Saturday, November 12, 2011

Even suspicion of sex abuse must be reported, Florida experts say in wake of Penn State scandal

By Jane Musgrave and Ana M. Valdes

As federal officials this week continue to investigate whether Penn State University failed to report incidents of alleged sexual abuse on campus as mandated by federal law, many child advocates in Florida are hailing a state statute that requires professionals such as school personnel, to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to law enforcement.

But the law, which specifies teachers, doctors, child care workers and other professionals must report abuse, has let to few penalties for those who don't follow it in Palm Beach County, according to records from the State Attorney's Office.

Only two people have been charged for failing to report abuse since 1999, while 37 have been prosecuted for falsely reporting abuse, records show.

Statewide, the Florida Department of Children and Families doesn't keep track of cases where people were penalized for failing to report abuse, "but we are not aware of great numbers of prosecutions," DCF spokesman Joe Follick said.

"Obviously, (the law) is not a heavy-handed effort by the state to penalize anyone who might accidentally not have the judgment to report (abuse), but I think it is an indication of how seriously the Florida legislature and Floridians understand the responsibility of everyone to make sure that children are safe," Follick said.

Some of the law's supporters, however, agree that regardless of few prosecutions for potential violators, Florida Statute 39.205 holds many professionals accountable for keeping children safe. And had such a state law been in force in Pennsylvania -- something state officials there now are considering -- it could have averted crimes and brought offenders to justice sooner, Florida expertsay.

Former prosecutor Scott Cupp, who ran the Crimes Against Children Unit in the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office, said such a law could could been used to charge all the Penn State officials who knew about former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky's alleged sex abuse of boys.

While federal law ultimately was brought to bear on Sandusky, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services specifies that primary responsibility for child welfare services rests with the states.

"McQueary, McQueary's father, Paterno, Spanier, Curley," Cupp said, ticking off the names of the high-level Penn State officials who were alerted, according to a grand jury report that accused Sandusky of sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period.

Since the release of the report, Penn State's head football coach Joe Paterno was criticized for not doing more to stop the alleged abuse. He was particularly scolded for how he handled an alleged 2002 incident at the university's football complex, in which then-graduate assistant and current assistant coach Mike McQueary told Paterno that he saw Sandusky assaulting a boy in the showers.

Paterno notified the athletic director, Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz, who in turn notified university President Graham Spanier. Paterno and Spanier were fired Wednesday, and Curley and Schultz have been charged with perjury and failing to report the incident to authorities.

Although Paterno is not a target of the criminal investigation, Pennsylvania's police commissioner called his failure to contact police himself a lapse in "moral responsibility."

Cupp, who often spoke to local health care workers and educators about their responsibilities under Florida law, said he would always specify they should not just report abuse to a superior, but call the Department of Children and Familes' Child Abuse Hotline.

"You both call it in," he said. "What's the worst that could happen? We spent two dimes."

In addition, he said, using a teacher as an example, there's no way of knowing what's going on behind the scenes. "For all you know, the assistance principal and the perp are drinking buddies."

Lake Worth attorney Betty Resch, who also led the Crimes Against Children unit in the 1990s, agreed that Paterno had a legal obligation to call police when told Sandusky had been seen having sex with a young boy in a university shower.

"I think he did the right thing by going to his superiors," she said. "But he should have followed up. It should have been so disturbing to him that he should have followed up, to want to find out what was happening and how the school was handling it."

In Florida, all residents, not just "professionally mandated reporters" such as teachers and hospital workers -- are required to report any suspicion of abuse or neglect to the Department of Children and Families' Florida Abuse Hotline, said department spokesperson Joe Follick. (The hotline number is 800-962-2873.)

In fiscal year 2010-2011, the hotline received 313,307 calls, according to DCF records. The slightest suspicion warrants a call, even if the reporter did not hear about the alleged abuse directly from the victim, Follick said. "It can be anyone who has knowledge or suspicion of this," he said. "You can say, 'well that creates more work,' but we would always rather err on the side of having too many calls come in than not enough."

A lawyer for Schultz, the ousted Penn State vice president, said he will seek to have the reporting charge dismissed because the mandated reporting rules only apply to those who come into direct contact with children.

On the heels of the Penn State sex scandal, legislators in Pennsylvania have said they would introduce legislation to strengthen mandatory reporting laws in child abuse cases. State Rep. Kevin Boyle says he will introduce a bill that would require mandated reporters to notify police themselves rather than pass their information on to superiors at work.

"It is clear that a loophole exists in our law," Boyle told The Associated Press. "My legislation would close that loophole, by requiring those who are aware of the abuse to report it to law enforcement authorities, rather than simply following an in-house chain of command."

For Cupp, the former Palm Beach County prosecutor, Florida's law offers a safety net for young victims of abuse by specifically identifying mandatory reporters. "The statute in Florida accepts, anticipates and encourages redundant reporting," Cupp said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Police: Fugitive who sexually abused foster children arrested

Blog authros note:
What is with these fosters who are so vile? Why didn't someone at CPS or whoever licensed them do a thorough check on these people? They couldn't have really checked into these people because this seems like something too weird to have just started when this man was 40. It makes us sick to think that CPS's failures are why so many children suffer such horrendous abuse simply due to CPS negligence.

by Naxiely Lopez

McALLEN — A combined effort by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies led to the arrest of a man wanted in connection with the sexual assault of three children who were under his care for more than a year.

Investigators believe Jose Luis Cazares, 40, abused three foster children — all under the age of 10 — while they lived with him and his wife, Belinda, from January 2008 to April 2009, court documents showed. The children were placed in foster care because their mother was deported to Honduras.

Police learned about the alleged abuse only after a second foster family took the children in.

A woman who claimed to be the victims’ half-sister went to police in May and told them the children had made an outcry, records showed. Police did not reveal the woman’s identity.

Investigators took the victims to the Children’s Advocacy Center in Edinburg in June, where they were interviewed separately by professionals. There, the children detailed their lives with the Cazares.

One girl told staff at the center Cazares would take her to his room, where he would sexually assault her or use sex toys to do so, records showed.

The girl told police she pleaded with Cazares to stop, but he wouldn’t.

If she told, he would slap her in the mouth, the child said.

The abuse happened “every day in a while after school,” a probable cause affidavit quotes her saying.

A second girl told staff Cazares would buy something for them if they engaged in sex with him and his wife.

That child detailed an incident during Halloween in which he took her costume off and assaulted her.

A third victim, a boy, did not make an outcry, police said. But his sisters told staff they saw Cazares sexually abusing him.

The children began showing signs of abuse shortly after the second foster family began caring for them in April 2009, the half-sister told police.

The family reached out to Child Protective Services at the time to alert them about the assault, but the family was never contacted by anyone, records showed. They reached out again in 2010 to the children’s physician, but again no one followed up.

By the time police were involved, Cazares and his wife had already relocated.

That’s when the Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Fugitive Task Force got involved. The team comprises officers from various law enforcement agencies, including U.S. Marshals Service; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Texas Department of Criminal Justice; U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Hidalgo and Starr County sheriff’s offices; and police departments in McAllen, Mission, San Juan and Weslaco.

Officers tracked Cazares down in Prairie Gillette, Wyo., using documentation from Child Protective Services, police said. Investigators contacted the Gillette police and they assisted in questioning the pair.

Both denied the allegations, investigators said.

Gillette police also assisted in interviewing a fourth female minor who was living with them in Wyoming, police said.

The girl apparently had a child at a young age, which sparked investigators’ interest.

The fourth victim initially told police her baby’s father was a boy at school, but she eventually admitted Cazares raped her when she was living with him in McAllen, police said.

That girl told police she was at home taking care of the three foster children when Cazares ordered them to their rooms and raped her on the couch by holding her down.

On Tuesday, investigators received information that Cazares was once again in the area and was working at Hayashi Hibachi, records showed. Police arrested him there about 4:45 p.m.

Investigators continued working on filing charges against Cazares’ wife, Belinda.

A McAllen Municipal judge charged Jose Luis Cazares with two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child — a first-degree felony — sexual assault and prohibited sexual conduct, both second-degree felonies. His bond was set at $550,000.

If convicted, he could face up to life imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.


Lawsuit involving foster child, DSS workers settled - SD

by Scott Waltman

A lawsuit alleging that officials should have known they were placing a girl in a potentially unsafe Aberdeen foster home has been settled without a trial.

Terms of the agreement cannot be disclosed, according to court paperwork.

The case was filed by a woman appointed to represent the girl against Northeastern Mental Health, two state Department of Social Services workers, the foster parents and another foster child. Documents concerning the settlement were sealed to protect the victim, according to case paperwork.

The Department of Social Services' Child Protection Services was responsible for care of the girl when Northeast Mental Health placed her with the Steve and Stephanie Schuman family of Aberdeen in December 2007, according to the lawsuit. The girl stayed with the foster family until March 2008 and turned 9 during that time.

A 17-year-old male "with a propensity to sexually act out" — one of the defendants — had previously been placed in the foster home. The lawsuit claims that the older boy sexually abused the girl during the time they lived in the same home. The defendants should have known the boy was a threat to the girl and failed to properly address the issue, according to the lawsuit.

Department of Social Services employees Amy Reyes and Laura Woolverton, who worked on the girl's case, were listed as defendants.

Agreements settle the case with the Schumans, Northeastern Mental Health, Reyes and Woolverton. The other foster child is not mentioned in the settlement.

Previously, a $25,000 proposed settlement from Northeast Mental Health and the Schumans had been rejected.


ABA Practice & Policy Brief on Psychotropic Medication and Children in Foster Care

Click this link to read an informative pdf file:

Children in Foster Care Higher Report Higher Rates of Sexual Abuse

Article provided by New York Injury Accident Attorney - The Orlow Firm

A carefree childhood should not be considered a luxury. Children should not have to live their life in fear of their caregivers, which is unfortunately what sometimes occurs when children are placed in foster care.

Generally, studies find that children do best when they are raised by their natural parents, but this ideal arrangement is not possible when neglected or abused children are removed from their homes and enter the foster care system. Unfortunately for these already mistreated children, foster care often perpetuates their dreadful treatment ― as recent studies have found a higher prevalence of sexual abuse when children reside in foster care.

A Baltimore study concluded that children in foster care suffered four times higher rates of sexual abuse than the general population. Another study, conducted in Indiana, found three times more physical abuse and twice the rate of sexual abuse in foster homes when compared with the general population. On further examination of the higher rates of abuse in foster care, it was discovered that often times it is the children themselves that are abusing each other.

Unreported Abuse

Even though child abuse is now discussed more openly than in the past, with more child victims and adults who were abused as children coming forward, there is still a large number of victims who never report these crimes. Child abuse is a hidden and deeply rooted problem. Children often suffer quietly, allowing abusers to continue to victimize other children with impunity.

Children and adults are often hesitant to report sexual assaults that occur during their childhood. The reluctance to disclose abuse may be caused by the shame an older child might feel. Also, many children are terrified the abuser will hurt them if they disclose the abuse. Moreover, a child might also fear they will lose the love of someone special or be forced to leave their family or move to a different foster home.

Problems with Delayed Sexual Abuse Reporting

If you were a victim of sexual abuse as a child, you have the right to bring a civil lawsuit against the person who committed the abuse and anyone who could have prevented the abuse. But you only have a certain amount of time to bring a lawsuit. In New York, victims have five years to bring a sexual abuse claim. If you were abused as a child, you can bring a lawsuit until the age of 23 (the five year limitations period begins when you turn 18).

Recent legislation seeks to change the limitations period. According to the proposed changes, the five year limitations period would start at the age of 23 instead of 18. This would allow a victim until the age of 28 to file a sexual abuse lawsuit. Passage, however, of this legislation, is very problematic.

If you were abused as a child, you need to consult with an experienced attorney. Discussing past abuse is sensitive and an attorney will be able to help you by advising you as to your rights and options.


Investigation of Sandusky in 1998 Raises Questions


In 1998, the Penn State campus police and local law enforcement authorities investigated an allegation that Jerry Sandusky, then a prominent coach with the university’s football team, had engaged in inappropriate and perhaps sexual conduct with a boy in the football facility’s showers.

A lengthy police report was generated, state prosecutors said. The boy was interviewed. A second potential victim was identified. Child welfare authorities were brought in. Sandusky confessed to showering with one or both of the children. The local district attorney was given material to consider prosecution.

In the end, no prosecution was undertaken. The child welfare agency did not take action. And, according to prosecutors, the commander of the university’s campus police force told his detective, Ronald Schreffler, to close the case.

“Sandusky admitted showering naked with Victim 6, admitted to hugging Victim 6 while in the shower and admitted that it was wrong,” said the report issued last weekend by the Pennsylvania attorney general. “Detective Schreffler advised Sandusky not to shower with any child again and Sandusky said that he would not.”

Questions about that investigation abound: Who was interviewed? Who received the report? If the case was shut down, was Sandusky sanctioned in some way?

The New York Times has reached three of the principals involved in the investigation: the two men identified by prosecutors as the police officers who worked on the case, Schreffler and Ralph Ralston, and the investigator with the state welfare department, Gerald Lauro, who was charged with determining if a child had been harmed.

Schreffler — who appears to have been the lead detective, and who interviewed Sandusky — refused to comment when reached at his home in Bellefonte, Pa. He has retired from the campus police force and works at least part time for a security firm in Baltimore, according to his former wife.

“I’ve got nothing to say,” Schreffler said Tuesday night.

Schreffler’s current wife, Laurel, reached Wednesday, said, “I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to talk.”

In an interview this week, Ralston, who said he worked for the local State College police force, insisted he played only a peripheral role in the investigation. He said his role was merely to make sure that campus police had access to the boy, who Ralston said lived in his jurisdiction.

“I can’t even remember anything about it,” Ralston said.

He said he never followed up with campus police or child welfare authorities to find out the conclusion of their investigations.

“I didn’t think any more of it until I read the report over the weekend,” he said of the attorney general’s charges against Sandusky and other university officials. “There was stuff in there I never heard before.”

Lauro, the investigator for the state welfare department in 1998, said he was aware during the investigation that Sandusky was a prominent local figure, but that it did not affect his work.

“Was he a high-profile person?” Lauro asked. “I’d have to be stupid to tell you no. Everybody knew him.”

At the time of his investigation, Lauro said, all the child said was that Sandusky showered with him, and it made him uncomfortable. Lauro said he didn’t feel that was enough to substantiate a sexual-abuse complaint.

Lauro suggested that the child, now grown, had told the grand jury convened by the attorney general a much more explicit account.

Lauro said he has felt worse and worse as the scandal has unfolded, particularly when he read quotations in a newspaper from a victim’s mother blaming him and other officials for not doing more to stop Sandusky.

“I feel bad that there was not more information so I could have done something,” he said. “I feel bad that the mom thinks I should’ve done more. I just didn’t have all the information back then.”

In 1998, though, Lauro said his judgment was that the allegation fell under the category of what he termed “boundary issues,” not sexual assault.

“It was definitely boundary issues, and I worked with boundary issues a lot,” Lauro said. “But if I believed it was more than boundary issues, I would’ve gone to the mat.”

Lauro said he met Schreffler, the campus detective, twice during the investigation. Lauro said he was surprised to learn that the detective would not talk about the investigation of 1998.

“Wow,” he said. “That’s really saying something.”

A version of this article appeared in print on November 10, 2011, on page B16 of the New York edition with the headline: Investigation of Sandusky in 1998 Raises Questions.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Can Adoption Lead to Child Abuse?

By Lisa Belkin

I have not been able to get four-year-old Sean Paddock, or 11-year-old Hanna Williams, or 7-year-old Lydia Schatz out of my mind. As Erik Eckholm reported in the New York Times yesterday, and Anderson Cooper discussed on CNN, most recently last week, the three children all died within the past five years, and they had several chilling factors in common.

Each of their deaths were brutal and agonizing: Sean suffocated; Hana, who was found lying naked in the muddy yard, died of hypothermia and malnutrition; Lydia showed signs of a brutal beating. In each case, one or both of their parents has been charged with their murder.

And in each case, those parents are said to have essentially punished their children to death, allegedly because they believed it was God's will. They are said to have been guided by the book To Train Up A Child, by Michael and Debi Pearl, which advocates beating children with rubber tubing, leaving them outside in the cold, and witholding food for days at a time in keeping with Biblical teachings. (No, I am not linking to it, out of sympathy with those who are petitioning sites like Amazon not to sell this particular book, which does not directly advocate the level of abuse that killed these children, but that appears to have been misinterpreted and misused by at least some of the parents who stand accused.)

Much attention has been paid to the religious pieces of a this tale. Less noted is that each of these children joined these families through adoption. Sean was born in the US, as were his five adopted siblings. Hana was from Ethiopia, as was her adopted brother (their parents had six biological children as well), and Lydia was from Liberia (there were two other adopted siblings among the family's nine children.)

Is this merely grisly coincidence? Or is there something about the adoption dynamic that makes violent abuse more likely?

One possibility is that adoptive children -- particularly those who spend their earliest years in an orphanage or shuttling from one foster caregiver to the next -- are more likely to suffer reactive attachment disorder, which are essentially the inability not only to bond, but to feel. The effects are not just psychological, but also physical, with evidence these children can have elevated levels of the hormone cortisol, which increases their tolerance for pain. Some speculate that spanking a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder can spiral out of control quickly, because it takes abusive levels of pain before the child actually feels it and responds.

This cycle is the talk of a handful of adoptive parenting websites, and, in particular, it has been discussed often on Why Not Train a Child, which is dedicated to warning parents about the dangers of the Pearls' book. There an anonymous commenter there, who describes him or herself as knowing the parents of Hana Williams personally, speculates:

Initially, I think their intentions for adopting were "good" (although I am uncomfortable with the idea of adopting children solely because you are religiously motivated to "rescue" them). I don't think they adopted Hana and her brother so that they could have some children to torture and abuse. However, I believe they made a huge assumption that these kids would respond to their methods just like their own biological children did. They expected Hana and her little brother to assimilate into their family, and most likely ignored their culture, how they had grown up (customs, beliefs, etc), and most importantly, the trauma that Hana and her brother had gone through in their childhoods. These kids just weren't acting like their biological children. Instead of taking a step back and getting professional help, they decided that they would continue to follow the Pearl method, but continued to up the ante, because these kids were NOT succumbing to being "broken".

Adoption can save a child and create a family. It can also come with complications that biological parents are far less likely to face. All children are vulnerable, but adopted children are more so, because the very fact of their adoption tells of a shakier start in life. They deserve more of our protection. In at least three cases they did not receive it.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Changes at DCF cause concern on advisory panel - Conn.

By Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

The sweeping changes the Department of Children and Families has made in recent months are drawing the ire of the agency's advisory panel, whose members--as parents, community providers, child lawyers and foster parents--are seeing first-hand the ramifications.

"You need to hear the crap that's going on," Janice Andersen, the deputy director of a Bridgeport-based group that deals with juvenile justice and other child welfare issues, told a top DCF official Monday.

It wasn't quite the reaction Fernando Muniz was expecting. He came to the meeting with a three-page update on the positive impact of keeping more children with their families, how reducing congregate care for the youngest children has played out and how the number of children living out of state has declined.

"As we have sat around this table all these years, these are all things you asked for," Muniz said in response to the harsh criticism. "Your points have been well taken."

But members of the State Advisory Council say many of the changes are causing widespread concern.

"Foster families are in absolute panic that you are sending children into unsafe homes. Just because someone shares the same genes does mean their criminal history shouldn't matter," said Laurie Landry, a therapist in Wethersfield. "What are you thinking?"

Connecticut previously had one of the lowest rates in the country of placing abused and neglected children with family members when it was determined they couldn't stay at home. Because of this, the department began waiving what Muniz describes as "the most restrictive guidelines in the country." That often includes waiving what the agency calls a non-relevant criminal record.

As a result of the changes, the number of children placed with family members increased from one in seven at the end of last year to one in five in September.

The group also said the agency's move to decrease the number of abused and neglected children with specialized needs being sent to live out-of-state--from 364 children in January to 258 in October--also is having some harmful affects.

"They may be coming home, but we aren't prepared for them," said Betsy Palmer-Ehrenfeld, who coordinates a network of foster homes for special-needs children across the state. She says the money is not available to ensure appropriate treatment for children with severe behavioral issues such as cutting themselves or exhibiting problem sexual behavior.

Muniz said many of those that were living out-of-state aged out of care, some went home and others were placed in facilities in the state. He said about half of the applications to place a child out-of-state have been rejected since the start of the year.

Anderson, who is the chairwoman of the advisory panel, also complained that parents continue to be treated poorly by DCF, despite the agency's ending surprise visits in response to allegations of abuse and neglect.

"There's a huge elephant in this room we have to talk about," she said. "You are not really trying to get parents and families involved." She cited advice the department is giving school districts in the Bridgeport region on how to handle a situation when they suspect a child is not getting the health care they require. "They are being told to report the parent for medical neglect. You should be helping them find the help."

Muniz responded that there would undoubtedly be hiccups in implementing such sweeping changes, but reminded the group that it is the agency's job to make sure children are safe.

"We are only here for abuse and neglect," he said. "DCF is not intended to be a poverty help program."

That upset Karen Hanson, a coordinator for child services at Yale's Child Study Center.

"You are going to send them to 2-1-1 and the Department of Social Services. Give me a break they can't even pick up the phone. That makes no sense," she said.


Father sues CSB in death of child - Ohio

By Ed Runyan


Thomas Cross, the biological father of a child who died while in foster care April 2, 2009, has sued the Trumbull County Children Services Board and others.

The suit says officials failed to protect the child despite warning signs.

It says the autopsy conducted after the child’s death showed evidence of abuse pre-dating the abuse that killed her, though the Trumbull County coroner refutes that allegation.

Cross, of Garrettsville, filed the suit in federal court last week, seeking $1.2 million in damages.

Tiffany Banks Cross was 20 months old when her foster mother, Bonnie Pattinson, 30, carried her to a neighbor’s house April 2, 2009, because the girl was not breathing. The girl later was pronounced dead.

Pattinson and her family were living in a duplex on Center Street West in Champion Township at the time of the death. Pattinson later was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death and sentenced to nine years in prison.

In the lawsuit filed by Boardman lawyer David Engler, Cross said he warned children services that the girl might be in danger, telling children services he saw bruising on her and dog hair in her baby formula.

Children services “never responded to the father’s concern,” the suit said.

Cross’ parental rights regarding the girl were terminated, at children services’ request, Nov. 4, 2008, “despite his not being represented at final hearing of that matter, nor was there a record of his knowing and voluntary waiving of such right to representation,” the suit said.

The suit said children services also was “informed of other harmful acts perpetrated against children in the care of Bonnie Pattinson.”

Nick Kerosky, executive director of Trumbull County Children Services, said he has no comment on the lawsuit.

Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, Trumbull County coroner, said Monday he saw nothing on the girl’s body indicating bruising or any other type of abuse other than the abuse that caused her death.

The coroner ruled that the girl died of asphyxiation, and a county prosecutor said there were marks on the child’s neck consistent with the rings Pattinson was wearing.

In the lawsuit, Cross said the coroner saw “multiple abrasions and contusions upon the infant that were consistent with a pattern of abuse dating before the actual horrific beating that resulted in the child’s death.”

The suit says children services showed “deliberate indifference to [Pattinson’s] abusive nature.”

The suit also names as defendants the Trumbull County commissioners, who appoint members of the children services board of trustees, and Pattinson.


Los Angeles Juvenile Court plans to open proceedings to public

Presiding judge seeks transparency and solicits opinions; target date is the end of the month.

By Garrett Therolf

The presiding judge of Los Angeles County's Juvenile Court is preparing to open child dependency proceedings to the public in an effort to improve accountability and transparency in child abuse, neglect and foster care placement cases.

Currently, members of the media and the public are barred from entering dependency courtrooms without court permission. But Judge Michael Nash is proposing a blanket order that would make the hearings open unless someone objects and a judge decides to close the proceeding.

A similar effort to open juvenile courts in Sacramento failed earlier this year when some foster children and the union that represents social workers objected, citing privacy concerns. But Nash, an advocate of government transparency, believes the juvenile courts can be opened under current law.

There is a lot that is not good [in the dependency courts], and that's an understatement," Nash said earlier this year at a Sacramento hearing on the issue. "Too many families do not get reunified.... Too many children and families languish in the system for far too long. Someone might want to know why this is the case."

Nash is soliciting opinions from interested parties by the end of the month, before making his order final.

Janis Spire, executive director of the Alliance for Children's Rights, a nonprofit law firm that works on behalf of foster children, said her organization generally supports Nash's proposal but hopes it can be adjusted to restrict release of identifying information about children, including last names and Social Security numbers.

"The intention of this order and the law is about transparency of the system and the process, never transparency when it comes to the child," she said.

Spire said she also worried that the order will not carry the same weight as state law and might be vulnerable to being overturned.

Under the terms of the proposed order, members of the public would be able to enter any dependency courtroom. If an objection is then raised, the judicial officer will decide what is in the best interest of the child.

"The court will consider such factors as the age of each child, the nature of the allegations, the extent of the present or expected publicity and its effect, if any, on the children and on family reunification," according to the proposed order.

Attendees would not be able to make audio or visual recordings of the proceedings without seeking special court permission, and case records would remain confidential unless the court orders them opened.


Child abuse bill closer to becoming law in Wisconsin

School workers would have to report crimes

Written by Jim Collar

Advocates say a bill passed by the state Assembly last week expanding the list of those required to report child abuse will help prevent cases such as the one against a former Appleton teacher charged with abusing disabled students.

The bill, which passed the state Senate by a 31-1 vote in May, would require all school employees to report suspicion of child abuse to law enforcement or child welfare officials. The mandatory reporting law currently extends only to teachers, school administrators and counselors.

The bill moved through the Legislature as a felony case against former Janet Berry Elementary School teacher Mary C. Berglund progressed through Calumet County Court. The measure passed the Assembly on a voice vote Thursday and now requires Gov. Scott Walker's signature to become law.

Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, managing attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin, referenced Berglund's case last week in a letter to Assembly members seeking support of the measure. He said the bill is a positive step to better protect children.

"One would hope that those who might abuse kids in school realize now that everybody in the building is a mandated reporter," Spitzer-Resnick said Monday. "If (abuse) happens, we're more likely to get reports and stop it faster."

Calumet County Dist. Atty. Jerilyn Dietz couldn't be reached for comment.

Berglund, 54, was charged in March with nine felony child abuse counts and one felony count of strangulation stemming from classroom incidents involving cognitively disabled children that occurred from 2009 into January.

Berglund's charges stem from documentation provided by a teacher's assistant relating to five students. On Jan. 6, the assistant said Berglund lay across a 9-year-old child, grabbed his throat and pushed his head back. In other incidents, police say Berglund grabbed children by their heads and necks and forced them to put their heads down during "time-out" punishments, the criminal complaint stated.

In the wake of the allegations involving Berglund, the Appleton Area School District changed its policy to meet the bill's goal by requiring all of its employees to report suspected child abuse or neglect.

The school board last month also created an ombudsman role to assist employees or serve as an alternative source for staff if they are uncomfortable telling their building principal.

Although Berglund's case was cited in support of the mandatory reporting bill, another 2011 case inspired it. In Racine, former teacher's aide Lewis Givens is charged with four counts of sexual assault in connection to incidents involving a 9-year-old girl on Dec. 21, 2010, and Jan. 6 and Jan. 10 of this year, the criminal complaint says.

In that case, a substitute teacher, an educational assistant and another staff member told police of witnessing incidents of inappropriate touching. Police, however, weren't contacted until Jan. 11.

Meanwhile, Berglund's case is on hiatus as attorneys wait for the appointment of a judge.

Judge Donald Poppy initially presided over the case. Attorneys planned to resolve the case by plea agreement in August, but Poppy — serving as a reserve judge — declined to accept the deal out of concern that a substantial reduction in charges wouldn't meet the public interest.

When Poppy retired, the case was assigned to Jeffrey Froehlich, who was appointed to Calumet County's judicial seat. It went to Fond du Lac Judge Peter Grimm based on a conflict of interest involving Froehlich, who was previously Calumet County's assistant district attorney.

Last month, a request was made for judicial substitution.


Native children suffer under a modern-day version of forced assimilation

by Donna Ennis

The federal government began sending American Indians to off-reservation boarding schools in the 1870s, when the United States was still at war with Indians. An Army officer, Richard Pratt, founded the first of these schools.

Pratt believed that the Indian Wars weren't extinguishing the culture fast enough, so he came up with the idea of separating children from their parents. The first boarding schools were started in the late 1800s. Our elders describe trains coming into tribal communities and grabbing children from their homes and taking them to these boarding schools. The effects of boarding schools are far-reaching and have resulted in historical, intergenerational and cultural trauma to our Native people.

Those boarding schools have an echo today.

Beginning with his separation from his family at the age of 4, Andrew was shuffled 28 times from foster home to foster home. He was stripped of his identity and placed in homes outside of his culture. He grew up not knowing who he was or where he came from because he was removed at such an impressionable young age, leaving him with no sense of belonging. I believe that a child's most important need, besides food, clothing and shelter, is the need to belong. Although Andrew had many siblings, he saw only a couple of the older ones on occasion and never saw his younger siblings again.

Andrew committed suicide at the age of 17 by hanging himself from a tree on the property of what was to be his last foster home. After his death, arrangements were made to get the family together for his burial. I have worked with many youth over the years, and it never gets any easier for me to comprehend what kind of child welfare system allows these atrocities to happen.

The trauma that Andrew suffered echoed the assimilation policies set out by the government through the federal Indian boarding school program. He too was separated from his family and tribe. Dominant cultural values were forced on him through a process of forced assimilation.

The 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act was created by the federal government in order to establish federal authority over adoption of Native American children. The goal of the act was to strengthen and preserve Native American families and culture.

Each year, South Dakota removes an average of 700 Native children from their homes. Of these 700 children, 90 percent are placed in non-Native homes or group care. The continuing separation of children from their heritage is a tragic and destructive aspect of these cross-cultural placements.

Despite federal law to the contrary, a boarding school mentality exists in favor of placing Native children in non-Indian settings. The identity of Native youth is devalued. Forced assimilation leads to conflict with these young people, who can become very confused about their tribal identity.

There is again a price on Indian children's heads, seen in the distribution of federal money to social services for their care. In addition, South Dakota has a record of designating Native children as having special needs -- which means they are worth more to the state financially than other children.

Social service agencies like Children's Home Society have become the new boarding schools for South Dakota. Just like in early tribal communities, children are being forcibly taken from their homes with no real basis. Families and tribes are being forced to hide their children from the state.

Indiana child welfare supervisor faces charges

GREENSBURG, Ind.— An Indiana child welfare supervisor who was the caseworker for a slain 12-year-old Greensburg boy faces charges after allegedly giving a client a drug and sending her a photo of his genitals.

Indiana State Police arrested 28-year-old Scott Ogden of Greensburg last week. WRTV-TV and WISH-TV report he's charged with dealing a controlled substance, official misconduct, and distribution of obscene matter.

Court records show he sent text messages to a woman who lost custody of her children and offered information about them in return for sex. He also gave her three prescription painkiller pills.

Ogden was the case worker for 12-year-old Devin Parsons, who was beaten to death by his mother in June.

A telephone message seeking comment was left at the Greensburg home a man named Scott Ogden.,0,3823164.story

Monday, November 7, 2011

State blasted on Western Kentucky girl's slaying

Judge: Abuse ignored before brutal beating

Written by Deborah Yetter

A Franklin Circuit Court judge blasted state officials Monday for ignoring suspected prior abuse of a 9-year-old Western Kentucky girl beaten to death by her adoptive brother, saying they turned a “blind eye” to repeated reports of her horrific mistreatment.

In his second such order in four days, Judge Phillip Shepherd ordered the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to release records of child abuse death investigations — this time in the case of the Feb. 4 murder of Amythz “Amy” Dye. State officials have repeatedly refused to release such records, citing confidentiality.

“This case presents a tragic example of the potentially deadly consequences of a child welfare system that has completely insulated itself from meaningful public scrutiny,” Shepherd said in his order. “The Open Records Act is the only method available by which the public and the legislature can obtain information regarding the systematic breakdown of our child protective services that contributed so directly to this child’s death.”

The order notes cabinet officials had approved Amy’s adoptive home in Todd County, with Kimberly Dye, after removing her from her birth parents because of “severe neglect and sexual abuse.”

“An innocent, nine-year-old girl was brutally beaten to death after enduring months of physical and emotional abuse in a home approved by the Commonwealth of Kentucky for her adoption,” Shepherd wrote.

Cabinet officials received the order Monday and are reviewing it, said spokeswoman Jill Midkiff.

Garrett Dye, 17, Amy’s adoptive brother, pleaded guilty Oct. 21 in Todd Circuit Court to murdering her on Feb. 4 by beating her in the head with a jack handle. At the time, she was outside on a cold, snowy evening shoveling gravel as punishment for stealing pudding and juice from a friend’s lunch box at school, Shepherd’s order said.

Garrett Dye, who was prosecuted as an adult, will be sentenced Nov. 23.

After Amy’s death, police found the girl’s clothes in a dresser in a trailer outside the house, Shepherd’s order said. It said Amy sometimes soiled her clothes because of poor bowel control, and when she did, her adoptive mother — as punishment — forced her to go outside for clean clothes.

Shepherd’s ruling comes after The Todd County Standard sought records from the cabinet about reports of suspected abuse or neglect involving Amy. The cabinet refused to provide the records to the newspaper, initially claiming it had none; but then, after acknowledging it did have records, it claimed they were exempt from open records law.

In his ruling Monday, the judge ordered the cabinet to release the records to the paper, noting that the issues were “identical” to those raised in his ruling Thursday that the cabinet must release records of child abuse deaths and serious injuries to The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald Leader.

In that ruling, he excoriated the cabinet as being “so immersed in the culture of secrecy regarding these issues that it is institutionally incapable of recognizing and implementing the clear requirement of the law.”

The Louisville and Lexington newspapers are seeking the records under a law that permits the disclosure of child abuse and neglect records if a child dies or is seriously injured and if the cabinet had prior involvement with the child or family.

Ryan Craig, publisher and owner of the Todd County newspaper, said the details of Amy’s life and death — outlined in Shepherd’s order — are horrifying.

“Her death was horrible, but it seems like her life must have been just as bad,” Craig said.

He called on Gov. Steve Beshear to look into conduct of the cabinet.

“The governor needs to take a long, hard look at the cabinet,” Craig said. “I think there needs to be some housecleaning.”

At a campaign stop in Louisville Monday evening, Beshear said he hadn't read Shepherd's opinion but planned to take it up with cabinet officials.

“Certainly we are going to be reviewing that decision,” he said.

He declined to fault social service officials. “I know the cabinet works hard in the protection of children,” Beshear said.

In the five years before Amy’s death, reports of suspected abuse or neglect “flooded in,” starting the year after she was adopted by Kimberly Dye, Shepherd’s order said. Some of the reports came from school officials, including a school nurse, and some said she was being beaten by other children in the home. Yet state social workers performed cursory inquiries and took no action, his order said.

Kimberly Dye, who shared the home with her ex-husband, Christopher, could not be reached for comment. The family’s phone has been disconnected.

The reports cited by Shepherd included a May 2, 2007, letter from a school nurse detailing six separate reports she made of suspected abuse to Amy. The nurse reported injuries such as severe bruises, thumbprints on the girl’s face and scraped and peeling skin.

The nurse said Amy told her she had been hurt by another child in the home and her mother threatened to spank her if she told anyone. Amy then lived with two adoptive brothers, Garrett Dye, and an older brother not identified in Shepherd’s order.

The order said most of the abuse allegations involved the older brother, not Garrett Dye.

The cabinet dismissed the complaints as “child against child” altercations or accepted Kimberly Dye’s explanation that Amy fell or that the girl “bruises easily and plays rough with her brothers,” the order said.

“It is stunning to believe that the cabinet will refuse to protect a child from repeated acts of physical violence when the parent knows of and tolerates such abuse and does nothing to prevent it,” Shepherd’s order said. “Yet that is exactly what happened here.”

The case also appears to be the second in which the cabinet failed to conduct a fatality review required by law when a child dies or is seriously injured from abuse or neglect and the cabinet had prior involvement with the family.

The Courier-Journal and Herald-Leader filed suit in 2009, seeking the cabinet’s records of its investigation of the death of a Wayne County toddler who died after drinking drain cleaner at an alleged meth lab where he lived with his teenage parents. Both the child and his teen mother had been under the cabinet’s supervision.

The cabinet fought the newspapers’ request, citing confidentiality. After Shepherd ordered the cabinet to release the fatality report, cabinet officials acknowledged they never conducted the investigation required by state law.

In Amy’s case, cabinet officials concluded that they had no obligation to conduct such a review, Shepherd’s order said.

Attorney Jon Fleischaker, who represented the Todd County newspaper along with lawyer Jeremy Rogers, said Monday’s ruling is clear, yet the cabinet continues to litigate a battle it lost in 2010 when Shepherd first ordered it to release such records.

“They are using tax dollars to defend the indefensible,” said Fleischaker, who also represents The Courier-Journal.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Accusations of child sex, cover-up rock Penn State

Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa.—An explosive sex abuse scandal and allegations of a cover-up rocked Happy Valley after former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, once considered Joe Paterno's heir apparent, was charged with sexually assaulting eight boys over 15 years. Among the allegations was that a graduate assistant saw Sandusky assault a boy in the shower at the team's practice center in 2002.

Sandusky retired in 1999 but continued to use the school's facilities for his work with The Second Mile, a foundation he established to help at-risk kids, where authorities say he encountered the boys. The case took on added dimension Saturday when perjury charges were announced against Tim Curley, Penn State's athletic director, and Gary Schultz, vice president for finance and business. They were also accused of failing to alert police and other agencies -- as required by state law -- of their investigation of the allegations.

"This is a case about a sexual predator who used his position within the university and community to repeatedly prey on young boys," state Attorney General Linda Kelly said Saturday in a statement.

Paterno, who last week became the coach with the most wins in Division I football history, wasn't charged, and the grand jury report didn't appear to implicate him in wrongdoing.

"Joe Paterno was a witness who cooperated and testified before the grand jury," said Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office. "He's not a suspect."

Frederiksen called questions about whether Paterno might testify premature and speculation.

"That's putting the cart way ahead of the horse," he said. "We're certainly not going to be discussing the lineup of potential witnesses."

Under Paterno's four-decades-and-counting stewardship, the Nittany Lions became a bedrock in the college game, and fans packed the stadium in State College, a campus town routinely ranked among America's best places to live and nicknamed Happy Valley. Paterno's teams were revered both for winning games -- including two national championships -- and largely steering clear of trouble. Sandusky, whose defenses were usually anchored by tough-guy linebackers -- hence the moniker "Linebacker U" -- spent three decades at the school. The charges against him cover the period from 1994 to 2009.

Sandusky, 67, was arrested Saturday and released on $100,000 bail after being arraigned on 40 criminal counts. Curley, 57, and Schultz, 62, were expected to turn themselves in on Monday in Harrisburg.

The school said Sunday that it would bar Sandusky from campus.

The allegations against Sandusky, who started The Second Mile in 1977, range from sexual advances to touching to oral and anal sex. The young men testified before a state grand jury that they were in their early teens when some of the abuse occurred; there is evidence even younger children may have been victimized. Sandusky's attorney Joe Amendola said his client has been aware of the accusations for about three years and has maintained his innocence.

"He's shaky, as you can expect," Amendola told WJAC-TV after Sandusky was arraigned on Saturday. "Being 67 years old, never having faced criminal charges in his life and having the distinguished career that he's had, these are very serious allegations."

A preliminary hearing scheduled for Wednesday would likely be delayed, Amendola said. Sandusky is charged with multiple counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, corruption of minors, endangering the welfare of a child, indecent assault and unlawful contact with a minor, as well as single counts of aggravated indecent assault and attempted indecent assault.

No one answered a knock at the door at Sandusky's modest, two-story brick home at the end of a dead-end road in State College. A man who answered the door at The Second Mile office in State College declined to give his name and said the organization had no comment.

The grand jury said eight boys were targets of sexual advances or assaults by Sandusky. None was named, and in at least one case, the jury said the child's identity remains unknown to authorities.

One accuser, now 27, testified that Sandusky initiated contact with a "soap battle" in the shower that led to multiple instances of involuntary sexual intercourse and indecent assault at Sandusky's hands, the grand jury report said.

He said he traveled to charity functions and Penn State games with Sandusky, even being listed as a member of the Sandusky family party for the 1998 Outback Bowl and 1999 Alamo Bowl. But when the boy resisted his advances, Sandusky threatened to send him home from the Alamo Bowl, the report said.

Sandusky also gave him clothes, shoes, a snowboard, golf clubs, hockey gear and football jerseys, and even guaranteed that he could walk on to the football team, the grand jury said, and the boy also appeared with Sandusky in a photo in Sports Illustrated. He testified that Sandusky once gave him $50 to buy marijuana, drove him to purchase it and then drove him home as the boy smoked the drug.

The first case to come to light was a boy who met Sandusky when he was 11 or 12, the grand jury said. The boy received expensive gifts and trips to sports events from Sandusky, and physical contact began during his overnight stays at Sandusky's home, jurors said. Eventually, the boy's mother reported the allegations of sexual assault to his high school, and Sandusky was banned from the child's school district in Clinton County in 2009. That triggered the state investigation that culminated in charges Saturday.

But the report also alleges much earlier instances of abuse and details failed efforts to stop it by some who became aware of what was happening.

Another child, known only as a boy about 11 to 13, was seen by a janitor pinned against a wall while Sandusky performed oral sex on him in fall 2000, the grand jury said.

And in 2002, Kelly said, a graduate assistant saw Sandusky sexually assault a naked boy, estimated to be about 10 years old, in a team locker room shower. The grad student and his father reported what he saw to Paterno, who immediately told Curley, prosecutors said.

The Patriot-News of Harrisburg identified the assistant as Mike McQueary, now a Penn State wide receivers coach and the team's recruiting coordinator. McQueary was out of town on a recruiting trip Sunday, according to his father, John McQueary, who declined to comment about the case or say whether they were the two named in the grand jury report.

"I know it's online, and I know it's available," John McQueary told The Associated Press. "I have gone out of my way not to read it for a number of reasons."

Curley and Schultz met with the graduate assistant about a week and a half after the alleged attack, Kelly said.

"Despite a powerful eyewitness statement about the sexual assault of a child, this incident was not reported to any law enforcement or child protective agency, as required by Pennsylvania law," Kelly said.

There's no indication that anyone at school attempted to find the boy or follow up with the witness, she said.

Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services Law requires certain people associated with schools and other institutions to report suspected abuse immediately to the ChildLine service, which makes referrals to police, and to follow up within two days with written reports to the county children and youth services agency and to the state Department of Public Welfare.

Curley denied that the assistant had reported anything of a sexual nature, calling it "merely `horsing around,'" the 23-page grand jury report said. But he also testified that he barred Sandusky from bringing children onto campus and that he advised Penn State President Graham Spanier of the matter.

The grand jury said Curley was lying, Kelly said, adding that it also deemed portions of Schultz's testimony not to be credible.

Schultz told the jurors he also knew of a 1998 investigation involving sexually inappropriate behavior by Sandusky with a boy in the showers the football team used.

But despite his job overseeing campus police, he never reported the 2002 allegations to any authorities, "never sought or received a police report on the 1998 incident and never attempted to learn the identity of the child in the shower in 2002," the jurors wrote. "No one from the university did so."

Lawyers for both Curley and Schultz issued statements saying they are innocent of all charges.

In response to a request for comment from Paterno, a spokesman for the athletic department said all such questions would be referred to university representatives, who released a statement from Spanier calling the allegations against Sandusky "troubling" and adding that Curley and Schultz had his unconditional support.

He predicted they will be exonerated.

"I have known and worked daily with Tim and Gary for more than 16 years," Spanier said. "I have complete confidence in how they handled the allegations about a former university employee."

The university is also paying legal costs for Curley and Schultz because the allegations against them concern how they fulfilled their responsibilities as employees, spokeswoman Lisa Powers said.

Sandusky, once considered a potential successor to Paterno, drew up the defenses for the Nittany Lions' national-title teams in 1982 and 1986. The team is enjoying another successful run this season; at 8-1, Penn State is ranked No. 16 in the AP Top 25 and is the last undefeated squad in Big Ten play.

The Nittany Lions were off Saturday, which Frederiksen, the prosecutors' spokesman, said had nothing to do with the timing of charges.

He said the attorney general's office and state police had agreed ahead of time to act quickly once a presentment was issued.

"If somebody months ago was able to foresee the Friday before an off weekend, the grand jury would issue a presentment, they should be counting cards in Las Vegas," he said.

As the head football coach, Paterno has spent years cultivating a reputation for putting integrity ahead of modern college-sports economics. It's a notion that has benefited Penn State's marketing and recruiting efforts over the decades and one that the Big Ten school's alumni proudly tout years after they leave.

"We're supposed to be one of the universities to follow after, someone to look up to," said sophomore Brian Prewitt of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. "Now that people on the top are involved, it's going to be bad."

Oklahoma counties have history of child death problems

Records reveal that two to the 11 Oklahoma DHS workers and supervisors allegedly involved in her case have been disciplined by the agency within the last four years.


SHAWNEE — The 2009 death of 6-year-old Alexis Morris was in the same region of the state where DHS child welfare workers have been involved in at least four other cases that ended in violent deaths.

Records reveal that two of the 11 DHS workers and supervisors allegedly involved in Alexis' case have been disciplined by the agency within the past four years. It is not possible from the records to determine whether the discipline was connected to that case.

Serenity Deal, 5, Kelsey Smith-Briggs, 2, Aja Johnson, 7, and Melissa Ellison, 5, all suffered violent deaths within the past nine years after having come under supervision of DHS in Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties. Aja's DHS case was closed before her death, said Sheree Powell, spokeswoman for DHS.

Powell said DHS administrators are highly aware of child deaths in Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties and for more than a year have been engaged in a special focus program to identify deficiencies in those counties and provide additional training.

“This broad assessment includes reviews of individual cases, management of the offices and decision making, as well as communications between the counties, district attorneys and the courts,” Powell said. “We have also instituted weekly training sessions with our legal division, county staff and assistant district attorneys.”

A lawsuit over Alexis' death alleges one of the disciplined workers, Tamara Story, was both a close friend and worked at DHS with a sister of Alexis' father.

Alexis' mother contends that relationship prompted Story and other workers to leave Alexis and a brother at their father's home when they should have been removed.

Story declined to comment when contacted by The Oklahoman.

Workers disciplined

Records show Story is one of two DHS workers involved in Alexis' case who have been disciplined by the agency.

Story was fired by DHS in April for dereliction of duty and having medical limitations that prevented her from performing her duties.

Her discharge letter indicates she failed to appear at work the last nine months she was employed, was on medical leave without pay for a portion of that time and had complained actions taken weren't fair because her medical problems were “OKDHS' fault.”

Records show Story was suspended without pay for five days in April 2010 for unsatisfactory performance and misconduct and had twice before received written reprimands on the same grounds.

At the time of her suspension, she was cited for more than 20 areas of substandard performance. Those included falsifying documents in her permanency child placement caseload, lack of worker contacts with parents, being “not diligent at all” in searching for relatives with whom children could be placed, announcing child visits in advance and allowing parent-child unsupervised weekend visitation and trial reunifications without safety assessments of the homes.

In that April 12, 2010, disciplinary letter, DHS Area IV Director William Wilson Jr. ripped the performance of child welfare workers in Pottawatomie County, noting that even though that county was one of two focus counties within his 15-county jurisdiction that had received extra training, a review revealed “outcomes for children were extremely disappointing in most categories.”

“In fact, Pottawatomie is the first and only county in Area IV to have had scores of zero (on a scale of 100) in any category, much less several categories,” Wilson wrote.

Other findings

The county scored:

• 0 percent in substantially achieving the goal of providing permanency and stability for children in their living situations.

• 0 percent in substantially achieving the goal of preserving continuity of family relationships and connections for children.

• 0 percent in substantially achieving the goal of enhancing the capacity of families to provide for their children's needs.

• 67 percent in substantially achieving the top goal of protecting children from abuse and neglect.

• 33 percent in substantially achieving the goal of maintaining children in their home whenever possible and appropriate.

• 67 percent in substantially achieving the goal of providing children with appropriate services to meet educational needs.

• 50 percent in providing children with services to meet their physical and mental health needs.

Gloria Weiss was the other Pottawatomie County DHS child welfare worker named in the lawsuit who has been disciplined by the agency.

Records show Weiss was suspended without pay for five days in 2008 for misconduct that included unauthorized disclosure of confidential information, failure to follow DHS policy and discourteous treatment of clients, employees or members of the public.


High court may revisit grandparents' rights

Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. — Increasingly, a wrenching dispute is playing out in courts nationwide: balancing parents' constitutional rights to raise their children without interference against grandparents' desire to be involved in those youngsters' lives.

Now, a growing number of grandparents are pushing lawmakers around the country to change state standards they say are too restrictive and ignore the unique bonds many grandparents have with their grandchildren.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide this winter whether it will revisit the issue, which it addressed 11 years ago in a landmark case out of Washington state that makes competent parents' wishes the guiding principle in most disputes.

Although all state laws must meet that constitutional threshold, their efforts have resulted in a patchwork of state court rulings and legislation. They now impose such a variety of conditions that the parties' home states can affect the cases almost as much as the specifics.

Connecticut, Florida and Arizona are considered among the most parent-friendly based on their laws or court precedents. Others are considered more grandparent-friendly, including Utah, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Connecticut has become a battleground state in the issue for two reasons: its protections for parents are among the nation's strictest and many of its grandparents are very vocal in their push to change it.

A task force will advise the General Assembly this winter on whether to change state law to give grandparents more chance to get into court to argue their cases.

"Right now it's the luck of the draw if you're some poor family stuck in a state that doesn't stand behind that grandparent-grandchild bond and attachment," said Susan Hoffman, 59. She founded Advocates for Grandparent Grandchild Connection after losing her California petition for visitation when her adult son signed away parenting rights to her grandson.

The growing movement among grandparents' groups has alarmed many parents and their advocacy groups nationwide, including organizers and participants on the website.

Many say they are being pilloried by those who wrongly accept stereotypes that all grandparents are loving and supportive. And they say they're being drained financially to defend parenting rights the Supreme Court has already upheld.

Polly Tavernia, 41, said her New York case cost her family almost $10,000 even though her estranged mother's petition was eventually dismissed.

"It was one of the worst things I've ever been through," she said. "It's honestly just horrible to have to worry about someone else making those decisions for you, especially when they don't know the whole story."

All 50 states have laws governing the conditions for non-parent third parties seeking visitation, but it was only in 2000 that the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling said none of those laws can infringe on the rights of competent parents.