-Native households.

Walker, of the ACLU, said her organization has been gathering stories of families who claim their children have been unjustly taken away by social workers.

"We are sad to say we've been very busy," Walker said. "Too many children and families have been affected and not in good ways."

State officials have disputed the accusations, saying they have placed as many Native American children as possible with Native families and only turn to non-Native foster parents and group homes as a last resort.

Walker said the ACLU is "investigating legal angles" to "bring justice to the families."

The rally was a one-shot event, Red Lodge said.

"This was just basically a group of concerned individuals who got together and said, ‘We've got to make a noise. We've got to get out there. We've got to let people know,'" she said.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Feud puts court cases on hold - Nevada

By Jeff German

Fallout from a budding romantic relationship between a former prosecutor and Family Court Judge Steven Jones is now causing delays in child abuse and neglect cases.

And a longtime child advocate is blaming the judge for the disruptions and calling for his removal from hearing all child welfare cases.

The disruptions are the result of a rift between District Attorney David Roger and Jones over the judge's relationship with Lisa Willardson, who as a prosecutor made regular court appearances before Jones. Roger fired Willardson, a deputy in the district attorney's child welfare unit, on Tuesday. She insisted Thursday that she never made appearances before Jones while in a relationship with him.

Jones, 53, last week issued an order banning from his courtroom the two prosecutors in the unit who exposed his courtship of Willardson, creating confusion within the district attorney's office on how to move forward with abuse and neglect cases.

"He should know better," said Donna Coleman, co-founder and former member of the nonprofit Children's Advocacy Alliance. "There are children in foster care waiting to go home for Christmas, and they have to deal with this nonsense.

"The No. 1 priority should be the children, and I am very disgusted by the posturing and game-playing that is going on down there. It's a waste of time. It's a waste of money and, more than anything, they're victimizing children who have already been victimized."

Coleman, who ends a two-year term at the end of the month as a member of the Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission, said she will file a complaint against Jones with the panel if he is not removed from all child welfare cases.

Chief District Judge Jennifer Togliatti, who has authority to reassign Jones at Family Court, declined to comment Thursday.

Togliatti is presiding over a hearing Tuesday on a motion by Roger to disqualify Jones from a child welfare case because of his "personal bias" against Roger's two whistle-blowing deputies. The court filing amounts to a test case on whether Jones has compromised his ability to make decisions on child welfare matters involving the district attorney's office.

Jones is preparing his written response. He did not return phone calls Thursday.

Roger filed the motion this week after Jones issued the courtroom ban on the two deputy district attorneys, Michelle Edwards and Janne Hanrahan. In his order, Jones cited the "inappropriate and unprofessional behavior" of the two deputies.

Edwards and Hanrahan had provided supervisors with a clandestine photo taken of Willardson and Jones appearing cozy with each other at a public function.

Concerns were subsequently raised within the district attorney's office that the relationship invited a professional conflict of interest for both Willardson and Jones, and Willardson was removed before her firing from handling child abuse and neglect cases in front of Jones.

Willardson said in an email Thursday that the allegations in Roger's court papers are "factually incorrect" and read like a "story from the Enquirer."

She contends she was removed from the child welfare unit before she struck up a relationship with Jones.

"The district attorney's office simply does not want to address the real issue that two of their deputy district attorneys drank way too much alcohol, took a photograph of a District Court judge's crotch and hand, disseminated it around the courthouse and manufactured a relationship in order to downplay the disgraceful behavior of their deputies," Willardson said.

Jones also said earlier this week that "falsehoods" were being spread about him.

On Thursday, the fallout over the relationship caused delays in 34 child abuse and neglect cases being heard by Brigid Duffy, a Family Court hearing master who works under Jones' supervision.

When Edwards showed up to handle the cases, Duffy said that under Jones' order, Edwards was prohibited from practicing before her. Duffy read a statement in each case explaining the ban.

Roger's office did not send a prosecutor to take Edwards' place, forcing Duffy to continue the cases. Some were delayed a week and others two weeks.

"This is additional evidence that Judge Jones is abusing his power," Roger said after learning of the delays. "Some entity is going to have to step in and rein him in."

Earlier this week, Roger called Jones a "bully" who was trying to ruin the careers of Edwards and Hanrahan. Jones said he was troubled that Roger was "condoning" the "inappropriate and unprofessional" behavior of his deputies.


Improvements suggested for Iowa's child abuse registry

Written by Lee Rood

A panel charged with making changes to Iowa’s controversial and confidential child abuse registry issued a series of suggested improvements Friday, some of which would require action by the Legislature next year.

In the short term, state officials are taking steps to expedite appeals of abuse findings, especially when people’s jobs are at stake.

“The timeframes and delays in getting hearings and decisions completed was a priority for me,” said Citizens Aide/Ombudsman Ruth Cooperrider, whose office receives several calls each year inquiring how to appeal or dispute abuse findings. “We have had cases that have languished for more than a year, and there are legal issues involved.”

One long-term recommendation from the mix of state officials and child-welfare professionals on the panel would give Iowa’s Department of Human Services more authority to remove people from the 10-year registry and seal abuse findings based on certain criteria.

Others ideas panel members thought should be explored: Allowing DHS to put only certain kinds of abuse on the registry, and varying the length of time names remain on the list based on the severity of the abuse.

Legislators and parents have complained for years that people whose names are placed on the registry have few due-process rights. It takes no conviction in court to end up on the registry - only a finding by DHS staff that it was "more likely than not" that the person neglected a child or, in a much smaller number of cases, abused a child.

The Legislature this year required the agency to work with other agencies and groups to address problems.

Currently, between 50,000 and 60,000 Iowans are on the registry, which is used to screen child-care workers and others who deal with children.

About 8,890 abuse reports were “founded” by social workers last year, meaning the individuals responsible were placed on the registry. Another 3,071 reported resulted in “confirmed” abuse, meaning there was evidence of abuse but not enough to place someone on the registry.

About 1,270 people filed appeals of abuse findings in 2011. Of those, 109 were from a finding of “not confirmed.”

The remaining 75 percent to 80 percent were settled. The most common finding is that the abuse is confirmed, but not placed on the registry. Settlements often involve those accused taking part in recommended services to reduce the risk of future abuse.