Police searching for Polk woman
accused of hit and run, Child Abuse
POLK COUNTY, FL – Police are searching for a Haines City woman accused of driving head-on into a vehicle, causing an unrestrained child to be injured on Monday morning.
Taquire Studimire, 34, faces charges of child abuse, tampering, reckless driving, hit and run and resisting arrest without violence, police say.
Authorities say she drove her 2008 Honda Civic into the front of a garbage truck in the area of North 14th Street and Stuart Avenue before 8:30 a.m. on Monday. The driver of the truck told police that he honked his horn to try to avoid being hit, but was unsuccessful. Studimire then exited the vehicle with a young child in her hand and told the driver that he was at fault for the crash.
Video recordings from the truck’s dash camera showed the child sitting unrestrained in the front and being thrown into the dash as the vehicles collided. Studimire is then seen grabbing the child from the floorboard and immediately exiting the vehicle to confront the truck driver.
Police say at no point was she ever seen taking time to examine the child for potential injury. After confronting the truck’s driver, she reentered the vehicle and backed into traffic with the driver’s side door open, almost hitting another vehicle.
The child was later located at a daycare facility after suffering a head bruise and a swollen cheek. The child was taken to a hospital but did not suffer any serious injuries.
“The blatant disregard shown for this child is appalling,” Chief Jim Elensky said. “She proceeded to put others in danger with her carelessness and has taken no responsibility for her actions. Perhaps jail time is what she needs to mull it over. It is fortunate that no one was seriously hurt.”
There is a warrant for Studimire’s arrest. Officers made contact with Studimire by phone, but have yet to locate her. Anyone with information on her whereabouts is asked to contact the Haines City Police Department at 863-421-3636.
Special Education Teacher at Miami School Facing Child Abuse, Neglect Charges
MIAMI, FL – A special education teacher at a Miami elementary school is facing charges after police said she punched a student and shoved another.
Graciela Reyes-Marino, a teacher at Auburndale Elementary, was arrested Thursday on aggravated child abuse and child neglect charges, an arrest report said.
The report said earlier this month a boy in Reyes-Marino’s class had been crying and screaming when she allegedly grabbed him by the wrist and shoved him into a bathroom corridor.
She then closed the doors behind the boy, leaving him alone in a confined area for 3-4 seconds until he started screaming louder, the report said. She then opened the door and walked him to his desk.
During a separate incident, a student who was looking under his desk had been asked to stop multiple times by Reyes-Marino before she punched him on his upper back area with a closed fist, the report said.
“[Reyes-Marino] forcefully lifted [the victim] from the ground, proceeded to kick him in the leg and punch him with a closed fist on his upper back area prior to sitting him down,” the report said.
The report said Reyes-Marino denied punching the boy and said she propped the door open for the other student in the corridor.
Reyes-Marino, 60, was booked into jail and later released on bond.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools officials said Reyes-Marino had been employed by the district for about eight years but will be fired.
“Miami-Dade County Public Schools is deeply disturbed about the serious allegations made against the employee. Conduct such as the one she is accused of will not be tolerated,” the district said in a statement. “As soon as the allegations surfaced, the individual was reassigned away from the school setting pending the outcome of an investigation by the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department. As a result of this week’s arrest, her employment will be terminated and she will be precluded from seeking future work with the District.”
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.