Saturday, December 3, 2011

Foster Kids Prescribed Psychotropic Drugs - ABC's 20/20 - Aired 12-01-2011

Blogger note:
This is a very good report but for the fact that it doesn't address anything to do with some children have no reason to be in foster care and that they have willing and able parents or relatives to take care of them but CPS forces the children to stay in foster care. Even so, the basic message of the expose is quite informative about the misuse of psychotropic drugs on foster children.
Part 1

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Part 2

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Part 3

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Part 4

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Judge rules two of three civil rights claims lacking in foster care case - Oklahoma


A Tulsa federal judge threw out two of three civil rights claims on Thursday in a class-action lawsuit that seeks changes in Oklahoma's foster-care system.

The plaintiffs, however, claimed to be happy with the decision because their "core claim" is still alive.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell allowed a cause of action dealing with foster children's due process rights to be free from harm - and risk of harm - to survive, but he granted the defense's motions for summary judgment on two other constitutional claims.

The lawsuit was filed against various Oklahoma Department of Human Services officials in February 2008 by Children's Rights, a national child-advocacy group based in New York, and five law firms.

The original plaintiffs were nine children who allegedly had suffered in DHS placements. The case has since become a class-action lawsuit, with thousands of children in DHS custody as plaintiffs.

"This decision is a huge victory for Children's Rights as well as the abused and neglected children in Oklahoma's DHS," Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children's Rights, said Thursday evening. "The federal court in Oklahoma has sustained our core claim in today's decision, that children are either being subject to harm or at risk of harm while in state custody."

However, Donald Bingham, an attorney for the defense, said it is important to note that Frizzell did not rule on the merits of the case, finding only that the plaintiffs' side had introduced enough evidence that will "entitle it to its day in court" in February.

Frizzell wrote: "The court concludes plaintiffs have presented proof sufficient to create a genuine dispute of material fact whether defendants' policies, practices and procedures violate plaintiffs' substantive due process right to be reasonably safe from harm."

Frizzell found that the "plaintiffs have presented evidence - albeit disputed - that defendants' oversight of the DHS foster program is so inadequate as to give rise to a question of material fact whether defendants have abdicated their professional judgment."

Also, the judge wrote that experts on both sides of the case, as well as senior DHS managers, "all agree that excessive caseloads, missed visits between case workers and children and inadequate investigations of abuse and neglect pose a threat to the safety of foster children and that inadequate placement options, excessive use of shelters and frequent placement moves threaten the psychological and emotional health of children."

Frizzell wrote that plaintiffs had presented evidence that from 2002 through 2008, the reported rate of abuse or neglect of Oklahoma foster children has been 1.54 to 3.97 times greater than the national rate.

Oklahoma had one of the five highest reported rates in the country during that time, Frizzell wrote.

The judge threw out the plaintiffs' claim that the defendants' policies, practices and procedures interfere with the children's First, Ninth and 14th Amendment liberty and privacy rights.

The plaintiffs asserted that, while DHS policy requires visits between parents and children as well as placement of siblings together whenever possible, the agency's records from 2008 to 2010 reflected that less than 15 percent of visits due between foster children and their biological parents were completed. The plaintiffs also alleged that DHS has a routine practice of separating siblings in custody.

Frizzell wrote that granting the defense's motion for summary judgment on the claim was appropriate because, while individual children can establish acts by DHS workers that have violated their right of familial association, a class-wide deprivation cannot be proven.

The judge noted that the DHS officials sued in the case do not deal with foster children directly. He wrote that, at most, the evidence might support a conclusion that the defendants failed to adequately supervise workers who were charged with the responsibility of ensuring that parent-child visitation occurred.

Frizzell also ruled for the defense on a claim alleging violations of Oklahoma statutes pertaining to the procedural rights of foster children.

The judge wrote that it is impossible for the class as a whole to establish a key element of such a claim because most children's procedural due process rights have not been violated.

Frizzell noted that while the plaintiffs argue that all members are "at risk," they cited no legal authority that such a status meets the requirements for establishing a violation of relevant Fifth and 14th Amendment rights.

The trial, which won't involve a jury, is set for Feb. 21 and is expected to last about four weeks.

Neither side plans to appeal Thursday's mixed ruling.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Number of American Indian children in foster care worries tribal leaders - Minnesota

by Sasha Aslanian

St. Paul, Minn. — Each year about 1,500 American Indian children in Minnesota spend time in foster care or other out-of-home-care, often after allegations of neglect or substance abuse by a parent.

In Minnesota, American Indian children are 14 times more likely to be placed in out-of-home care than white children - the widest such gap in the nation. Officials place 66 percent of the children with relatives or with American Indian foster families.

Even as the total number of Minnesota children in foster care dropped 44 percent in the last decade, the number of American Indian children placed in foster care dropped by only 16 percent.

That worries tribal officials like Erma Vizenor, chairwoman of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. She said the tribes should be able to determine which of their families need intervention, and what kind.

"When we do not have the decision making and the authority and the control to determine what is best for them, it has become a major concern," Vizenor said.

Aiming to reduce the break-up of Indian families, the White Earth and the Leech Lake band of Ojibwe have taken over responsibility for child welfare on tribal lands. Now the White Earth, Minnesota's largest tribe, is now preparing to care for its children living hundreds of miles away in Hennepin County.

High poverty among American Indian families makes it more difficult to meet a child's basic needs, but that doesn't completely explain why Indian children are much more likely to be removed from their parents' care.

The tribes have questioned whether racial bias is a factor in such decisions, and they've worked with state officials to develop training for county workers to reduce bias in deciding which cases to investigate. The training also seeks to help outsiders understand the traditional role extended families play in raising Indian children.

Dawn Blanchard, the state's ombudsperson for American Indian Families, said removing American Indian children from their homes is "a daily reality."

Blanchard sorts cases into those she can solve over the phone, and those that require an investigation. She reports wide variation in how well counties follow a federal law designed to keep Indian children with other family members, or to at least place them with an Indian foster family.

Blanchard said the most common complaints she handles are disagreements between county social workers and tribes over where children should go.

"The tribe will say we want them to go to Aunt Betty and the county will say, 'we have problems with Aunt Betty. We think that she's not a good person,' " Blanchard said. "Maybe she's too old. 'We've heard' — that's a big one 'we've heard that she's drinking.' Is it substantiated? Do we know for sure if she has a history of drinking or was it 10 or 15 years ago and she's cleaned up her life now?"

Representatives of Minnesota's 11 tribes were so concerned that the needs of their children were not adequately addressed that late last year they sent letters to then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Gov.-elect Mark Dayton requesting immediate action to address the problem.

White Earth tribal officials want to take on responsibility for the tribe's children in Hennepin County, hundreds of miles south of the reservation. White Earth children make up a quarter of Hennepin County's American Indian caseload, or about 2 percent of the county's overall cases.

Margaret Thunder, a program manager for Hennepin County child protection, is enthusiastic about the tribe's effort.

"I think it's a huge deal," said Thunder, a member of the Red Lake band of Ojibwe. "They will have 100-percent say. Not that they don't already have a fair percent."

Tribes do have a seat at the table in child protection cases.

The 1978 federal Indian Child Welfare Act requires tribes be notified and involved in decision-making for their children. Hennepin County, with its large urban Indian population, has a high volume of these cases. The county gets high marks for complying with the act, and that's one of the reasons White Earth officials believe addressing the needs of the tribe's children there is a next logical step.

Transferring such cases to the tribe would give it complete control over American Indian cases such as a recent one heard in juvenile court.

Four children, ages 4, 2, 1 and one month, were placed in emergency foster care following reports that their parents were abusing drugs and neglecting the children. The parents didn't show up for the court hearing. Their father is a member of the White Earth band and their mother is enrolled in the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin.

"Her current address is technically St. Joseph's hospital where the treatment center was," said Mike Hogan, a courtroom monitor for the Minneapolis American Indian Center. "No one's quite sure where she is, even her attorney."

A Ho-Chunk attorney who joined the hearing by speaker phone said the tribe would prepare a list of relatives who could care for the children. White Earth officials agreed to let the mother's tribe take the lead, but they agreed to compile a list of paternal relatives.

A guardian ad litem said the children were doing well under the care of their foster care families.

Hogan's boss, Sheri Riemers, said the embrace of extended families offers the most hopeful outcome for children in such tough situations.

"We do believe when children are removed that their spirit is left behind," said Riemers, program director of Indian Child Welfare for the Minneapolis American Indian Center.

Other tribes around the state and around the country are watching closely.

Erin Sullivan Sutton, assistant commissioner of the state Department of Human Services, said she is not aware of another state transferring public child welfare from a state or county to a tribal system. But there are good reasons to do so, said Sutton, the state's point person on child welfare.

"We're thinking that if services can be provided in a cultural context to Indian families and by tribal agencies that there may be more success," she said.

For state and tribal officials success won't mean eliminating out-of-home placements. There will always be children who need to be removed from unsafe situations, but they hope more tribal involvement will reduce the disparate treatment of American Indian children.

Vizenor said the Hennepin County program could be the beginning of an ambitious venture to expand care for children living off the reservation.

"Without a doubt, I know we will be successful and gradually, we will phase in the metro area and eventually all our children in the state of Minnesota," she said.

White Earth and the state will present a report to the legislature in January. The timeline for the Hennepin County transfer, and the costs, are still to be determined.


Panel: Lack of trained investigators at Office of Guardian ad Litem a concern - Utah

By brooke adams

A legislative panel on Tuesday declined to approve the Office of Guardian ad Litem’s request for more money to hire an additional attorney and increase wages, saying it was more concerned the office has no trained investigators to assist staff in reviewing child welfare cases.

Director Rick Smith told the Child Welfare Legislative Oversight Panel that the office’s 41 attorneys, appointed by judges to represent the best interests of children in court proceedings, are currently averaging about 200 clients — twice as many as recommended by national standards. The lone attorney assigned to Uintah, Duchesne and Daggett counties currently has nearly 400 clients, Smith said.

"The concern at this point is we have an attorney out there who may be committing malpractice simply because he has too many clients to represent in an appropriate way," Smith told the lawmakers.

He asked the panel to approve $202,000 in ongoing funds to add an attorney and a support staff member. He also asked the panel to consider addressing inadequate staff wages in next year’s budget. Smith said staff turnover was 21 percent last year, but has been as high as 25 percent in recent years as staff seek higher salaries elsewhere — including the Utah Attorney General’s Office.

"Our attorneys are paid 34 percent less than other attorneys in state government," Smith said. "That’s a problem."

The panel was particularly disturbed, however, that the office has no investigators, as required by statute, to do independent casework.

"We’ve never had funding to hire those investigators," Smith said. "Our attorneys do a lot of it; our support staff do a lot."

As a result, the office uses a lot of investigative work done by the Division of Child and Family Services, he said.

That, combined with heavy case loads, means the office’s attorneys work "a minimum of 40 hours a week," Smith said. But because the state is exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act, "we can work them a lot of hours and they don’t get paid overtime for it, so that is a very common practice."

A motion to approve the office’s budget request was withdrawn after one lawmaker requested more information and two others expressed concerns with the office’s operations.

"I have some real concerns about what the Guardian ad Litem is supposed to do and not supposed to do. So when you’re asking for more money, I’m not too sympathetic," said Rep. Christine F. Watkins, D-Price.

Watkins said her view stemmed from conversations with constituents and first-hand observations of cases in which she felt a Guardian ad Litem stepped "out of what I would consider normal boundaries." She described one attorney who told a child’s parent she had a personality disorder. There was no such diagnosis in the mother’s case, she added.

Watkins said that highlighted the need for trained investigators because "you’re relying on people who shouldn’t be investigating."

Rep. Merlynn T. Newbold, R-South Jordan and the panel’s co-chairwoman, said the Guardian ad Litem’s role is to "advocate for the child and not for the state, and if you’re relying on information from [DCFS] and haven’t done anything on your own, that gives me concern."


ABC News Investigation: Diane Sawyer and Sharyn Alfonsi to Report on the Overmedication of Children in the U.S. Foster Care System

Reports to Air Beginning Wednesday, November 30 on “World News with Diane Sawyer” and Concluding with In Depth Reporting on “20/20″ Friday, December 2

“ABC World News” anchor Diane Sawyer continues her reporting on the United States foster care system with a new series of reports – “Generation Meds.” Following a year-long investigation, Sawyer and Sharyn Alfonsi uncover a startling reality: many foster children, even as young as one-year olds, are being prescribed powerful mind-altering drugs at alarming rates — up to 13 times higher than that of other children. As part of its investigation ABC News was given a first look at a groundbreaking two-year study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) which finds that the federal government has not done enough to protect America’s foster children from being over medicated with these powerful drugs. Reports will air on “World News with Diane Sawyer” beginning on Wednesday, November 30 and will conclude with a special report on “20/20″ Friday, December 2 at 10:00 PM on the ABC Television Network.

Viewers will hear from a number of foster children across the country – like 11-year-old Ke’onte from Texas, who after suffering a childhood filled with neglect was bounced between six foster homes and hospitals over just four years. Ke’onte was put on at least 12 psychiatric medications while in foster care, up to four at the same time. While experts acknowledge children in foster care may have more emotional and behavioral issues, they do not believe this alone justifies the magnitude of the overuse of psychiatric medications. “I was on a whole lot of medicines that I should have not been on,” Ke’onte told Sawyer. Diane Sawyer goes looking for answers – starting in the nation’s capitol asking federal agencies in charge: What is being done to protect these children?

Plus, Sharyn Alfonsi confronts the doctors and asks are they too quick to pick up the prescription pad when dealing with damaged kids in the foster system, including a Florida doctor who prescribed a cocktail of psychiatric medication to a troubled little boy who then took his own life.

And, Sawyer revisits Maryhurst, a unique residential treatment program for kids with the toughest childhoods and deepest traumas; 75 percent enter the facility on these powerful drugs – when they leave, nearly three quarters are on a reduced number of medications or none at all.

This is the third series of reports from Sawyer on the foster care system. Sawyer’s first report, “For the Sake of the Children,” aired on “Primetime” in 2002. “Calling All Angels,” a special “Primetime” report which aired in 2006, cast a light on many of the young, fractured lives in foster care across the country and the ways those children can be saved. The report was recognized with the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

Viewers who want to share their thoughts on the reports should use the twitter hash tag #FosterChange to join in the conversation.

Administration Concerned About Psych Meds and Foster Youths

by John Kelly

No regulation from feds yet; just information sharing

Starting this summer, states will have to provide the federal government with details about how they control the use of psychotropic medications on youth in foster care.

The Obama administration said in a letter to state officials last week that it was concerned about the “safe, appropriate and effective use” of the drugs, which are most often prescribed to adolescents in connection with a diagnosis for mood or conduct disorders, though many child advocates believe they are frequently used as chemical restraints because of their numbing effect on kids.

“As we strengthen child welfare systems’ ability to safely and appropriately manage psychotropic medication use, it is necessary to recognize the corresponding need to…implement effective, non-pharmaceutical interventions,” says the letter, sent jointly by three different divisions of HHS.

States must present the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) with an Annual Progress and Services Report in June 2012. That report must now include “comprehensive descriptions of procedures and protocols planned or in place to ensure the safe and appropriate use of psychotropic medications,” the letter says.

The letter is signed by George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for ACF; Donald Berwick, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS); and Pamela Hyde, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA).

Sheldon presided over Florida’s Department of Children and Families when it became the lightning rod for this issue in 2009, the year that 7-year-old foster youth Gabriel Myers hung himself. Myers had been prescribed psychotropic drugs without informed parental consent or a judge's order while in the foster care system.

A DCF review of Myers death found that doctors, judges, lawyers and social workers are often poorly-informed and need education and training when it comes to giving psychotropic drugs to children. But state legislation aimed at better regulating use of the drugs on foster children was killed the following summer.

The HHS letter suggests particular alarm at the fact that nearly half of foster youth in group or residential homes “are taking at least one psychotropic,” and that the “majority of children in foster care receiving psychotropic medications have multiple prescriptions.”

There is a dearth of information about how effective psychotropics are for kids, the letter says, and there is “scant evidence of the effectiveness of treatment with multiple medications,” a practice that “increases the likelihood of drug interactions and other adverse effects.”

The three HHS divisions also outlined ways in which the federal government intends to help states address the issue. In advance of the annual report’s June deadline, ACF will publish a Program Instruction that specifies what information that will be requested. And at some point during the summer, the divisions plan to convene child welfare and health authorities for “peer learning and technical assistance.”

CMS is currently in the process of disseminating findings from a 16-state working group on best practices for use of psychotropics among children on Medicaid.


Interview with a CASA volunteer

Blogger note:
Found this interesting - since most of us know that CASA's are not truly independent (CPS has their hands wrapped tightly around the program and the volunteers) and do not always look out for the child(ren) in many cases.
by Andrea Poe

EASTON, MD., November 28, 2011 — Last month, The Red Thread profiled CASA as an organization that helps children navigate the legal system. The organization relies on volunteers around the country. This week, The Red Thread interviewed one of those volunteers about her experiences with CASA.

Bonnie Morro, a graduate of the University of Connecticut, is a retired HR director at Becton Dickinson and Company, a medical technology manufacturer headquartered in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.

Following her retirement in January 2005, she spent three years as a substitute teacher in the Torrington, Connecticut public school system, where she taught Kindergarten through 5th grade, as well as pre K developmentally challenged children.

After moving to Easton, Maryland, Morro became a CASA volunteer.

How did you first become involved with CASA?

I wanted to get involved in a volunteer activity that had substance, one that would challenge me, provide a service to the community and be fulfilling. While waiting to be accepted into the program I read a lot about the work that CASA did and was very impressed with the results of the organization’s efforts.

How extensive was the training? What did it entail?

Once an applicant has passed a background check, there is a requirement for 34 hours of in-house training before getting a CASA appointment. There is also a requirement to complete 12 hours of training each year following an appointment.

Initial training is very rigorous, and is conducted by CASA staff and external resources such as lawyers, judges, and Department of Social Services staff.

Training includes areas such as introduction to the law, child protection systems and the courts, exploring cultural awareness and understanding families and children.

What was your first assignment like?

I am currently working on my first assignment, which began in December of 2010. I have been fortunate to get a case where the biological parent is doing everything that has been outlined in her service plan.

The twins were infants when I was assigned the case and have been living in an excellent foster home. They are doing well and their biological mother is working toward reunification with her children.

As a new CASA volunteer, I have much to learn. Having a case that’s moving forward in a positive direction has given me an opportunity to gain experience without much of the frustration that can accompany so many of these cases.

How does it work?

A CASA is assigned a child who is under the protection of the court due to neglect, abuse or abandonment. Responsibilities include visiting the child, or, in my cases, children, once a month, corresponding with the Department of Social Services, meeting with the child(ren)’s parents, contacting any other sources that may be necessary, such as lawyers, teachers, physicians. You must also submit a written report to the court prior to the hearing for the case. A CASA must observe, question, conduct research and make recommendations based on his or her findings that are in the best interest of the child.

What's the most challenging part of being a CASA volunteer?

My greatest challenge is to ensure that I don't overlook anything that could be detrimental to the children. I work very closely with a Department of Social Services Child Protection worker and under the guidance of a CASA staff person.

What’s the greatest reward?

Knowing that what you are doing will make a positive impact on children’s lives.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Obese Third Grader Taken From Mom, Placed in Foster Care

A Cleveland third grader who weighed more than 200 pounds was taken from his mother after officials reportedly said she did not do enough to help the boy, who suffered from a weight-related health issue, to lose weight.

“They are trying to make it seem like I am unfit, like I don’t love my child,” the boy’s mother, who was not identified, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “It’s a lifestyle change and they are trying to make it seem like I am not embracing that. It is very hard, but I am trying.”

Officials first became aware of the boy’s weight after his mother took him to the hospital last year while he was having breathing problems, the newspaper reported. The child was diagnosed with sleep apnea and began to be monitored by social workers while he was enrolled in a program called “Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight” at the Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

The boy lost a few pounds, but recently began to gain some back, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported. At that point, the Department of Children and Family Services asked a juvenile court for custody of the boy, citing his soaring weight as a form of medical neglect, according to the newspaper.

Taking obese children from their families has become a topic of intense debate over the past year after one high-profile pediatric obesity expert made controversial comments in the Journal of the American Medical Association advocating the practice in acute cases.

“In severe instances of childhood obesity, removal from the home may be justifiable, from a legal standpoint, because of imminent health risks and the parents’ chronic failure to address medical problems,” Dr. David Ludwig co-wrote with Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health.

A trial is set for the boy’s ninth birthday next month to determine whether his mother will regain custody.

But one family who has been in the same position as the Ohio family told ABC News they disagreed with the practice when “Good Morning America” spoke with them in January.

“Literally, it was two months of hell. It seemed like the longest two months of my life,” mother Adela Martinez said.

Her daughter, 3-year-old Anamarie Regino, weighing 90 pounds, was taken from her parents and placed into foster care a decade ago.

Anamarie didn’t improve at all in foster care, and she was returned to her parents. The young girl was later diagnosed with a genetic predisposition.

“They say it’s for the well-being of the child, but it did more damage than any money or therapy could ever to do to fix it,” Martinez said.

Anamarie Regino, who is now a teenager, agreed.

“It’s not right, what [Dr. Ludwig] is doing, because to get better you need to be with your family, instead of being surrounded by doctors,” she said.

When told of the Regino case, Ludwig said his solution of state intervention did not always work.

“Well, state intervention is no guarantee of a good outcome, but to do nothing is also not an answer,” he said.

ABC News’ Dan Harris and Mikaela Conley contributed to this report


Arizona CPS myths identified, cleared up by experts

by Mary K. Reinhart

Arizona’s child-welfare system has come under a microscope in recent months, with most of the attention focused on several high-profile deaths and how the state’s Child Protective Services might have prevented them.

State officials said at least six children, who had been the subject of one or more CPS reports, have died so far this year. Of the 70 children whose deaths officials attributed to maltreatment in 2010, 18 had prior CPS involvement.

As a gubernatorial task force on child safety works on recommendations, which will likely become legislation in the coming session, misconceptions and myths abound about the responsibilities and rules governing CPS and its workers.

“The myth is that there’s a simple solution to this problem,” said Karin Kline, who spent 26 years in a variety of CPS positions.

Another is that there are obvious red flags to show CPS workers which children should be removed, she said.

“That the kids who are killed have prior physical injuries and a prior report that a CPS worker somehow overlooked,” she said. “Often, it’s a kid sent to school dirty or hungry, or mom’s got drug problems.”

The Republic asked experts to help identify common myths surrounding child abuse and neglect. Among them:

CPS can force parents or caregivers into drug or mental-health treatment or to accept other services, such as parenting classes and child care.

In fact, state law limits the authority of CPS to require anything of parents or caregivers accused of abusing or neglecting their children. And the law requires the caseworker to inform the family of this right at the beginning of an investigation.

Once caseworkers remove children and place them in state custody, a judge can require the family to meet certain conditions in order for the state to return the children. Parents might be able to keep their children under an “in-home dependency,” which also involves a court order and requirements parents must meet to prevent the child’s placement into foster care.

But short of a court order, the law states that a CPS worker “has no legal authority to compel the family to cooperate with the investigation or to receive protective services offered.”

CPS will offer services to families accused or at risk of abuse or neglect, but participation is voluntary. Officials said families who agree to participate voluntarily are more likely to benefit than those forced to accept treatment or services as a condition for getting their children back.

Budget cuts over the past several years, however, have reduced the extent and the timeliness of voluntary services.

Confidentiality laws prevent CPS from talking publicly about cases.

In fact, Arizona has one of the least restrictive confidentiality laws in the country. State law allows the department to “confirm, clarify or correct” information about a case of child abuse or neglect that already has been made public.

That might include a situation where police investigating a missing or neglected child-release information about prior CPS involvement in the case. CPS could speak publicly about the case to correct misinformation or explain what caseworkers may have done to try to help the family.

The department rarely takes that opportunity, however, and some say that can make it appear that it’s got something to hide.

“They can talk until they’re blue in the face if they so choose,” said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. “If they don’t talk, they’re stonewalling.”

Kline sees it differently.

“The myth here is that CPS is not talking to cover for themselves,” said Kline, now with Arizona State University’s Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy.

The agency does release basic information about child fatalities and near fatalities. One of the concerns about providing more information, however, is that it could endanger federal funding under a child-welfare law that has its own confidentiality requirements.

But Wexler said that’s just an excuse. Federal officials have never taken a nickel away from a state for a confidentiality breach, he said, and the move in recent years has been toward more openness, not less.

Most children are killed by their mother’s boyfriend.

In fact, mothers were the perpetrators in 34 out of 70 child maltreatment deaths in 2010, according to the Arizona Child Fatality Review Program, and fathers were responsible for 18 child deaths.

A mother’s partner was the culprit in six child deaths last year.

“It’s true that a boyfriend presents a risk factor to a young child,” Kline said. “But it is not true that they’re more likely to harm a child.”

The statistics reflect the fact that mothers are the primary caregivers. Sixteen of the child-abuse and neglect deaths in 2010 were because of prematurity or other medical causes, such as a mother failing to seek medical care for a child or a baby born prematurely because of prenatal drug exposure.

Child abuse and neglect is spread equally across all socio-economic levels.

In fact, the most recent federal study shows that children in families earning below $15,000 a year are more than five times as likely to be considered maltreated compared with other children.

Researchers aren’t clear whether that’s because of the stress of poverty, or if greater scrutiny by state agencies results in more abuse and neglect reports. Most of these families receive some kind of public benefit, such as food stamps or subsidized housing.

“The more challenges that a family experiences and the more stress a family experiences, the more likely children’s needs aren’t going to be met, and they’re gonna be abused” or neglected, Kline said, adding that the vast majority of low-income families don’t abuse or neglect their children.

Other factors that can put children at risk include lack of child care and health care, and the lack of support from extended family. Some argue that case managers sometimes confuse poverty with neglect, and they remove children instead of offering help that would keep families together.

“The biggest connection between poverty and neglect is the confusion of poverty with neglect,” Wexler said. “Either way, your best solution is to target the poverty.”