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. 

Texas CPS: New Look, Actions Impressive

.jpg photo of men arrested for falsifying drug tests
Shawn William Franklin, 28, and Walter Allen Williams Jr., 29

CPS ‘suspends’ relationship with West Texas
Rehab after 2 arrested for falsifying drug tests

ABILENE, TX  –  Child Protective Services has suspended its relationship with West Texas Rehabilitation Center in Abilene in the wake of two former rehab center workers being arrested for falsifying drug tests in exchange for personal and sexual favors.

CPS has used West Texas Rehab to drug test parents as part of that office’s abuse and neglect investigations.

“As soon as CPS became aware of the allegations against these two West Texas Rehab employees, we immediately suspended our relationship with West Texas Rehab and stopped using their facility for drug-testing,” said Marissa Gonzales, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Gonzales said her agency has taken steps to “ensure that no children were placed in an unsafe situation as a result of incorrectly administered tests.”

“CPS has completed nearly 150 safety checks of children who may have had contact with a family member who took a drug test at this facility,” Gonzales said.  “We are confident no children were harmed.”

Asked if CPS had severed ties with West Texas Rehab, Gonzales said: “At this point, it’s accurate to say that CPS business dealings with West Texas Rehab are ‘suspended.'”

Arrested and charged with tampering with evidence in the case were two Abilene men – Shawn William Franklin, 28, and Walter Allen Williams Jr., 29.

On Wednesday, West Texas Rehab officials told KTXS that they learned of the allegations on Aug. 4 and immediately fired Franklin and Williams.

Gonzales said CPS learned of the investigation during the first week of August.

West Texas Rehab officials said they were “devastated by the news” and “felt betrayed.”  They also said this is the first time anything like this has happened in the center’s 64-year history and that they’re reevaluating hiring practices as a result.

They said they had no additional comments to make Thursday.

In July, CPS expressed concern to Abilene police about how some parents’ drug tests were being handled at West Texas Rehab.

During a police interview, Franklin admitted being friends with a woman who was working with CPS to get her children back.  Text messages between the two revealed the woman would send pictures – “sexual in nature” – to Franklin.  In return, Franklin would allow the woman to bring in someone else’s hair to send off for testing.

“Franklin would even look for ‘clean hair’ himself to be submitted on (the woman’s) behalf,” the documents indicate.

Franklin told police he advised the woman to use shampoo and vinegar on her hair to help with her test results.  When the woman tested, Franklin said he smelled the vinegar in her hair but still accepted the sample knowing it had been altered.

According to the detective, Franklin and Williams admitted allowing friends to bring in clean urine samples rather than urinate on site. Williams also said he knew some of the samples were “synthetic urine.”

In addition, Williams admitted to accepting a hair follicle from a woman who told him she would be bringing in “someone else’s hair,” the documents indicate.  Williams said he knew she needed a clean drug test for CPS, and during May, he accepted false hair from the woman in exchange for oral sex.

California 5 Year Old In Coma

.jpg photo of couple arrested for torture
Benjamin Matthew Whitten, the boy’s biological father and Jeryn Christine Johnson

Murrieta Couple Charged With Torture,
Child Abuse

Murrieta, CA  –  A Murrieta couple have been charged with child abuse and torture after a 5-year-old boy was hospitalized with severe injuries and is now comatose, authorities announced Thursday.

Benjamin Matthew Whitten, the boy’s biological father and a U.S. Navy sailor, and his live-in girlfriend Jeryn Christine Johnson appeared for arraignment in Murrieta on Thursday afternoon, but the hearing was postponed, according to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.

The couple were arrested Tuesday, about 10 hours after Johnson called 911 to report the child being in medical distress, police said Wednesday.

Police officers found the unidentified boy frail and extremely malnourished, a Murrieta Police Department lieutenant said.  He had “severe injuries requiring immediate medical” care, the DA’s office said.

A neighbor said she saw paramedics doing chest compressions on the child.

The boy was taken by ambulance to an area hospital and then airlifted to another hospital in San Diego County.  He remains in grave condition Thursday, according to the DA’s office.

Dozens came out for a vigil outside the family’s home early Wednesday’s evening.  Neighbors said they didn’t see the family outside very often, though the father was sometimes heard yelling at the boy.

Whitten, 33, and Johnson, 25, were charged Thursday with one count of torture, and one count of child abuse with an allegation of causing the child to become comatose.

At Thursday afternoon’s appearance, their arraignment was posted until Aug. 24 and the judge kept their bail at $1 million each.  A public defender was appointed for Whitten and a defense attorney will be appointed to represent Johnson because the public defender’s office said it cannot represent two defendants in the same case, a DA’s spokesman said.

After getting a warrant, investigators searched the couple’s home in the 24000 block of Verdun Lane, where police said they found “extremely unsanitary” conditions.  Eleven dogs, four cats and two fish were taken from the home.

Administration code enforcement violations have occurred at the home, but no emergency calls were made after the family moved there in April 2016, police said.

Whitten serves as a machinist’s mate nuclear first class stationed at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Detachment in San Diego, the U.S. Navy confirmed.  Whitten enlisted in 2009, with his home state listed as Texas, and he was stationed on the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier from 2011 to February 2016, naval records show.

TX Doctor Believes In This System

.jpg photo of Chaplin for Child Advocate
Melissa Zenteno, a chaplain at One Safe Place.

Texas doctor seeks to stop Child Abuse
before it can happen

FORT WORTH, TX  –  A Texas doctor believes a modeling system that’s successfully identified neighborhoods, streets and even specific businesses where shootings and other crimes are likely to occur can help stop child abuse and neglect before it happens.

Dyann Daley started a nonprofit this summer to help communities create maps that can zero in on areas as small as a few city blocks where such maltreatment is likeliest to happen, helping prevent it and allowing advocacy groups to better target their limited resources.

“This approach is really focused on prevention,” said Daley, a pediatric anesthesiologist.  “Because if you know where something is going to happen, then you can do something to stop it.”

Unlike the common hot spot mapping approach, which identifies high-frequency areas of child abuse and neglect based on cases that have already happened, Daley’s risk terrain modeling approach identifies other factors that indicate an area is fertile ground for abuse so that efforts can be made to head it off.  Such prevention not only can save lives, but also can help at-risk children avoid the often lifelong harmful effects of maltreatment, including a likelihood of alcohol and drug abuse, depression and anxiety, and higher risk of aggressive or criminal behavior.

“Hot spots tell you where past crimes have occurred but don’t explain why,” said Joel Caplan, one of two Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice professors who created risk terrain modeling. Caplan said mapping of hot spots assumes that crimes will continue to occur in the same location.

Risk terrain modeling was initially used to understand why shootings were happening repeatedly at certain locations.  Caplan said that such modeling has since been used in a variety of areas, including traffic planning and suicides, but that Daley’s work is the first he knows of applying it to maltreatment of children.

The modeling has helped police departments across the country identify areas to target and strategies to use to reduce certain crimes.

Caplan said a project in Atlantic City, N.J., found laundromats, convenience stores and vacant properties were high-risk locations for shootings and robberies.  Interventions this year included police regularly checking in at the convenience stores and city officials prioritizing efforts to clean up vacant lots and board up vacant properties near those convenience stores and laundromats.  He said results for the first five months show a 20 percent reduction in violent crimes.

“It gives us an idea of which risk factors we should focus on if we want to make the biggest impact, and that’s something you can’t do with hot spot mapping,” Daley said.

Daley adapted the modeling for Fort Worth as executive director of the Cook Children’s Center for the Prevention of Child Maltreatment, a post she left in May before starting her nonprofit, Predict-Align-Prevent Inc.

After using the model to analyze 10 known risk factors for child abuse and neglect, she found the most predictive risk factors for child maltreatment in Fort Worth were incidents of domestic violence, runaways, aggravated assaults and sexual assaults.

Perhaps surprisingly, when poverty was removed as a factor, the model’s predictive accuracy improved, said Daley.  She added that the most influential risk factors might change depending on the city, especially for rural versus urban areas.

The next step is determining what prevention strategies work. Daley said success will be measured by reductions in child abuse and highly correlative risk factors including violent crime, domestic violence and teen pregnancy.

Officials at the Center for the Prevention of Child Maltreatment will spend the coming months coordinating a plan for specific interventions in Fort Worth.

“We’ve got the maps, and we think we know where the risks are increased in our specific community.  The big question that has to be answered is: What are you going to do about it?” said Larry Tubb, senior vice president of the unit that oversees the center.  He said strategies could include neighborhood watch groups and early childhood development centers.

David Sanders, an executive vice president at Casey Family Programs, called Daley’s work “incredibly promising” and said it now needs to be paired with research on what interventions work.

“There are a couple of interventions that seem to impact communities, but we just don’t have enough,” he said.

Daley distributed the mapping information to a variety of Fort Worth groups, noting that the prevalence of churches made them a good starting point for prevention efforts.

At the Tarrant Baptist Association, leadership director Becky Biser inserted pins into a map on the wall to mark churches of all denominations in high risk areas, helping assess what churches are doing and what more can be done.

“For me, a picture says a lot. … It’s in a lot of people’s neighborhoods,” Biser said.

Melissa Zenteno, chaplain at One Safe Place, which helps victims of domestic violence, has been talking to pastors about her organization’s services.

Some experts have concerns about the mapping approach, especially regarding interventions.

Neil Guterman, director of the violence prevention program at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, said he fears that the mapping could lead to disproportionally intervening in marginalized communities in coercive ways.  He said he could see its merits, though, if it’s used the right way.

“If the tool is married with supportive strategies that we know can actually help and make a difference, then that would be very helpful,” he said

Indifference Will Never Stop Child Abuse….