Saturday, December 17, 2011

DSS finds disproportionate contact with blacks - North Carolina

By Melody Guyton Butts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Orange County Deputy arrested and relieved from duty - Florida

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

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

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

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

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


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

by David Montgomery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 16, 2011

Feud puts court cases on hold - Nevada

By Jeff German

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Improvements suggested for Iowa's child abuse registry

Written by Lee Rood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lawsuit Claims CPS Removed Kids Out of Spite - Texas

Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - If Child Protective Services had its way, 5-year-old Katelynn Allen wouldn't be with her grandmother right now. Neither would her 6-year-old brother Elisha.

CPS wanted them to be adopted by non-relatives.

"I don't even think I can find a word that can summarize what I went through," said the children's grandmother, Houston Minister Teresa Allen.

It was Allen who first contacted CPS back in August of 2009.

She was concerned about her grandkids because of her daughter's alleged drug use.

Three months went by and nothing happened.

In the meantime Allen took the kids to keep them safe.

Then, according to her lawsuit against CPS, a CPS caseworker called.

That case worker stated, "She was in fear of losing her job for missing a deadline to investigate the matter."

Allen complained to the case workers supervisor and anyone else with CPS that would listen.

She wanted action.

"You go all the way to the top and you just can't believe that there was no one in authority that could have stopped, looked and listened and investigated my complaint," Allen said.

"She finally went over the head of the case worker, then over the head of a supervisor to the program director," said Allen's attorney Chris Branson. " She was told in no uncertain terms that that was a bad move on her part and they were going to show her exactly what happens to people who make bad moves."

The next day Branson said CPS took Allen's two young grandkids away from her.

"I did not know what was going on, I did not know why," Allen said.

"The initial taking was illegal," Branson said.

Branson said CPS claimed the kids were in danger that's why they took them with no court order in hand.

"My client did nothing to have CPS take these kids, nothing came out later," Branson said.

For the next 11 months the lawsuit claims CPS workers did everything they could to discredit Allen who was denied access to her grandkids, and was repeatedly told they would be adopted by non relatives and she would never see them again.

"Anger, fear, the rejection, I mean it makes you feel less than a human being," Allen said.

In a hearing the grandmother won the right to get her grandkids back. But she hopes the lawsuit will lead to changes at CPS.

"We believe this is a good case to set a precedent that will send a clear and distinct message to Child Protective Services to clean up their act and do things the right way," Branson said.


US officials plan South Dakota summit on Indian foster care

CHET BROKAW Associated Press

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Federal officials are planning a summit in South Dakota in the wake of allegations that the state has violated federal law by removing too many American Indian children from their homes and placing them in foster care with non-Indian families.

Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department's Office of Indian Affairs, told The Associated Press that the agency has created a committee to plan the summit, the date of which has not yet been set.

"We hope it will open up a dialogue between tribes and federal and state agencies," Darling said.

The summit is in response to a National Public Radio series in October that said the state routinely broke the Indian Child Welfare Act and disrupted the lives of hundreds of Native American families each year. Federal law requires that Native American children removed from homes be placed with relatives or put in foster care with other Native American families except in unusual circumstances.

The three-part NPR report said 90 percent of the Native American children removed from their homes in South Dakota each year are sent to foster care in non-Indian homes or group homes. It reported that Native American children are placed in South Dakota's foster care system at a disproportionate rate because only 15 percent of the state's child population is Native American, but half of the children in foster care are Native American.

State officials have criticized the NPR report as inaccurate, unfair and biased.

Kim Malsam-Rysdon, secretary of the state Department of Social Services, said the Interior Department has not notified state officials about the planned summit, but that the state has nothing to hide.

"We are very confident that South Dakota is in compliance with federal law in this area, and we really do welcome the opportunity for the federal government and others to understand just how that federal law is being implemented in our state," Malsam-Rysdon said.

The summit suggestion surfaced in a letter to members of Congress who had called for an investigation. The meeting is meant to give state, federal and tribal officials a way to work together so that all involved agencies comply with the law and make sure American Indian children and their families are protected, wrote Larry Echo Hawk, the Interior Department's assistant secretary for Indian Affairs.

The Interior Department also is considering sending lawyers to South Dakota to help tribes enforce the Indian Child Welfare Act, Echo Hawk wrote.

Malsam-Rysdon, whose agency oversees South Dakota's child welfare system, said people need to understand that the system involves her department, tribes, courts, law-enforcement officers and others. Federal officials should not take any action based on the NPR report, but instead should get the facts about what is happening in South Dakota, she said.

"We're glad the Department of Interior is taking it seriously, that they're evidently interested into looking into and ensuring the federal law is being implemented," she said.

Malsam-Rysdon said it's true that a disproportionate number of Native American children are involved in the child welfare system. The state receives more referrals for alleged abuse and neglect involving Native American children, and that leads to more investigations and removals from homes for those children, she said.

"What really permeates our involvement with the child welfare system is safety of the child," Malsam-Rysdon said. "We're involved in homes where there are proven or foreseeable safety concerns regarding a child."

In a written response to the NPR series, the state has said it uses all available Native American foster placement homes.

The series said the state's motive for removing Native American children from their homes might be financial because the state gets federal financial assistance for each child removed from his or her home. The report said the state gets almost $100 million a year to subsidize foster care programs, but state officials said the budget for the entire Division of Child Protection Services last year was only $59 million, and spending specifically on foster care and foster-care support was just $8 million.

The series also said there was a conflict of interest in Gov. Dennis Daugaard's work for Children's Home Society of South Dakota when he was lieutenant governor. That organization received millions of dollars for housing Native American children under contracts the state awarded without competitive bids.

The governor's office responded that Children's Home Society has had contracts with the state since 1978, long before Daugaard became its chief operating officer in 2002.

State officials also have said the Department of Social Services cannot remove children from homes and place them in protective custody. Only law officers and judges have the legal authority to do so, the state officials said.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Letter For Your Neighbors – If They Are Calling CPS (from

Blogger note:
Thank you Linda from, for all that you do and for helping those trying to keep their families intact while CPS is trying to rip them apart. Thank you for writing this letter to help those who are devastated by the thought of losing their children. You are awesome!

Today I heard from a parent who is terrified because her neighbors are calling CPS to make reports about her. I was inspired to write this letter on her behalf. You can download this letter in a printable PDF format to print and give to neighbors in your area, to post on bulletin boards at stores and laundromats, or to send to a specific reporting party if you know who it is. I will modify the letter for other situations if you can give me some ideas on who needs a letter like this. Is it the teachers at the school, the doctor’s office? Who? Let’s educate the public on the dangers of CPS. You can help do that by distributing this letter in your area.

Dear Neighbors – PDF printable format

Dear neighbors,

Someone called CPS. Was it you? Please read this letter before calling CPS again.
I am honestly terrified of losing my children and implore you, if you are the one who made the call, to let me know if I do something you think is wrong regarding my children, and do not call CPS again.

My terror is nothing compared to the trauma my children suffer at the thought of losing me, their home, their friends, their school, their pets, their toys, their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, and everything else that is part of their world. In the foster care system siblings often even lose each other.

You might think foster care is a better place for children but according to federal statistics children are much more likely to be abused in state custody foster homes. In foster homes many thousands of children have been abused emotionally, physically, and sexually. Many children have died in foster homes – many of whom were beaten to death by foster “parents”.

A professor at MIT did a study on foster children and learned that their long-range outcomes are not good, and that they’re better off left in marginal homes if there’s no extreme abuse going on. Most prison inmates were foster children.

So I ask that even if you don’t like me, please have mercy on my children and do not call CPS. It is a very dangerous government agency and not good for children. You are welcome to come to my house to advise me if you think I’m doing something wrong.

The government is very intrusive these days, and interferes with people for many reasons. We the taxpayers are the ones footing the bill for all these intrusions. The cost of child protective services intrusions, the foster home placements, the “services” forced on parents – are all running up our tax bills. State custody for children is very expensive.

I would prefer a life where we as neighbors can help one another without having to call in government workers for every little thing. Please do not be afraid to contact me if you feel I’m doing something wrong. Do not be afraid to offer to help me. If you’re afraid, show me this letter… let me know that something has to change if that’s how you feel. But please, do not terrorize my children – they are traumatized at the thought of being taken away.

Thank you… from a neighbor.

Written by Linda at for someone in your neighborhood.

(If you use this but change the wording please do not use my name on your revised letter. I’d prefer that you use the printable PDF version.)

N.J. DYFS is still failing to help troubled families under their supervision, report says

TRENTON — New Jersey’s child welfare system has improved five years into an intense and expensive overhaul, but caseloads are rising again and workers still need to do a better job helping troubled families under their supervision, a report released yesterday concludes.

The Division of Youth and Family Services was praised for providing extensive training to its workforce, licensing a plentiful supply of foster homes and providing timely medical care for abused and neglected children, according to the 10th report issued by Judith Meltzer of the Center for the Study of Social Policy.

But it also noted the caseloads of workers who investigate claims of abuse and neglect have been rising for the past 18 months. Controlling skyrocketing caseloads was one of the most critical changes made in the earliest stages of the reform plan.

The monitoring agency, which is in charge of evaluating a continuing series of court-ordered improvements at DYFS, also cited the need to improved the quality of its investigations.

"We are seeing slow, but steady progress," said Kristen Weber, a senior associate for CSSP.

Meltzer, in the 202-page report, also commended the state for finding mental health treatment facilities in New Jersey for all but a record-low nine children. It said the Department of Children and Families, DYFS’ parent agency, met 24 court-ordered objectives and missed 25 others.

Allison Blake, Children and Families commissioner since 2010, said the report was "fair" and was pleased her department sees "significant progress everyday" in the welfare of the children.

The mixed review comes as the DYFS is fends off public criticism that it had failed to detect trouble in the home of Tierra Morgan-Glover, the 2-year-old Ocean County girl allegedly killed by her father last month.

Over the past year, DYFS investigated Morgan and Tierra’s mother, Imani Benton, on four separate occasions, the last one as late as Nov. 10 — less than two weeks before Tierra’s body, still strapped in her car seat, was found in a stream in Shark River Park in Wall. At issue is whether DYFS took into account Benton’s claims that she was a victim of domestic abuse and whether that put the toddler in danger.

The findings announced yesterday were from 2011 data collected through June. Earlier this month, Blake said her agency will review some guidelines when dealings with claims of abuse, in the wake of Morgan-Glover’s death. She said yesterday the results of that review may be announced in the next few weeks.

Children’s Rights, a national advocacy group whose lawsuit prompted a $1 billion overhaul of New Jersey’s child-welfare system in 2003, offered tempered praise.

"Some reforms simply are not happening quickly enough," said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director for Children’s Rights. "The state must redouble its efforts to ensure that vulnerable kids receive the best attention and services possible."

The state was praised by the group for recruiting more than twice the number of foster homes needed to serve the 7,200 children removed from their parents. But it criticized the state for failing to assess how safe children were in their homes before closing a case, noting that only 25 percent of families were adequately assessed for safety and 35 percent were adequately assessed for risk of harm. "This performance falls far short of the state’s 98 percent goal,’’ according to Lowry.

While underscoring the importance of thorough investigations amid reports like Morgan-Glover’s death, Chesler said he was pleased with the continued work of DCF and Children’s Rights.

"It’s good to see a cooperative effort to achieve a common goal," Chesler said. "It’s a far cry from many years ago."

Turning to Blake, Chesler added: "Keep plugging away."

By Susan K. Livio and Bob Considine/Star-Ledger Staff


Local Mom Files Claim Against County Child Welfare - California

Joanna Swartwood Says Her Children Were Abused At Shelley's Home Day Care

SAN DIEGO -- A local mother says her children were abused at a day care and claims the county's Child Welfare Services did not properly do their jobs.

In April, Joanna Swartwood, who works full-time, started taking her 1-year old daughter Riley and 3-year-old son Dale to Shelley's Home Day Care in Linda Vista after she received a referral from the YMCA.

Within weeks, Swartwood said Riley came home with broken capillaries under her eye.

"At that age, they're falling all the time," said Swartwood. "I didn't think anything of it."

Soon after, Dale started crying when he was headed to day care. Weeks later, Swartwood received a phone call from the daycare.

"I got a call from the day care owner saying Riley had redness on her face," said Swartwood. She said according to the daycare owner, a trampoline accident may have caused the redness and bruising.

But when Swartwood took Riley to a doctor, she was told someone had likely squeezed Riley's face.

"I broke into tears… couldn't believe it," she said. "That's your worst fear."

Letters show the doctor believed Swartwood and reported the day care to the county's Child Welfare Services.

Swartwood took Riley to an emergency room that same night. Another doctor also confirmed the abuse suspicions. The doctor's note also confirmed the parents were not suspected.

But hours later, the Swartwood family that received a late-night knock at the door. After an interview, the children were taken.

"We didn't know when we'd get our children back," said Swartwood. "They are our life. For parents, it's the worst thing that can happen besides death."

After a two-day investigation, the children were returned. A state probe into the day care recently ended with the owners losing their license.

Swartwood said her son is still coping with the effects of the ordeal, including a fear of strangers and separation anxiety. Swartwood has filed a claim against the day care and the county.

"They should have contacted the doctor and day care before taking any of the children away from their parents," said Spencer Busby, Swartwood's attorney. "They should have done their homework before doing something so drastic."

Swartwood added, "Here is the agency that's supposed to be protecting children and instead, they are traumatizing them."

Child Welfare Services declined to comment, saying they do not comment on specific cases.

The Swartwood family said they were told by prosecutors there is not enough evidence to file criminal charges. The day care provider declined an interview and has denied any wrongdoing.


Lawsuit: Former deacon, prominent child welfare advocate accused of child sex abuse

by: Rose French

A Virginia man claims he was sexually abused nearly 40 years ago by a former deacon and prominent Minnesota child welfare advocate, according to his attorneys.

At a news conference on Tuesday in St. Paul, attorneys for the man who lived in St. Cloud as a child plan to announce a lawsuit against the Diocese of St. Cloud and Michael Weber.

The lawsuit, to be filed in Hennepin County District Court, addresses alleged sex abuse suffered when the man was 6 years old, while he vacationed with his family at a Minnesota lake, according to a statement from St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson.

The victim, identified in the complaint as “John Doe HT," wishes to keep his identity confidential but will read a statement and answer questions by phone during the news conference.

It’s the first lawsuit to be filed against Weber, 67, since allegations emerged last month that he molested two boys around the same time he served as deacon at Church of the Holy Spirit in St. Cloud from 1969-70.

Two men, both of St. Cloud, were 11 years old at the time of the alleged abuse and reported the incidents to law enforcement authorities last month. Criminal charges are not likely because the statute of limitations has expired, authorities say.

Minneapolis attorney Francis Rondoni, who represents Weber, has said it’s “very difficult” for Weber to respond “to purported allegations that are more than 40 years old." Weber “has been a leader in the community here for many decades and has a spotless reputation. And this is very concerning to him.”

On Dec. 5, the St. Cloud diocese held a “listening session” at the church to air out the allegations and offer other potential abuse victims the opportunity to come forward.

Since the listening session was announced in mid-November, Weber has resigned from the board of the Greater Twin Cities United Way and stepped down from other prominent positions.

Four alleged victims attended the listening session (which was not open to the media) and recounted abuse by Weber, according to Jane Marrin, a spokeswoman for the diocese. A fifth purported victim was represented by someone else at the meeting and a sixth wrote a letter claiming abuse that was noted at the meeting.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Judge sides with Godboldo, won't reinstate criminal charges

by Doug Guthrie

Detroit— Two judges in different Wayne County courtrooms sided Monday with a mother who resisted police forcing their way into her home last March to take her teenage daughter during a dispute with a Child Protective Services worker over medications.

A Family Court judge Monday afternoon accepted positive medical and education reports, and over the objections of an assistant state attorney general representing the Department of Health and Human Services, dismissed jurisdiction that had for nine months come between now 14-year-old Arianna Godboldo and her family.

Earlier Monday, a Wayne County Circuit judge refused to reinstate criminal charges, dismissed in August by a 36th District Court judge, that alleged the mother, Maryanne Godboldo, illegally resisted and assaulted police by allegedly firing a shot at them.

Family members hugged and issued thanks to the judges in both courtrooms, but authorities aren't done pursuing the Godboldos.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's office issued a statement Monday, vowing to make a third appeal to reinstate criminal charges.

And, Family Court Judge Lynne Pierce told Assistant Attorney General Deborah Carley, who complained it appears the girl has never received anything other than homeschooling her entire life, she is not barred from pursuing criminal truancy charges if she feels the parents are flouting state law that required the education of children.

"There may be some more evaluation to be done, but I don't see any more need of this court's continued involvement," Pierce said.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Gregory Bill ruled in the morning against claims by the prosecutor that 36th District Judge Ronald Giles committed judicial error in August when he threw out the criminal charges. Bill said Giles was correct in concluding there was insufficient evidence to order Godboldo to trial.

"It is clear to me that he (Giles) doesn't think the defendant shot at anybody," Bill said, concluding if a shot was fired inside the house, it was fired at the ceiling and perhaps not by the mother.

"Did the child get a hold of the gun? I don't know," Bill said. "There are so many statements that are conflicting evidence, and Judge Giles went out of his way to allow the prosecutor to clear this up."

Godboldo's lawyers have said all along this was about parental rights to make medical decisions on behalf of their children, and the government abused its authority in obtaining an order to take the child without a court hearing. They also said the improper action created a conflict with police that resulted in criminal charges.

"It is absurd," Godboldo lawyer Byron Pitts said about the possibility of another appeal. "Four different judges have said they believe this family did nothing wrong. This includes another District Court judge, Judge (Paula) Humphries, who ruled earlier on some matters. It has been clear to these judges that this all stems from one overzealous caseworker, and continued appeals now border on persecution."

Acting on a call from Wayne County Child Protective Services worker Mia Wenk — who told police she had obtained an order to remove the child on a claim of medical neglect — Detroit police officers on March 24 accused her of firing a handgun at them through a plaster wall after she refused to let them inside. It took hours to talk Godboldo out of the house. She was jailed for several days until her release on bond, and her daughter was held in a state psychiatric facility for almost two months.

Godboldo was charged with resisting and assaulting police, as well as use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Giles tossed out the charges because he said the order used by police as authority to enter the house was invalid. It was never authorized by a judge, but had a rubber stamp signature. Police also testified they don't normally enforce civil court orders, but they had been told by the protective services worker it was a criminal warrant.

Bill said his opinion should not be considered as a criticism of Detroit police, but he raised questions about the behavior of the social worker, whom he described as "young." Bill hinted Wenk was impatient, filled out a legal order that was woefully inadequate, broke with established policy by calling 911 to have Detroit police enforce it rather then confront the woman herself, and then misrepresented the meaning of the order to police.

Pierce had ruled in September against the government's claims the mother had committed medical abuse by withholding a controversial anti-psychotic medication. The girl was being treated for a sudden onset of psychotic behavior the mother believes was caused by a bad reaction to immunizations.

Pierce determined Godboldo was within her rights to terminate the voluntary treatment program. The judge ordered the girl returned to the mother's home Sept. 29. A hearing to finalize the juvenile case also is scheduled for later Monday.

Godboldo said Monday she and her daughter had a difficult Sunday night because of heightened anxiety over the coming hearing. She said she hopes authorities will this time accept a judge's assessment of the situation and not appeal again.

"I hope they understand they are affecting people's lives," she said. "They should know of the damage they have done to my daughter because they broke the law."

Godboldo said her daughter had been doing better, but she was continuing to be home schooled because psychiatric troubles continue that she attributes to "effects from the immunizations." She said the girl, who wears a prosthetic leg, continues to enjoy studying dance and music, and playing her conga drums.

"She is coming along," Godboldo said. "She is doing better because she is at home where she belongs."


Social workers fired in Marlboro County CPS case - concerning Edna Hunt

by Tonya Brown

NewsChannel 15 has learned two Marlboro County Department of Social Services employees were fired in connection with the child abuse case of Edna Hunt.

State DSS officials will only say they let the employees go after an evaluation of their work in the Hunt investigation and other cases they've handled.

Last week, we learned DSS was conducting a child protective services investigation prior to Hunt's death.

We have requested more information through the Freedom of Information Act to find out if the employees violated any procedures, according to state and federal policy, for child protective investigations.

In October, Hunt died following cardiac arrest in Bennettsville.

Hunt's mother and her mother's boyfriend are charged with homicide by child abuse.

Police say Hunt had bruises and burns all over her body.

Officers say a post mortem examination showed she had been abused for some time.

DSS officials say the Director of the Marlboro County DSS resigned shortly after the child's death, but they aren't saying if his resignation had anything to do with their internal investigation.

Marlboro County Coroner, Tim Brown, says he's expecting final autopsy results on Hunt to be in sometime this week.

He will release those results when they come in.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Supreme Court Approached on ICWA Issue - Cherokee Nation

By Carol Berry

The Cherokee Nation and one of its members have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to decide issues raised by a ruling of the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that disputed the right of tribes to define tribal membership in Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) cases.

Specifically, the high court will be asked to consider whether a federally recognized Indian tribe’s membership criteria determine whether a child is a “member” of that tribe for ICWA purposes.

Tribes may have the exclusive right to determine their membership for tribal purposes, but not if they seek to define membership in order to expand a federal (ICWA) statute, a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit ruled last April.

The current petitioners charge that the federal appeals court erred in distinguishing between membership for tribal and federal statutory purposes, because “tribal membership is bound up in the tribe’s sovereign self-determination—as it is in ICWA, where the statutory focus on tribal membership is designed to ‘promote the safety and security of Indian tribes.’”

The issues arose when, in 2007, Britney Jane Little Dove Nielson, then 17, relinquished her parenting rights for her day-old son, C.D.K. and consented to his adoption, but later sought a District Court ruling to invalidate the relinquishment, citing ICWA safeguards against removing Indian children from their families. Nielson herself became a Cherokee tribal member within the next year.

The Cherokee Nation intervened on Nielson’s behalf, arguing that C.D.K. was an Indian child under ICWA because of a section of the Cherokee Nation Citizenship Act which provides that every newborn “who is a direct descendant of an original enrollee shall be automatically admitted as a citizen of the Cherokee Nation for a period of 240 days following the birth of the child.”

Nielson also argued that the termination was invalid because it violated an ICWA provision that imposes a 10-day period before a parent can consent to the termination of parenting rights over an Indian child, and the District Court agreed, tossing out the termination

A subsequent appeal to the 10th Circuit turned on “whether C.D.K. is an ‘Indian child’ within the meaning of ICWA,” the court said, noting that the ICWA definition of “Indian child” applies to an unmarried person under age 18 who is a tribal member and C.D.K. “was thus an Indian child at the time of the relinquishment hearing if, and only if, he was a member of the Cherokee Nation at that time.”

He was a member if the Citizenship Act applied to him at the time of the hearing as a direct descendant of an original enrollee, which the federal appeals court accepted, and if the Act could permissibly extend him citizenship in the ICWA context, a conclusion with which the court disagreed.

ICWA does not apply to the 240-day citizenship awarded by the Cherokee Nation Citizenship Act, the court said. “We find that Congress did not intend the ICWA to authorize this sort of gamesmanship on the part of a tribe—e.g., to authorize a temporary and nonjurisdictional citizenship upon a nonconsenting person in order to invoke ICWA protections.”

Petitioners to the Supreme Court disagree with the “gamesmanship” argument that “a child may not be a ‘member’ of a tribe for ICWA purposes even though he or she is a member for internal tribal purposes,” because the distinction would undermine fundamental purposes of tribal sovereignty.

In BIA guidelines for implementing ICWA, “the determination by a tribe that a child is or is not a member of that tribe…is conclusive,” state the current petitioners, who also charge that the federal appeals court has ignored congressional intent in ICWA “to preserve tribal sovereignty and safeguard Indian children.”


Mother who won't give up faces prison - California


SANTA ANA – The state took Niveen Ismail's son and gave him to somebody else.

Now authorities are trying to lock her up, charging her with going too far to get him back.

Ismail, of Newport Beach, went to trial in Orange County Superior Court this week on a single charge of solicitation to kidnap - the result of a December 2009 meeting with a private investigator and an undercover police officer who was wearing a wire. The charge carries three years.

In the meantime, she is waging her own battle in federal court with civil rights lawsuits that question why California is the only state not to follow a Supreme Court ruling on how to terminate parental rights.

In the criminal case, the prosecution says Ismail asked the investigator to kidnap her then 7-year-old son, Anthony, from his foster family and take him to Mexico or France, where Ismail would pick him up and return to her native Egypt.

But in a videotape of the meeting played in court Thursday, Ismail never appeared to instruct anyone to kidnap her son, although the audio is garbled at times. A potential kidnapping plan is discussed, but Ismail says on tape at least seven times that she just wants to go with another plan: surveillance on her son's foster family in hopes of digging up or manufacturing dirt.

After she insists on Plan A – surveillance – the undercover officer encourages her to give him $2,000 to get a fake passport for Anthony, so that they can at least get started with Plan B, kidnapping, according to the tape. She agrees and emails him a photo of Anthony to use, but then backs out, agreeing only to give him $500 to start surveillance, according to the tape.

As she left that December meeting to go to the bank, she was arrested by Newport Beach police, who had been listening in, according to court records.

The meeting with the private investigator and undercover officer came just a few weeks after Ismail got word that the U.S. Supreme Court had denied her appeal of the legal proceedings that took her son away. (Later, in 2010 and 2011, she filed civil rights lawsuits against most of the agencies involved, which are pending.)

Deputy District Attorney Beth Costello said that Ismail "resorted to the illegal" after her appeals over the adoption case were exhausted.

Ismail's son was taken by the Orange County Social Services Agency in 2005 after she left him home alone, according to court records. Huntington Beach police found her preschool-age son alone in his crib after a neighbor heard him crying.

Social workers came in to take the boy. Ismail, a single mother, had gone to work even though her child care arrangement fell through that day, her attorney, Ann Cunningham said.

In supervised visits, Ismail failed to set boundaries – not giving Anthony time-outs, allowing him a cookie when he didn't finish his meal, social workers reported, court records said.

A fair-haired boy with almond eyes and a winsome smile, Anthony was placed with a "fost-adopt" family in Lake Forest, three months after he was taken from Ismail, and has been with them ever since.

In her lawsuit, Ismail accuses the social workers of deciding early on to adopt her son out to another family and thwart any chance at reunification by incessant fault-finding, such as:

She fed him a tuna fish sandwich during a bowling outing, and tuna got on the ball return.

Her toilet water was blue.

She ordered him an IHOP International Breakfast meal rather than something from the Kids Menu.

At Dave and Busters, on a mid-week afternoon, she allowed her son to use the men's room by himself, while she and a social worker waited by the door.

That last incident was cited by the judge in deciding to terminate reunification efforts, according to Ismail and Cunningham. Taking her son to an establishment with a bar was said to be evidence of bad judgment

Ismail is arguing that the way California severs parental rights is unconstitutional.

In California, a parent's rights can be effectively terminated before anyone has to present "clear and convincing" evidence that they should be, according to a law journal article that she cites in her lawsuits.

The other 49 states follow a Supreme Court precedent that requires a court to find "clear and convincing evidence" of a parent's unfitness before terminating his or her rights. California follows a looser "preponderance of the evidence" standard. That means a mother loses her child if the court rules it's more likely than not she's a bad one.

The California Supreme Court has decided that the U.S. Supreme Court standard doesn't apply here. By the time a California court considers a mother's rights, they are outweighed by the child's bonds with a new family.

Ismail argues that point in her lawsuits, but first she has her kidnapping case, which continues on Monday.

In November 2009, Ismail called several private investigators, prosecutors allege. One of them, Robert Young, had a history as a police informant.

Young testified Thursday that Ismail approached him with a plan either to dig up dirt on the foster couple or to plant something incriminating. At the end of the meeting, she mentioned a Plan B: kidnapping her son and taking him abroad, he said. Young said he'd have to talk to his partner. Then he called the police, and set up another meeting with Ismail, bringing Newport Beach police officer Neal Schuster, who was posing as his partner.

On tape, the "investigators" say they'd be willing to help her get her son back.

"It's not like we haven't done stuff like this in the past," one says.

"Seriously, can you do Plan B," Ismail asks early on. "What if I ask you to fly him to Libya, or France," she asks later.

Otherwise, she continually steers the conversation back to Plan A, saying she'd need a few more weeks to decide about Plan B.

"I think we're going to go with the first one," Ismail tells him. "If A fails.... I was hoping to do A.... Go with A.... I was hoping A would work.... You don't think A would work?.... Maybe you can work on A for a couple weeks.... Why don't you think about Plan A first.... If you want B, that would take at least a month of preparation for me.... I'm really thinking I want to go with A.... We'll start off with A and if that doesn't work out for you.... A would be good.... I'm still debating what to do."

The prosecution needs to prove that kidnapping was actually requested, not just discussed, according to the state's jury instructions for the charge she is facing.