Tag Archives: DHS Indifference

DHS Settles Child Sex Abuse Case for $15 Million

.jpg photo of Sex Predator
James Earl Mooney

Three Special Needs Children, 2-Days-Old to 3-Years-Old Sodomized

Oregon  –  It’s taken more than two years and hundreds of thousands of records, but nine medically fragile children who were once wards of the Oregon Department of Human Services and entrusted to its foster care program, will share a $15 million settlement reached Dec. 17 at the U.S. District Court in Eugene.

Steven Rizzo, of the Portland law firm of Rizzo Mattingly Bosworth PC, which originally sought $28 million on behalf of the children who were abused while under DHS purview, said the state agency made the settlement offer, subject to court approval, but did not admit to negligence.

The lawsuit was filed in June 2013 after James Earl Mooney, a former Salem resident, pleaded guilty in 2012 to five counts of first-degree sodomy of medically fragile children, ages 48 hours to 3 years, who had disabilities or other special needs.  Mooney was sentenced to 50 years in the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution for crimes that included sodomizing an 18-month-old foster baby in her car seat while his wife attended a doctor’s appointment with another foster child.  His earliest release date is June 20, 2061.

Rizzo, attorney for the unnamed minor plaintiffs, alleged that DHS and at least 21 of its current or former, named and unnamed employees were negligent and created dangerous living conditions for children who were wards of the court while in DHS custody.  All of the nine children have since been adopted or returned to their natural parents.

In the lawsuit, Rizzo alleged that in 2007, DHS, its supervisors, certifiers and caseworkers were responsible for initially certifying Mooney and his then wife to become a DHS-certified family.  The agency placed dozens of children in the Mooney home, and it was recertified in 2008 and again in 2010, the agency confirms.  Rizzo’s case argued that while the minor children were in the legal and physical custody of the DHS, it was duty-bound to protect their health, safety and well being.

The suit further alleged that DHS failed to conduct an adequate background investigation, failed to conduct a comprehensive inquiry into Mooney’s history and family dynamics, and failed to request or require the Mooneys to provide copies of medical reports.  It said DHS was negligent in failing to conduct adequate fitness determinations for Mooney and his wife, and that it failed to obtain or review other criminal records, and adequately weigh Mooney’s history of potentially disqualifying (for foster-parent status) crimes.

The complaint against DHS points out that Mooney was raised in a dysfunctional family, and had watched his father act incestuously with his adolescent sister.  It also contended that Mooney molested infants in the family’s in-home day care, and engaged in bestiality with dogs and cats.

This negligence, Rizzo said, was a substantial factor in causing the injuries and damages suffered by the plaintiffs.

Monday, DHS Interim Director Clyde Saiki said in a prepared statement that DHS had discovered that there were errors with regard to the certification and recertification of Mooney’s home, and had agreed to the settlement.

“DHS knows, understands, and admits responsibility for the damages suffered by these innocent victims,” Saiki said.  “The settlement reflects the agency’s accountability for failing to ensure the safety of these children in its care.”

“We believe the settlement is reasonable, and one of the largest, if not the largest, settlements the agency has had to pay,” Rizzo said. “But we endured a lengthy series of motions and discovery disputes since we filed,” Rizzo said.

The case started in front of District Court Judge John Acosta in U.S. District Court in Portland, and the settlement was accepted by federal Judge Michael McShane in Eugene.

“We feel we achieved a successful outcome for the families,” Rizzo said.  “These same families are hopeful DHS will take the preventative measures necessary to make sure this doesn’t happen to another child.”

In November, Gov. Kate Brown ordered an independent review of the child welfare practices at the state Department of Human Services.  The state also plans to hire independent third-party to investigate problems at DHS’s child welfare program.  The state’s advisory committee will focus on oversight and licensing, cultural responsiveness, abuse and neglect investigations, accountability within the agency and financial stability of foster care providers.

Saiki said he is already conducting an internal investigation of this particular matter to determine how it happened and why DHS failed to protect the children.

“As soon as possible, I will take the appropriate action to see that system failures are corrected, and that the appropriate personnel action(s) is taken,” Saiki said.

PA DHS 3rd Revised 2014 CA Report

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3rd Revision of Pennsylvania Annual Child Abuse Report – 2014

The initial report already had been published months past the deadline outlined in state law.

Pennsylvania – After reading the state’s first round of child abuse statistics, a Pennsylvania resident most likely walked away with a basic understanding of the children who died or nearly died last year.

Boys had died at a rate of exactly half of the listed girl victims, with 10 male victims and 20 female. Near-fatalities skewed toward boys, with 34 male victims to the 31 female victims.

The problem is that all of those interpretations were wrong — a result of inaccurate data.

The state Department of Human Services published its revised 2014 annual child abuse report on Thursday, after removing the information from its website in July to correct errors in the initial data. The initial report already had been published months past the deadline outlined in state law.

Two more boys died and two fewer girls. And near fatalities were an even split at 33 for each gender, according to the corrected data.

Those found responsible for the fatalities, on the other hand, were not an even breakdown between males and females.  Instead, four more women were found to be suspects, and six more suspects were listed overall.

According to the report’s explanation for the errors: “Changes to the Child Fatality/Near Fatality Analysis, including updates to Figures, C, D, E, F, G, L and M, are due to using the CY-48 Child Abuse Investigation Form in place of the previously used CY-921 Fatality/Near Fatality Data Collection Tool. The CY-921 was not completed for all fatality/near fatality reports from 2014.”

Changes also were made to at least five additional charts.

Meaning, the investigation form, as the reported noted, was accurate, but “the ancillary methods for tracking and obtaining additional information on the fatality/near fatality contained the inaccurate information,” according to an email from Kait Gillis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services.

In a few cases, the employee who wrote the summary incorrectly documented the child’s gender, resulting in the misinformation, she said.

A false narrative

The erroneous report featured incorrect data in charts meant to develop an illustration of child victims across the state during 2014.  The data ranged from the number of children of a particular sex and age to descriptions of their suspects. The incorrect data resulted in skewed totals and county-by-county breakdowns.

Child advocates and media outlets noticed discrepancies after the state made changes to the initial report, prompting the department to remove the document altogether.

For Cathleen Palm, founder of the state’s Center for Children’s Justice, the changes were anything but insignificant, especially when it came to the child fatality and near-fatality analysis. The changes, she said in an email to PennLive, actually blew her away.

Palm said her review of the amended report revealed that “virtually all of DHS’ analysis about how many kids died/nearly died, the sex/age, life circumstances and who killed them is so different in the revised report.”

And, what if concerns hadn’t been raised and DHS hadn’t pulled and amended its report?

“We would have had a wholly false narrative about what the lethal and near-lethal toll of child abuse is in PA,” she said.

Cross-checking the data

Cathy Utz, the department’s deputy secretary for children, youth and families, led an internal team to review and correct the errors in the first report, Gillis said.

The team looked at each fatality and near fatality report separately. For each case, it cross-checked records, including the child abuse investigation form, internal tracking log, the child fatality/near fatality summaries and the county data collection tool.

The team conducted additional research to find the correct information if the records showed data inconsistencies, according to Gillis.

Additional research meant reviewing forms, checking statewide databases and “if necessary contact was made with the county or regional office to verify the data,” Gillis said.

The state then corrected the information and updated the annual child abuse report. DHS officials also apologized for the misinformation.

“I apologize for any inconvenience the inaccuracies in the report may have caused,” Gillis said in the email to PennLive following the reissuance.

Transparency

Tina Phillips, director of training at Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, said her organization is still reviewing the report but “is pleased that the Department took the time to ensure the accuracy of the entire report.”

Palm said that while the state took an important step in pulling the initial report, acknowledging the errors and correcting the data, it shouldn’t be praised too strongly for its apparent transparency.

“I think, though, that we can’t permit too much celebration of ‘transparency’ when today we still live in a world where data and so much of child protection is housed, analyzed, reported and then ‘corrected’ entirely by the same entity,” she said, adding that a push for real-time data is crucial to a better understanding of child abuse.

Palm suggested that child advocates carefully review the corrected report, which appears to have minimal shifts through the documents in areas like the number of suspects, and added that an even closer review should be made of the method by which information is collected statewide.

“We should not stop asking the more critical question of how, when and with what level of independent check and balance will data be more transparent and reconciled in order to permit the public to have confidence in [how] PA protects our children,” Palm said.

The Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance also is looking to future reports, where it will hone in on different reported areas, such as whether lowering the threshold of what is considered child abuse results in an increase in the state’s reported abuse substantiation rate.

The results of the report could trigger widespread changes in child welfare statewide.

“We hope that as much care is taken for the development of the next annual abuse report, which will be the first to reflect the changes to the Child Protective Services law,” Phillips said. “Its accuracy will be essential in evaluating the impact of the legislative changes.

Attorney Questions Changed PA Child Abuse Report

“Other child abuse prevention organizations have raised concerns about the accuracy of the entire report.”

HARRISBURG, PA – Regional statistics in Pennsylvania’s annual child abuse report, posted on the state Department of Human Services website Monday, indicated 66 reported cases were never investigated because case workers missed the 60-day deadline.

Carlisle attorney Jason Kutulakis has dedicated much of his career to fighting child abuse and was on the task force that recommended changes to the state’s child abuse laws. He found the number alarming.

“It may be 66 perpetrators that have not been properly identified, that have the ability to apply to work in environments with children. They will go to get a clearance and appear to be without any history,” Kutulakis said.

A few days after the report was posted, Kutulakis noticed the number had changed.

“The report now indicates that the state or regional investigators only missed two cases, so there is a dramatic change from 66 to two being indicated,” he said. “Where did those cases go? Why were the changes made and is this just a mathematical error? Certainly there was two extra months to develop this report. We would hope that there would be no mathematical errors. If there was one, that is understandable, but why were those changes not made throughout the entire report and why wasn’t the public notified that an error was discovered.”

A spokeswoman said the department noticed the error on Tuesday and corrected it immediately.

“On Dec. 31, 2014, the department launched the Child Welfare Information Solution. Given the transition, we were pulling data from two systems for this year’s report and it took longer to verify the data,” spokeswoman Kathaleen Gillis said. “Unfortunately, the original chart posted on Monday was inaccurate and the accurate information was corrected by Tuesday. We apologize for any confusion that may have resulted.”

Other child abuse prevention organizations have raised concerns about the accuracy of the entire report. Gillis said the department will post a notice on the website to acknowledge the mistake.