Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tribal Child Welfare - Federal Register 01-06-2012

It's really long but click here to read it.

Nurse arrested for alleged child abuse - Indiana

LINTON, Ind (WTHI) - A Bloomington, Indiana woman arrested on charges of child abuse.

Linton Indiana police arrested 52 year old Susan R. Johnson Wednesday.

Johnson, a home healthcare nurse, allegedly abused a disabled Linton, Indiana child under her care. According to police reports the child's parent's contacted police when they suspected child abuse and neglect by a healthcare nurse.

Police allege that Johnson caused both physical harm resulting in injury and neglect by not giving medication when perscribed.

Johnson is being held in the Greene County jail on $4,000 dollars cash only with no 10 percent.


N.J. Assembly panel approves bill to broaden how DYFS investigators define child abuse

By Susan K. Livio/Statehouse Bureau

TRENTON — After the deaths last year of two girls whose parents were not deemed a threat by the Division of Youth and Family Services, an Assembly panel approved a bill Thursday that would broaden how investigators define child abuse in New Jersey.

The measure (A-4109/S1570), which was unanimously approved by the Assembly Human Services Committee, must be approved by the full Assembly no later than Tuesday morning, when the two-year legislative session draws to a close. The Senate has already approved it.

Under the proposed bill, agency investigators could choose among three findings when determining whether there is a valid abuse complaint instead of the current two, which some say limits the ability to protect children.

The proposed measure would allow investigators to "substantiate" a claim if there was sufficient evidence, consider it "unfounded" if no safety risk was detected, or select a new third option — "not substantiated." That would apply if there was not enough evidence to support a complaint, but investigators suspected the child was still "placed at substantial risk of harm."

The families of both children had been investigated for abuse and neglect, but a number of times DYFS workers considered the concerns "unfounded."

Since 2004, the term "unfounded" has held two meanings — no evidence of abuse, or some evidence but not enough to make a solid case. The state dropped the "unsubstantiated with concerns" category out of concern that investigators were not gathering enough facts to make a valid decision.

"Hopefully this legislation will help investigators capture a sizeable portion of abuse cases that might otherwise fall through the cracks," said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), the committee chairwoman who was a sponsor of the bill.

Jesse Moskowitz, a retired assistant director of DYFS, said passage of the measure by the panel "represents an acknowledgement that a well-intended but flawed change six years ago required correction and clarification in order to accurately classify child abuse or neglect findings."

Support for the bill is not unanimous.

"They should be focusing on clarifying policy and improving quality of investigations so that they make good determinations, not feel comfortable with an inconclusive category," Judith Meltzer, a court-appointed monitor who is overseeing an overhaul of the state’s child welfare system, said afterward.

A representative from the Communications Workers of America Local 1038, representing 3,000 DYFS employees, testified in support the bill, but at the same time asked the committee to look into an increasing number of caseloads investigators are handling but the agency is hiding.

The representative, Cataherine Donatos, said the agency was trying to conceal the number of cases out of concern that the judge who ordered the overhaul would find the state out of compliance and order sanctions.

She said that in one DYFS office, 27 workers who investigate child abuse exceeded the court-imposed limit of 12 cases a month, with some juggling 15 to 21 cases.

She added that some cases were transferred to other professionals on paper, but that that staffers were still doing the work and that those who did not find a way to lower casesloads were disciplined.

Donatos said that after the union filed a grievance, the agency transferred six workers and hired a supervisor.

A spokeswoman for DYFS, Leida Arce, said transferring cases to other staff when the workload increased was "a common practice" because everyone is trained in investigations.


Foster mother gets life for torture, murder - California

MARTINEZ, Calif. -- A judge Friday morning sentenced Antioch woman Shemeeka Davis to life in prison for torturing and abusing her two foster children and for murdering one of them.

Shemeeka Davis, 41, was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for the torture and murder of 15-year-old Jazzmin Davis and to life in prison with the possibility of parole for the torture of her twin brother, who survived years of abuse.

Davis, the aunt of Jazzmin and her brother, wept loudly throughout today's hearing and as the sentence was handed down.

"I'd like to say that I'm very sorry," she said between sobs. "This was never my intention ... and I wish I could change everything."

On Sept. 2, 2008, Jazzmin's naked, gaunt and scarred body was found on the floor inside the Antioch home where for years, the only mother she had known abused her and her brother.

Police said that when she died, the teen was 5 foot 7 feet tall and weighed about 78 pounds.

A coroner's report found that she died from a combination of repeated physical abuse and malnutrition, Deputy District Attorney Satish Jallepalli said.

Jazzmin's twin brother was also found to be scarred and severely malnourished, but survived and testified during Davis' trial last summer.

At the end of the trial last June, a jury convicted Davis of first-degree murder, torture and felony child abuse charges and found her legally sane at the time she committed the crimes, despite her dual plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.

Defense attorney Betty Barker argued throughout the trial that Davis suffers from severe mental illnesses, including psychotic delusions, which prevented her from forming the intent to torture the twins.

Jallepalli agreed that Davis is mentally ill, but argued that she chose to keep hurting the children and covered up the abuse because she knew it was wrong -- skipping the twins' doctor's appointments and keeping them home from school.

She had taken custody of the twins - who were born to a crack-addicted mother - shortly after they were born, raising them in addition to her three biological children.

A week before Jazzmin died, Davis was granted legal guardianship of the twins.

But Jallepalli said during Davis' trial that there was a clear difference in how she treated her niece and nephew.

The twins were not allowed to eat with her biological children and were not given the same food, if any at all, he said.

Davis would also lock the pair in a closet for long periods of time, forcing them to urinate and defecate on the floor.

When the twins were about 9 years old, Davis began beating them with belts.

Jallepalli said during the trial that over the years, Davis used electrical cords, a wooden rod and a belt with an attached padlock to beat the children and sometimes burned them with an iron.

As the beatings escalated, Davis stopped taking her nephew to doctor appointments to be treated for sickle cell anemia. In the year before Jazzmin's death, she also kept the teen home from school and even kept her from leaving the house, Jallepalli said.

Social workers who monitored the twins' care throughout their lives never noticed or reported the abuse, attorneys said.

The San Francisco Human Services Agency, which was in charge of overseeing the twins' care, agreed last year to a $4 million settlement with Jazzmin's brother.

The Antioch Unified School District agreed to settle with the teen for $750,000 and has implemented changes to its attendance policy.

Before handing down the sentence in Contra Costa County Superior Court today, Judge Susanne Fenstermache heard emotional statements from several of Davis' family members, who requested leniency.

"I've known her all my life, and I know that she's not a monster ... we will continue to pray for her and support her," said one man, Davis' cousin.

Jallepalli read two letters from other family members of the twins addressed to the court, including an aunt who wrote, "I can't begin to imagine how my niece felt during that last attack ... please have no mercy for sentencing."

The prosecutor also read entries from Jazzmin's journal in the months leading up to her death in which she wrote how much she loved her foster mother and wanted to make her happy.

In a later entry, Jazzmin described being "in big trouble" for failing to clean the bathroom.

"I'm going to lose all my privileges and end up in the same position I started in ... I'm so confused ... someone help," she wrote. Before handing down the sentence, the judge told Davis that she didn't consider her a monster.

"This is a sad day for everyone," Fenstermache said. "I know you wish you could undo this ... but it's been done."

Davis will be 69 years old when she becomes eligible for parole, attorneys said.

Colorado appeals court allows abused siblings to sue social workers

By Felisa Cardona

Three siblings severely abused in the home of their biological mother and later in foster care can pursue their lawsuit against Adams County social workers who allegedly failed to protect them and deceived their adoptive parents about the extent of their problems, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

In the summer of 2002, the siblings — then ages 9, 6 and 3 — were adopted by a couple who only learned about the history of abuse on the eve of the adoption. The children were engaging in incestuous acts with each other, and one of them had to be removed from their home because she was suicidal.

The fallout of the abuse was so egregious that the adoptive parents installed alarms in the children's rooms to prevent them from abusing each other. The couple ended up divorcing, blaming the failure of the marriage on the stress caused by the children's emotional problems.

The names of the parents and siblings are being withheld by The Denver Post because the children are victims of sexual abuse and naming their adoptive parents would identify them.

The adoptive parents sued the Adams County Department of Social Services, asserting that social workers had a duty to fully disclose the background of the children. But the parents lost their case when a jury decided that the social workers were not "willful and wanton" in failing to inform them of the history of abuse.

Thursday's ruling allows lawyers for the children to proceed to trial with different claims — that the siblings' rights to be free from harm were violated by the workers entrusted to protect them.

"Evidence was presented at the first trial about the extraordinary challenges these children would face as a result of the defendants' conduct, and unfortunately it all seems to be coming to pass," said attorney Jordan Factor, who argued the case at the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Adams County argued that the social workers, Joan Forsmark, Cathy O'Donnell and Angela Lytle, were protected from the lawsuit by the state's governmental immunity law.

The court disagreed and concluded that Lytle, who as a division director of child welfare supervised O'Donnell and Forsmark, acted "recklessly."

"Lytle increased the children's vulnerability to the danger by not preparing the (adoptive parents) to deal with their extraordinary emotional needs, and by continuing to support the children's adoption as a sibling group, despite the revelations of incest, which distinguished them from the type of children the (adoptive parents) had indicated they were ready to adopt," the court's opinion reads. "This conduct put the children at substantial risk of serious, immediate, and proximate harm that was known to or suspected by Lytle at the time of the adoption. Such allegations show that Lytle acted recklessly in conscious disregard of that risk. And such conduct, when viewed in total, is conscience shocking."

Adams County Attorney Hal Warren declined to comment on the merits of the claims because the case is heading to trial.

Warren is reviewing the court's ruling to decide whether an appeal to the state Supreme Court is possible.

O'Donnell is still employed by the county. Forsmark has since retired. Lytle works for the Arapahoe County Department of Human Services.

The decision Thursday comes a month after a federal judge ruled that social workers in Denver were not immune from a lawsuit in the case of 7-year-old Chandler Grafner, who was starved to death by his foster parents.

In that case, the judge noted the neglect of Chandler by social services was also "conscious-shocking" and that a complaint of child abuse made by a teacher's aide a month before his death was not thoroughly investigated by Denver Human Services.

Factor, one of the siblings' lawyers in the Adams County case, said he hopes the rulings will have an impact on the quality of care for children.

"Each circumstance is a little different, and this adds to the mix of circumstances in which the courts consistently say that children in the custody of the state of Colorado have a right to be kept safe from harm," he said. "It is a case that has an opportunity to do real justice."

Friday, January 6, 2012

Blogger Side Note

This blog will be offering more personal information due to actual experiences with CPS in the very near future. Our case is set to close very soon (CPS silenced us for the duration of the case) and once it does, this blog will be rockin' with information that sounds crazy BUT we promise that it will be 100% true and we will be able to prove everything said.

Stay tuned.....

Former Shelby County teacher charged sexual child abuse - Alabama

Blogger note:
Everyone hates to hear when something horrible has happened to a child but it is difficult not to be fascinated when supposed "mandated reporters" turn out to be the offender. It proves that the whole idea of child protect under the current set up, is a hoax and that many of those who are placed in a trusted position to do the protecting are often times child abusers and / or sexual predators themselves and how the system protects these same offenders. So much for background checks that we hear so much about when involved with CPS! What a sorry system!

OKDHS reaches settlement on foster care suit

Click here to read the settlement agreement.

Late Wednesday, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services commission reached a settlement agreement with Children's Rights, a group that filed a class action lawsuit in 2008 alleging OKDHS did not do enough to protect Oklahoma's foster care children from abuse and neglect.

The monetary terms of the settlement have not yet been disclosed. However, DHS agreed to meet standards in fifteen areas. Among those standards, documentation of alleged abuse and neglect, number of available foster homes, number of times children can be placed in different foster homes, and the number of cases welfare workers can carry.

The agreement would dissolve in four years provided DHS meets the requirements fully for two consecutive years prior.

DHS has already spent close to $7 million fighting the lawsuit.

The agency says it will have a working plan in the next 55 days.

“We are all committed to continuous quality improvement and we have consistently identified and made improvements. We will continue to make improvements even after compliance with the future plan has been completed,” said OKDHS director Howard Hendrick. “The strengths and list of child welfare achievements are many, including an adoption rate that is more than twice the national average per capita over the last five years. Nevertheless, we need to recruit and expand the number of non-kinship homes for children coming into foster care. We need a broader array of therapeutic homes for children experiencing trauma and dealing with behavioral challenges. We also want to reimburse foster parents at better rates for their dedication to caring for Oklahoma’s abused and neglected children.

“Some of these improvements, particularly those involving recruitment and retention of child welfare workers and foster parents, will require additional state dollars," said Hendrick. "We will need the support of the Governor, the legislature, and the judicial system to commit the resources needed to ensure that Oklahoma’s child welfare system can meet these demands.”

"Now the real work begins," said House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. "The legislature must be involved in this planning process and I'm pleased it will be. DHS belongs to the public and serves the public, so it is critical for the public's representatives to have meaningful input."


Attorneys for tortured teen sue seven government employees for alleged negligence

By Marjie Lundstrom

Attorneys for the young Sacramento woman who was tortured as a teen in her adoptive home filed a lawsuit Thursday against seven current and former government workers who had contact with the troubled household.

Lilly Manning, who turn turns 20 next week, and two of her siblings are seeking damages from six administrators and workers at Hiram Johnson High School, as well as a former social worker for Sacramento County's Child Protective Services.

Last month, the legal team, headed by Joe C. George, a lawyer/psychologist and child abuse expert, filed a claim for damages against CPS and the Sacramento City Unified School District.
The new civil filing seeks to hold the public employees personally liable for "negligent conduct" in their dealings with the children and their violent caregivers.

The new complaint for damages alleges that a CPS social worker was "a personal friend" of the abusive adoptive mother, Lillian Manning-Horvath, and dismissed or minimized warnings about the home. The complaint also alleges that the six employees associated with the school district saw Lilly's injuries or expressed suspicions about the family but failed to alert CPS, as required by law.

Both Lillian Manning-Horvath and her husband, Joseph Horvath, were sentenced to multiple life terms.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

“They were just suspicious of me from the beginning” - Iowa

by Jennifer Hemmingsen

When Victor Rodgers heard that his baby had been born, he headed to the hospital.

Even though he and the child’s mother weren’t together anymore, he planned on being an involved dad.

It was February 2009 — five weeks before her due date — but his ex’s new boyfriend had beaten her so badly that doctors had to deliver the baby. That’s how the Iowa Department of Human Services got involved.

Rodgers wanted to take his daughter home with him, but the DHS worker said he would have to go through the agency. She placed the baby with a foster family.

It took three months for DHS to confirm Rodgers’ paternity. Again, he asked to take his daughter home. Instead, the agency allowed him to visit her. Twice a week. With supervision.

Even though Rodgers had no history of child abuse or neglect, DHS would make him jump through more than two years’ worth of hoops to prove he was good enough to keep her.

He’s not alone. A recent third-party analysis of Linn County DHS, conducted by the non-profit Center for the Study of Social Policy, cited a concerning, widespread confusion between child safety and the potential risk of future harm among Cedar Rapids child welfare workers. The confusion was further compounded by “stigma, labeling and negative inferences drawn based on a family’s history.”

The analysis noted a “culture of caution” that leads to excessive intervention, coercion and monitoring of families, particularly black families. It found “the child protection system and its partners intervened with some African-American families in extensive ways with no clear reason or rationale.”

As Rodgers, now 48, tells it: “They were just suspicious of me from the beginning.”

Over the next few months, DHS records show, Rodgers worked his way up from supervised to unsupervised visits, meeting every personal and parenting goal the agency laid out for him. In October 2009, he even had his girlfriend, Molly, who had an extensive history with DHS, move out of his apartment because his caseworker told him to.

Rodgers agreed to take his daughter, Karee, to a safe place and call police, if Molly or Karee’s mother showed up at his apartment. By December 2009, he was consistently having weekend-long visits with his child. Social workers would drop in unannounced twice a day just to monitor his care. Things were going fine.

By Jan. 13, 2010, DHS gave him full-time custody of Karee on a trial basis — the last step toward reunification.

That month, when Molly showed up at Rodgers’ place, he took Karee to his cousin’s house, in accordance with the safety plan.

Yet when police arrived, Molly told them she lived there, and it was Rodgers who was forced to leave. When he returned later that night, Molly stabbed him in the shoulder. The next day, a DHS worker showed up at Rodgers’ home with police, demanding Karee.

Rodgers refused to hand over the child without a court order. Instead, police stunned him with a Taser and took Karee. DHS moved him back to fully supervised visits.

Still, caseworkers were positive about his progress, noting that Rodgers had maintained stable housing, employment and school throughout the case. He had everything needed to care for Karee and was showing good parenting skills.

“Victor has been able to do what DHS wanted done and progress to getting Karee home,” a February 2010 note reads. “Victor is very conscientious in moving forward in his life for himself and Karee.

“Victor did a lot of things right in the incident with Molly in attempts to keep Karee safe, including removing her from the situation,” the caseworker wrote. “She was kept safe.”

Perplexingly, though, just a few lines later: “Victor needs to be able to show he can protect Karee.”

Rodgers had planned on moving back to Illinois to be close to his sister once he got custody of Karee. He never got the chance.

On May 10, 2010, police again found Molly at Rodgers’ apartment. The state filed a petition to terminate Rodgers’ rights.

Rodgers continued to visit his daughter, under supervision. The worker’s notes are poignant: “Victor was very appropriate.” … “Victor was calm and relaxed during the visit, but did seem to be sad when this worker took Karee to his vehicle and drove off.” … “Karee never wanted her dad to let go of her.” … “Karee was very content sleeping in her dad’s arms for the majority of the visit.”

At Rodgers’ termination hearing that August, the social worker testified she didn’t believe Rodgers ever would harm his child. She was just worried he wouldn’t be able to keep her safe.

On Nov. 16, 2010, Rodgers’ parental rights were terminated. He appealed. He lost.

Karee would later be adopted by an unrelated family.

“Still to this day, I don’t have an allegation of child abuse or child neglect or anything,” he said. “I’m a good parent. They said I did a great job.”

That wasn’t good enough for a system that demands parents not only prove they’ve kept their children safe but judges their fitness to parent and rights to their children based on a theoretical future harm.


Victor’s story, part 2: No hope for family placement

by Jennifer Hemmingsen

When it became clear to Victor Rodgers that he wasn’t going to have custody of his daughter, Karee, he turned to his twin sister, Victoria, for help. She agreed to take the child in .

“I’ve never had to deal with DHS or anything before. This is my first experience. But I felt like when DHS came into my brother’s life, he needed the support of the family,” she told me. “Family reunification, I always thought, was first and foremost.”

Victoria has no children of her own. She has never been arrested, has a stable place to live and a good job working as a full-time cook for kids at an Illinois residential treatment facility. There was every indication she could provide a stable, loving home for Karee.

At Iowa’s request, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services did a home study of Victoria’s home on Aug. 31, 2010. They approved her for relative foster care placement.

But when it arrived, the social worker just set it aside.
Already, the court had started hearings to terminate Victor’s parental rights.

After Victor’s rights were terminated in November 2010, Victoria told social workers she wanted to adopt Karee. In April 2011, Iowa asked Illinois to do another study of Victoria’s home. Again, she was approved, but Iowa said it wasn’t sufficient – Illinois workers had conducted another relative placement study, not an adoptive home study.

“Every time I cleared one hurdle, they came with another hurdle,” Victoria told me. “It was almost like a decision had been made before they even interviewed me.”

Victoria even submitted letters from coworkers and her minister attesting to her character:

“Victoria has a fun and outgoing personality and a love for people,” wrote her bishop at the First Free Will Baptist Church, where she’s been a member for 20 years. “She often spends time with the young people and gives them words of encouragement. They love it when she volunteers to cook for them on special events.”

A social worker who had worked with Victoria for a year praised her “innate ability and desire to provide for and protect those that can not protect themselves.” She encourages the children she works with “to be the best person they can be while providing them with the support and love needed to freely be their best.”

“Victoria will be great at providing a safe and nurturing home for a child,” She wrote. “She has emotionally adopted several young people in her life time and their lives are enhanced because of it.”

Last October, Victoria was interviewed by Iowa DHS adoption specialists, who later noted they were concerned by “Ms. Rodgers’ insufficient information regarding her brother’s legal issues and the risks that he would potentially pose to the child if allowed access to the child or to care for the child.”

Oct. 14, 2011, Victoria received a letter signed by a DHS adoption specialist. It read: “Dear Ms. Rodgers: An adoption staffing was recently held to match the family who would best meet the need of Karee Robinson. While your family was given careful consideration and many strengths were noted, another family was selected.

“We want to thank you for responding and we encourage you to continue your interest in special needs adoption,” the letter read. “Your home study will continue to be available for consideration for other children.”

She had no right to appeal.


Barahona judge’s efforts to ferret out leaks detailed

Court records released to The Herald document a judge’s efforts to identify lawyers or child welfare administrators she suspected of leaking secret material to the newspaper.

By Carol Marbin Miller and Diana Moskovitz

“Exceedingly chagrined” that a newspaper had published details about a controversial child custody hearing that she had wanted to keep secret, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia calendared a court hearing for Aug. 26 to ferret out who leaked.

But a day before the scheduled proceeding, an attorney for the Miami-Dade court system told The Miami Herald’s lawyers there would be no hearing. Their presence wasn’t needed.

What court administrators didn’t say: All the courtroom participants under suspicion of talking were going to be in court anyway that morning — at a conference the public was forbidden to attend. And Sampedro-Iglesia had another plan. She was going to require all of them to sign sworn statements that they had not betrayed her trust.

“Where, as here, confidential information is leaked, the Court is vested with the authority to take additional measures to ensure the children are protected and the Court’s orders are followed,” she wrote.

The fight over courtroom access and records concerned the fate of 10-year-old Victor Barahona, who was found Feb. 14 by a road ranger on the side of Interstate 95 in West Palm Beach, convulsing and drenched with chemicals inside his adoptive father Jorge Barahona’s pickup truck.

Jorge Barahona was nearby, on the ground, also ill. The decomposing body of Victor’s twin sister, Nubia, was later found soaked in chemicals and shoved inside a trash bag in the truck..
Police and prosecutors later said the twins had been “tortured” for months inside the Barahonas’ Miami-Dade home.

The case has come to symbolize the longstanding tensions between the rights of abused children to keep private the details of their suffering — versus the public’s desire to hold its government accountable. In the months following Nubia’s death, The Miami Herald went to court four times seeking to compel the release of records or fight efforts to close to the public hearings about the Barahona children. The details surrounding the efforts of Sampedro-Iglesia and State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to identify leakers are contained in court records the newspaper obtained this week after filing suit for their release.

“One of the greatest privileges our Constitution provides is free press afforded by the First Amendment; however, the children in this case deserve their right to privacy, and it is this Court’s responsibility to protect these children,” Sampedro-Iglesia wrote in an order.

But Carole Shauffer, executive director of the Youth Law Center, who is helping Florida’s Department of Children & Families improve foster care under a private grant, said privacy concerns often have been used to shield public officials from scrutiny. “Agencies act,” she said, “as if the privacy is there to protect them. It is not. It is supposed to protect the child.”

In the weeks following the twins’ discovery, The Herald published a series of stories documenting critical lapses in the state’s supervision of the former foster children.
The Barahonas had been allowed by the state to adopt the twins in 2009 even though “the red flag of caution and warning was raised many times” by people around the family, including a principal and a volunteer guardian , according to the report done by a panel that investigated how the system failed. Even as Nubia’s body was discovered, two reports to the state’s abuse hotline had gone unheeded.

Amid such controversy, Sampedro-Iglesia closed all future court proceedings regarding the three surviving Barahona children, including Victor, to the public in an order dated July 21.
Under Florida law, hearings in which the state seeks to terminate a parent’s right to his or her children are closed to the public. The Herald’s attorney argued that the custody dispute, and other matters, were not part of such termination efforts, as both Barahona parents, now awaiting trial for murder and aggravated child abuse, had surrendered their rights. The judge disagreed.
A month later, at the request of prosecutors, Sampedro-Iglesia ordered Victor brought back to Miami from the home of his birth uncle in Texas for a hearing to determine who would continue to raise him.

Child welfare administrators wanted Victor to remain in Texas, but prosecutors were seeking his return to foster care in Miami.

On Aug. 19, The Herald reported that Victor had become the subject of a “judicial tug of war,” and that many child welfare experts felt that the hearing never should have been held. Victor himself had testified he wished to remain “with Tio and Tia” in Texas.

The Herald was forced to rely on anonymous sources for the story because its reporters had been kept out of the courtroom.

Insisting that children should never be returned to foster care when a qualified relative wished to adopt them, the head of the University of Miami Law School’s Children & Youth Law Clinic, Bernard Perlmutter, said at the time: “It seems like some kooky things have occurred here.”
The day the story appeared, Sampedro-Iglesia filed an order that Victor be allowed to live with his relatives in Texas.

Six days later, on Aug. 25, Sampedro-Iglesia signed a “gag order” once again forbidding parties to the dispute from discussing it. “Audaciously with the highest degree of impertinence,” she wrote, a courtroom observer even leaked the date of her court hearing to determine the identity of leakers.

“The cumulative effect of the media coverage and statements made by various persons, if allowed to continue, would contravene the basic principles set forth” in state child welfare law, she wrote.

Whoever spoke with the newspaper, she wrote, betrayed “not only the trust of the Court, but, most importantly, the trust of the minor child who is relying upon the good graces of adults to protect him from further sensationalistic intrusion into his private life.”

Sampedro later cancelled the hearing. But, records show, she instructed parties to the Barahona case to go into her chambers following an Aug. 26 status conference, and had her judicial assistant give them all copies of an affidavit stating they had not divulged confidential information.

Of 33 people asked to sign them, only one did not. Former DCF Regional Administrator Jacqui Colyer, who had retired from the agency, was banned by Sampedro-Iglesia from appearing in her court for any other proceedings involving Victor.

“Colyer has apparently decided to refrain from providing the Affidavit and has offered no explanation to the Court regarding such decision,” Sampedro-Iglesia wrote in a Sept. 22 order.
Sampedro also wrote two orders limiting the number of people who can attend future Barahona hearings, and, having concluded that she had “appropriately addressed the breach of confidentiality,” denied a request from State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to hold further proceedings to identify the leakers. Fernandez Rundle, she wrote, had authority to investigate the matter herself.

Richard Gelles, dean of the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, a well-regarded children’s advocate who followed the case closely, said it was the state that failed the boy and his sister.

“Government,” Gelles said, “ought to be held as accountable as they hold parents when involved in a maltreatment proceeding. What this judge is saying is, no, she is beyond accountability. That is contrary to law and common sense.”

“Every judge who has had a hand in this case, every agent of state government, has to be accountable. They are part of the legal parentage of this boy.”


Changing the Narrative of Child Welfare

by Matthew Fraidin
University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law;
Visiting Professor (2011-12), Georgetown University Law Center

The nuclear secret of child welfare is that most of the children in foster care should not be there. Most children in foster care are harmed more than they are helped by being taken from their families, and by being kept in foster care for too long. Children in foster care are torn from their schools, separated from their siblings, over-prescribed psychotropic drugs, and housed in dangerous group homes rife with abuse -- and it all happens behind the iron curtain of secret court proceedings.

Things haven't improved since 1991, when the National Commission on Children wrote "If the nation had deliberately designed a system that would frustrate the professionals who staff it, anger the public who finance it, and abandon the children who depend on it, it could not have done a better job than the present child-welfare system."

What's going on here? We're reminded almost any time a politician gets up a head of steam -- about Social Security, the budget deficit, crime, even foreign policy -- that there is no lack of ardor for children's issues. Everyone is in favor of children.

But our good intentions are rechanneled destructively by a grand narrative that is equal parts pernicious, inaccurate, and pervasive. A false storyline suffuses child welfare in the press, public discourse, and even among the lawyers, social workers and judges responsible for children in the system. That narrative is one of brutal, deviant, monstrous parents, and children who are fruit that doesn't fall far from the tree. We can't escape it, but it just ain't true.

To give you an idea of the relentlessness of the messages drummed into our heads, more than 90 percent of news stories about children are about violence by and against children. One researcher found that 70 to 95% of stories about child welfare are "horror stories," about gruesome, brutal injuries inflicted on children by unfathomably beastly parents.

As a result, when we think of children and foster care, we imagine brutality, savagery, deviance, and abuse. We think of horrible, heinous misdeeds perpetrated by monstrous felons. We think of murders that scream from the headlines, and the vile tragedy of family sexual abuse perpetrated against children ruined for life. These are, to use Edgar Cahn's phrase, "throwaway people."

There is another story, however. In fact, more than 70% of the children in foster care are there because of allegations that they were neglected, not abused. And neglect -- lack of food, clothing, shelter, supervision, or other necessities of life -- is poverty by another name: more than one-third of children in foster care, for example, could be living with their parents if only their parents had better housing.

Harmful, unnecessary foster care placements are epidemic in D.C. and throughout the nation. The National Conference of State Legislatures recently found, "[m]any children who are in foster care do not need to be there." Locally, then-incoming Mayor Gray's human services transition team warned of the harms caused by the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency's "expensive and harmful current practice of unnecessarily removing children from their birth families." A report issued by the federally-mandated D.C. Citizens Review Panel indicates that hundreds of children annually are taken from their families unlawfully. And in 60% of my students' cases at the University of the District of Columbia, the children were returned home from foster homes or group homes -- and were never found to be abused or neglected. These are kids who were taken from their homes for a few days, or a few weeks, or three months -- but it turned out they weren't abused or neglected, so they were returned.

One of the children in our cases was Kevin. Kevin was only seven months old at the time he was separated from his mother. He was born HIV-positive. The state took custody of Kevin because test results showed that his viral load was elevated. According to the agency, the doctor who treated Kevin said that the enormous elevation could only have been due to maladministration of the medication by Kevin's mother. The problem was that the test results were a month old, and Kevin's viral load actually was normal on the day he was taken. The other problem is that the doctor later signed a sworn affidavit stating she had never said that there could have been only one cause for the spike in Kevin's viral load. Kevin was returned to his mother's custody.

And James, who was taken from both his mother and his father -- who did not live together -- because his uncle came to school and beat him up for stealing a video game. The uncle didn't live with either parent or the child! James lived with strangers in foster care for a month and a half.

And finally, Isaac, who was apart from his mother for three months. The government alleged that Isaac's grandfather had beaten him across the legs and that Isaac's mother knew about it and failed to stop it. The government also alleged that Isaac was "educationally neglected" because he had missed seven days of school in the first two months of the term. Three months later, at trial, it turned out that the government couldn't even prove that Isaac had been hit, let alone by his grandfather. And the educational neglect? One of the days they said Isaac was absent was the day the social worker went to the school and took Isaac to foster care!

The judge sent Isaac back home after three months.

We have a foster care system full of children who should be at home. Children and youth in foster care experience multiple moves from home to home and high levels of abuse in foster homes and group homes. Former foster youth have sky-high rates of homelessness, unemployment, poverty, arrest and incarceration, teen pregnancy, dating violence victimization, and low educational achievement.

How can we be part of the solution? How can we disrupt the status quo? How can we fight the narrative?

We need to challenge the tired, dangerous narrative. We need to tell new stories.

The low-income people who comprise virtually 100% of child welfare-involved families? Suspend disbelief for a moment, and convince yourself they're rich. The crummy neighborhoods the children come from and the communities breaking down all around us? Think of those as strong and healthful, instead of shabby and pathologized.

Here's how.

Imagining a challenge to our approach to legal services provides a roadmap. Anti-poverty programs in general, and legal service providers in particular, see clients as the sum of their needs. Clients and litigants come to us with their problem. Indeed they only get our attention because they have a problem. And the first thing we ask is "What is your problem? What do you need? How can I help you?" And we try to solve the problem. We fill the hole, apply a band-aid, put a finger in the dike, whatever. You've heard the metaphors.

Here is a different model. Instead of merely asking: "What is your problem? What is the disease, the defect that brought this mother and child into my life," we can ask a different question. Not what is she lacking, but what does she have? Not only "what can I do?" but we can also ask her, "What can you do?" What are her abilities, her strengths, her assets?

How can we re-envision her as rich, powerful, and capable?

Well, can the mother whose child is taken away braid hair? Can she cook a meal? Can she smile at an elderly person in a nursing home? And let's think about that person in the nursing home. Can she watch a child recite a poem and clap for the child? Can she read a story? Can she share her own story about life "in the old days"? Does she know by heart, perhaps, a recipe for the best fried turkey you've ever eaten?

We can see with different eyes, and look for successes. Did the child's mother pull her neighbor's weeds last week? Or change a light bulb? Or pick up litter? These are things she did, not things she didn't.

Can she shop for groceries? Can she throw a party, or drive a neighbor to the doctor? Can she paint a room or clean a house or walk a dog?

The answers will be yes, yes, and yes.

In Chicago, eighth-graders in special education tutor first-graders in math. In Washington, D.C., returned prisoners provide children safe passage to school.

In Washington, D.C., our Youth Court is run by kids we might call juvenile delinquents. Youth Court gives us a chance to call them judges and jurors. It is a diversion program, in which the very youth who come through the court as defendants sit as jurors, reviewing infractions of other youth. They hear facts, deliberate, and impose sentences of community service, restitution, counseling, or an apology.

So it turns out that delinquent youth also are judges!

Our clients can do the things professionals do. Research is clear, for example, that women in violent relationships are the very best judges of their own safety, better than police, lawyers, case workers, or even judges. In Washington, D.C., when our highest court ruled that there was no statutory right to custody for non-parents, low-income grandmothers descended on the city Council, submitting statements and testifying about the necessity that the law be amended. And it was. In Washington, D.C., a homeless homeless advocate led a campaign to restore funding for homeless services.

So our low-income clients have power. Si se puede. Yes we can!

Now, if the mother is a person with assets, wealth, power, and strength, we see her differently. We learn from her, we admire her, we grow from knowing her.

It turns out we don't have all of the answers. We don't have a preordained stereotype into which we can fit her any more. She has busted through the narrative. We have to take her for who she is, the real person, the complicated three-dimensional, real person. She isn't a stick figure -- the deviant, monstrous black hole of problems, needs, and pathologies.

Her strengths and powers and abilities unlock ours. If she can do, so can we.

And what we can do together is change the conversation about child welfare. Remember the Citizens Review Panel report I mentioned? The Panel echoed Mayor Gray's own transition report, finding that excessive foster care placements are widespread and systematic. But the Gray Administration circled the wagons, insisting that the distinguished panel had it all wrong and that CFSA, despite the chorus of detractors and 20+ years of federal-court oversight, is just plain humming along. It's high time for District of Columbia voters to push back against that kind of stonewalling. It's time for D.C. residents to insist that the Council pull back the curtain of secrecy shielding the adult who disrupt children's lives.

In child welfare, we can make a difference by preventing children from entering foster care unnecessarily. And we can end children's stays in foster care as quickly as possible. We can achieve our goals of limiting entries to foster care and speeding exits from it by looking for the strengths of the people involved in our cases, rather than their weaknesses. We can look for what they can do, rather than what they can't. We can focus on their abilities, not the shortcomings over which we often obsess -- like drug addiction, disability, illiteracy, poverty. We can start from a premise that families involved with child welfare are bundles of assets, rather than collections of problems.

If we can do all this, we can help families build, rather than watch them fall.

Reducing the scourge of unnecessary foster care placements and lengthy stays in foster care will save children's lives. Everyone who cares about kids has the opportunity to keep children from unnecessary, devastating disruption, fear, and pain.

Fortunately, to paraphrase Brendan Sullivan, Oliver North's lawyer, we are not potted plants. We can do something. Yes, we can.

This post was adapted from anarticle forthcoming in Georgetown Journal of Poverty Law and Policy, Volume XIX (2011).


Failed Adoptions Create More Homeless Youths


Lamar West has lost parents twice in his life. The first time was when he was 4; the second was a month before his 18th birthday. The circumstances differed, but the outcomes did not.

When Mr. West, 20, tries to remember his biological parents, his eyes close and his face goes still. He remembers his mother’s name, Rochelle Griffin. Then he recalls a place — a hallway, an office — and fragments of conversation. “Records. Drug abuse. Termination.”

At age 5, Mr. West was adopted from the Illinois child welfare system. His four siblings went elsewhere. Parental rights were terminated. His child welfare case was closed. His last name and birth certificate were changed, listing his adopter, Frankie Lee West, as his mother. He had a new family.

He lived in Ms. West’s Roseland home with her and her eight other children (six of them were adopted) for years. But in 2008, he went to stay nearby with a family friend for a few months because Ms. West’s new house on the Southwest Side had become too crowded. He remained in regular contact with her. Then, in January 2009, he went to her home and discovered it empty.

She had moved — “upped and went,” as Mr. West said — to Atlanta. It was a month before he turned 18, and a month before the checks she received from the child welfare system on behalf of Mr. West were scheduled to stop.

“I’ve never felt pain like that before,” Mr. West said of finding the empty house. “My heart was beating so fast. It was like someone was punching me from the inside of my chest.”

Mr. West is what caseworkers and providers refer to as a “failed adoption.” He is part of a growing group that is entering the local shelter system for homeless youths after their families vanish as quickly as the government checks attached to them do.

Anne Holcomb, Mr. West’s caseworker and the coordinator for the Night Ministry’s Open Door Youth Shelter, said she was dismayed by the increase in homeless cases resulting from adopted youths who reach 18, the standard cutoff age for adoption subsidies in Illinois.

“I’m definitely seeing more failed adoptions,” she said. “I’m seeing more than I did in the ’90s and even more over the last four years, because these youths were adopted as kids and now they’re 18.”

With one of the largest child-welfare systems in the nation, Illinois had 51,331 children in state care in 1997. Often they bounced from foster home to foster home. Each new placement can add a new layer of trauma, experts said.

That same year, President Bill Clinton called on states to double the number of adoptions and permanent placements in five years because a focus on permanency would help both children and state budgets. Adoptive families received state assistance and provided children with a place to call home, while removing them from state rosters and reducing the number of caseworkers.

Between fiscal years 1985 and 1994, 8,180 children were adopted from the Illinois foster care system; between 1995 and 2004, the number had soared to 36,212, according to the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services.

Today the emphasis on permanency has shrunk the system to 15,413 children in fiscal year 2011, from its 1997 peak.

Research shows that from 1988 to 2006, children were typically adopted at age 7. Now, a little more than a decade after the boom years of 1998 to 2001 — accounting for 22,057 adoptions — more youths are aging out of subsidies than ever before.

“There was a huge scramble to pressure people into permanency,” said Mark Ruckdaeschel, director of Neon Street Dorms, a homeless youths shelter in Uptown. “And there was a big discussion about the financial benefits for doing this. It was a selling point.”

Monthly subsidies range from $360 for an infant to well over $1,000 for a child with special needs.

While foster youths receive benefits until age 21, benefits for adopted youths expire at 18. Youths who are abandoned by their adoptive family at that point are often left homeless and without a safety net — even from the system responsible for their adoption.

“It’s frustrating,” said Mr. Ruckdaeschel, who previously worked for organizations contracted by the Illinois child welfare system. “You feel like you’re doing D.C.F.S.’s job without the backing of D.C.F.S.’s deep pockets.”

The suddenly homeless youths are legal adults and are considered outside the system’s responsibility. In fact, the agency’s responsibility can end even earlier.

“D.C.F.S. has no capacity to and no authority to monitor or track families after an adoption,” said Kendall Marlowe, a spokesman for the agency. Richard Calica took over as director of the agency on Dec. 15, and he was not available to comment for this article.

Mr. West, a reticent and soft-spoken young man, has been homeless since he discovered Ms. West’s house empty two years ago. He had one brief phone call with her, but she never offered to take him back, he said. Ms. West did not respond to e-mails asking for comment.

For a while, Mr. West and his girlfriend, Amanda, stayed with his longtime friend Rodney Carter, 39. They also spent time in homeless shelters. When they married in September, they moved in with Amanda’s parents and her brother; they have a 1-year-old daughter, Kayla, and are expecting another child. With six people in a one-bedroom apartment, tensions are high.

Mr. West recently started seasonal day labor work in the receiving department of Follett Educational Services. It does not pay much — about $300 a week after the placement agency takes its cut — not enough to save for an apartment. He has no high school diploma and hopes to get his G.E.D., but for now he is the primary breadwinner and a paycheck is critical, he said.

Despite his anger toward his adoptive mother, Mr. West said he longed for the family he had known since he was 5.

When the push for permanency began 14 years ago, critics said that placements were being made in haste. They warned that children would eventually come flooding back into the system.

Limited research shows that about 90 percent of adoptions last through the child’s 18th birthday, said Nancy Rolock, a senior research specialist at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies permanency in the child-welfare system. Yet what happens after age 18, Ms. Rolock said, is nearly impossible to track.

D.C.F.S. is aware that not all placements are perfect matches. To prevent adoption failures, it has adoption-preservation programs, which tries to salvage an adoption before it breaks down.

In the last fiscal year, the programs served 1,318 families, which cost the department $6,231,707. Of the 2,490 children involved, 35 were returned to the custody of the child-welfare system.

In 2009, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Foster Youth Successful Transition to Adulthood Act, which enabled former foster youths under the age of 21 to resume receiving benefits from D.C.F.S. It benefited youths who may have chosen to leave the agency early only to find out that life without its aid can be difficult. Yet the law does not include foster youths who have been adopted.

Representative Sara Feigenholtz, a co-sponsor of the law, said its scope should be widened. “I believe that cherry-picking and hair-splitting doesn’t get us where we want to be,” she said. “I’m beginning to realize that there is a lot more work to be done.”

After a long day at his job, Mr. West collapsed in an armchair in his mother-in-law’s Albany Park apartment. Kayla toddled around, giggling, eating a peeled apple. “I’ve been thinking about something all day,” he said and rose to his feet.

He walked into the 8-foot-by-6-foot bedroom he shares with his wife and their daughter, sat on the bed and typed out a message on his mobile phone to Jennifer, his adopted sister, who left along with Ms. West.

“I’m asking this question to give myself closure. Am I a part of your family or not, honest?” Then he hit send.


$68 Million Settlement Proposed for 10 Children Fraudulently Adopted and Abused


Lawyers for 10 disabled children who were fraudulently adopted by a Queens woman more than 15 years ago and subjected to years of abuse have proposed a $68 million settlement in a civil rights lawsuit filed on their clients’ behalf, according to a confidential court filing.

The proposal comes as a federal magistrate judge in Brooklyn appears to be trying to mediate a settlement to the suit, filed in 2009, which seeks damages from New York City and three contract adoption agencies that placed the children with the woman, Judith Leekin.

The case has been seen as one of the most disturbing child welfare fraud cases in the city in recent years. Ms. Leekin used four aliases to adopt the children, who had physical or developmental disabilities, including autism and retardation, and later moved them to Florida. The children were caged, restrained with plastic ties and handcuffs, beaten with sticks and hangers, and kept out of school, according to court papers. An 11th child disappeared while in Ms. Leekin’s care and is presumed dead.

The suit asks that the 10 plaintiffs, now mostly in their 20s, be compensated for their years of suffering as well as for the services and treatment they will need for the rest of their lives.

The settlement proposal was cited in a letter from a defense lawyer in the case to the magistrate judge, Marilyn D. Go of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, where the lawsuit was brought.

The letter was filed publicly in October, but was quickly sealed after the lawyer wrote that it “referred to confidential discussions between the parties.” The New York Times obtained the letter while it was publicly available.

Ms. Leekin, 66, was imprisoned after she was convicted of fraud in federal court in Manhattan and of abuse in a state court in Florida. Federal prosecutors have said that as part of her scheme, she collected $1.68 million in subsidies from the city that went to support a lavish lifestyle.

When the 10 children were removed from her care in 2007, none had completed elementary school; only three could read and only at a third-grade level; and about half were declared either “totally incapacitated” or “vulnerable adults,” according to a report by a former Columbia University social work professor retained by the plaintiffs to examine the cases.

The 10 have since lived in Florida in state programs or on their own, and at least one is homeless, according to court filings.

New York City and the three private agencies have denied liability in the case, claiming that Ms. Leekin was a sophisticated serial criminal whose scheme fooled various professionals and, given the capabilities and practices of the time, would not have been foreseen or detected.

The agencies are HeartShare Human Services of New York, SCO Family of Services and the now-closed St. Joseph Services for Children and Families.

The agencies’ lawyer, Robert S. Delmond, did not respond to messages seeking a comment on Thursday. Lawyers for the city and the plaintiffs declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

In the now-sealed letter to Judge Go, Mr. Delmond described the $68 million demand as “a significant sum, which requires much consideration, thought, planning and involvement of corporate officers before they can reach a decision.” The agencies’ insurance carrier was reviewing the matter, he noted, and was “not prepared to make a settlement offer at this time.”

He requested more time to allow for further consultations with the insurer and meetings to discuss “possible settlement offers.”

It is unclear how the city and the private agencies might apportion any payout if a settlement is reached.

Jonathan S. Abady, a lawyer whose firm, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, has handled suits against the city and private agencies in cases involving abused and neglected children, said “there does appear to be a uniform indemnification provision” in the contracts the city has with such agencies.

“But the city has the ultimate legal responsibility for the child,” said Mr. Abady, whose firm is not involved in the Leekin suit.

In August, Theodore Babbitt, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, asked Judge Go to move the case forward because of the “fragile, unstable and precarious” condition of the plaintiffs. “They are desperate for care that cannot be provided through the Florida state system,” he wrote.

He cited three of the male plaintiffs, who ranged in age from 19 to 24: one had been on a round-the-clock suicide watch after multiple attempts to take his own life. Another had fathered children out of wedlock and was homeless. A third had been arrested for domestic violence against his older brother. “He is angry and depressed and bottles it up inside until he violently explodes,” Mr. Babbitt wrote.

The court’s docket sheet shows that Judge Go has regularly held confidential phone and court conferences related to settlement issues, sometimes talking with just one side or the other.

Her efforts appear to date from July, when she said in open court that she was usually “programmed to be hopelessly optimistic about settlement.”

“For some reason,” she added, “I have not pushed the parties much in this case to discuss settlement, but let’s do so now.”