Kansas House unanimously passes bill to release information after Child Abuse deaths
In a final vote Thursday morning, the Kansas House unanimously passed legislation that would require the state to release information after a child dies of abuse or neglect.
The chamber voted 124-0 in favor of the bill. It now goes to the Senate, where lawmakers will decide whether to accept the House version. If they don’t, the bill would be sent to a conference committee to work out any differences. After that, each chamber would vote again.
Child advocates say if the bill becomes law, the most vulnerable children in Kansas will be better protected.
“Absolutely it’s a step forward,” said Lori Ross, a long-time advocate in Missouri. “Transparency is necessary for the child welfare system to continuously improve. … I’m so thrilled they haven’t dropped this.”
The House action comes after several high-profile deaths in the recent years. Frustrated lawmakers, as well as child advocates across the state, have said more must be known about these cases so the system improves and other children are protected.
The Star has fought for years to obtain records and information after several horrific child deaths, including the 2015 death of Adrian Jones, a Kansas City, KS boy whose body was fed to pigs.
In a months-long investigation into the secrecy that permeates Kansas government, The Star found in late November a pervasive effort inside DCF to avoid transparency, hiding behind privacy laws and internal procedures — even instructing employees to shred notes taken in meetings where the death of a child was discussed.
Under the bill, SB 336, DCF would be required to release within seven business days the age and sex of the child, date of the fatality, a summary of previous reports to the agency and findings, as well as any department-recommended services provided.
Also, if a child dies while in state custody, the bill requires the DCF secretary to release the age and sex of the child, date of the fatality and summary of the facts surrounding the death. This section relates directly to children who die in foster care and the death is considered an accident.
Since Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel took over the troubled agency in early December, she has vowed to be more transparent. She worked with lawmakers on the bill and she and Gov. Jeff Colyer have been pushing for its passage.
As the bill went through the committee process there were heated moments as troubles with the child welfare system were discussed. Lawmakers said this week that Meier-Hummel is providing the leadership that the state currently needs.
After Rep. John Carmichael commended the Judiciary Committee in a Wednesday hearing for its work with the legislation, he turned his attention to discussing Meier-Hummel.
“I also want to express to the current secretary of DCF my admiration for her first bringing the bill,” the Wichita Democrat said. “And second, for responding frankly and candidly to sometimes difficult questions in the Judiciary Committee.”
Jefferson County caseworker admits falsifying Child Abuse records
DENVER, CO – A former Jefferson County Human Services caseworker fabricated records in a dozen child abuse and neglect cases claiming she investigated the cases when she had not, authorities say.
Richelle Schultz, 53, pleaded guilty Tuesday to two felony counts of falsifying information in child abuse and neglect documents and attempting to influence a public office, according to a news release by Pam Russell, spokeswoman for District Attorney Peter Weir.
Schultz was a caseworker between December 2015 and July 31 of 2016 who investigated allegations of child abuse and neglect. Human Services fired Schultz in July of 2016 and began reviewing her cases.
Schultz entered false information in 12 cases, claiming she interviewed victims, families and witnesses in person or on the phone when she did not, the news release says.
The review determined that there were no unresolved safety issues and the cases had been closed.
Schultz faces up to 9 years in prison when she is sentenced on March 5.
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.
Medina County Man accused of sexually
assaulting 5 foster children took in 180+ girls
Medina County, TX – A Medina County man accused of sexually assaulting five former foster children, including several in Bexar County, took in more than 180 young girls over a five year period, officials said.
That leads investigators to believe there could be numerous other victims who have yet to come forward.
“It’s not a question about whether there are more,” said Medina County Sheriff Randy Brown. “It’s just about how many.”
One additional victim has already come forward since news broke Wednesday of 58-year-old Miguel Briseno’s arrest, Brown said, bringing the unofficial total to six victims. A charge has not been filed in the sixth alleged case.
Briseno, who is currently being held in the Medina County Jail on a $500,000 bond, was a licensed foster parent from 2005 through 2010, Brown said. During that time he lived in both Bexar and Medina counties.
Over the course of the five years, more than 180 girls passed through his care, Brown said. At various times, Briseno was reportedly taking care of up to 12 girls at once.
Brown said Child Protective Services contracted with a third-party company, who has not yet been publicly identified, to place the girls in Briseno’s home.
“Those girls were taken from some environment and then you have some jackass like him abusing these girls that already have troubles,” Brown said. “I’m aggravated at the whole system. I’m aggravated at the company that placed these girls. It was a money-making deal, the way they were running those girls through there like livestock. It wasn’t about making a better world for them. They were making a profit off them.”
Representatives of Child Protective Services could not immediately comment on the relationship with the company.
Two of the charges against Briseno are out of Medina County, and the remaining three originated in Bexar County. Brown said Briseno first became a foster parent while living in Von Ormy, where the alleged assaults occurred, and later moved to Devine, Texas, in Medina County.
Wednesday’s arrest was not the first time Briseno was arrested on child sex abuse charges. In April 2013, the Medina County Sheriff’s Office arrested him on a charge of solicitation to commit sexual assault of a child. The arrest came after one of Briseno’s foster children said he had sexually assaulted her in August 2012, when he no longer had a foster license, Brown said.
It is not clear why Briseno did not have a license after 2010 and how Briseno still had foster children in his care two years later, though investigators discovered Briseno had attempted to move his foster parent license into his wife’s name, Brown said.
“It’s not a loophole, it’s just downright wrong,” Brown said.
Briseno pleaded guilty in September 2015 to a reduced charge of attempted assault, a Class B misdemeanor. Brown said investigators and prosecutors had difficulty securing testimony against Briseno.
He was sentenced to 180 days in jail, though county officials couldn’t confirm how much time he was actually incarcerated.
Brown said his office, as well as other investigating agencies like the Texas Rangers, plan to look into the unnamed third-party company responsible for placing the children in Briseno’s care. They’re also working to determine whether his wife could be held criminally responsible.
All of Briseno’s reported victims were teenagers at the time of the alleged abuse. They’re now in their 20s. For investigators, the next step is to identify the dozens of remaining girls who were ever in Briseno’s care.
“We don’t know where they’re at,” Brown said.
“If you’ve stayed at that house, if you were a foster child [in Briseno’s care], please contact us,” he said. “Whether you feel something inappropriate happened or not, we’d still like to talk to you.”
Victims are asked to call 210-335-8477 if they have any information on Briseno’s alleged abuse.