Saturday, December 10, 2011

Child Welfare Agencies Nationwide Traffic ‘Adoptable’ Children Into Foster Care

Here's a very good article about the truth of CPS and children being removed and placed into foster care. It touches on a little bit of everything involved.

Denver Human Services defends two caseworkers sued child Chandler Grafner's starvation death

By Felisa Cardona

Two social workers who were supervising 7-year-old Chandler Grafner's case before he starved to death are still working for Denver Human Services.

Margaret Booker and Mary Peagler are supervisors with the child welfare division of DHS, said agency spokeswoman Revekka Balancier.

Booker supervises the foster care and adoptive family recruitment and support efforts, and Peagler supervises interns and the family visitation program.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez denied a motion to dismiss a wrongful-death lawsuit filed against them by Chandler's estate and his biological parents.

The judge noted that the neglect of Chandler by social services was "conscience-shocking" and that a complaint of child abuse made by a teacher's aide a month before the boy's May 6, 2007, death wasn't thoroughly explored by DHS.

Balancier defended the caseworkers, saying DHS is made up of hundreds of caseworkers and support staff who make it their life's work to help keep children safe.

"The death of a child at the hands of an abuser is a terrible and tragic loss for our community and is deeply felt by every member of our staff," she wrote in an e-mail. "We have confidence that each of our workers performs their duties with grave attention to the safety needs of children, compassion for families who are in crisis and experienced decision making in the complex task of making sure our children's needs are being met."

At the time of Chandler's death, Booker was responsible for investigating claims related to child maltreatment and deciding whether further investigation was warranted. Peagler was in charge of Chandler's case file.

In their motion to dismiss, they claimed that the Jefferson County Department of Human Services was legally responsible for Chandler's care because that agency initially placed him with stepfather Jon Phillips, who abused him.

Martinez disagreed that DHS caseworkers were not directly responsible for Chandler's care.

The judge cited a previous 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling regarding a wrongful-death lawsuit against a caseworker in New Mexico who was in charge of overseeing the adoption of a girl with severe spina bifida.

The 3-year-old girl, Grace Bogey, was beaten to death weeks after her adoption and complaints raised by her nurse, who suspected she was being abused.

In that case, the 10th Circuit overturned a lower court's decision to dismiss a lawsuit against the girl's caseworker who failed to conduct a home visit when the girl's grandfather moved in and the living situation changed.

Martinez said that case was "remarkably similar" to Chandler's case, though he noted that in his view the Denver case was even more egregious in that DHS received complaints from Chandler's school and failed to investigate.

"Chandler died from starvation and dehydration and, at the time of his death was twenty pounds underweight for his age," Martinez wrote in his opinion. "These injuries, by their nature, occur over a period of time. Had Defendants property exercised their professional judgement in response to the April 17, 2007, referral, these injuries may well have been avoided."

Though Martinez paved the way for a jury trial against the caseworkers, a previous ruling dismissed the case against Denver Human Services and the Jefferson County Department of Human Services, based on government immunity.

Chandler was living with Phillips and his girlfriend, Sarah Berry, at the time of his death. Phillips was sentenced to life without parole for first-degree murder, and Berry is serving a 48-year prison sentence for second-degree murder.


Ohio AG calls for foster care review

Mike DeWine wants to know why kids are not being adopted or reunited with their families.

(Cincinnati) — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today called for a complete review of the foster care system in Ohio. DeWine's call for action was made at a Child Safety Summit he hosted in Cincinnati.

"I convened this child safety summit today, the first of many I intend to hold across Ohio, because we need to conduct a comprehensive, holistic review of the entire foster care system in this state," said Attorney General DeWine. "Too many of these children are languishing in foster care with no real hope of ever having a permanent loving home."

About 40 representatives from foster care agencies, law enforcement, advocacy groups, prosecutors' offices, and adoption agencies attended the summit, including Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, Rita Soronen of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, and Moira Weir, director of the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services.

The Summit discussed several issues facing the foster care system, including recent deaths of foster children after being reunified with relatives.

According to data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, 33 children died (not necessarily from abuse or neglect) after being in foster care and being reunified with their biological parents from 2005-2010.

Hamilton County has had three deaths of foster children reunified with their biological parents in 2010. In the U.S. Senate, DeWine authored language in the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act clarifying laws that in issues of family reunification, the best interests of the child always have to come first.

However, DeWine noted today that his call for review is not limited to family reunification.

"There are children in the Ohio child welfare system who are dying, but there are also children dying who have been abused and neglected who have never been in foster care," said Attorney General DeWine. "There are also children in foster care who spend their entire lives in the system, never being adopted into a safe and loving home."

Many of Ohio's foster care children end up "aging out of foster care," DeWine noted. The percentage of children aging out in Ohio is greater than the national average of 11 percent in 2010. In 2009, Ohio emancipated 1,453 foster children, which represented 15 percent of the foster care population.

DeWine also noted the alarming amount of psychiatric medications apparently being prescribed to foster children. A recently released federal Government Accountability Office report said foster children can be prescribed these drugs at doses higher than the maximum levels approved by the FDA, and many foster children received five or more psychiatric drugs at the same time.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Court upholds termination of soldier’s parental rights - Arkansas

By John Lyon

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Court of Appeals today upheld the state Department of Human Services’ decision to terminate the parental rights of an Arkansas man who was serving in the Army in Iraq when his wife’s boyfriend severely injured his 5-month-old son.

A six-judge panel of the court ruled 5-1 that Edward Glover’s appeal of the ruling was without merit. The dissenting judge said the appeal did have merit because Pulaski County circuit judges exceeded their authority in requiring Glover to “jump through various hoops” to retain custody of his son even though he had done nothing wrong.

According to the judges’ opinions, it was discovered in April 2009 that Glover’s son had been the victim of severe abuse. The boy had bruising to his scalp and around his eyes, retinal hemorrhages, perforation of his stomach, a liver contusion, a possible lung contusion, three rib fractures and burns in several places.

Glover was serving in Iraq at the time. DHS and the circuit court determined that the abuser was Glover’s wife’s lover and that Glover’s wife knew that her boyfriend had a history of domestic violence but chose to discount it. The parental rights of Glover’s wife were terminated.

Glover obtained emergency leave and returned to Arkansas in May 2009. He attended a series of hearings, presided over by a series of judges, and was given a long list of orders to comply with, including obtaining a psychological examination, attending parenting classes, attending anger-management classes and submitting to DNA tests and random drug and alcohol screenings, among other things.

Glover’s parental rights were terminated in February of this year for failing to comply with the orders. His lawyer filed a “no merit” appeal — meaning the lawyer believed the appeal was without merit but filed it at Glover’s insistence — and asked to be allowed to withdraw from the case.

Today, the Court of Appeals granted the lawyer’s request and affirmed the order terminating Glover’s parental rights, finding that the appeal was “wholly without merit.”

Judge John Pittman wrote the majority opinion, with Judges Robert Gladwin, John Robbins, Robin Wynne and David Glover concurring.

Judge Josephine Hart wrote in the dissent that the circuit judges had no authority to impose the requirements on Glover.

“The reason (for the judges’ orders) was the criminal battery of the child by a person who was engaged in an adulterous relationship with the child’s mother while Mr. Glover was deployed more than 4,000 miles away in the armed forces of his country,” Hart wrote.

Pittman said in the majority opinion that “the dissenting judge’s passionate outrage is noteworthy,” but he said the issues she raised were not raised in any of the circuit court hearings and could not be considered for the first time on appeal.


Woman sues DYFS after her adopted child was allegedly sexually, physically abused under institution's watch - New Jersey

By Megan DeMarco/Statehouse Bureau

TRENTON — While under the care of the state’s child protection agency, a Monmouth county baby was burned, beaten, and sexually abused, then ignored as doctor after doctor recommended therapy for anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, a lawyer for her adopted mother says.

Three different caseworkers at the state’s Division of Youth and Family Services could have stopped the abuse several times, attorney David Mazie contends, but none did.

Now the girl is 13, and her adopted mother is suing the state Division of Youth and Family Services and three caseworkers for damages in a trial that kicked off Monday with impassioned opening arguments in Trenton.

Child advocates say it is rare for civil cases against DYFS to reach a full trial, where the actions of caseworkers in charge of protecting children can be put on full display.

The case also comes amid an ongoing overhaul of the child welfare system that was in its early stage when the allegations were first raised.

Some child welfare advocates say the case indicates problems that exist in DYFS to this day, but others say reports of a federal monitor appointed in 2003 show the child protection system is improving. The state has spent more than $1 billion on the reforms.

"To the extent that there is any good news in all this it is only that this case is part of the legacy of DYFS’ failed past," said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. He added the federal monitor’s reports show, "this is a much better agency now than it was before, and such tragedies are a lot less likely."

Richard Gelles, a dean at the University of Pennsylvania who provided expert testimony for the woman suing DYFS, said the case exposes "a severe systemic dysfunction" that still exists, noting that some of those who handled the girl’s case continued to work for the division. One of the three caseworkers named in the case worked for the Department of Children and Families as of Sept. 30, according to public payroll records.

During opening arguments, Mazie outlined alleged negligence by DYFS from 2000 to 2005, when the girl, identified as S.A., was placed with the woman who would adopt her.

"They failed in this case, they failed miserably. They turned a blind eye on this child," Mazie said. "This is going to be with her for the rest of her life."

As a 2-year-old, she was given to her biological father in 2000, without proper vetting, Mazie said. While in his care and under DYFS supervision, the toddler suffered sexual and physical abuse.

She was brought to the emergency room twice, and a neighbor reported she had burns on her body and a belt mark on her chest, the attorney said. She was removed when the father’s girlfriend reported she was bound, beaten and hanging from a hook in the wall, he added.

Mazie said after she was removed from the home, doctors recommended therapy for post traumatic stress disorder. It took DYFS two years to provide it, and escalated the girl’s anxiety by allowing visits with her father, he said.

He added that a caseworker was supposed to visit with the girl once a month, but there were several months when no one appeared at the home, or checked on her in foster care.

Elliott Abrutyn, a lawyer hired by the state to represent DYFS, said children under the state’s care also have a legal guardian independent of DYFS, and often the caseworkers were following court orders.

"What happened to (her) of course is tragic," he said, telling the jury that it was "paramount" to understand DYFS caseworkers "were always absolutely looking out for the best interest of the child."

Abrutyn said doctors who treated the baby when she was brought into the emergency room could have reported suspected abuse to DYFS, and did not.

"Whatever our clients did, they did in good faith," he said.

Lauren Kidd, a spokeswoman for DYFS, said the division does not comment on pending litigation.

The adopted mother, identified only as L.A., is seeking monetary damages to assist in the care of her daughter. The case is expected to last two to three weeks.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yankton Sioux Seek Justice for 17-Year Old Case at the White House Tribal Nations Conference

By Stephanie Woodard

During the recent White House Tribal Nations Conference, Yankton Sioux Tribe chairman Thurmond Cournoyer hand-delivered a message to Charles Galbraith, Navajo, associate director of White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement. In the letter, Cournoyer asked the Obama administration to end a 17-year miscarriage of justice that resulted in the incarceration of four tribal members.

This is the second time the tribe has reached out to Washington. The first was an appeal to the Justice Department, which was rebuffed. “I believe the president will stand up for justice,” Cournoyer said.

In 1994, according to Cournoyer, 11 grade-school-age children were kidnapped from the reservation in a chaotic raid, isolated from their families, mistreated in foster care and aggressively prepared by the FBI — using anatomical drawings, group therapy in which they were encouraged to talk about sex, and other means — to testify that five of their uncles had abused them. One man was acquitted, and four others were each sentenced to as many as 33 years after a trial that an appeals-court judge and numerous experts — including forensic psychologist Hollida Wakefield; famed defense attorney Linda Baden; Johns Hopkins professor of child and adolescent psychiatry Maggie Bruck; and Robert Chatelle, head of the National Center for Reason and Justice — later said was based on the coerced testimony of young children and riddled with judicial error and racial prejudice.

During the trial, jury members laughed at jokes about American Indians and shared fantastic and lurid speculations on American Indian customs. The trial judge held a special hearing on the jury’s behavior, but found that since it had not occurred during the pre-trial period when the jury is chosen, it was acceptable. The appeals-court judge called the evidence of bias “a matter of grave concern.” The men were briefly granted the possibility of a new trial, which was then withdrawn at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The four convicted men — Jesse Rouse, Desmond Rouse, Garfield Feather, and Russell Hubbeling — and the child-witnesses, now adults, who recanted shortly after the trial, maintain the men’s innocence. “This, in my long career, is one of the top injustices,” said Wakefield.

“These men should be exonerated and released immediately,” Cournoyer said, adding that the civil-rights violations against the children should be investigated as well.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Scandals at Texas agency facilities brought reforms, but state hospitals didn't follow lead

By Eric Dexheimer and Andrea Ball

In 2007, stunned by revelations of ongoing sexual abuse of young state wards by the adults charged with caring for them, legislators passed a series of laws that reformed how the Texas Youth Commission kept its teenage offenders safe. The changes included simple adjustments considered best practices in lockups for years: increased use of security cameras to capture and record incidents, independent monitors to field complaints and a separate investigative team to pursue allegations of abuse.

In 2009, images discovered on a lost cellphone revealed that staff members at a state-run school for people with disabilities had promoted a "fight club," instigating young residents to hit and push one another. The reports came on the heels of a federal lawsuit requiring reforms to the same system of schools. Another, but similar set of reforms added thousands of cameras and a standing order that investigators start looking for patterns in past claims of abuse to identify problem employees.

Now a third agency in less than five years finds itself in the spotlight because of claims a staffer abused children in state care. In late October, the Department of Family and Protective Services, which investigates claims of abuse in state facilities, found reason to believe psychiatrist Charles Fischer had sexually abused two patients, in 2003 and 2006, at the Austin State Hospital. Weeks later, the Texas Medical Board concluded that evidence supported nine claims of sexual abuse against Fischer dating back at least two decades.

Fischer has not been criminally charged. Through his lawyer he "vigorously" denied the allegations.

The news nevertheless has promoted self-examination among state officials.

"We want to know, how did we get to this place with a number of allegations (against Fischer), even if not confirmed?" said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the state Health and Human Services Commission.

One likely reason, reporting by the American-Statesman shows, is that none of the basic reforms mandated by lawmakers only a few years earlier at the Youth Commission and state schools made their way to the state hospital system, despite the similarities in the three agencies' missions: caring for troubled, mentally fragile children in an institutional setting.

The 13 state supported living centers (formerly called state schools) and the state psychiatric hospital system are even overseen by the same agency: the Health and Human Services Commission, which shares office space with the Texas Youth Commission.

"There are a number of things we put into place at the state supported living centers that we are looking at to see if we could put them in place at the state hospitals," acknowledged Goodman.

"In hindsight, could we have done things differently?" added Carrie Williams of the Department of State Health Services, which oversees the state's 10 psychiatric hospitals. "Absolutely."

There is no allegation that confirmed abuse claims at the state hospital system extend past a single person — a contrast to the Youth Commission and the living centers, which were found to have deep and systemic deficiencies requiring immediate repair.

Legislators are vowing new investigations anyway.

"I am reviewing the measures taken by our state agencies in response to this tragedy to determine whether they need to be put into statute and possibly strengthened," said state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound , who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee .

The allegation that one of the hospital system's doctors could have carried on a series of assaults over decades despite numerous reports, as reforms were occurring at similar agencies literally next door, suggests missed opportunities and raises questions about government's ability to anticipate and prevent serious problems, rather than to react and respond only to scandal.

The agencies treat different clients; however, not different enough to account for security variations, advocates say.

"Any additional precautions when you're working with such vulnerable population are important," said Beth Mitchell, supervising attorney for Disability Rights Texas, an Austin-based group that often litigates on behalf of mentally ill patients. "Hopefully, this will put the hospitals on notice, and they'll do the right thing."

News that officials at the Texas Youth Commission knew about but largely ignored confirmed reports that two administrators at a West Texas facility were sexually preying on teenagers in their custody hit just as the 2007 legislative session was getting under way. Forced by lawmakers to remake itself, the agency — last week renamed the Texas Juvenile Justice Department — undertook a series of reform measures.

A number of the changes were specifically designed to make Youth Commission facilities physically safer for offenders in its custody. Several were informed by the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a 2003 federal law that seeks to address the high incidence of sexual assault in lockups by targeting the culture and physical settings that allowed abuse.

Chief among them was the purchase, for $18 million, of 12,000 new high-definition cameras that peered into literally every corner of the Youth Commission's facilities. The images can be accessed at any time by the facility administrators, investigators and even agency executives in Austin.

The 10 state psychiatric hospitals, by comparison, have a total of 549 cameras, about a third from the 1980s. Three of the facilities have fewer than six cameras each.

Stored digital images not only protect youth, but also accused staff, said Cris Love, head of the Youth Commission's Office of Inspector General. "They're extremely important — a huge, huge asset to investigations," he said.

Though the agency doesn't keep numbers, Love said, images from the cameras have "absolutely" been used to both clear and convict staff of abuse allegations.

A November 2010 report by an outside consulting company hired to evaluate the reforms concluded, "Youth and staff commented at every TYC facility that cameras have increased safety, especially sexual safety."

The agency also made small but significant physical changes to its facilities. It took down walls that blocked sight lines, decreasing opportunities for hidden activity. It replaced solid wooden doors with doors that had windows and exchanged individual locks for a new keyless entry system that requires staff to have a control room operator open doors.

"This practice contributes to the sexual safety of youth by limiting the number of keys held by staff, thereby decreasing the number of areas they are able to access," the consultant wrote.

Criminal cases against the West Texas facility administrators had stalled when local prosecutors dragged their feet, so how the agency pursued claims of abuse was overhauled as well.

Senate Bill 103, which provided the blueprint for the Youth Commission's reform, created the independent inspector general, whose officers were granted police powers to investigate abuse claims and make arrests. New laws also allowed the Youth Commission to use the adult prison system's Special Prosecution Unit to take children's cases to court on its own.

"Looking at the fight club situation at the state school," Hurley said, "a lot of the things we now have in place would have prevented that."

Living centers react

In fact, recent reforms at the state living centers mirrored those implemented at the Youth Commission less than two years earlier.

The centers, residential facilities where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities receive a full range of psychiatric and medical care, came under scrutiny in 2006 after a federal civil rights investigation of the Lubbock center found "just deplorable conditions generally," recalled Disability Rights' Mitchell.

Follow-up investigations found problems in other centers, and the U.S. Department of Justice sued the state to force reforms. Among other claims, federal lawyers asserted that the Texas facilities did not provide "reasonably safe conditions, including protection from abuse, neglect, and other harm." In 2009, the Department of Aging and Disability Services signed a consent order, promising to improve how center residents were treated and cared for.

Reports in March 2009 that employees at the Corpus Christi living center had been arranging late-night fights among disabled residents came as legislators were beginning a new biennial session. Three months later, Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill mandating a sweeping set of reforms.

Within months, the state began laying 35 miles of fiber-optic cable and installing 3,200 new surveillance cameras at its centers.

Though the cameras were not as pervasively placed as those at the Youth Commission facilities — they cover mainly common areas, not treatment or residential rooms — they are monitored around the clock by center staff, spokeswoman Allison Lowery said.

State hospitals don't have employees designated to monitor cameras, health services department spokeswoman Williams said.

"They're a big component of our larger reforms," Lowery said, adding that the recorded images have been used to train staff, as well as to provide definitive evidence to confirm or dismiss complaints.

Department of Family and Protective Services data show the number of confirmed allegations at state supported living centers — reports that investigators determined were true based on a preponderance of evidence — grew from 8 percent in 2009, before the new cameras, to 9 percent in 2011, a difference of 90 cases. The case confirmation rate at state hospitals fell a percentage point over the same period.

Officials say the new cameras may not be entirely responsible for the difference. But "it has helped with the confirmation rate," said Wendy Ivy, a policy analyst with the protective service's facility investigation unit.

New inquiry policies

The 2009 living center reforms also required that investigations into allegations of abuse at the facilities be pursued differently than at other mental health agencies.

At state hospitals, Department of Family and Protective Services investigators looking into allegations of abuse are given 14 days to respond and finish their initial report. The new rules for the living centers require the reports be completed more expeditiously, in 10 days.

As with the Texas Youth Commission, the reforms also empowered the Health and Human Services Commission's Office of Inspector General to act as official law enforcement agents and assist with investigations — but only on those cases within the state supported living centers.

Perhaps the biggest difference in abuse inquiries between facilities, however, has been in how investigators can research and weigh an accused perpetrator's past record. At state hospitals, detectives generally do not take into account previous complaints and accusations against an individual.

Because of the 2009 federal reforms, however, the same investigators examining comparable allegations at the living centers must examine older cases to identify patterns. "Trends shall be tracked by the categories of: type of incident; staff alleged to have caused the incident; individuals directly involved; location of incident; date and time of incident; cause(s) of incident; and outcome of investigation," the new law stated.

Even if the new investigation is inconclusive, Ivy said, examiners can still document a noteworthy history of complaints on the "concerns and recommendations" portion of their reports, alerting future investigators to a suspect's troubled past.

Trending analysis "makes a big difference when you have a perpetrator who's constantly being reported, being called in for the same incidents time after time by different individuals," Mitchell added.

State records show that seven boys ages 13 to 17 who were patients at the Austin State Hospital accused Fischer of inappropriate sexual contact between 2001 and 2006 and that two others made complaints against him while he was working at other facilities.

Hospitals follow suit

State officials say they are already changing how they run the hospitals and investigate abuse incidents. Two weeks ago, executives announced a ban on after-hours therapy sessions unless two staff members are present and a requirement that individual treatment services occur only in rooms with windows or in locations that can be observed by other staff members — all rules adopted years earlier by the Texas Youth Commission following its 2007 scandal, Hurley said.

State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, said he plans to introduce a bill in 2013 that would require the Department of State Health Services to perform a more extensive FBI fingerprint background check on employees — a safeguard already required by the Department of Aging and Disability Services, which runs the state centers.

Hospital administrators also have ordered "a review of sexual abuse allegations, confirmations and actions taken \u2026 to identify any trends" in old state hospital cases. The Department of Family and Protective Services announced that it was undertaking a review of all sexual abuse complaints filed in the past five years at every state facility. "Trends or patterns may result in the reopening of old cases," agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins said. "We want to make sure we haven't missed anything."

Williams said officials also are discussing whether to add more cameras to state hospitals, although vulnerabilities of its patients could limit where and how many. "These are psychiatric patients who come to us for mental health treatment, and they have a right to privacy," she said

Still, she added, "there will be more changes. We're looking at what other agencies have done."

About this story

Last month, the American-Statesman broke the story that state investigators had found credible evidence that longtime staff psychiatrist Charles Fischer had sexually abused two of his patients at Austin State Hospital. Soon after the story, state health officials announced immediate reforms to protect patients, and the Texas Medical Board suspended Fischer's license based on its determination that he had abused nine children under his care dating back to the early 1990s.


Virginia Beach police officer arrested, charged with child sex abuse

Virginia Beach police say an officer has been charged with sex abuse against a child.

The investigation started on Friday when Child Protective Services received a report of the officer abusing the child.

He is now charged with one count of aggravated sexual battery and one count of custodial indecent liberties.

Deputies are holding him without bond in the Virginia Beach Correctional Center.

Chilldres has been on the force for 18 years and is currently assigned to the services division of the department.

Police suspended Chilldres without pay while the investigation unfolds.


Foster fiasco - Boy on run two years after ‘bungle’


It’s a colossal foster-care nightmare that ended with the disappearance of a 7-year-old boy two years ago — and it didn’t have to happen.

Top-notch lawyers appointed by a judge to represent the interests of missing Patrick Alford claim that the child, who vanished from his Brooklyn foster home, could have been safe today if not for glaring missteps by city child-welfare workers.

The lawyers argue that the employees with the city’s Administration for Children’s Service outrageously misled the Family Court in their bid to prove the child was in danger and even required placement in foster care in the first place.

It’s not clear why the workers did what they did to justify taking the boy. But they failed to disclose to a Family Court judge that, at the time, the child had actually been living at an aunt’s house and not with his mother, who was battling drug-addiction problems, lawyer Jonathan Lerner argued in papers filed in Brooklyn federal court.

Child-welfare workers lied in a sworn affidavit by “falsely representing to the court” there was “an imminent danger to the child’s life” if he was not immediately removed, “when in truth” young Patrick “was in no danger, imminent or otherwise, from continuing in his aunt’s care,” the documents state.

Lerner, a senior attorney at the white-shoe firm of Skadden Arps now serving as pro-bono counsel for the child, said ACS “made no assessment” that the aunt’s temporary custody of the boy “posed any danger” when its workers decided to seize Patrick on Dec. 29, 2009.

When ACS workers met again with the aunt two weeks later, they even deemed her suitable to serve as a temporary guardian for the boy. But for reasons that are unclear, the child nevertheless continued to remain in the foster home until his disappearance, Lerner wrote in the scathing court papers.

Patrick, who would now be 9 years old, was last seen on the night of Jan. 22, 2010, after he apparently slipped off while taking out the trash with his foster mom at her East New York home.

Adding to the debacle, ACS put him with a foster mother who spoke only Spanish, even though Patrick spoke only English.

The child, who had documented emotional and educational issues, was so unhappy that he began to experience psychiatric problems and tried to run away on several occasions.

Despite a psychologist’s assessment that the boy urgently needed medication and psychiatric care, ACS failed to take immediate action to help the boy, Lerner charged.

This chain of events prompted a federal judge overseeing the lawsuit about the child’s disappearance to suggest that — if proven — the city could be liable for damages.

Lawyers for the city strongly dispute the claim that ACS workers deliberately misled a Family Court judge and contend that facts arose that led them to believe that leaving Patrick with relatives was not a good option.


Critics: ‘Tough’ sheriff botched sex-crime cases - Arizona

Jacques Billeaud, Associated Press

The 13-year-old girl opened the door of her home in this small city on the edge of Phoenix to encounter a man who said that his car had broken down and he needed to use the phone. Once inside, the man pummeled the teen from behind, knocking her unconscious and sexually assaulting her.

Seven months before, in an apartment two miles away, another 13-year-old girl was fondled in the middle of the night by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. She woke up in her room at least twice a week to find him standing over her, claiming to be looking for her mother’s cell phone.

Both cases were among more than 400 sex-crimes reported to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office during a three-year period ending in 2007 — including dozens of alleged child molestations — that were inadequately investigated and in some instances were not worked at all, according to current and former police officers familiar with the cases.

In El Mirage alone, where Arpaio’s office was providing contract police services, officials discovered at least 32 reported child molestations — with victims as young as 2 years old — where the sheriff’s office failed to follow through, even though suspects were known in all but six cases.

Many of the victims, said a retired El Mirage police official who reviewed the files, were children of illegal immigrants.

The botched sex-crimes investigations have served as an embarrassment to a department whose sheriff is the self-described “America’s Toughest Sheriff’’ and a national hero to conservatives on the immigration issue.

Arpaio’s office refused several requests over a period of months to answer questions about the investigations and declined a public records request for an internal affairs report, citing potential disciplinary actions.

Brian Sands, a top sheriff’s official who is in charge of the potential discipline of any responsible employees, was later made available to talk about the cases. He declined to say why they weren’t investigated. “There are policy violations that have occurred here,’’ Sands said. “It’s obvious, but I can’t comment on who or what.’’

Sands said officers had subsequently moved to clear up inadequately investigated sex-crimes in El Mirage and elsewhere in the county. He said leads were worked if they existed and cases were closed if there was no further evidence to pursue.

Arpaio’s office was under contract to provide police services in El Mirage as the city struggled with its then dysfunctional department. After the contract ended and El Mirage was re-establishing its own police operation, the city spent a year sifting through layers of disturbingly incomplete casework.

El Mirage Detective Jerry Laird, who reviewed some the investigations, learned from a sheriff’s summary of 50 to 75 cases files he picked up from Arpaio’s office that an overwhelming majority of them hadn’t been worked.

That meant there were no follow-up reports, no collection of additional forensic evidence and zero effort made after the initial report of the crime was taken.

“I think that at some point prior to the contract (for police services) running out, they put their feet on the desk, and that was that,’’ Laird said.

Arpaio acknowledged his office had completed an internal probe into the inadequate investigations, but said, “I don’t think it’s right to get into it until we get to the bottom of this and see if there’s disciplinary action against any employees.’’

A small number of cases from El Mirage were handed over to prosecutors, but the El Mirage Police Department said most were no longer viable — evidence dating as far back as 2006 had grown cold or wasn’t collected in the first place, victims had either moved away or otherwise moved on.

Bill Louis, then-assistant El Mirage police chief who reviewed the files after the sheriff’s contract ended, believes the decision to ignore the cases was made deliberately by supervisors in Arpaio’s office — and not by individual investigators.

“I know the investigators. I just cannot believe they would wholesale discount these cases. No way,’’ Louis said. “The direction had to come (from) up the food chain.’’

Louis said he believes whoever made the decision knew that illegal immigrants — who are often transient and fear the police — were unlikely to complain about the quality of investigations. He said some cases also involved families here legally.

El Mirage paid the sheriff’s office $2.7 million for a wide range of police protection from 2005 through mid-October 2007, after the city’s police department had been criticized in an audit as poorly organized, loosely supervised and mismanaged.

Although a small number of El Mirage officers continued working there during the period, Arpaio brought in patrol officers and detectives and managers who ran the department.

El Mirage police files obtained by The Associated Press through public records requests establish a pattern of sex-crimes not actually being investigated after the crimes were reported to Arpaio’s office.

In April 2007, a 3-year-old girl was reported molested by her father, an illegal immigrant who cared for the child while her mother was at work. When the mother confronted her husband about the abuse, he cried and swore he’d never do it again.

Yet a few days later, the mother noticed more signs of sexual abuse on her daughter and called for help. After the initial report, that help didn’t come.

The string of unresolved cases left Elizabeth Ditlevson, deputy director for the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, shaking her head. “My impressions were anger at the system and concern for the people whose cases weren’t addressed,’’ she said.

According to both Sands and Scott Freeman, a sheriff’s official who heard complaints from then-El Mirage Police Chief Mike Frazier about the quality of the sex-crimes investigations, more than 400 cases countywide had to be reopened. Freeman told outside investigators examining alleged managerial misconduct at Arpaio’s office that a number of arrests were made in the reopened cases.

The April 2011 report on alleged managerial misconduct said the sheriff’s internal effort to determine what had gone wrong with the sex-crimes investigations was twice derailed.

One delay occurred when the male sheriff’s official leading the inquiry was accused of sexual harassment — this by a female supervisor whose portfolio included some of the mishandled cases, according to the report.

Another internal affairs investigation, launched in May 2008, was stopped after the investigator was pulled away at the direction of David Hendershott, then the top aide to Arpaio, to help with another matter. The internal probe was reopened in December 2010 while Hendershott was on medical leave, according to the 2011 summary.

Hendershott’s account conflicted with others.

Hendershott, who has since resigned amid separate misconduct allegations and declined a request by the AP to comment, told investigators the internal affairs inquiry was still in progress when he went on medical leave in 2010.

Still, Hendershott told investigators that the El Mirage Police Department had good reason to be upset about the sex-crimes handled by the sheriff’s office.

The report of the 13-year-old who had been inappropriately touched by her mother’s live-in boyfriend had been faxed to one of Arpaio’s investigators. El Mirage police, who were given back the case about 11 months later, learned that it hadn’t been worked.

When El Mirage police finally tracked down the mother, she said her boyfriend had moved out and that she no longer had contact with him. She and her daughter were in counseling and didn’t want to bring the case to court.

In their follow-up on the case of the 13-year-old attacked by the man claiming to have a broken car, El Mirage police discovered Arpaio’s office hadn’t interviewed the victim.

An El Mirage detective went to the girl’s home just off the city’s main drag. The girl’s uncle said she and her mother weren’t around and took the investigator’s card with a promise to ask them to call.

The mother never called back. She and her daughter’s whereabouts are unknown.

The case of the molested 3-year-old was returned to El Mirage police unworked five months after the initial report. The family’s beige tract home was deserted, the phone disconnected.


Prosecutor: Agency kept abuse complaint quiet - Montana

Associated Press

A Yellowstone County prosecuting attorney is questioning why a state agency didn't report a child molestation complaint to police.

"It bothered me," Scott Twito told the Billings Gazette ( "It is clearly a criminal matter and should have been reported to law enforcement."

He said the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office received an anonymous tip in March that a 43-year-old man had molested a 9-year-old girl.

He said investigators then learned that months earlier officials with the Child and Family Services Division of the state Department of Public Health and Human Services had dealt with the sexual abuse complaint by making an agreement with Jack Rumph that referred him to a Billings sex offender treatment program in exchange for not reporting the complaint to police.

After law enforcement officials became involved through the anonymous tip, Rumph was charged with two felony sex offenses and felony tampering. He pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Yellowstone County Court.

Hank Hudson, a manager who oversees three divisions of the state agency, including Child and Family Services, and Sarah Corbally, a division administrator, told the newspaper that decisions on whether to refer child sexual abuse to police are made on a "case-by-case basis."

Both said the agency's mission is to protect children from abuse and neglect, and each case is different.

"We make many referrals to law enforcement," said Hudson.

Health and Human Services officials also said such agreements where allegations of child sexual abuse aren't reported to police are rare, though they don't keep track.

"I hope and trust it's an anomaly," said Twito of the case involving Rumph.

State law requires teachers, medical professionals and others to report to police incidents of child abuse and neglect. But state law doesn't require social workers to make similar reports.

Twito said that means police would have never started investigating Rumph if not for the anonymous caller.

"If we don't get this anonymous tip, we don't have anything," he said.

According to recently filed charging documents, the social worker handling the case interviewed Rumph in March 2010 and said Rumph admitted he allowed the girl to touch him, but he denied touching the girl in a sexual manner.

The social worker interviewed Rumph a second time.

"According to her report, (Rumph) was `tearful' and `very remorseful,'" court records state. Rumph said several times that "this was nobody's fault but his."

It's unclear if the social worker interviewed the girl. A police detective interviewed the girl in August. The girl told police Rumph "had sex with me" and told her she would go to "little girl jail" if she told anyone.

Rumph is free on $30,000 bond. He faces a maximum possible sentence of 100 years on each sex offense charge.

Twito said sex abuse allegations should be reported to police not only because a possible crime has been committed, but because victims can receive help through the crime victims compensation fund, which can pay for counseling.


Georgia Keeps Kids Languishing in Foster Care Because Their Parents Are Undocumented

By Marie Diamond

A custody fight in Georgia is illustrating the biases of a foster care system that some say routinely subverts the parental rights of undocumented and non-English speaking mothers and fathers:

Ovidio and Domitina Mendez’s lost their five children to foster care when the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services arrived at their home claimed the kids were malnourished. The couple, who are both undocumented immigrants from Guatemala, says they did everything the child welfare agency asked them to do to get their kids back. But three years later, the children are still in foster care with strangers. Why? Because they are undocumented immigrants who speak Spanish, according to advocates.

A recent study by the Applied Research Center revealed that at least 5,100 children are languishing in America’s foster care system because their immigrant parents were detained or deported. But the report also found that even when undocumented parents are not detained or deported, they face bias in the child welfare system as a result of cultural and language discrimination.

For instance, at the June hearing that terminated the Mendez’s parental rights, they were peppered with seemingly irrelevant questions about their English-speaking ability and immigration status. “Describe for the court why even three years after [the children went into the state’s custody] you cannot speak English without an interpreter,” asked Bruce Kling, special assistant attorney general for Whitfield County Department of Family and Children’s Service.

The state also argued that the Mendezes’ should not regain custody because, as undocumented immigrants, they could not attain driver’s licenses and therefore couldn’t transport their children. ARC found that many county child welfare departments give this justification for why undocumented parents can’t be trusted as caregivers.

The suggestion that undocumented immigrants are unfit parents (usually for reasons related to their poverty) is often used to separate them from their children. But children then remain in foster care because of the barriers that undocumented mothers and fathers face in trying to regain custody. Parents’ undocumented status also works against them by preventing them from accessing state services that would enable them to better provide for their children.


Sunday, December 4, 2011