Audit: MA DCF unaware of assault to Children in their care, 118 incidents of sexual abuse
MA DCF does not consider sexual abuse a “critical incident”
BOSTON, MA – An audit released Thursday by State Auditor Suzanne Bump found the Department of Children and Families was unaware of more than 250 incidents of what appeared to be “serious bodily injury” to children in their care, and did not report more than 100 incidents of sexual abuse.
“I can’t frankly understand how it is that they can justify their willing ignorance of this information,” Bump told 22News.
According to a news release sent to 22News by Bump’s office, the audit discovered that DCF was relying on others to report occurrences of serious bodily injury to children rather than using data sources they have “at their fingertips.”
“The audit discovered gunshot wounds, burns and head contusions went undetected by the Department of Children and Families.”
The 260 incidents of serious bodily injury include:
15-year-old with brain damage from a firearm injury.
1-year-old with first and second degree burns on body.
12-year-old with multiple head contusions that a doctor determined was the result of an assault.
Bump is also calling on the DCF to consider sexual abuse a critical incident. Since it is not considered a critical incident, DCF does not report instances of sexual abuse to the Office of the Child Advocate, which is tasked with making sure children in state care receive timely and effective services.
“Bump’s audit found that 118 incidents of sexual abuse of a child in DCF care were not reported to the Office of the Child Advocate.”
These incidents include:
Sexual abuse by 2 male employees at DCF-contracted residential facilities; Both sexually abused three girls each.
10-year-old raped by his father.
4-year-old sexually abused by her mother.
17-year-old who was gang raped by five assailants.
Designating incidents of sexual abuse as critical incidents would trigger immediate investigation actions into those incidents.
“How can the agency not consider sexual abuse a serious injury to a child? It defies logic,” Bump said in the release sent to 22News.
Bump said in response to the audit, DCF is centralizing its reporting of critical incidents in which children in its care are involved, updating its procedures for referring incidents of abuse, neglect, and/or sexual abuse to DA offices, and recording child-on-child injuries in case files.
Bump suggested that DCF use MassHealth data to identify serious injuries to children under its care.
‘Untethered to the evidence’: Court reverses DCS case that cut mom off from kids
Arizona – In a rare move, the state Court of Appeals has reversed a decision that severed a mother’s rights to her two children, saying state child-welfare workers presented a case “not sufficiently rooted in the evidence.”
The court cited numerous flaws in the evidence — or a lack thereof — presented by a Department of Child Safety caseworker, as well as a state-appointed psychologist who evaluated the mother. Writing for the three-judge panel, Acting Presiding Judge Peter B. Swann concluded there appeared to be only one motive to separate the mother from her kids: that the children were adoptable.
The court reversed the decision of Juvenile Court Judge Cari Harrison and sent the matter back to the Juvenile Court. It is unclear what will come next.
In a statement, DCS noted the action is highly unusual, something that was echoed by the courts, as well as the Attorney General’s Office, which represents the agency.
DCS reviewing the case
DCS said it is evaluating its next move.
“We will conduct a careful review of the facts of this case before deciding how to proceed, as we do in each case when considering what permanency plan is most appropriate,” spokesman Darren DaRonco said in an emailed statement.
Repeated attempts to contact the attorney who represented the mother were not successful.
It is also unknown when the rights of the mother, identified only as “Alma S.” in court documents, were severed, where the children have been in the meantime, and where they are now in the wake of the court’s finding.
Because of privacy laws, cases involving children in DCS custody do not contain information that would lead to the identification of the children.
Hospital visit triggers DCS involvement
The case dates back 2½ years, when a hospital official called DCS after seeing one of the children for a fractured leg bone, a fractured rib that was on the mend and multiple bruises. Hospitals are required by law to report injuries that might suggest child abuse.
While the initial DCS plan was to provide services to the family and keep it together, in early 2016 the plan shifted to severance and adoption. By the time the court was ready to issue a decision, the father said he would not fight the severance recommendation, and had his rights revoked.
The mother, however, did not agree to the severance plan. In court, she invoked her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when asked about domestic violence, why she didn’t bring her child to the hospital immediately and whether she was aware of the severity of the child’s injuries.
Without her testimony, the Juvenile Court judge relied on the psychologist’s evaluation of the mother. The psychologist submitted a report finding the mother had substance-abuse issues, personality disorders and concluded her chances of being a good parent were “poor at best.”
While an appeals court normally gives great deference to such finding, Swann wrote, a review of the record showed that evaluation was “untethered to the evidence.”
Failing to do the basics
In a 15-page ruling, he faulted how the case was constructed and concluded the evidence does not support cutting off the mother’s rights to parent her children.
The ruling details how a new case manager, assigned to the matter in summer 2016, failed to do the basics of the job.
For example, the case manager never met with the mother outside of court hearings, only consulted with one of the social-service providers who worked with the mother on various issues, never checked out her suspicions that the mother was still dating the birth father of the child who had been brought to the hospital, never visited the mother’s home to see if it would be safe for the kids and only read several of the 145 pages of parent-aide notes filed in the case. Parent aides supervise visits between parents and children to evaluate their interactions.
The psychologist, according to the court ruling, received only partial information from DCS, dating from the earlier stages of the case.
The agency did not include later reports that showed the mother had successfully complied with all of the work DCS was requiring her to do in order to get her kids back, including results that showed she was testing clean for drugs, had received domestic-violence counseling and had an eight-month track record of successful supervised visits with her children, “where she always came prepared and showed proper parenting skills.”
The court also faulted the psychologist for failing to evaluate the mother’s parenting skills and suggested the subsequent report submitted to the court was “so lacking that we question (though we do not here decide) its admissibility.”
‘Adoptable’ a reason to take the kids
In reversing the Juvenile Court’s ruling, the appeal panel said it found little evidence that it would be in the children’s best interests to sever the mother’s rights.
“(A)part from these unsupported, conclusory opinions, the only evidence that severance is in the children’s best interests is the fact that the children are adoptable,” the appeals ruling stated. And it noted there apparently was no opportunity to adopt the children into the same household, meaning the siblings would be permanently separated.
The judges noted it is not permissible to adopt out children on the assumption that someone with better parenting skills might be able to care for a child. Instead, DCS must show a “substantial likelihood” that the parent cannot effectively parent in the near future.
The other judges, who joined in Swann’s conclusions, were Michael J. Brown and Patricia A. Orozco.
About this report
In 2016, when the number of children removed from their families peaked at more than 18,000, the Arizona Community Foundation gave The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com a three-year grant to support in-depth research on the topic. As part of that effort, reporter Mary Jo Pitzl and our other staff experts investigate the reasons behind the surge in foster children and the systems meant to support and protect them.
Former DCF worker arrested, accused of
falsifying records in Child Abuse case
A former Florida Department of Children and Families worker has been arrested on charges of falsifying records in a case involving a student who came to elementary school with bruises on the face, leg and arm, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Monday.
Doreece Hines, 31, of Daytona Beach documented visits to the home of the child, whose guidance counselor reported the student’s injuries to the state abuse hotline on Feb. 5, 2016. But Hines never actually conducted the visits, according to an affidavit for her arrest.
Hines, a senior child protective investigator who has since been fired, wrote in a report that the child was in “no present danger” and claimed the mother had admitted striking the child with a jump rope, according to the affidavit. She also said the child had a “small mark” on a thigh and an arm, records show.
The counselor, with a school nurse present, took photos of a cut and a bruise on the child’s right cheek and bruises on the right thigh, arm and under the hip, court documents show.
On Feb. 8, Hines wrote in a case report that she had met with the mother and her children, including the alleged victim, a little before 9 p.m. Feb. 6, court records state.
On March 1, a Putnam County Sheriff’s Office detective inquired about the child, including whether Hines had referred the case to the state’s Child Protection Team, which helps investigate child-abuse and child-neglect cases. Hines said she had, but two days later, the detective was told by the team that the referral hadn’t been made and did it herself, documents state.
Hines later told her supervisor she had forgotten to contact the team, documents show.
On March 4, Hines told a DCF supervisor she had made a mistake and hadn’t actually met with the mother, according to the affidavit.
On March 30, Hines changed her case report, stating that her notes initially had been incorrect, according to the affidavit.
FDLE agents say Hines was legally obligated to report the child’s injuries to the Child Protection Team and law enforcement.
Hines was arrested Thursday on the felony records-falsification charges.
“What I found for my ‘State of the Child’ special report is appalling,” DePasquale said. “I’m talking about wholesale system breakdowns that actually prevent (Children and Youth Services) caseworkers from protecting our children from abuse and neglect.”
Centre County was one of 13 counties DePasquale’s office spent time on, talking with caseworkers, supervisors, administrators and families.
According to the data, the number of child abuse reports made in Centre County has gone up 60 percent over the past two years, from 237 in 2014 to 379 in 2016. Of those, 33 were substantiated in 2016.
“Children are being horribly abused and neglected in Pennsylvania every day,” DePasquale said in a statement. “In recent months, we’ve heard of toddlers being kept in cages, newborns left home alone and starving school-age children locked in filthy rooms. There are heartbreaking stories every week.”
According to the report, more than $1.8 billion was spent on child welfare services in 2016, a year in which 46 kids died and there were another 79 “near-deaths.” In Centre County, the expenses came to $997,392.
The “State of the Child” report follows another audit DePasquale conducted in 2016 on the ChildLine system used to report child abuse. That report showed that thousands of calls made to the system were not acted upon.
The new report claims the people doing the responding are inadequately trained, overworked and underpaid, leading to high turnover.
A Centre County case could be part of some increases. DePasquale noted the change in Child Protective Services Law that took place after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, which included expanding the definition of what child abuse is, as well as broadening who is required to report it.
That, he said, has led to more cases to handle, with some workloads jumping from “generally manageable” numbers of 12 to 20 cases at a time to as many as 50 to 75.
According to the New York senate, a bill was passed by that body in January that would limit the number of cases per worker to no more than 15, after the death of a young boy showed a need to lower the number of kids each caseworker was responsible to oversee. The concern there was that New York caseworkers were supervising over 25 cases.