Friday, March 2, 2012

Indiana governor attacks Democrats, media, over criticism of child protection on his watch

Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Mitch Daniels on Friday rebuffed criticism of Indiana's child protection services during his watch, saying recent news reports that detailed cases of fatal child beatings obscured the great strides the state had made in protecting at-risk children and accusing rival Democrats of "grandstanding."

Daniels addressed hundreds of child protection workers in an attempt to boost morale following investigative reports by The Indianapolis Star and the South Bend Tribune. The papers detailed multiple cases where Hoosier children were beaten to death while reports to the state went unchecked, possibly because of high turnover at Indiana's new centralized abuse reporting hotline.

Daniels, a Republican, cited statistics and national awards showing that the state had improved drastically since 2005, including a 50 percent drop in reported deaths between 2005 and 2010. He accused the media of misrepresenting the issue.

"A lot of the people making those attacks have never walked up to the door of a house harboring those adults," Daniels told the audience.

House Democratic Leader Patrick Bauer, of South Bend, and Democratic members of the House's family committee called a news conference last week and criticized child protection services based on the newspaper reports.

The House agreed Thursday to establish a legislative study committee to investigate the reports. Indiana senators, meanwhile, reached a separate agreement with DCS to have it submit a report to the Legislature's Health Finance Commission.

Daniels used the issue against Democrats in his first run for office much the same way they are using it against him now.

"I just think the protection of children ought to be singled out as a life-and-death matter where failure is not an option," Daniels told the Star in 2004 when he was running for governor against Democrat Joe Kernan.

Since then, Daniels has separated the child protection office from the massive state Family and Social Services Administration, establishing its own cabinet-level department. He also increased the number of caseworkers handling child abuse and neglect cases by 750 workers.


Calista Springer's estate can't sue state workers for her death, court rules

Blogger note:
We hope that these families moves their suits to federal court (section 42 USC 1983) where state workers are less likely to be granted immunity for their lack of action (crimes). Once again, a child who was truly in danger but CPS turns a blind eye. Likely because they were too busy chasing innocent parents and kidnapping their children.

By Emily Monacelli

CENTREVILLE -- The family of Calista Springer cannot sue the state for her death, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

Springer's grandmother, Suzanne Langdon, acting as a representative of Calista's estate, sued the Michigan Department of Human Services and St. Joseph County Child Protective Services in October 2010, asserting that state workers failed to protect Calista from her parents, which resulted in her death.

Calista was 16 when she was found chained to her bed in an upstairs room in her family's Centreville home following a February 2008 house fire.

The appeals court combined Springer's case with that of Nicholas Daniel Braman, whose estate also sued child protective services workers after Braman's father killed Nicholas, himself and his wife in October 2007 in Montcalm County. In both cases, the court ruled that the children's estates could not sue state workers for allegedly improperly acting upon allegations of abuse.

Read the 11-page opinion issued Thursday here.

"Although plaintiffs recited several failures by the employee defendants to comply with their official CPS investigation policies and guidelines, these failures merely prove the state's failure to act, not that it was acting pursuant to a mandatory policy of inaction," the appeals court ruling says.

"Plaintiffs do not point to any official policy or custom that mandated CPS investigators to improperly investigate the abuse allegations against the decedents' parents or to fail to protect the decedents," the opinion reads.

State workers found "insufficient evidence" to substantiate allegations made against Springer's and Braman's parents, and had no basis to remove the children from their homes, according to the court.

"While the facts of these cases are indeed tragic, this is not an appropriate case in which to impose a damage remedy on the state for a state constitutional due process violation, as no violation can be established," the opinion says.

Calista's grandmother filed three separate lawsuits in October 2010, one in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, one in the state Court of Claims in Lansing, and a third in St. Joseph County Circuit Court. Each demand jury trials and seek awards “in excess of $75,000.”

The court filings provided information from Michigan State Police records about abuse and neglect complaints that Langdon said were filed by family members, teachers, a mental-health worker, friends and acquaintances.

The suits claimed St. Joseph County protective services caseworker Patricia Skelding and supervisor Cynthia Bare failed to adequately respond to documented abuse from Calista's parents, Anthony and Marsha Springer. Langdon's federal suit also named as defendants former state DHS director Marianna Udow; her chief deputy, Laura Champagne; and former state manager of DHS Child Protective Services programs Ted Forrest.

A jury in February 2010 found Anthony and Marsha Springer guilty of torture and child abuse in Calista's death. They were each sentenced to prison terms.

Allegations of abuse and neglect against the Springers began in April 1995 and included accusations of lead poisoning, untreated burns, physical and emotional abuse, restraint by ropes, and being locked in her bedroom.


Wisconsin GOP Leader Proposes Legislation To Blame Single Parents For Child Abuse And Neglect - Wisconsin

Rick Unger

Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman, the Assistant Majority Leader and a close ally of GOP Governor Scott Walker in the effort to destroy collective bargaining in the Badger State, is taking crazy to new levels.

Grothman has introduced a bill that would require the State of Wisconsin to officially deem single parenthood to be a “contributor” to child abuse and neglect and to put the same into statutory laws of the state.

Seriously…no kidding…really.

Here is the relevant section of the Wisconsin law that was the subject of a hearing yesterday in the Wisconsin state Senate Committee on Public Health, Human Services and Revenue. The bold lettering represents the amendments to the existing law that Senator Grothman has proposed for addition:

Section 1. 48.982 (2) (g) 2. of the statutes is amended to read: 48.982 (2) (g) 2. Promote statewide educational and public awareness campaigns and materials for the purpose of developing public awareness of the problems of child abuse and neglect. In promoting those campaigns and materials, the board shall emphasize nonmarital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.

Section 2. 48.982 (2) (g) 4. of the statutes is amended to read: 48.982 (2) (g) 4. Disseminate information about the problems of and methods of preventing child abuse and neglect to the public and to organizations concerned with those problems. In disseminating that information, the board shall emphasize nonmarital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.

If it strikes you as odd that the Wisconsin senate is spending the taxpayers’ money debating this sort of legislation in committee—considering that a full one-third of Wisconsin’s parents are, indeed, single parents—you need to understand a little bit more about Wisconsin state Senator Grothman.

You should know that it was Senator Grothman who informed us last year that “The Left and the social welfare establishment want children born out of wedlock because they are far more likely to be dependent on the government.” This is also the same Senator Grothman who opposed a provision in the 2010 Wisconsin sex education law that would prohibit teachers from promoting bias based on sexual orientation because he believed that instructors would have an “agenda” to persuade students to become gay.

And, yes, this is the same Senator Grothman who wants to defund kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds because, argues Grothman, any academic benefits disappear by the fourth grade, and the program is used by school districts to pad their budgets to get more state aid.

Apparently, no longer content with suggesting that single parents (most of whom were not always single) are only out to bilk the government when deciding to have children, Grothman has decided that these same evil doers are more responsible for child abuse and child neglect than, say, alcoholics, people with mental health issues, married couples who engage in domestic violence, unemployment and the other causes cited as material contributors to child abuse.

I say that Grothman believes single-parenthood to be more responsible because I don’t see him proposing that these other causes be specifically included in his legislation.

To be fair, data reveals that there are more incidents of child abuse in households with only one parent than in households with two parents. But the data does not indicate that this factor is somehow more responsible for child abuse than the other factors listed above so, again, why single this factor out to include in the state’s statutes and not the others?

According to Lisa Subeck, a program manager and family advocate at Wisconsin’s Dane County Parent Council Head Start, Grothman’s bill was written to dictate personal choices rather than to help prevent child abuse. Says Subeck, “Sen. Grothman is inserting government into what should be a very personal decision.

That sounds about right.

And here I thought it was the GOP that was dedicated to keeping government out of our private lives.

My bad.


Parental rights bill clears House - Utah

By David Montero

A bill designed to add more layers before a child can be removed from a home by the Division of Child and Family Services passed through the House Thursday 54-13.

Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, said he believed there needed to be additional protections for parents who face losing their child and his measure, HB161, would require an interim committee to study and make findings on the division’s budget and whether they were unfairly removing children from homes.

In his proposal, he also wants parents to have the opportunity to seek a jury trial when faced with termination of parental rights as well as letting extended family intervene more easily before the division gets involved in removing a child.

Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, worried about the bill’s language — notably a line that suggested the Division of Child and Family Services used an artificial standard to yank kids out of the home.

That line of the bill said that a parent’s right is protected and “does not cease to exist simply because a parent may fail to be a model parent.”

Litvack said that was a dubious implication and wanted it removed from the bill.

“I think we’re leaving a wrong impression when we say whether a parent is behaving in a model way or not,” Litvack said. “This is about striking that fine balance between protecting parental rights but also ensuring the rights and safety of children are protected.”

His amendment failed, and Christensen asked the lawmakers “from the bottom of my heart” to pass the measure.

It now moves to the Senate.


Court: Aunts have no visitation rights with nieces - Minnesota

by Bob Collins

Sorry, aunts. You don't have any right to visit your nieces and nephews, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled this week in the case of a woman who wanted visitation rights with the daughter of her now-deceased twin sister.

The court ruled on the appeal of Kelli Rohmiller. After her sister and her boyfriend, Andrew Hart (the girl's father) split up, the girl and her mother lived with Rohmiller for five weeks. But when Ms. Rohmiller's sister died, Hart was awarded custody of the girl and cut Rohmiller off from visiting her niece.

A district court granted Rohmiller and her father unsupervised visitation with the girl, but the Court of Appeals reversed the ruling, saying Minnesota law does not grant a right to visitation to aunts.

In Minnesota, the law grants visitation rights to grandparents and great-grandparents as well as people with whom a child has lived for at least two years if the parent of a child is deceased. But Supreme Court Justice Lori Gildea said neither provision applies in this case.

"If the legislature wanted to include aunts as a class of individuals who could petition for visitation, it could have," she wrote.

Rohmiller said it would be "absurd" for the legislature to exclude step-parents, step-grandparents, step-siblings, cousins and "significant others" from visitation simply because they had not lived with a child for two years because "there is no magic relationship that is formed after two years."

The Supreme Court rejected the argument. "We have not found any reported Minnesota cases in which, over a fit custodial parent's objection, visitation was awarded to a non-parent who was not standing in loco parentis (ed. note: had parenting functions) with the child," Gildea said.

Since the father allowed the girl's grandfather to visit her, the Court said its decision this week would not prevent Rohmiller from being present when he does.

Here's the full opinion.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

County Child Welfare Workers to Undergo Criminal Checks

Blogger note:
Would've thought that criminal background checks would have been in place before anyone was hired by DCFS to work with children. Cart before the horse? Can't help but wonder if any children have suffered any kind of abuse or neglect at the hands of these unchecked worker's and it may be going unreported...

By City News Service

Several county child welfare workers have not undergone criminal background checks, a county supervisor said Tuesday, prompting the Board of Supervisors to call for an immediate start to the checks.

Supervisor Gloria Molina recommended that Department of Children and Family Services employees who work with children be electronically fingerprinted — a process called a Live Scan — for a California Department of Justice criminal record check.

All new county employees, employees transferring to other departments and being promoted undergo the Live Scan process, Molina said. But about 35 percent of county employees have not been scanned, including several DCFS employees, she said.

Staffers have been working for years on a feasibility study related to expanding the Live Scan process, which they were asked to expedite in September 2009.

Molina said she recently learned that state parks employees who interact with children undergo the same process.

“It’s hard to believe that all these years, we have not been doing the same,” Molina said.

She said she understood the county made a conscious decision not to do so in 1997, when legislation first passed related to Live Scan. Molina was elected in 1991.

The board unanimously voted to begin the scans immediately for DCFS employees and to begin discussions with union representatives related to the scans. It also directed staffers to report back in two weeks on the status of the overall feasibility study and plans to implement scans in other departments.


Foster Care Children, Now Grown, Tell Their Stories - Florida

The Calizaire sisters lived with countless families, and say they were abused by some of their foster care parents

By Nathalie Pozo

Sophia and Princess Calizaire were introduced to foster care when they were seen wandering the streets looking for their mother, who had left them alone in a South Florida motel.

"We heard this big bang at the door," said Sophia Calizaire. "We were trying to figure out who it was."

It was the Florida Department of Children and Families coming to take them away, and they became foster care files that night, when they were just four and seven years old.

The Calizaire sisters lived with countless families and were moved from one school to another. They say they were abused while staying with some of those foster care parents.

"She took a belt, she started beating me with the belt, picked up a hanger, she started beating me with the hanger, picked up a heel and started beating me with the heel,” said Sophia.

Her sister, Princess, was outside the room and could hear everything. “I couldn’t do anything about it," Princess said, with tears coming down her face.

The Calizaire sisters remember one foster care parent making them sleep in a dog house and eat dog food. They say some foster care parents wouldn’t feed them, would keep locks on the refrigerator and would sometimes starve them as a form of punishment.

"She told me to eat in front of my sister while she watched and my sister is hungry. I took out the chewed up piece of chicken from my mouth and gave it to her," said Sophia, who said she was caught by her foster care mother. "She filled up the bathroom sink and she took my head and started drowning me. She kept drowning me until she felt she was ready to stop."

Princess says the abuse not only came from the parents. “I stayed in a foster home down south where this boy used to try to rape me every night before I would go to sleep," she said. "I used to be scared to go to sleep at night. I ran away from there."

Mez Pierre, now 24, had a similar experience in foster care when he was a little boy. He says he was sexually abused by one of the teen foster kids staying in the same home.

“I was a little kid, they knew they could take advantage of me and I couldn’t fight back,” said Pierre. "But I did tell, I did tell someone and she didn’t do anything, she didn’t do anything."

In 2005, DCF completed privatizing foster care. They contracted with 20 lead agencies throughout the state to oversee the care and needs of children in foster care.

Our Kids manages Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, while Child Net handles Broward County. The abuse endured by Pierre and the Calizaire sisters happened before the agencies took over, but they still say the system is far from perfect.

Some child advocate attorneys say the current privatized system does not work because lead agencies like Our Kids sub-contracted other organizations to monitor foster care children.

"So you have multiple corporations and agencies who supposedly are in charge and responsible for the lives of the children but tragically these children, real human beings, fall through the cracks in the system,” said attorney Howard Talenfeld.

DCF disagrees and says when it was a statewide agency it became quite unmanageable.

"Out of the one or two cases that you hear which are horrible cases and we need to learn from, there are thousands of children and families that DCF and Our Kids helps on a yearly and daily basis," said DCF’s southern regional director, Esther Jacobo, who added that DCF is taking steps to improve the system.

Jacobo said case managers have to see a child in care every 30 days and must have private conversations with that child so they feel comfortable opening up. She says there is an electronic monitoring system in place for case workers, which snaps a picture of the child with a time, date and location.

"It’s kind of like a GPS and statewide Tallahassee monitors that so you know what is happening in terms of the child visit," Jacobo said.

Currently, there are just fewer than 20,000 children in foster care statewide, according to DCF. During a two-month span between August and October, there were 127 verified abuse cases across the state, 17 of them in the South Florida area.


Effort at Parental Rights Amendment in Georgia Stalls

Georgia parents could no longer put their children in time-outs or impose other discipline if the U.S. Senate ratifies an international treaty on children’s rights. Or so says state Rep. Jay Neal (R-LaFayette) and other backers of a proposed Parental Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Neal asked state House colleagues Tuesday to call on Congress to back a constitutional amendment declaring that parents – not the government — have the right to direct their children’s upbringing and education.

But the clock ran out during a time-shortened meeting of the House Children and Youth Committee, and Neal’s resolution was tabled, quite possibly killing it for this year’s legislative session. The motion to table passed on a 9-7 vote., whose top officers run the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association, is backing the amendment nationally. In Georgia, the group’s leader is Jonathan Crumly, attorney for a non-profit that helps funnel tax-subsidized scholarships to students attending private Christian schools.

Crumly told committee members Tuesday that the treaty — the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child – under Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, would become “the law of the land” if ratified. As such, he said, the treaty would override state laws regarding discipline, education and determinations of child neglect or abuse.

The treaty would prevent parents from imposing any discipline that is “unnecessarily embarrassing or confrontational,” he said, “and that can and has included things like simple timeouts.”

Advocates also fear the treaty could prevent parents from instilling religious views in their children, Crumly said.

Democrats on the committee pushed back, saying the amendment is not needed and is based on faulty interpretations of the treaty and U.S. Supreme Court decisions on parental rights.

The United States and Somalia are the only countries in the world that have not ratified the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child, which took effect in 1990.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

N.Y. Threatens to Remove License of Anti-vaccine Attorney

Written by Raven Clabough

Patricia Finn (left), a vaccine rights attorney in New York, is being targeted by the Ninth Judicial District, which is threatening to strip her license to practice law and file criminal charges against her.

Finn has garnered a reputation for helping parents to protect their children from vaccines that are viewed as potentially dangerous, and also represents families of victims who have suffered adverse reactions to vaccinations. Among the anti-vaccine community Finn is touted as a hero, but those in favor of vaccinations view her as a villain.

According to Finn’s website, her law office “focuses on protecting clients’ First Amendment rights,” and that the attorneys are “especially dedicated to the rights of parents and individuals who have religious beliefs in conflict with mandated vaccines.” Those clients in particular require help to receive exemptions relating to school, immigration, adoption, and the workplace.

Finn has now come under the scrutiny of the NYS Ninth Judicial District Grievance Committee. She contends that the she has been harassed by the New York State Judiciary after insisting that parents have constitutional rights regarding vaccine decisions for their children, particularly after she represented health care workers in New York regarding the H1N1 (swine flu) mandatory vaccination policy. New York was the first state to require mandatory flu shots for healthcare workers.

On February 22, Finn delivered the keynote address at the Parental Rights rally in Charleston, West Virginia — held by parents in order to draw attention to their constitutional rights to protect their children from the medical/industrial complex's vaccination protocol.

West Virginia is one of two states that do not permit religious or philosophical exemption against vaccination; Mississippi is the other. Both states mandate that children receive multiple vaccines, including those against hepatitis B, in order to attend daycare, public, or private school.

A group called “We the Parents” hired Finn to represent them in their cause against the state of West Virginia to change that mandate. Finn has also recently been hired by the parents of Kaylynne Matten, the 7-year-old Vermont girl who died in December 2011 just four days after receiving the flu vaccine.

Following her appearance at the “We the Parents” rally in West Virginia, Finn was served with papers threatening to strip her of her license to practice law. One document describes her vaccine right advocacy as “threatening the public interest.”

Mike Adams of Natural News raises the point that if vaccine proponents are so confident in the ability of the vaccinations to offer absolute and total immunity against infectious diseases, then “how can an unvaccinated child ever threaten the health of a vaccinated child?”

In a letter outlining the various charges against her, Patricia Finn was told that she must relinquish her complete list of clients to the judiciary. Most people understand that what the court is asking of Finn is a clear violation of attorney/client privilege. Adams contends that the court is looking to “terrorize the parents who have sought legal help in opting out of dangerous vaccines.”

Finn’s problems with the New York Judiciary began with her “legal termination” by New York. She explains:

This morning I was served with papers to suspend my license to practice law. The charges are bogus and come on the heels of my address to the Parental Rights Rally in WV. I am also being ordered to disclose the names of people I represent who do not vaccinate… I refuse. I would go to jail first before I give out the names. Please contact all pro vaccine choice organizations and the media… know the truth! I call this harassment the Wakefield Effect!

The “Wakefield Effect” refers to the censorship of anyone who takes a stand against vaccinations. Dr. Andrew Wakefield was reportedly slandered by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) for his views on vaccinations and for his claims that they could lead to conditions such as autism and bowel disease. He has since filed a lawsuit against the British Medical Journal to clear his name.

Natural News reports:

The lawsuit cites several articles and editorials published in BMJ that include "false and defamatory allegations" about Dr. Wakefield and his work. "Secrets of the MMR [measles, mumps, rubella] scare: how the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed," an article written by journalist Brian Deer that was published in BMJ, and an accompanying editorial by Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of BMJ, are two of the defamatory writings named in the suit.

It’s worth noting that the last two complaints brought against Finn were filed sua sponte, meaning “on their own accord” — there is no former client or public complainant filing the charges. Instead, they are put forward by the New York Ninth Judicial District Grievance Committee itself.

Finn is not likely to be intimidated, it seems. She posted on her Facebook page: “If it takes my license to get attention to this issue, then so be it. I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Opponents of vaccinations claim that forced vaccines are a violation of constitutional rights.

Claudia Raymer, founder of the group We the People, stated, “We feel like it’s a constitutional issue.” She adds that vaccines also pose a moral dilemma, as some are developed with the use of aborted fetuses.

During the We the People rally, Raymer made the argument that some vaccines are wholly unnecessary, such as the one for chicken pox, which is not a deadly disease, and the one for Hepatitis B, a sexually-transmitted disease.

Raymer has a stake in the push to change West Virginia law, as her son developed a condition that she asserts is related to immunizations. When a doctor in Pittsburgh recommended that she receive a medical exemption for her son, she was denied by Marshall County officials in West Virginia. Raymer is now filing an injunction, but if the exemption is denied, she asserts her only remaining option will be to home-school her son.

"We're not asking for groundbreaking legislation," Raymer said. "We're asking for the rights just like other states [have]."

While advocates of vaccinations contend that the higher the percentage of vaccinated students, the less likely a school is for outbreaks of illnesses, opponents mention to possible connections between vaccines and conditions such as autism — pointing out that groups such as the Amish, who do not participate in vaccine programs, have zero reports of autism. Likewise, vaccines such as those which are said to prevent cervical cancer, have had reported negative effects such as brain damage.

Vaccine skeptics also call attention to the content of vaccines — such as mercury, formaldehyde, phenoxyethanol, and diploid cells from aborted fetal tissue — and the long-term effects of those items on the human body as prime reasons not to force vaccinations on the American people.

The battle over vaccines has been a contentious and long-standing one. According to Finn, the decision of the New York Judiciary to target her is a clear indication that the state of New York wishes to strip parents of their legal protections.


State Keeps Death Files of Abused Children Secret - New York


When Elisa Izquierdo, a 6-year-old, was killed by her mother in 1995, she became a symbol of a dysfunctional bureaucracy, one that allowed a drug addict to retain custody of her daughter despite numerous reports of abuse.

The resulting outcry led to an overhaul of New York City’s child welfare system and the passage in Albany of Elisa’s Law, a measure loosening the secrecy regulations in child-abuse investigations. Among other reforms, the law required a public accounting of the events leading up to the death of any child in New York State who had been reported as abused or neglected.

But for the last five years, the state’s Office of Children and Family Services has been working quietly and persistently to limit access to those case reports, which in most instances are the only record of the circumstances leading up to the deaths.

In 2007, the office tried to have the law changed. When that failed, it made its own rule. According to a policy enacted by the office in September 2008, it will not release the fatality reports mandated by Elisa’s Law if there are siblings or other children in the home and officials decide that revealing the family’s abuse and investigative history is not in their “best interests.”

“This is like back to the future,” said Jeffrey Binder, who was press secretary for former State Senator Roy M. Goodman, Republican of Manhattan, when he sponsored Elisa’s Law. “We were trying very hard to remove the veil of secrecy.”

After The New York Times began asking about the policy on withholding reports, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the governor’s office would review the change.

The fatality reports were intended to permit public scrutiny of the performance of child welfare authorities while protecting the privacy of those involved. The reports do not identify deceased children, their caseworkers or anyone else by name. But they do list every complaint of abuse or neglect involving the child, the child welfare agency’s response to the complaints, and an assessment of whether the response was adequate.

The state issues about 250 fatality reports each year. And in 2010, for example, two-thirds of the reports issued in New York City involved homes with multiple children, meaning that under its new policy, officials could withhold information about their deaths.

“The whole point of this was to insist we were going to have accountability,” said Martin Guggenheim, a professor of law at New York University and an expert in child welfare law. “What we’re now stuck with is delegating to the commissioner the discretion to refuse to disclose a report because of her conclusion that it wouldn’t be in a child’s best interest.”

The state agency says it changed the rule out of concern for the privacy of surviving children. Elisa’s Law included a provision allowing the office to withhold reports if someone requested to see a particular child’s case. But state officials said anyone could get around that provision by simply asking to see all the reports in a given year.

“Our primary focus is protecting the interests of surviving siblings and family members,” said Gladys Carrión, the commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services.

Ms. Carrión said she could not provide an example of a child’s being harmed as a result of the release of a fatality report, but she said: “It is not far-fetched that releasing the information of a particular child would have an adverse impact on surviving siblings.”

Before her death, Elisa’s life seemed full of promise. She lived with her devoted father. Teachers described her as radiant. And a benefactor had agreed to pay for her education.

All of that changed when her father died of cancer and her mother, Awilda Lopez, was awarded custody. Ms. Lopez, whom acquaintances described as crazed by crack cocaine, said she saw the devil when she looked into her daughter’s face.

Ms. Lopez beat the girl, abused her sexually and subjected her to a barrage of hurt and humiliation. Finally, she smashed the girl’s head against concrete and left her lying slack-jawed and unconscious for two days until she died. Elisa was buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Queens, where the epitaph carved into her tombstone pleads, “World Please Watch Over the Children.”

Relatives, teachers and others who had seen evidence of Elisa’s abuse had complained to child welfare authorities at least seven times.

One major change after Elisa’s death was the creation by New York City of the Administration for Children’s Services, a separate agency devoted to child welfare and protection. Another was Elisa’s Law, which arose out of lawmakers’ frustration when city authorities, citing confidentiality, refused to answer questions about their role in the death.

So far, multiple bills drafted at the request of the Office of Children and Family Services to limit the public disclosure portion of Elisa’s Law have failed. The most recent was introduced in the Assembly in the current legislative session and in January was referred to committee.

The bill would require the state to release its recommendations for administrative or policy changes resulting from a child’s death. But in cases where there are surviving siblings or other children in the home, the bill would permit the state to withhold the details of the family’s case history and how the local child welfare agency responded if releasing those details was deemed to be against the other children’s “best interest.” The local agency, which in New York City is the Administration for Children’s Services, would have a say in the decision, even though that agency might have been responsible for any missteps.

The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsored the Assembly version of Elisa’s Law, would not comment on the changes to public disclosure proposed by the Office of Children and Family Services. But a spokeswoman said on his behalf that any bill to amend Elisa’s Law would be vetted to determine whether the process protects “to the greatest extent possible” New York’s children and their families.

Marcia Robinson Lowry, a lawyer and the director of Children’s Rights Inc., a national watchdog group dedicated to reforming government child welfare services, said limiting access to reports would hurt efforts to make the system more responsive to children in dangerous homes.

“They are something a public advocacy group or a think tank or a responsible party can have available to understand the systemic failures that have led to these children’s deaths,” she said. “They are critically important.”


Father describes hard lessons

Blogger Note:

This sounds all too familiar! It seems that every family that CPS touches, tells the same story. The only difference is in the names. The only good that ever comes of CPS involvement with a family is that they soon learn the truth about kangaroo courts and how our country is truly run. ? What Constitution ?

Family dispute gone wrong leads to girls taken from home.

ELKHART — Victor Marquis remembers Sept. 13, 2007, as the day his disillusionment with his country began.

Marquis, a 47-year-old engineer whose two teenage daughters live with him, recalls that night in 2007 when they were taken away and mired in what he calls an unconstitutional system.

That night, Marquis says, the family was planning to attend an event that required wearing clothes that his older daughter, Victoria, resisted putting on.

Tensions between him and his now-ex-wife were already heading toward divorce, he says, and when 13-year-old Victoria refused to wear the outfit, Marquis became so angry he decided to spank the girl. His wife stepped in front of him to block him, he says, so he spanked his wife instead.

His then-wife ran downstairs and Marquis followed, he says, accidentally running into the girls’ stepmother and knocking her down some stairs.

Marquis says the woman was not injured and things calmed down, so he left to pick up his younger daughter. But when he returned, police were there.

The father was ultimately charged with felony domestic battery in front of a minor, which was reduced to a misdemeanor and led to a year’s probation.

But the incident also led to the girls being declared wards of the state, who spent almost 18 months in foster homes.

Marquis’ first attorney told him to agree with Child Protective Services that the children were in need of services and things would move more quickly; instead, he says, the situation became even more complicated.

Victoria, who is now 18, says one foster home had such a bad lice infestation that the girls suffered with the nits for six months. The other home, she says, housed other foster children who ate most of the available food, forcing the girls to appeal to a neighbor for sustenance.

Marquis says he attended individual and family therapy sessions, trying his best to comply with Department of Child Services wishes.

He attended anger management classes, he says, but they insisted that he admit to beating his wife.

“They wanted me to say, ‘I’m Victor Marquis, and I’m a batterer,’” he says. “I wasn’t a wife abuser. ... There were men in there who had beat their wives and still had their kids.”

The man running the program eventually testified that Marquis was in denial about what had happened, he says.

Even after he had hired a different attorney, Marquis says he wasn’t allowed to call his own witnesses, such as the girls’ mother, Sharon Marquis, to defend his parenting skills. Sharon had given him full custody long before the incident, she says, because of issues of her own.

Sharon Marquis and both girls say Victor has rarely lost his temper. But “I could have handled it differently, I admit,” he says now.

The judge stressed that it was against the law for him to tell anyone else about the case, he says, which added to the helplessness.

“They were feeling good about taking my kids away from me based on incorrect information, which I was never able to refute,” Marquis says.

“There’s no oversight,” he says, “and parents are minimized.”

Meanwhile, Victoria says that when she’d meet with her Court Appointed Special Advocate, what she told her was reported out of context in court.

She told the woman, “‘I miss my family,’” Victoria says. “‘My dad is a little crazy, but isn’t everybody a little crazy?’ She told the judge I said, ‘My dad is crazy.’ It was ridiculous. They didn’t really listen.”

The girls had to switch schools twice while living in the foster homes. Victoria says she’s less trusting — and more possessive of her things — than she used to be.

Her father is more bitter.

“This is not the country I grew up in,” Marquis says. “This is not the country I thought it was.”


Josh Brodesky: Protecting itself is what CPS does best

A very good article with lots of interesting information on how CPS hides the truth in child deaths.

Safety of children not always a priority for state in domestic violence cases - Kentucky

By Valarie Honeycutt Spears

There were warning signs that Michael Utley was a danger to his toddler son.

Utley had been charged with assaulting the mother of his child 18 months before the Gallatin County man attacked his live-in girlfriend and then shot and killed their 3-year-old son and himself in February 2009.

When the mother attempted to drive her "trashed" partner home from a local bar in September 2007, Utley slapped her hard enough to give her a black eye as 17-month-old Owen James Utley sat in the back seat.

A state adult-protection worker substantiated "partner abuse." But social workers never considered Owen's safety, according to an internal review of the boy's death conducted by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which handles child and adult protection in Kentucky.

Social workers should have formally assessed the "risk of harm" to Owen after the domestic violence episode, according to the internal review that focused on the handling of the case before the deaths.

That oversight was one of several problems related to domestic violence documented in internal reviews completed after children with whom the cabinet had previous contact died or were seriously harmed in 2009 and 2010.

A Lexington Herald-Leader analysis of the 85 reviews found that domestic violence in the family was mentioned in 48 of them and that an episode of domestic violence played a direct role in the injury or death of a child in five instances, including the death of Owen, who was killed shortly after his father had beaten his mother.
Among the shortcomings identified in the reviews:

■ Social workers don't always emphasize the safety of the child when domestic violence is discovered in a family.

■ Social workers sometimes fail to thoroughly assess whether domestic violence has occurred.

■ People living in some rural areas don't have convenient access to domestic violence shelters.

According to a 2011 report on deaths and near-deaths from child abuse and neglect in Kentucky, domestic violence was identified as a risk factor in 68 percent of cases from 2007 to 2011.

Another report released in January 2011 said studies have shown that there is an overlap of 30 percent to 60 percent between violence against children and violence against women in the same families.

In Kentucky, police must send the state a report of all incidents of domestic violence, and adult-protection workers are supposed to investigate those cases, although people are not required to accept the workers' help. Additionally, state regulations say that the cabinet must conduct an assessment to see whether a child is at risk of harm from domestic violence.

According to Jim Grace, assistant director of the cabinet's Division of Protection and Permanency, simultaneous child protection and domestic violence investigations are launched under a variety of circumstances, including if the child has been harmed, is prevented from leaving the premises by an abuser or is considered at risk of being harmed.

But cabinet officials conducting the fatality reviews said workers sometimes missed opportunities to protect children whose families experienced domestic violence.

For example, the cabinet's review of one 3-year-old's death raised questions about why the state found in a case involving the child's family that "there are no child-protection issues" even though a female relative told authorities, "I'm scared for my life and my child's life." The woman said she was being physically abused on a regular basis.

The review of Jeffrey B. Fields' death also questions whether a child-protection investigation should have been initiated after a report said, "Child has seen mother's paramour beat mommy up."

In the end, Jeffrey died in a traffic accident in 2010 when he was thrown from a car driven by a woman who was not his parent and who allegedly could not pass a drug test after the crash, according to the review of his death. There were previous reports of domestic violence in the child's family and the driver's family.

In an April 2009 case in Larue County, a child was taken to Hardin Memorial Hospital with 16 fractures and "multiple brain bleeds" and nearly died. A man in the child's home — his relationship to the mother was not made clear in documents — was criminally charged, and the cabinet found that the mother was neglectful for not protecting her child.

The review in that case noted that another child in the family was injured in 2007 during a domestic violence case involving the mother's previous boyfriend. That boyfriend assaulted the mother when she had an infant in her arms, cutting and bruising her and leaving a bruise and swelling on the baby's head.

The cabinet's review said staff should "continue to emphasize child safety and assessment" when conducting concurrent child-protection and adult-protection cases.
Grace said the cabinet is conducting training "on the dynamics of domestic violence and how it relates to a child's protection."

Once cabinet officials identify a systemic problem as a result of a fatality review, "there's the expectation that we would correct it," he said.

Shelters not always close

The death of Owen Utley also highlighted a lack of domestic violence shelters in rural portions of Kentucky.

After the initial 2007 report of domestic violence against Owen's mother, a social worker spoke with her about financial resources and alternative living arrangements that were available to her. But going to a shelter in her own community was not an option.

Ultimately, the cabinet's review said Michael Utley beat Owen's mother in February 2009 until she had two black eyes and cuts to her ear, and was missing chunks hair. When she ran to a neighbor's home for help, he killed the child and himself.
The "lack of shelter options in rural counties could be a deterrent to victims utilizing ... services," the review said.

Sherry Currens, executive director of the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association, said there are 15 regional shelters with a total of 466 beds, which are nearly always full. All 120 counties are served by a shelter, but some residents have to travel farther than others, Currens said.

It's unlikely that shelters could expand their services without additional funding, she said, and domestic violence shelters in Kentucky got less state funding per resident in 2011 than in 1996.

Coordination lacking

Beyond the problems noted in the fatality reviews, there are other gaps, domestic violence victim advocates said.

Currens said she knows of instances when adult-protection workers have dropped a case after child-protection workers got involved. But both kinds of workers are needed to help the non-offending parent figure out "how to deal with the threat to the children," she said.

Coordination between advocates and cabinet workers has at times been lacking, advocates said.

Darlene Thomas, executive director of the Lexington-based Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program, said advocates are sometimes not told by cabinet workers about domestic violence incidents. In other cases, advocates who contract with the cabinet to provide victim services don't have enough staff to attend team meetings about the family.

Lisa Holmes, the director of a domestic violence shelter in Elizabethtown, was concerned recently that she couldn't immediately get an answer at an intake line for the local child-protection office.

Holmes said she was "scared to death" for the safety of a child whose mother decided to leave the shelter.

Police had brought the mother to the SpringHaven shelter after "her boyfriend told her that the best way to handle his anger was to beat her 3-year-old child. So he picked her up and threw her, and she has a bruise on her face," Holmes said, referring to the child.

Holmes was trying to confirm that the boyfriend was in jail and that the mother and child would be safe if they returned home.

Holmes said she thought it would help "if we were quicker and better at adjudicating domestic violence cases and women had the support of CPS (child protection workers) instead of being afraid of them."

Removing children

Advocates and child-protection workers are sometimes at odds about the best way to keep safe a child who has been exposed to domestic violence.

Members of Currens' group are concerned that the cabinet sometimes unfairly recommends that judges remove children from a domestic violence victim's custody under the theory that the victim is failing to protect the child.

As a matter of policy, the cabinet does not recommend removal of any child from a parent's home unless there is risk to the child's physical safety or well-being, cabinet spokeswoman Anya Weber said. Recommendations are presented to the court, where the ultimate decision is made related to removal of the child, Weber said.

Thomas, the Lexington-based domestic violence advocate, said children should be protected from a parent who is a batterer. But she and other advocates said every attempt should be made to allow the child to remain with the non-offending parent.

The 2009 near-death of a 2-month-old girl demonstrates the difficult decisions that child-protection workers must sometimes make in cases of domestic violence.

A state review of the case noted that the cabinet substantiated neglect by the child's mother due to a "history of engaging in abusive relationships," not following through once she was granted domestic violence protection orders, and not being cooperative in previous law enforcement interventions involving domestic violence with the child's alleged abuser.

According to the review, the unidentified child was taken to the University of Kentucky Hospital in 2009 with a traumatic brain injury after her mother's paramour admitted to shaking her and handling her roughly.


There are at least two legislative proposals this year to create task forces that would study the effect of domestic violence on Kentucky's children and come up with proposed laws for the 2013 General Assembly.

The sponsor of one proposal, Democratic state Rep. Joni Jenkins of Shively, said she worked in a domestic violence shelter for 10 years. She said expanding the services of domestic violence shelters would be beneficial.

"No kid gets beat in shelters. No kid gets neglected in shelters," she said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, and Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, have introduced bills that would require the cabinet to assess the needs of children and custodial parents who have been exposed to domestic violence and to provide prevention services to help the child live at home. So far, neither bill has been considered by a legislative committee.

Other states have found success in having police, child-protection workers and domestic violence advocates working together on a team.

In Fresno, Calif., police Sgt. Daniel Macias is a member of the Children Exposed to Domestic Violence Team, which operates with a $200,000-a-year federal grant. The team's social workers and advocates, along with police detectives, investigate and provide services after domestic violence cases in which children are present, Macias said.

The team follows up with adult victims, Macias said, and "with the children, which are really the key to trying to stop the cycle of violence."

In Kentucky, Thomas said she would like to see collaborative efforts between the cabinet, which investigates allegations of abuse, and agencies that provide services for spouse-abuse victims to make sure families "have all available supports."

Having domestic violence advocates attend cabinet team meetings about individual families would help, she said.

But, Thomas said, "it all comes down to resources."