Category Archives: Coverup

TN Educators Not Reporting Suspected Abuse Pt-2 of 2

.jpg photo of school investigated for Child Sexual Abuse
Brentwood Academy, a school for Nashville’s elite.

Lack of reporting of suspected Child Abuse by schools an ‘epidemic,’ prosecutors say

Thousands of Tennessee schoolchildren may be vulnerable because of lax reporting and investigating of possible child abuse, according to the findings of a Tennessean investigation.

‘We have one shot to get a good statement’

There are several reasons an educator might not report an abuse suspicion directly to police or child services, said Kristen Houser, spokeswoman for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

“Sometimes, people err on the wrong side; they think they want more information to feel more sure that it’s real before they report it.  Frankly, that’s really dangerous,” Houser said.

Crump, who serves as prosecutor for Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties, said school officials could divulge information to the possible perpetrator, posing a safety risk to an abused child.

School officials are not trained as forensic investigators, so trying to interview a student about possible abuse can have other drastic consequences.

“We have one shot to get a good statement from a child,” Crump said.

The student may not tell a school official everything that happened, Crump said.  That could create conflicting statements in the future, or push the school to decide there is no problem when in fact abuse occurred.

Crump knows of one case in which a counselor decided no abuse occurred, but police and Crump’s office filed charges after conducting their own investigation.

‘I’d go with more of a carrot than a stick’

Scott Berkowitz, executive director of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, said schools nationwide must tell teachers to report directly to authorities if they even suspect abuse.

More training for all educators may work better than prosecuting those who do not report, he said.

“I’d go with more of a carrot than a stick on this,” Berkowitz said.

Crump said he’s spoken in schools, telling teachers to go directly to school resource officers once they suspect abuse.

But these officers are typically not in private schools like Brentwood Academy.

While Brentwood Academy officials have said all of their staff is trained on mandatory reporting, the student handbook lays out a conflict resolution process that does not specifically mention what to do if sex abuse is suspected.

There can be broader, cultural issues when it comes to abuse and reporting in private schools, said Houser, the spokeswoman for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

“Whenever you end up with an environment that really prides itself on being elite, it can sow some seeds, because you have other priorities that are (seen) as most important,” Houser said.

“Those are vulnerabilities an offender can then exploit to perpetuate abuse and protect themselves.”

Tennessee child abuse hotline

Any adult who suspects or knows of child abuse in Tennessee is required by law to notify the Department of Children’s Services or local law enforcement.  The DCS abuse hotline is 877-237-0004.

Who is reporting child abuse?

While some states require only professionals, such as teachers or doctors, to report child abuse, Tennessee requires any person who suspects any form of child abuse to report it to child services or the police.

In 63 percent of cases across the country, professionals report the abuse, according to the 2015 Child Maltreatment report from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Here’s a breakdown of who submits reports for cases that received an investigation or some form of response.

  • Education personnel: 18.4 percent
  • Legal, law enforcement personnel: 18.2 percent
  • Social services personnel: 10.9 percent
  • Parents: 6.8 percent
  • Relatives: 6.8 percent
  • Anonymous sources: 7.4 percent

TN Educators Not Reporting Suspected Abuse Pt-1 of 2

.jpg photo of school investigated for Child Sexual Abuse
Brentwood Academy, a school for Nashville’s elite.

Lack of reporting of suspected Child Abuse by schools an ‘epidemic,’ prosecutors say

Exactly when Brentwood Academy officials learned of allegations of the rape and sexual assault of a 12-year-old boy by other students at the school, and when they informed law enforcement of what they knew, is disputed.

The allegations against the elite Christian private school outlined in a $30 million lawsuit illustrate what some say is a systemic problem across the state.

Thousands of Tennessee schoolchildren may be vulnerable because of lax reporting and investigating of possible child abuse, according to the findings of a Tennessean investigation.

State law mandates any adult with a suspicion or direct knowledge of child abuse must report it immediately to either child services or the police.  Not doing so is a misdemeanor and could mean jail time.

However, two prosecutors say the failure of principals, counselors and teachers to report suspected abuse to proper authorities is widespread.

“The lack of reporting from schools here in Davidson County and probably surrounding counties has become an epidemic,” said Chad Butler, a child sex abuse prosecutor in Davidson County.

“It’s happening so frequently that I can’t help but think it’s not a coincidence.”

Stephen Crump, a Republican prosecutor in East Tennessee, said the problem is a cultural issue in education.  School officials often want to investigate the alleged abuse instead of immediately reporting it.

“I can’t teach the math of my kids in high school.  (Schools) aren’t trained to do investigations.  They will overlook things,” Crump said.

‘I know they’re telling their staff not to report’

Brentwood Academy officials deny wrongdoing, saying they reported what they knew to appropriate authorities at the time.

Brentwood police said the department is investigating allegations of attacks on the boy in the locker room at the academy.  That investigation does not include school officials for failure to properly report the attacks, as alleged in the lawsuit.

Kim Helper, the district attorney for Williamson County, said she didn’t think non-reporting was a local issue and she can’t remember any recent prosecutions for non-reporting.

In Nashville, however, Metro police investigate any reporting law violations if there is a suspicion school officials didn’t notify the proper authorities, confirmed police spokesman Don Aaron.

There are active investigations involving Davidson County schools not properly reporting suspected abuse.

“I know they’re telling their staff not to report. … I know for a fact that’s what they’re doing,” Butler said.

“It’s gotten to the point in our office where we’re just going to start prosecuting them.”

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services opened a new investigation Wednesday into allegations at Brentwood Academy, a school for Nashville’s elite with annual tuition nearly $25,000.  The school has produced at least 10 NFL players.

DCS was unaware of possible child abuse reporting concerns involving Nashville public schools until contacted by The Tennessean.

“In the rare instances that we learn that someone who should have called us did not, we share that information with the local district attorney general’s office to see if its staff wants to prosecute.  That would be the DA’s call, not ours,” DCS spokesman Rob Johnson said in an email.

“We are reaching out to the Davidson County District Attorney General’s office to see what their staff’s specific concerns are about those who do not report child abuse.”

‘I don’t think I’ve gotten explicit instructions’

Metro Nashville Public Schools instructs principals to review abuse reporting policies at the start of every school year, said Tony Majors, executive officer of student services.

“If you have reason to suspect, whether that be visual, behaviors that you observed or a direct statement you’ve received, then you should notify DCS.  It’s DCS’ responsibility to investigate,” Majors said in a Friday interview.

Majors and an MNPS spokeswoman declined to comment on Butler’s statements.  But Majors acknowledged some principals in recent years “misinterpreted” the policy, telling educators to inform administrators first before notifying DCS or law enforcement of suspected abuse.

That confusion could stem from the wording in MNPS’ policy. Principals are listed before DCS on a list of authorities educators should contact if they suspect abuse.

When informed of the list order by The Tennessean, Majors said it was not intended to be chronological but “now that you’ve brought that to my attention we’ll go back and change the policy.”

Majors said the training includes telling teachers DCS’ child abuse hotline number.  Even though the training is required, Majors said the administration isn’t ensuring such training occurs in every school.

Nashville teachers who spoke with The Tennessean said they were told to first contact school counselors, not police or child services, when they suspect abuse.

“I don’t think I’ve gotten explicit instructions on how to file with DCS,” said an MNPS teacher, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the policy.

“If you believe there is any abuse, you are legally obligated to report it.  But that is within the school.”

This teacher, who’s been employed by the district since 2010, said teachers have seen mixed results in reporting abuse to a counselor.

Instead, teachers will look for an adult at the school who is close to the student and try to learn more about the circumstances, the teacher said.  Once the student feels comfortable, then the teacher said together they will approach a counselor or principal.

While this approach may be well-intentioned, Crump said it could not only compromise a criminal investigation but create the potential for a child to be hurt again. 

Oregon CPS Determined Child Sexual Abuse Allegations Valid In 1980s – Pt-2

.jpg photo of Seattle Mayor
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, a gay rights activist.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray Sexually Abused foster son, Child Welfare investigator found in 1984

An Oregon Child Welfare investigator concluded that Ed Murray sexually abused his foster son in the early 1980s, leading state officials to assert that “under no circumstances should Mr. Murray be certified” as a foster parent in the future, according to public records obtained by The Seattle Times.

Case withdrawn

Simpson gave a second interview a day later with Butler and Portland police Detective Dave Foesch.  Simpson told the detective that Murray sometimes warned him that if he told anyone, he’d be removed from Murray’s home and sent to an institution.

When the detective asked if Simpson was willing to help prosecute Murray, Simpson responded, “No, he is my father,” Foesch, who has since died, wrote in a police report.

“It was then explained to Jeffrey that Mr. Murray is not his father and that a father would not do these things to his son,” Foesch wrote.  “Jeffrey then thought about it for a while and agreed that he may possibly be able to save some other child from suffering the same indignations.”

The next day, Simpson, Butler and Foesch testified before a grand jury, Butler’s report states.  Meantime, Murray, unaware of the allegations, called Simpson’s group home several times, demanding to speak with him and threatening to sue when he was denied contact, Butler’s report states.

After testifying to the grand jury, Foesch called Murray to inform him of Simpson’s allegations and set up an interview.  A lawyer for Murray later told Foesch his client was “too emotionally upset at this time to be interviewed,” the detective’s report states.

Murray changed lawyers several times before settling on Hoffman, who soon provided statements to investigators from people who knew Simpson and Murray, and did not believe the allegations.

Murray also reportedly took a private polygraph, but “since the exact results were not released to the D.A. my assumption is that it was inconclusive,” Butler wrote in the assessment.  She noted Hoffman described Murray as “coming out ‘Real good’” in the test.

Murray and Hoffman said last week they didn’t have records of the polygraph results.

Simpson, who state foster reports show was prone to lying, stealing, using drugs and running away, presented problems for the district attorney in proving the case.  About a month after the allegations emerged, the prosecutor’s office withdrew the case against Murray and the other accused foster parent from the grand jury.

But in her CPS assessment, Butler found Simpson believable.  She noted he’d expressed concern that his claims would ruin Murray’s career, and had “no motive to make something like this up” because Simpson knew he’d likely be placed in an institution and never allowed to live with Murray again.

“It is unfortunate that the criminal justice system chose not to act in this case simply because a conviction of … Mr. Murray would probably be the only way of mandating (him) in to treatment for … sexual deviancy,” Butler added.

A few months after the investigation ended, Murray left Portland and moved to Seattle.

“Those records exist”

Simpson said Friday he didn’t remember accusing the other foster parent of abuse when he spoke with reporters earlier this year, saying that was probably because it didn’t compare to what Murray allegedly did to him.

Oregon opens records of sexual-abuse investigation into Ed Murray
Oregon DHS Response to Seattle Times’ Appeal for Murray Records

“It upsets me that I didn’t remember,” he said. “I’m not trying to be deceitful or anything like that.  It hurts my validity.”

The other man was Simpson’s foster provider for about a month, the records show.

Simpson is one of four men who have publicly accused Murray of sexual abuse decades ago when they were teenagers.  Heckard claimed Murray started paying him for sex in 1986, when Heckard was a drug-addicted 15-year-old.  Lloyd Anderson and Lavon Jones also separately allege Murray paid them for sex as teenagers.

In May, Murray’s personal spokesman, Jeff Reading, provided The Times with copies of several statements from people who supported Murray when Simpson first made his allegations in 1984.

Reading said he was providing the information because “there is an existing body of evidence that rebuts and contradicts what Jeff has said.”

The statements were given by people who had counseled or taken in Simpson and described him as emotionally unstable and Murray as having tried hard to help.

One couple, who took Simpson on weekend outings, told a Murray defense investigator Simpson didn’t respond well to discipline and in his early teens “seemed to be very obsessed with the fear of being a homosexual.”

The couple believed the boy’s sex-abuse allegation “was nothing more (than) Jeff acting up” and “striking back” for “some form of rejection.”

Another statement, from a counselor who had worked with Simpson at Murray’s request, said the teenager previously had claimed sexual abuse.

The counselor said “he recalled a telephone call in which Jeff alleged that Ed had forced him into sex and paid for it,” he told Murray’s defense investigators.

The counselor dismissed Simpson’s claim, saying “he did not believe that allegation at the time, and found it to be completely irrational.”

Some of the same statements were included in the state foster records released to The Times this month.  The CPS investigator considered them before making her finding.

Murray said the CPS report doesn’t accurately reflect what happened, noting other important records from Simpson’s foster file and the D.A. inquiry that no longer exist would illustrate Simpson’s destructive behavior.

“He got angry at every foster parent that he’d ever been involved with,” Murray said.

In interviews, Simpson has acknowledged his troubled youth, drug problems and lengthy criminal record, including a 10-year prison term.

He also has signed several waivers to allow authorities to release his private counseling and other records.

In June, after Heckard withdrew his lawsuit, Murray held a news conference at City Hall to declare he’d been vindicated.  The mayor also told reporters the media hadn’t gone far enough in seeking information that would demonstrate his innocence in the Simpson case.

“All those records exist,” Murray said.  “Also, that a prosecutor and grand jury investigated it and didn’t pursue it, all those facts exist.”

When reminded Thursday of his statements criticizing the press for not pursuing more records, Murray responded: “But you cherry-pick records.  You cherry-pick records.”

In the Saturday night letter, Murray’s attorney Heekin also said, “The Seattle Times … seeks to reinvestigate the case, to take the place of law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office, act as judge and jury without a full vetting and disclosure of the facts that were available to law enforcement in 1984, rewrite history, and mislead the public.”

Oregon CPS Determined Child Sexual Abuse Allegations Valid In 1980s – Pt-1

.jpg photo of Seattle Mayor
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, a gay rights activist.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray sexually abused foster son, Child Welfare investigator found in 1984

An Oregon Child Welfare investigator concluded that Ed Murray sexually abused his foster son in the early 1980s, leading state officials to assert that “under no circumstances should Mr. Murray be certified” as a foster parent in the future, according to public records obtained by The Seattle Times.

The investigation by Oregon Child Protective Services (CPS) of Jeff Simpson’s allegations determined them to be valid — meaning the agency believed Murray sexually abused Simpson, the records show.

“In the professional judgement of this caseworker who has interviewed numerous children of all ages and of all levels of emotional disturbance regarding sexual abuse, Jeff Simpson has been sexually abused by … Edward Murray,” CPS caseworker Judy Butler wrote in the May 1984 assessment.

Murray, elected Seattle’s mayor in 2013, last week repeated in an interview with The Seattle Times that he never abused Simpson, and he underscored that prosecutors had decided decades ago not to charge him.

Still, the newly disclosed records reveal that a Multnomah County prosecutor withdrew a criminal case against Murray because of Simpson’s troubled personality, not because she thought he was lying.

“It was Jeff’s emotional instability, history of manipulative behavior and the fact that he has again run away and made himself unavailable that forced my decision,” Deputy District Attorney Mary Tomlinson wrote.

“We could not be sure of meeting the high burden of proof in a criminal case — of proof beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty.  However, this in no way means that the District Attorney’s Office has decided Jeff’s allegations are not true.”

Unlike a criminal case, CPS child-abuse investigations determine whether “reasonable cause” exists — a lower standard of proof than for criminal cases, but still meaning the abuse likely occurred.  In Oregon, about 10 percent of child-abuse reports annually have in recent years been deemed to be founded.

The newly obtained records, previously thought destroyed, provide the clearest picture yet of the investigation of Murray, then a paralegal who had worked as a counselor to Simpson and other troubled children.

The documents, released to The Seattle Times this month by Oregon’s Department of Human Services, also contradict public statements in recent months by Murray and his lawyer contending investigators had debunked Simpson’s allegations at the time as false.

A letter to The Times sent Saturday night by Murray’s Portland lawyer, Katherine Heekin, stressed: “Oregon’s Child Protective Services is supposed to err on the side of believing a child’s accusations.  The agency is not responsible for judging sex abuse cases.  It merely investigates allegations of sex abuse.  In contrast, law enforcement is responsible for determining whether or not a crime may have happened.  Here, there was no indictment, no charges filed, no conviction, and no crime.”

Murray said last week he had never been told of the CPS finding and would have appealed had he known.  The Seattle Times provided him copies of the newly released investigative records Tuesday.

In an interview Thursday, Murray and Heekin questioned why Oregon officials kept the records without informing Murray.  They also disputed the importance of the documents.

“Other than the salacious nature of it, I don’t see what the story is,” said Murray.  “The system vindicated me.  They withdrew the case.”

Murray said his previous comments that Simpson’s allegations had been discredited were based on his lawyer’s impressions about the decision to drop the case.  He said he learned from the documents that the case was withdrawn before a grand jury could vote whether to indict him.

“I feel even more strongly that my statement was correct because (the criminal case) was withdrawn,” Murray added. “ … That is unusual because we all know people get indicted and they get indicted pretty easily.  As I said, one of the attorneys told me you can get a ham sandwich indicted in the grand jury.”

The withdrawn case included another foster parent Simpson had accused of abuse.

Murray pointed to statements his attorneys collected and submitted to investigators from people who had known him or Simpson.  They included other foster parents who described the youth as sometimes violent and impossibly difficult to care for.

Oregon officials previously said records of the investigation had been purged, but located them in April under a newer computer-tracking system.  In releasing the typically private information to The Times, that state cited, in part, a provision of public-records law that allows disclosure “to protect children from abuse and neglect.”

The finding by CPS supporting Simpson — who had been abandoned as an infant and later lived under Murray’s care for nearly a year and a half as a teenager — prompted Oregon child-welfare officials to decide that Murray should never again be a foster parent, a June 1984 report shows.

The abuse finding — the result of a required administrative investigation — remains in effect and could still prevent him from being a foster parent in Oregon, officials said.

“Thank you, Jesus”.

Murray, 62, a longtime Democratic state lawmaker and gay civil-rights leader, has attacked the credibility of Simpson and other men who say he sexual abused them decades ago.  Murray has suggested the claims are politically motivated.

The scandal led Murray to drop his re-election bid.  The mayor has said he’ll serve out his term, which ends this year.

Simpson, 49, who abandoned an effort to sue Murray in 2008 due to statute-of-limitations issues, was happy when reporters told him last week that the CPS report backed his claims.

“Wow, wow. Thank you, Jesus,” he said.

Simpson added that he and his attorney had tried to find such documents, but were told none existed.

The Times first published details about Simpson’s claims in April when a Kent man, Delvonn Heckard, made similar accusations against Murray in a sexual-abuse lawsuit.  Heckard withdrew his lawsuit in June, saying he intends to refile after Murray leaves office.

Shortly after Heckard sued, Murray’s attorney Robert Sulkin attacked the lawsuit and Simpson’s allegations, saying Simpson’s claims had been “completely debunked” and “found to be false by law enforcement.”

Janet Hoffman, the Portland attorney who defended Murray in 1984, said in an interview in May that Portland prosecutors were “very hard-nosed” and must have been “thoroughly convinced” the allegations were “totally false.”

The records released this month show otherwise.  Along with the prosecutor’s letter and the CPS assessment, a state foster-care specialist wrote in a summary:

“Mr. Murray allegedly sexually abused the foster child in his home over a long period of time.  Although he was not indicted, the Protective Services department feels that the allegations are true, as does the district attorney’s office.”

A police report shows two witnesses also told a detective they were aware of allegations that Murray had abused Simpson and were willing to testify before a grand jury.  A high-school friend of Simpson and the friend’s mother told the detective Simpson had spoken to them about Murray’s alleged abuse before telling social workers and that they had overheard a three- to four-hour phone call between the two.

Two foster fathers accused

Simpson, who grew up in group and foster homes, met Murray at the Parry Center for Children in Portland where Murray worked as his counselor in the late 1970s.  Murray remained close with Simpson after the boy left the center.

At the time, Simpson had extreme emotional problems.  Child-welfare records described him as a “heavy street kid” and “one of the agency’s most difficult children.”  Murray was considered a stabilizing presence whom Simpson called “Dad,” the records show.

In November 1982, a court designated Murray, then a 27-year-old paralegal for a public defender’s office, to become Simpson’s foster father.  The teenager lived with Murray in two Portland apartments until March 1984, records show.  Social workers noted some problems, but they called Murray the most successful foster parent Simpson had ever had.

Simpson first alleged sex abuse in April 1984, a few weeks after he’d been removed from Murray’s care due to drug abuse and behavioral problems.  The upheaval in Simpson’s living situation weighed on him; two days after being moved to a group home he slashed his wrist, cutting a 4-inch gash in his left arm.

When a social worker interviewed Simpson, asking if he’d ever been sexually abused, Simpson told her a foster parent had abused him years earlier.  When she asked if he’d been abused more recently, Simpson wanted assurances his answer would remain confidential, the records show.

“After being reassured … that it would, Jeff acknowledged that his foster-father in his most recent placement also sexually abused him,” a social worker’s report on the alleged abuse states.

CPS assigned Butler to assess the allegations a few days later. Simpson was surprised and reluctant, saying he thought what he told the social worker would stay private.  He eventually told Butler about the alleged abuse in an hour-long interview.

Simpson said the abuse began in 1980, when he was 13 and spending a weekend with Murray.  The abuse continued after Murray became his foster-father and lasted until he left Murray’s care at age 16, Simpson said.  At times, Murray paid Simpson $10 or gave him drugs for sex.

“Jeff stared at the floor and appeared to be very depressed,” Butler wrote.  “At times his voice would shake as he described his disappointment when Ed Murray, whom he had trusted and seen as the only consistent adult figure in his life, began a process of sexual abuse.”

IL CPS Close Cases Without Police Or Doctor Contact

.jpg photo of Director of IL Dept of Children & Family Services
George Sheldon, director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

DCFS under fire for quickly closing
Child Abuse investigations

Illinois Department of Children and Family Services investigators are overwhelmed by high caseloads and are being pressured to quickly close their abuse probes, even when they have not performed basic tasks like contacting police and doctors, according to several experts and lawmakers who spoke Tuesday at a joint House-Senate hearing in Springfield.

Front and center at the 90-minute hearing was state child welfare director George Sheldon, who faced intense criticism about the recent deaths of youth who had been the subject of DCFS investigations as well as the agency’s failure to protect vulnerable children and their families.

The hearing was prompted by a May 11 Tribune report on three Cook County cases in which children died of beatings or starvation shortly after DCFS closed investigations into mistreatment in their homes, as well as the case of 17-month-old Semaj Crosby, who was found dead last month in her Joliet Township home after the agency closed four neglect probes, and was in the midst of two more.

At the hearing Tuesday, the agency revealed it had conducted several additional probes involving other youth in the same house.

State Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, said she also was troubled by the Tribune’s account of a new DCFS program called Blue Star that offers overtime pay to Cook County investigators who significantly boost the percentage of cases they close within 14 days.

“Enough is enough,” Flowers said.  “Our families are suffering.”

Sheldon defended the agency but acknowledged that investigations sometimes failed and children were harmed because his workers often were not communicating properly with each other or with outside agencies and private contractors.

“We’ve got to do a better job of coordination,” Sheldon said at the hearing.

Sheldon’s testimony came as he continues to weigh whether or not to leave the agency.  Last week a Florida nonprofit offered him its top job with a $210,000 annual compensation, but Sheldon said he needs until the end of this month to make up his mind.

In addition to headlines about child deaths, he is facing state ethics probes into DCFS contracts that benefited his friends and political associates in Florida, the Tribune has revealed.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Sheldon said that the Tribune reports prompted him to ask the agency’s general counsel to review whether Illinois laws should be changed to enable DCFS to retain records of past unproven allegations.  The agency currently must expunge and shred most investigators’ files if it determines there is no credible evidence of abuse or neglect.  That handicaps investigators because patterns of mistreatment may only emerge by analyzing the information in those “unfounded” cases, Sheldon said.

“How can our workers have a full view of what is going on in a family?”  he asked, noting that Florida and most other states keep records in unfounded cases.

Heidi Dalenberg,general counsel for the ACLU of Illinois and cooperating counsel in a three-decade-old consent decree governing DCFS, expressed frustration that Sheldon was proposing new laws and a smorgasbord of improved technologies and programs.  She said the agency is simply failing to conduct thorough investigations and ensure children are safe.

“It is this kind of flailing about that is not helpful,” Dalenberg said at the hearing.  The agency’s entrenched problems cannot be repaired “by leaping to the first easy solution.”

‘Overwhelmed’ by cases

Danielle Gomez, a supervising attorney for the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office, which represents state wards in juvenile court, detailed a litany of recent investigations she said were botched when DCFS did not interview key witnesses or gather critical evidence.  In one case the agency investigator interviewed youth in front of the alleged perpetrator, she said.

“We are seeing this a lot … I could go on and on,” Gomez said.

DCFS investigators told her staff that they were “overwhelmed” by high caseloads, Gomez added, saying:  “They are sometimes in tears about the things they are unable to do, about the pressures on their caseloads.”

Stephen Mittons, a 22-year child protection investigator who heads the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2081 union representing those workers, underscored that point with caseload statistics from March.  Eleven of the 15 investigators in Rockford had caseloads well over the limit of 12 cases per investigator mandated by the federal court consent decree, Mittons told legislators.

“It’s the same all over the state,” he added.  “We are short-staffed and carrying high caseloads. … I am sitting on 25 investigations and just received my 18th investigation for this month.”

One of the lawmakers questioning Sheldon, state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford, D-Chicago, separately introduced a house resolution asking the state auditor general to assess the agency’s protocols for investigating reports of abuse and neglect.  That proposed audit would review DCFS investigations within the past five years.

“We have to find out why DCFS closes so many cases so fast.  They are closing cases too soon,” Ford told the Tribune outside the hearing.  The death of Semaj Crosby “tipped the scales.  DCFS seems to be a pool of trouble,” Ford said.

Despite high-profile child deaths and repeated warnings about high caseloads, DCFS was failing to improve, said the agency’s Inspector General Denise Kane.  “There are organizational flaws.”

Crosby investigation

In a Joliet courtroom Tuesday, a DCFS attorney said the agency will give some cases in Will County a second look in the wake of Semaj’s death.

The agency plans to review a random portion of the 110 cases where children remain under their parents’ care but still require services, said Susan Barker, an attorney representing the agency. DCFS typically contracts with outside agencies to provide those services.  In Will County, the agency works with Aunt Martha’s and Children’s Home + Aid.

Barker told Will County Judge Paula Gomora that the agency plans to do a quality assurance review of 10 to 30 percent of the cases each of those outside agencies handles for DCFS.

Sheldon said at the Springfield hearing Tuesday that he had received his agency’s internal Quality Assurance Review and recommendations about Semaj’s case, and will release it shortly, after consultations with the Will County State’s Attorney.

“The more information that is out there, the more we can learn from these kinds of situations and the more we can make changes,” Sheldon added.

While declining to provide details of that internal report, Sheldon noted that DCFS had opened abuse and neglect investigations that referenced five children at Semaj’s home — three youth, including Semaj, belonging to Sheri Gordon, and two others belonging to a relative who lived there.

The residents at the home were being contacted by at least four units of government, state Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, said at the hearing, including DCFS and an agency contractor, Will County probation services and the region’s special education cooperative.

But DCFS had no process to amass and compile reports from those various government agencies, and was not communicating with them.

DCFS had a total of 11 abuse or neglect investigations into that household, DCFS Senior Deputy Director for Operations Michael Ruppe said at the hearing, including probes into an aunt of Semaj’s and another adult resident.  Those investigations were handled by at least four different DCFS workers, Ruppe added.

Sheldon said: “When you’re not connecting these cases and you have five persons going out … each person doesn’t necessarily know what the other person did.”

Sheldon said he was working on a technology overhaul that would improve communication between workers, but he and Ruppe declined at the hearing to say when those upgrades might be implemented.

Flowers said that Tuesday’s hearing was just the first of several she plans through the summer “or maybe longer.”

As the hearing closed, she addressed her final comments directly to Sheldon.

“This one is on you — whether you leave or whether you stay, this agency is supposed to work,” Flowers said.   “This needs to be fixed, and the hurt and the pain and the suffering families are going through needs to stop.”