Executive Order on Strengthening
the Child Welfare System
for America’s Children
We opened NOT IN MY WORLD!!!! as a one-page gift to Google+ and all it’s users, on August 19, 2014, with 7 members in #OurCircle. Since that day, we have been very active in the war being waged for Our Children, and seen many Blessings.
In those first days, weeks, and possibly even months, at this point in time I think we, for the most part thought the people we were fighting was something like perverted men dressed in raincoats, standing around and flashing women and children.
I don’t mind telling this like it really is, and was… it wasn’t long before everything we read and saw hit us, and opened deep mental wounds, and assaulted all of our senses, and nothing has changed as far as that.
I can’t help but cry as I look back on all this, here we were adults having innocence ripped away from us, by what was/is done to Our Children almost every minute of every day.
It took quiet some time before we learned of Senator Nancy Schaefer, but the rest of what I list here is documented on our website or our blog, down thru January 2016.
Worse yet, the administration acknowledged that it can’t account for each of the 90,000 children it processed and released since the surge peaked in 2014.
My post on January 30, 2016 had a dead link, and I already knew this was one I enjoyed, because Senator John McCain got so upset with Mark Greenberg and CPS, that he walked out of the bipartisan congressional investigation. The article led the reader to believe that possibly 10 – 30 Children were “missing”, when the link was fixed that number had grown to 90,000+ Children.
HHS Official Jerry Milner was appointed three years ago to oversee much of the departments child welfare work.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar hailed the order as a step toward “bold reforms”. The goals are ambitious – curtailing child maltreatment, strengthening adoption programs and encouraging supports for at-risk families so fewer children need to be separated from their homes and placed in foster care.
Section 1. Purpose. Every child deserves a family. Our States and communities have both a legal obligation, and the privilege, to care for our Nation’s most vulnerable children.
The best foster care system is one that is not needed in the first place. My Administration has been focused on prevention strategies that keep children safe while strengthening families so that children do not enter foster care unnecessarily. Last year, and for only the second time since 2011, the number of children in the foster care system declined, and for the third year in a row, the number of children entering foster care has declined.
Sec. 2. Encouraging Robust Partnerships Between State Agencies and Public, Private, Faith-based, and Community Organizations.
Sec. 5. Improving Processes to Prevent Unnecessary Removal and Secure Permanency for Children.
(iv) Within 6 months of the date of this order, the Secretary shall provide guidance to States regarding flexibility in the use of Federal funds to support and encourage high-quality legal representation for parents and children, including pre-petition representation, in their efforts to prevent the removal of children from their families, safely reunify children and parents, finalize permanency, and ensure that their voices are heard and their rights are protected. The Secretary shall also ensure collection of data regarding State use of Federal funds for this purpose.
Sec. 6. Indian Child Welfare Act. Nothing in this order shall alter the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act or replace the tribal consultation process.
A ‘horrific’ crisis. Hundreds of California Child Abuse reports intentionally
MADERA COUNTY, CA – Children faced “incredible pain and suffering” when a Madera County social worker intentionally discarded hundreds of child abuse reports last year, according to government emails uncovered in a Fresno Bee investigation.
Department emails examined by The Bee indicate at least some of the 357 reports may have been neglected for up to two months. The emails, obtained through a public records request, reveal a behind-the-scenes crisis in the fall of 2019 with Madera County Social Services workers scrambling to investigate hundreds of abandoned abuse referrals.
While sources said there is no known evidence that any child died as a result, emails show workers feared children suffered more abuse while reports were stuffed in waste bins and gathered dust around the social worker’s desk between September and November last year.
Deborah Martinez, the county’s social services director, outlined her dread in a Nov. 7 email to the county’s chief administrative officer at the time.
“There is no doubt that at a minimum, her actions placed children in danger,” Martinez wrote. “The ultimate impact to children and families (in) our community can’t be known but based upon some of the allegations that were made this social worker likely caused incredible pain and suffering.”
Dozens of the dumped cases were emergency reports — cases involving allegations of physical or sexual abuse, the emails show.
Multiple children later were removed from their homes days or weeks after their alleged abuse initially was reported, according to two department sources.
“Some were investigated and found substantiated — those kids would have been abused for that time,” one employee said in an interview. Two department employees were interviewed on condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation for speaking with The Bee.
Officials have not released the name of the social worker at the center of the controversy, but have confirmed she no longer is employed at the department.
The Madera County Sheriff’s Office in November launched a criminal investigation that remained open, more than four months after the case came to light.
Meanwhile, state officials said the Madera department never notified the California Department of Social Services. State authorities only learned of the case when The Bee contacted them for comment. State officials are scheduled to be in Madera this week.
The consequences and scope of the crisis remain unclear — and ongoing.
At least 75 of the 357 reports involved possible sexual or other physical abuse, requiring social workers to respond within 24 hours. Another 248 reports involved allegations of neglect and required a 10-day response, according to the emails.
Some of the cases may have been ignored for up to two months.
The outcomes of the remaining 34 reports are unclear, but may have ultimately been determined unfounded. Martinez, the county’s social services director, declined to say specifically, but noted that not every report leads to an investigation.
It’s unclear exactly how many children were involved in the 357 reports. Officials wouldn’t say whether each report is made for an individual child or whether reports group siblings together.
Martinez also refused to say how many children were removed from their homes in connection with the reports, saying those details were part of the ongoing criminal inquiry.
Two employees told The Bee some children would have been removed sooner had reports been investigated properly.
“All those reports could have led to a child’s death,” one employee said. “You don’t want a child to die on your watch. It’s the biggest fear for a department — a child’s death.”
Managers and supervisors were outraged when the problem finally surfaced in early November, according to the emails.
“They also state what was found puts children of Madera County at risk and in harm’s way,” Chris Aguirre, an eligibility supervisor, wrote in a Nov. 14 email to Martinez. “The story I was told is very disturbing and I am appalled at what the worker did. Any person would find the story horrifying.”
Martinez responded, acknowledging the department was “in crisis” and described it as “pretty horrific.”
“Something I never imagined we would be facing and we are working on safeguards to ensure that it can never happen again,” she replied to Aguirre.
Martinez learned of the deserted cases late in the day on Nov. 6.
The employee was placed on leave the following day and escorted from the building. Martinez initially declined to comment on the issue, including the worker’s status. But after The Bee obtained the department’s emails, Martinez confirmed the worker’s employment formally ended Nov. 12. She declined to say whether the worker was fired or quit.
A DEPARTMENT IN CHAOS
How the issue was uncovered remains unclear, and Martinez refused to say during a recent interview with The Bee.
All of the reports appear to have come through the department’s telephone hotline number, the emails reveal.
In the emails, workers describe “pieces of paper” and “post its” that “added up to referrals” found “on and around her desk.” Reports also were hidden in special locked waste baskets, typically used for shredded documents, employees told The Bee.
Workers described to The Bee seeing the locked blue waste bins taken into a conference room where they were dumped out. Workers searched for “blue sheets,” the form workers are supposed to fill out when reports come in through the department’s hotline.
Emails describe social workers racing to catch up with the backlogged caseload as the department conducted its internal review. Employees believed it would take up to a full month just to enter each case into the department’s system for review. On Nov. 15, an email was sent to all social workers interested in working overtime to help with the backlog.
Some of the referrals didn’t have a time or date indicating when the report came in. Employees in mid-November were instructed to enter “today’s date” in the appropriate field if they couldn’t find the proper date, emails show.
Supervisors and managers worried that some abuse reports may have fallen through the cracks altogether.
“Remember that this backlog dates back to September (maybe August but there is no evidence of that),” Danny Morris, deputy director of the Madera County Department of Social Service, wrote on Nov. 20.
The emails also reveal the challenges department supervisors faced sorting through the pile of abandoned reports, including questioning whether overtime pay was available, the effect on other cases, and the strain on workers.
“Social work supervisors would like OT (overtime) to process the backlog of CPS referrals that were just recently discovered,” a department supervisor wrote to Martinez in a Nov. 13 email. “Is this something you would be willing to discuss?”
Martinez responds to Aguirre saying “I can’t pay OT and going through the lengthy process to request authorization for straight time pay has not proven to be beneficial in accomplishing the goal.”
Eventually, social workers were paid overtime, but not social work supervisors, the emails show.
Supervisors also feared falling behind on other cases while the department worked through the backlog.
“I guess I am having a hard time figuring out which areas we can sacrifice and have lack of attention in order to meet the needs referenced,” Shanel Moore, a program manager, wrote in a Nov. 20 email.
It’s not clear when the department finally cleared those cases, but as of Jan. 2, the department still had 27 referrals to complete.
“Could we encourage our (social workers) to get them done as we would like to get these wrapped up soon so we can move on with our lives,” Heidi Sonzena, a program manager, wrote in a Jan. 2 email.
STATE LEFT IN THE DARK AMID CRIMINAL PROBE
The Madera County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 7 opened a criminal investigation, the same day the social worker was suspended.
Kayla Serratto, spokeswoman for the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed the investigation continues. She declined to release any details. The Sheriff’s Office denied a public records request seeking case documents, citing a need to protect the now months-long investigation.
“Upon the conclusion of the investigation, the case will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office,” Serratto said.
A state official said the California Department of Social Services was unaware of the case until contacted for comment by The Bee.
“We were not informed by the county and made contact after (The Bee’s) referral about this,” said Scott Murray, spokesman for the California Department of Social Services. Murray confirmed the state now is looking into the matter.
State officials also acknowledged the county department was not legally required to alert the state. Murray on Tuesday said state officials are scheduled to be in Madera County this week.
Martinez refused to answer questions about why the state did not know about the case.
Emails show at least some of the department’s top people wanted to keep the episode quiet, even within the office. Supervisors discussed concerns over specific employees learning of the incident.
Officials also discussed the possible ramifications of The Bee’s investigation. Martinez on Dec. 11 wrote it was “unfortunate for there to be an article on this topic,” saying “the county could use a break.”
The following day, Martinez sent another email saying the department would “just deal with the aftermath.”
‘RED FLAGS’ MISSED?
Employees interviewed by The Bee said the department likely missed “red flags” in the weeks before the disaster unfolded.
Child abuse reports typically spike in the fall, from August to around October, when schools resume after the summer break, Martinez acknowledged.
“The largest segment (of reports) are from educators — teachers,” Martinez said.
But that didn’t appear to happen in the fall of 2019 — until the rest of the reports were unearthed and the catastrophe erupted, employees told The Bee.
Martinez wouldn’t comment on what may have motivated the worker to discard the referrals.
“That’s a terrible thing to happen,” said Michael S. Wald, an emeritus professor of law at Stanford, who has drafted major federal and state legislation regarding child welfare.
Wald said the larger question is whether the department had any safeguards in place and, if so, why they apparently failed.
“That’s the bigger issue,” he said.
Martinez also said she couldn’t comment on what actions have been taken to prevent similar situations in the future because her department was still discussing preventive measures.
One employee said they were not aware of any new policies or safeguards, but said at least some steps have been taken, including the addition of a new group of hotline workers who screen calls.
“They completely brought in a new team,” an employee said.
NOT THE FIRST – OR WORST – BACKLOG EVER
News of the neglected abuse reports comes about two years after a 2018 Madera County Grand Jury report revealed a backlog of more than 1,000 cases in the department.
That unrelated backlog was linked to an “exodus of social workers” from the department between 2014 and 2016, the report found.
“During the period when DSS (Department of Social Services) was lacking social workers, a large number of client cases were left open, and services were not provided for these children,” according to the report. “There were over 1,000 of these referrals, some up to two years old.”
Martinez inherited the backlog of the more than 1,000 referrals when she took over the department in June 2017.
As the most recent crisis developed in November last year, Martinez reminded her colleagues she helped resolve the prior backlog through “aggressive and continuous recruitment,” hiring more workers, and implementing other accountability measures. That only came after failed attempts to reduce the backlog by having social work supervisors work extra hours.
Florida parents wrongly accused of Child
Abuse by state experts is ‘shocking,’ says
TAMPA, FL – A Florida lawmaker believes the state’s medical experts on child abuse need more checks and balances after an I-team investigation revealed several pediatricians have made questionable calls against parents who appeared to have done everything right.
“Any position of authority that isn’t checked by something is concerning,” said Florida Democratic Representative Anna Eskamani of Orlando. Eskamani was responding to our investigation that found several cases where child abuse pediatricians, who were hired to be the state’s experts on abuse, wrongly accused Florida parents of child abuse.
Child abuse pediatricians are a recent specialty medical field and hold enormous influence over whether a child’s medical condition is the result of abuse. Their conclusions can also determine if a child needs to be removed from their parents. But court records show, these doctors don’t always make the right call causing children, often babies, to be removed from their parents for months unnecessarily.
Our investigation also found cases where doctors appeared to have come to far reaching conclusions without thorough investigations and, in other cases, where parents were arrested after a doctor’s conclusion of abuse. In 2015, it happened to Jeremy Graham.
Graham, a firefighter and paramedic on Florida’s west coast, was arrested and charged with aggravated child abuse after a child abuse pediatrician determined his 4-month-old son’s seizure was caused by a brain bleed, the result of physical abuse, according to court records provided to us by Jeremy and his wife Vivianna.
About a month leading up to the seizure, the Grahams had visited several doctors because their son was vomiting and “wasn’t acting right,” said Vivianna.
After an 8-month fight, the state dropped its case against the Grahams over “insufficient evidence.”
Last year, Nydia Ortiz’s son and daughter-in-law were torn about from their newborn daughter after a child abuse pediatrician in Miami concluded their newborn daughter’s bruises were also the result of abuse. Turns out, it was a rare genetic disorder.
It’s a problem impacting families around the country.
In Texas, recent media scrutiny has led some state lawmakers to consider introducing a bill next year that would require an independent second medical opinion in some cases before a child is separated from their parents.
“That system would provide the oversight and accountability that parents deserve in facing the potential of a false accusation of abuse,” said Eskamani.
Representative Eskamani believes the additional measure could make sense in Florida. We found child abuse pediatricians who serve as medical directors of child protective teams in Florida often answer to no one and operate independently from region to region.
THE FLORIDA INVESTIGATIVE TEAM
Last summer, Vadim Kushnir and his wife found themselves on the defense after seeking help for their newborn son, who was having seizures. A state child abuse pediatrician determined their newborn’s seizures were “the result of shaken baby or blunt force trauma,” according to court records.
“It took them two minutes of investigation to say we were abusers,” said Kushnir.
The Kushnirs fought back spending $30,000 on attorneys and experts who argued the baby’s condition resulted from a complicated birth not abuse.
The judge agreed and in the final order, even criticized the state’s doctors for not knowing their month old son wasn’t breathing at birth, the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his neck. One doctor who provided testimony admitted he “never reviewed all his medical records,” according to court records.
With the legislative session starting this week, Eskamani says it may be too late to file legislation here this session, but she vows to bring up the issue in Tallahassee and invites other families to share their stories with her of being torn apart and wrongly accused.
Contact Representative Eskamani
“The doctor was probably in the room with us less than 10 minutes,” said Vivianna Graham. “It’s just sad,” added her husband Jeremy whose son, Tristan, is now a healthy 4-year-old.
The Florida Department of Health oversees child abuse pediatricians who serve as experts for the state. According to an agency spokesperson, their top priority is the health and safety of children but says child protective teams are open to receiving input from others who are also involved in protecting the health and safety of Florida’s children.
Father of Denver boy found encased in
concrete pleads guilty to Child Abuse;
murder charge dropped
DENVER, CO – The father of a 7-year-old Denver boy found encased in concrete in 2018 has pleaded guilty to a child abuse charge in the case, in exchange for prosecutors dropping the murder charge against him.
Leland Pankey, 40, was charged with murder in Caden McWilliams’ death in May. In a hearing on Thursday, he pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death and tampering with a deceased human body.
The murder charge was dropped in the deal. Pankey now faces up to 72 years in prison.
“This agreement provides justice for Caden while ensuring that Mr. Pankey will serve a significant amount of time behind bars,” Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said in a news release Thursday. “This is one of the most horrific cases ever handled by the Denver DA’s Office and we were acutely concerned about re-traumatizing Caden’s family as well as the jury, judge and everyone else involved should this case proceed to trial.”
Pankey is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 28.
The body of McWilliams was found encased in concrete in a storage unit in the 5000 block of East Evans Avenue in Denver on Dec. 23, 2018.
McWilliams’ mother, Elisha Pankey, also pleaded guilty in August to one count of child abuse resulting in death.
The Denver Office of the Medical Examiner ruled in a report in March that Caden had been malnourished and had cocaine metabolite and methamphetamine in his system. The boy also had numerous injuries to his head, torso and extremities, according to the autopsy. He may have suffered from asphyxia, dehydration or hyperthermia, but that couldn’t be confirmed, the autopsy said.
In an interview with police in March, Elisha Pankey told investigators that Leland Pankey abused Caden while they were living in an extended-stay hotel, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. The couple and their two children had moved into the hotel in May 2018, and Leland Pankey watched the children while Elisha Pankey went to work, she told investigators.
Elisha Pankey said Caden died in July 2018 after his father kept him in a dog kennel, the affidavit said. A woman who had been in the Arapahoe County Jail with Elisha Pankey in December said Pankey told her that she believed her son suffocated in the dog kennel.
Leland Pankey kept Caden in the kennel overnight – with blankets on top of it – and the boy cried out that he was hot and thirsty, Elisha Pankey told her fellow inmate, according to the affidavit.
On the day Caden died, his mother and father bought Quikrete, trash bags and water, drove Caden’s body to the storage unit on Evans Avenue, and mixed the concrete and poured it into the kennel, the affidavit said.
The boy’s body wasn’t discovered until December, when officers responded to a domestic violence call involving the Pankeys.
Police learned that the couple had two children, and Elisha Pankey told officers that the children were with their father. When police contacted Leland Pankey, he said one child was in daycare, but he avoided answering questions about Caden, eventually telling officers the boy was with his mother, the affidavit said.
When officers interviewed a woman whose name was redacted in the affidavit, she told police that Leland Pankey had lost his son and that Pankey said her family could have their storage “because it had too many memories,” the affidavit said.
Investigators obtained a search warrant for the Pankeys’ storage unit and found Caden’s remains inside.
Seymour father, stepmother face neglect
charges, accused of locking kids in room,
limiting bathroom access
SEYMOUR. WI – The parents of children who told police they weren’t allowed to leave their bedroom for hours at a time or use the bathroom more than three times a day were charged with felony neglect.
The children, a 12-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl, who lived in a house with their father, stepmother and siblings in Seymour, also said they weren’t fed anything other than peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday in Outagamie County Circuit Court.
The windows in their bedroom were screwed shut and the door was equipped with an alarm that went off if it was opened, and the rest of the house was monitored by security cameras, the complaint says, and both children were punished if they tried to leave.
Gregory Hietpas, 33, and Elizabeth Hietpas, 33, both of Seymour, are each charged with two counts of chronic neglect of a child, a felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and five years of extended supervision.
A police officer for the Seymour Police Department spoke with both children at school. The 12-year-old boy was “very soft spoken” and “appeared very tired and sounded depressed” as he spoke, the complaint says.
The boy told the officer he and his sister share a bedroom, where he is forced to sleep on the floor without a blanket or pillow and is only allowed to use the bathroom three times a day.
“If he has to use the bathroom more than that, he has to go inside his bedroom,” sometimes “in a bucket or on the floor,” the complaint says. He also told the officer he is only given five minutes to take a bath and the door to the bathroom has to stay open.
The other children in the house are allowed out of their rooms and can leave the house, but he and his older sister are forced to stay in their bedroom, “unless they need to take the dogs outside or do chores,” the complaint says.
The boy described an incident in which he left his bedroom and “walked around the city,” the complaint says, and when he was found and returned home, his father, Gregory Hietpas, “screamed at him, hit him and threw him across the room.”
He also described how his stepmother, Elizabeth Hietpas, used the clock on the oven to time the five minutes given to him and his sister to make and eat their meals.
“When asked the last time he was given something other than a peanut butter sandwich to eat, he could not remember,” the complaint says.
The girl later told an interviewer at a child advocacy center that the alarm was placed on the door because they would sneak out and take food from the refrigerator, which she said her parents considered stealing, the complaint says.
When he was punished, the boy said he was forced to carry a weight over his head “and is not allowed to let it rest on his head or chest” and “if he lowered it, he has to start over,” the complaint says. His sister described an incident in which the boy dropped a weight on his head and injured himself.
Both children also described being forced to write sentences hundreds of times as punishment for not listening to their parents.
The girl, who was also interviewed at school, told the officer that she and her brother are not allowed around the other children because “her parents think they are bad influences,” the complaint says.
The girl also said “there are days that she does not feel safe going home,” the complaint says, and that her father “hurts her when he is mad or frustrated.” She also described days on weekends when she and her brother were forced to stand in their bedroom from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.
When a police officer visited the house on Dec. 4, 2018, he found at least two large loaves of bread and large container of peanut butter, and saw the alarm attached to the bedroom door, the complaint says.
The officer asked whether the boy was able to use the bathroom at night, the complaint says, and Elizabeth Hietpas told him “no, not right now,” and explained that the boy runs off and “we don’t know what else to do.”
When asked why they hadn’t told anyone what was happening, the girl said “they were afraid of getting in trouble,” the complaint says, adding that “it is never good at home” and “it is painful to have to deal with it all of the time.”
The boy told the interviewer that when other people are around, his parents will be nice to him and his sister and “act like nothing is going on.”
When Elizabeth Hietpas was interviewed by police, she denied the two children weren’t allowed to use the bathroom when they wanted, the complaint says. She also claimed they had stopped using weights as a punishment after the boy hurt himself. But when asked about her honesty during the interview, Hietpas said she didn’t want talk more about the issues and accused an officer of “backing her into a corner.”
Gregory Hietpas told police that the boy and girl were forced to sleep in the same room because the two children would intentionally go to the bathroom in their pants, the complaint says, so they decided to put them in the same bedroom “so only one room was destroyed and not the whole house.”
Hietpas said both children could go to the bathroom whenever they wanted during the day, but not at night, when the alarm on their door is activated, the complaint says.
He also told police that when things started to “go south” at his house, he began to “tune things out and found things to do to get out of the house.”