Gov. Scott Signs Bill Into Law Creating Dozier Memorials, Reburying Unclaimed Remains
FLORIDA – Governor Rick Scott has signed a bill into law allowing for the creation of memorials for boys who died from the abuse at the now-closed Dozier School for Boys as well as the abuse survivors.
Robert Straley, a former ward of the North Florida reform school, went there in his early teens. He says while there, he survived sexual abuse and severe beatings.
“At the Dozier School for Boys, they use whips on the boys like they use on slaves in the 1800s, and they got away with that for 68 years until Governor [Claude] Kirk stopped it in 1968,” he said. “They wouldn’t think nothing of giving a 10-year-old boy 60 lashes.”
Researchers later unearthed 55 buried remains on the Dozier grounds in Marianna. And, with the new law in effect, it will now allow for the reburial of the unclaimed remains as well as memorials in Tallahassee and Marianna—costing $1.2 million. It also opens the door for researchers to unearth even more remains.
Meanwhile, the Florida Legislature also passed a resolution formally apologizing for the abuses Straley and others suffered at the hands of staffers at Dozier and its sister campus in Okeechobee.
Bill Creating Dozier Memorials, Reburying Unclaimed Remains Heads To Gov. Scott
May 5, 2017 A bill creating memorials to remember the boys who died and were buried in unmarked graves on the Dozier School for Boys’ grounds is now heading to Governor Rick Scott. It’s part two of what the Florida legislature’s doing to help address the abuses that occurred at the school decades ago.
After Senate Apologizes To Dozier Victims, Will It Now Take Up House Bill Creating Memorials?
Apr 19, 2017 While the Florida Senate is on its way to that path, the House has officially apologized to the survivors of the infamous Dozier School for Boys. It’s for the abuse they suffered at the hands of staffers at the state-run juvenile reform school in North Florida decades ago.
HUMBOLDT COUNTY, CA – County authorities are admitting to interagency communication breakdowns and negligent reporting in combating rampant child abuse, but say improvements are in the works.
Officials made the admissions late last week in response to two scathing civil grand jury reports about multi-agency failures by schools, law enforcement and county Child Welfare Services to report and combat child abuse effectively.
The grand jury probe concluded that Humboldt’s social services system is so structured that at times it appears “dysfunctional.”
The panel issued a two-pronged warning in the wake of an eight-month investigation:
“The safety net for our children critically needs improvement.”
“The children of Humboldt County are ill-served by the intake system that is meant to protect them!”
The Union reported in December that the county’s child abuse and neglect rate is nearly 50 percent higher than the California average, according to Mary Ann Hansen, executive director of First 5 Humboldt, the family support and child abuse prevention agency (Union, Dec. 10, 2016).
The weekend edition of the Times-Standard quoted Sheriff William Honsal acknowledging that communications between his office and Child Welfare Services have “absolutely failed over the last couple of years” to react quickly enough to reports of child abuse and neglect. He faulted Child Welfare case workers for lax communications but said the two agencies are at work on shoring them up, the newspaper quoted him stating.
The grand jury report voiced strong skepticism that the promised improvements will materialize.
Times-Standard reporter Will Houston also quoted Chris Hartley, Humboldt County Superintendent of Schools, that school district officials have been meeting monthly for several years with counterparts from the Department of Health and Human Services and that the dual grand jury reports will, belatedly, kick off discussions about coordinating child abuse reporting.
In stinging rebukes, two 2016-2017 civil grand jury reports, “Responding in Time to Help our ‘At Risk’ Children” and “Child Welfare in Humboldt: Getting the Door Open,” fault major problems in how schools, law enforcement and county agencies work to protect highly vulnerable youngsters.
“Lack of timeliness and follow-up can have devastating results,” warns the exposé on slow response times. Among the findings:
School districts struggle with their responsibility as Mandated Reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect. They often describe their contacts with law enforcement and child welfare as “frustrating” and “problematic.”
Of the five school districts investigated, comprising numerous schools, all representatives “expressed high levels of frustration with Child Welfare Services in the initial filing and subsequent handling of Mandated Reports.”
The Arcata School District gave high marks to the cooperation of the Arcata Police Department in child abuse investigations, but other districts registered multiple complaints about sheriff’s stations in their locales. Frequently, deputies “do not answer our calls,” “tell us they do not have sufficient personal to investigate” or they investigate “but do not leave a report” of the investigation.
School employees were “vociferous in their complaints” about Child Welfare Services. The grand jury spelled out the critical remarks:
“They often do not return our calls.”
“The Child Welfare hotline is “totally worthless.”
“We don’t go that far South.”
“That is not within our jurisdiction.”
“You should call the sheriff’s office about this.”
School personnel told the grand jury that often they never receive a reply from Child Welfare about a filed Mandated Report. The most common replies, if any, are “does not meet the state requirements for intervention” or secondly, “referred to other services.”
The latter means Child Welfare made an initial inquiry and then referred a family to voluntary social services or another community agency – but did not follow-up on whether the family followed through.
Turning to law enforcement, virtually all the of officers interviewed stated that drugs and alcohol were involved in the majority of the Mandated Report cases they investigated.
Like the school districts, law enforcement cited numerous problems in dealing with Child Welfare. In multiple instances, the difficulty is a severe lack of timely interagency communication.
Two examples, according to law officers (CWS refers to Child Welfare Services):
CWS tends to send a week’s supply of requests late Friday afternoon, making it difficult for the Sheriff’s Office to begin investigations until the following Monday.
In cases involving possible physical or sexual abuse, law enforcement must be contacted within hours, but the sheriff’s office is sometimes called days or weeks after CWS receives an initial report.
The child abuse report voiced doubts, based on past experience, that law enforcement and Child Welfare will improve their mutual openness and communication.
“While the Grand Jury supports apparent current efforts to create a task force to improve transparency and communication, the history of such past efforts gives us reason to be skeptical at this time.”
All of the social workers interviewed “appeared to be seriously dedicated to the work they were doing” with at-risk children, but said the Department of Health and Human Services has overwhelming caseloads, high turnover and lack of experience in dealing with the caseload.
Child Welfare staff dismissed school district complaints, alleging that many Mandated Reporters do not know how to fill out their reports properly or understand the criteria to be followed.
However, the grand jury found that “of the approximately 250 redacted Mandated Reports that we read, not one was filled out inappropriately or inaccurately.”
Van Buren man sentenced to life for
Child Sex Abuse
PARIS, AR – Clarence C. Garretson will spend the rest of his life in federal prison for a series of sexual abuse crimes committed on children under this care as a foster parent for the Arkansas Department of Human Services.
For 18 years, Garretson and his wife, Lisa Garretson, hosted 35 children. Fourteen of those children who were placed at their home for protection against abuse and neglect became victims of sexual abuse.
Chief Judge P.K. Holmes III imposed the life sentence on Garretson, 66, Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of Western Arkansas for his conviction on one count of transporting a minor in interstate commerce with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
Garretson was also sentenced to a term of 15 years imprisonment each on four counts of transporting minors in interstate commerce with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, with those terms to run concurrently with the life sentence.
More than 45 people attended the sentencing of the Van Buren man who pleaded guilty in October to five of the 11 sexual abuse charges that occurred over the course of nearly two decades. With a “rider waiver” from C&T Trucking Co. in Van Buren so a minor could accompany him on a trip Garretson took a 10-year-old girl in 2014 on a trip and raped her, according to court documents.
“What occurred was under the guise of being a foster parent and adoptive parent he committed torture and sexual assault when the children were looking for a place of safety,” Holmes said. “It was an extreme failure on DHS’s part and further victimized the children with the most horrific criminal acts.”
Holmes said he recognized the difficulty for DHS in dealing with deception, but pointed out a female victim had told DHS on three occasions she had been sexually abused beginning when she was 11.
Several of Garretson’s victims, both adopted children and former foster children, read impact statements at the sentencing hearing Wednesday. Each voiced their contempt for Garretson’s use of intimidation to control them and the psychological repercussions they continue to experience as a result of the abuse: Anxiety, lack of self-esteem, nightmares, alcohol and drug abuse, trust issues with males or authority figures and fear of people in general.
“It’s a hurt you can never forget,” a female victim said.
One of Garretson’s victims said he had threatened to kill her younger brother if she exposed the sexual abuse.
“I felt lost, confused, alone, bullied, mad, sad, angry,” a woman who had been abused by Garretson said. “The truth is Arkansas DHS put me in the hands of a monster. Nothing can be done to change that, but he can rot in a federal prison for the rest of his life. There is no excuse to abuse a child.”
A male victim adopted by the Garretsons said in his statement that the investigation into his adoptive parents exposed them as “hypocrites” and he is regaining his self-confidence through therapy.
“Don’t let this dictate your life,” he said to the other sexual abuse victims. “This is the beginning of a new life.”
Concerning the defendant’s wife, the judge said “if she didn’t know she should have. … It’s such a sad case.”
In 1998, Garretson and his wife were approved by DHS to operate a foster home and later to become an adoptive home.
The FBI special agent learned DHS had received a report in 2002 from a foster child then living in the home that she had been sexually assaulted by Garretson. Based on that information, the agent began locating children who had been in foster care at the Garretson residence.
A second minor interviewed in June 2016 was a foster child in the Garretson home from 2000 to 2004, which led to another Class C felony rape charge for Garretson. At the time of the offense, the girl was over 13 years of age but less than 18.
In 1999, a boy and his two older sisters were sent to the Garretson home by DHS. They were legally adopted by the Garretsons in 2001. The boy was 11 in 2001 when he went out on a long-distance trip with Garretson and was sexually assaulted. This happened on multiple trips during summer vacation from school in 2002 and 2003.
Also in 1999, DHS placed a fifth victim and her two siblings in the Garretson home and she remained there until 2004. The minor was interviewed by an FBI special agent in July 2016 and disclosed she was sexually assaulted by Garretson on an over-the-road trip to California during the summer of 2000 when she was 13 years old.
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.”
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.”
Although by now, I figure you might have noticed at least one or two of your old friends giving you “the look”, then when you all made eye contact, surely there was hidden “eye rolling” and “head shaking”.
But I would bet you any amount of Mammon, or even those Gold, Stairway-To-Heaven Bricks, that you are more than a little happy there are no short, picnic length, excursion rides on the ferry today (which is now yesterday).
You never imagined the remote possibility of this post even being started, much less my eyes darting anxiously toward that blue.. Publish Button.
The day finally came that we believe we were, we must have been adopted.
But, each set of north-sider, Pharisee eyes and ears, would have had no choice, but to look upon and hear my words.
AND, I DO MEAN EVERY ONE OF YOU…. The good part is that I don’t believe he will be too hard on you, but then, who am I to say….