California System

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California System

Postby Marina » Tue Jul 03, 2007 10:35 am


Civil grand jury blasts county's care of children
The report questions a rise in the killing of abused and neglected kids and the diversion of funds for a successful prevention plan.

Grand jury blasts L.A. County's child services

Last edited by Marina on Sun Sep 09, 2007 6:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Marina » Wed Jul 18, 2007 7:52 pm


Grand Jury weighs in on CPS
Tiffany Revelle
Record-Bee Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 07/18/2007 05:56:25 AM PDT

LAKE COUNTY -- The 2006-2007 Lake County Grand Jury's final report includes 59 reports on oversights, visits, presentations and complaints, among which is a lengthy report on an extensive investigation the entity considers ongoing into the county's Child Protective Services (CPS), a division of its Department of Social Services (DSS), and whether or not the county entity is playing by the rules.



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Postby Marina » Sun Sep 09, 2007 6:43 pm

. ... r_cps.html

September 8, 2007 - 11:17PM

CPS tales: Justice?


Depending on the CPS social worker assigned to each case, the outcome of an investigation can vary dramatically. Here are three examples of past cases provided by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

• The biological father of a 17-year-old was arrested on suspicion of molesting her. She had been living with her father and stepmother, but the stepmother had previously left her father for his brother.

When the biological father went to jail, CPS workers attempted to place the girl with the stepmother and the suspect’s brother — a convicted sex offender. Authorities stepped in and insisted that the girl be placed in a foster home rather than in the care of a convicted sex offender.

• Both biological parents of two young children were sent to prison on various convictions, including child abuse. The children were placed in a foster home for three years, and the family began adoption paperwork in order to continue raising the children.
When the mother got out of prison, she took parenting classes and was eventually awarded supervised, then unsupervised visits with her children.

The biological mother later contacted CPS to report that her 5-year-old reported sexual abuse. While authorities conducted a criminal investigation into the foster parents, the CPS agent contacted state officials and had their foster-parent license canceled.

The foster parents agreed to a polygraph test — which they passed — but the children had already been restored to the biological mother, who had gone to prison for abusing them. Should the foster parents try to adopt or take in more children, the cancellation of their license will be reflected on their record.

• Authorities began investigating a case of child molestation, but had not concluded the investigation and the man had not yet been arrested.

CPS employees agreed to allow the mother to maintain custody of the abused child, should she ensure that the suspect be kept away from the children.

Three days later, officials went to the home and found the man hiding in the basement where he had been staying the entire time. The man was arrested and convicted of child molestation.


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Postby Marina » Sun Sep 09, 2007 6:59 pm

. ... s_say.html

September 8, 2007 - 11:12PM

CPS vs. Sheriff's Department

When agencies collide, kids lose


Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part two will run in Monday’s Daily Press.

The primary goal of sheriff’s deputies is putting criminals behind bars. But Children’s Protective Services staff members are focused largely on family reunification.

When the two agencies clash, criminal investigations are compromised, and sometimes the abused children that each are trying to protect are the ones who suffer, officials say.

“We have very different goals,” said Norman Dollar, deputy director for the Desert Region of CPS.

That, sheriff’s officials say, is the problem.

“The only way to protect that child is by removing them from the environment at which the abuse took place,” said San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Detective James Wiebeld, who has been handling sexual abuse cases for the past 10 years. “If an individual has not even been to court yet, how can we absolutely say that we are placing them in a safe home?”

CPS officials maintain the importance of the family unit, which officials suggest often comes at the expense of a child’s safety.

“There’s two processes that move forward concurrently but independently,” Dollar said. “I would say it’s a good (strategy) because the immediate needs of children may be very different than whatever is going on in adult court.”

In the recent case of Barbara Taylor, 41 — who pleaded to misdemeanor child abuse stemming from a January arrest — the foster children she was accused of neglecting were restored to her home in under two months.

Yet she had not gone to court yet to have her case heard,official say.

“It’s already traumatic for the children who were abused,” said Detective Sgt. Bob Hughes. “Now can you imagine someone telling them they have to go back to that home, prior to any kind of adjudication?”

Both Wiebeld and Hughes said that children who see their parents go to jail, or who are forced to worry about how they will be taken care of, often feel instant remorse for reporting abuse, because it makes their future uncertain.

As such, children will often request to be reunited with their family, even if it means changing the story they told authorities.

“We need to devise a system or program that when criminal charges are pending, CPS shouldn’t take the lead in the investigation,” Wiebeld said. “The city investigating the criminal complaint, along with the District Attorney’s office, should handle it prior to CPS making any kind of decision.”


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Postby Marina » Sun Sep 30, 2007 8:58 am

. ...

Foster care overhaul - some say long overdue - on governor's desk

Julian Guthrie, Chronicle Staff Writer

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Kristal McCoy's mother was an alcoholic. Her father was not around. When she was 13, when her great-grandmother could no longer care for her, she was handed over to the state. She had 16 social workers and 10 foster homes in five years. When she was "aged out" at 18, she became homeless.

More than 77,000 foster children live in California, more than in any other state. For decades, members of this largely invisible population have been moved from home to home until they were "emancipated" at age 18 and cut off from services.

But the safety net for these youths might be expanding soon. Nine foster care overhaul bills are in front of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to be signed or vetoed by Oct. 14. In Washington, a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., seeks to extend benefits for foster youth to the age of 21.

Experts and policymakers see the beginning of a revolution in a long-beleaguered system.

"Foster care in any state represents about 1 percent of the child population," said Jill Duerr Berrick, a UC Berkeley professor and author of a forthcoming book on foster care. "For that reason, it's easy to marginalize or ignore that population. But in my view, foster youth are the most critically vulnerable children in the U.S. As citizens, we have a special responsibility to them that is different to other children."

Former Democratic state Sen. John Burton, who founded the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes, has lobbied former colleagues and the governor on various foster care ideas. His foundation is co-sponsor of a bill before the governor that would make California the first state to screen foster youth at age 16 for mental and physical disabilities. Those with special needs would receive supplemental income upon emancipation.

"It's pretty obvious that when you dump a kid out into the street at age 18, there's going to be a problem," Burton said, noting the state made enormous strides this year by allotting $35.7 million for transitional housing for aged-out foster youth, compared with $4.8 million in the 2006-07 budget year.

The state-funded transitional housing program served 1,300 emancipated youth between the ages of 18 and 24 in 44 counties this year, while only 450 youth in five counties were helped last year.

"The issue is getting more attention, but I still think a majority of Americans don't understand foster care," Burton said. "There are people who think these kids are placed in nice homes and everything is wonderful. I talk to these kids and hear that this girl had 30 placements, or this boy had 33 different foster homes. I think of my own youth. I was a kid who was always acting out. My father and mother were there to get upset, so I had to straighten up. These are kids with no family anchor."

Burton is working with Boxer on her bill to extend federal funding to foster youth to the age of 21. A handful of states, notably Iowa and Illinois, have extended funding to allow youth to voluntarily remain in foster care until age 21.

"It's in the early stages," Burton said of the Boxer bill. "Barbara has made it a top domestic priority. I don't know if it will happen this year, but it will eventually happen at the federal level."

Today, there are more than 520,000 youth in foster care in America. The federal government provides 50 percent of funding, with counties and cities picking up the rest. Programs and services vary greatly by county.

In the Bay Area, there is an array of programs for foster children and their families, from those that help preschool-age children who have behavioral problems to those that aid young adults interested in jobs or college.

The Seneca Center for Children and Families, established in 1985 and based in San Leandro, focuses on children and youth with mental health problems. At the Building Blocks Therapeutic Preschool in Oakland, about half of the children ages 21/2 to 5 are in foster care. All had been asked to leave other preschools because of behavioral problems.

"We work with the most profoundly struggling kids," said Ken Berrick, Seneca's executive director. "One of our kids was found on a floor, alone in his apartment. He had eaten the dog's food and had been drinking the dog's water. These are kids who don't know whether they will be hugged or hit. These are toddlers who are left alone and go from room to room looking for a mom or dad and no one is there. That leaves profound effects."

Walking around the playground last week, Berrick talked of foster children who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and have "a vacant look" as they retreat into an interior world that feels safe. There are children who learned flight, he said, but more children learn to fight. There are foster children who so want to attach themselves to an adult that they run to hug the legs of any stranger who appears on the playground.

The First Place for Youth catches foster kids as they exit the system, helping them transition from foster care to housing, counseling and academic programs.

Executive Director Sam Cobbs said while there is great momentum around foster care reform, huge gaps in services remain.

"As we're addressing housing, we need to take a look at education," he said. "Five percent of young people who graduate from foster care end up going to college. Of those 5 percent, only 3 percent end up graduating. If we're going to begin to change these drastic outcomes, we need to focus on more funding for these kids to get to college and have the resources to stay there."

California Youth Connection, another nonprofit with chapters across the Bay Area, enlists current and former foster youth to advocate for policy change and legislative reform.

Jonathan Pearson, who as a boy was abused by his father and ended up in foster care at age 12, now serves as a legislative and policy coordinator for the California Youth Connection.

"I was sent into foster care because of abuse and neglect by my father," said Pearson, now 25. "It's something no child should ever have to go through."

Kristal McCoy, who became a ward of the court at age 13 when her great-grandmother was no longer able to care for her, is now 22 and a recent graduate of Cal State Hayward (now called Cal State East Bay).

She says she had help from key individuals, including her greatgrandmother, a social worker and the people she met at the California Youth Connection.

"Housing is the big thing that foster youth need," she said. "But they also need job skills to support the housing. They need educational skills to support the job skills.

"There is definitely a stigma to being a foster youth," she said. "People seem to think it's the youth's fault that they're in foster care and if you're in foster care you must be bad. I'm not ashamed that I was a foster youth. But I don't identify myself as a foster youth. I am Kristal McCoy."

She added, "My great-grandmother always told me, 'It's not what's around you that's important. It's what's in you.' "

McCoy is now applying to law school.

Jasmenda Brown was placed in foster care in Oakland at age 5. Her mother was a drug addict and her father was never in the picture. She was cared for by her grandmother until she was kicked out at age 15. She was homeless for more than a year, until she found First Place for Youth, where she was directed to housing and other supportive services.

"I didn't know how to take care of myself," Brown said. "I didn't know how to work, how to pay bills, how to pay rent, how to budget. When I turned 18, I was supposed to be an adult. But I didn't have the mentality of an adult."

Now 20, Brown is studying to become a dental assistant. She has reunited with her mother, who has been drug-free for five years. Brown recently found out she was pregnant.

"I couldn't put my child up for adoption," Brown said. "I don't want my daughter to say, 'Who is my mom and why am I in this situation?' When she gets older, I'll tell her the real world is really hard. But I'll never kick her out of the house. I'll never do anything to have her taken from me."

Foster care overhaul: A summary of the nine bills awaiting action by the governor.


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Postby Marina » Tue Oct 23, 2007 7:46 pm

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Governor Signs Sen. Migden's Child Abuse Bill

SACRAMENTO, Oct. 12, 2007 (BCN) -

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a Senate bill today that opens to child protective service workers the case files of children who die of abuse or neglect.

Senator Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, who sponsored SB 39, said the measure allows stakeholders in foster care and child protective services to get the information they need to develop the most effective ways to prevent scores of deaths from neglect and abuse.

In a statement about the Governor's approval of the bill today, Migden said getting such information has been difficult because of the state's confidentiality laws.

She said the presumption of confidentiality in existing law was intended to protect children in the state's child welfare system.

The unintended consequence, Migden said, was to force child advocates to file a suit to get even basic information about a child's death. Migden said the current legal standard for disclosure is so vague that litigation is lengthy and expensive.

"It is ironic and it is wrong that current law bars the public from understanding the ways in which California's most vulnerable children are protected and the reasons why these deaths continue," Migden said.

In 2002, the last year for which statistics are available, 140 children died of abuse or neglect while under the jurisdiction of California's child protective services and foster care system, Migden said.

The bill creates an administrative process that allows the release of the most probative documents affecting a child's death without filing a suit, Migden said. The bill also improves the process by which the public can obtain the complete case file of a deceased child, Migden said.

SB 39 also hold courts and child welfare agencies accountable for their performance, Migden said.


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Postby Marina » Sun Feb 10, 2008 8:11 pm


Comparing rates of reunification can be difficult
By Karen de Sá
Mercury News
Article Launched: 02/10/2008 01:40:32 AM PST

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Postby Marina » Sun Feb 10, 2008 8:14 pm


In these crowded courts, the rules are different
By Karen de Sá
Mercury News
Article Launched: 02/10/2008 01:43:17 AM PST


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Postby Marina » Sat Mar 22, 2008 8:46 pm

. ... rison.html

Child abuse by CDC revealed at mother-child prison
Wednesday, 11 July 2007

For the 75 percent of women prisoners in the U.S. who are mothers, mother-child prisons may seem better than separation, but in California that option may jeopardize children’s health and lives.San Diego – San Diego Police Department and Child Protective Services have opened an investigation into severe child abuse and neglect by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Family Foundations Program in San Diego, prisoners’ rights advocates have learned. Because there is no transparent oversight into the FFP programs, these practices went unreported until Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, a San Francisco-based prisoners’ rights advocacy group, began receiving calls and uncovering case after case of problematic neglect.

In one instance, Denisha Lawson, a prisoner at FFP San Diego, gave birth to a premature baby who became very ill shortly after she left the hospital. After pleading with FFP staff for days to take her baby to the hospital, Denisha refused to move until her baby received care. When finally taken to the hospital, the infant was in near complete cardiac arrest.

Denisha Lawson’s partner, William Ramirez, father of the newborn baby, asks: “If Family Foundations is supposed to be a treatment facility, why would they do this to women and babies? Denisha did nothing wrong — she was only trying to protect our daughter.”

“Women will go through a lot to stay with their children. The CDCR has created a system where women are afraid to complain because they don’t want to be separated. I can only imagine their fear and anger when they realize that their children are in danger!” said Harriette Davis, board secretary of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and a former prisoner who sued for access to a mother-infant program when she was pregnant with her daughter in the 1980s.

“LSPC and other advocates must be allowed access to all mother-infant facilities run by the CDCR to ensure that women and children know their rights and are receiving proper care,” said Cassie Pierson, staff attorney at LSPC.

In addition to expressing concern for their children’s health, mothers are scrambling to find the daily essentials needed for their children’s care. In an unprecedented show of unity, all 26 women at the FFP in San Diego filed a grievance on June 20, 2007, asking how their children’s money is being spent when the facility is chronically undersupplied with diapers, bottles and other necessities. “We’d like to know how our funds are allocated and why we always run short. We’d like an ample amount of supplies in stock so as to prevent these situations from occurring in the future,” the grievance states.

Former FFP San Diego employee Megan N. Lini, when told about this public scandal – the New York Times broke the story July 6 – expressed deep fear for her former clients: “I only hope that no child gets separated from their mother because of the criminal actions of FFP staff. I wish I could have done more to protect these people while I was working there.”

California is one of a handful of states that offer imprisoned mothers the opportunity to live with their children, the New York Times reported. In California, there is space for only 140 women prisoners to have their children with them.

Even supporters of mother-child prison programs “worry that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or C.D.C., may be too dysfunctional to provide sufficient oversight,” reported the New York Times.

Examples cited by the Times include “one inmate, Marsha Strickland, (who) complained to the staff about her 5-year-old daughter’s blinding headaches and constant nausea for at least six weeks before the girl was allowed a hospital visit in January, according to accounts by inmates and former staff members. The child is now living with relatives and undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

“In April, another prisoner, Sonya Bradford, delivered a stillborn fetus. According to interviews with former staff members and to witness statements offered to the San Diego police, the prison’s staff had ignored Ms. Bradford’s complaints that the fetus, which was 7 months old, had stopped moving. Corrections officials deny responsibility for the stillbirth because it occurred only two days after Ms. Bradford’s arrival at the center.”

Quoting Robert J. LaLonde, a University of Chicago economist, the Times reported: “‘A lot of women who probably wouldn’t have gone to prison before are now going in for Class 4 drug felonies - the least serious felonies,’ Dr. LaLonde said, referring to crimes that in some instances had previously resulted in nothing more than probation.”

Advocates say this investigation shows that punitive programs are not the answer to substance abuse and use and that isolation does not stop this cycle. Maisha Quint, family advocacy coordinator at LSPC, said: “There is a better way. If you really want to help women rehabilitate, stop putting them in hidden cages. These women need real community-run programs where they and their children can heal.”

Cynthia Chandler, co-director of Justice Now, an Oakland-based organization that advocates for the legal and human rights of women in prison, explains: “The pattern of abuse at Family Foundations is exactly why women in prison and their advocates have been opposed to prison expansion in any form. With judges poised to cap the prison population and prisoner medical care already under federal receivership, it is clear that expanding the system just isn’t an option.”


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Postby Marina » Sat Mar 22, 2008 9:29 pm

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Jury begins deliberations in Menifee man's molestation trial

10:00 PM PDT on Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Press-Enterprise

A jury Thursday began considering whether to believe a 9-year-old girl's testimony that she was raped in her Menifee bedroom by her foster father, an ordained minister, while his wife was at home.

"It seems crazy that a guy would rape a child while his wife is downstairs," prosecutor Burke Strunsky told jurors. "A child molester will do what it takes to satisfy that need."

One of Joseph Patrick Billock's two defense lawyers said the 50-year-old defendant has been accused of something he never did.

"I think this story is impossible to believe," said Attorney Douglas Gilliland. "There is stuff going on with this little girl we may never know about."

Billock is on trial at the Southwest Justice Center in French Valley, charged with two counts of raping his former foster daughter during the 40-plus days she lived with him and his wife in 2005. If convicted, he faces 30-years-to-life in prison.

The Press-Enterprise does not publish the names of minors who are alleged to be victims of sexual assault.

During closing statements Thursday, Gilliland laid out some facts about the girl's tumultuous life.

The child was taken from her mother, who was a drug addict, when she was 6, he said. She had lived in a group home, with her grandparents, a foster family in Temecula, the Billock family, her maternal aunt, and later another family, he said.

The girl did not tell her cousin that she was raped until about 14 months after she alleges it happened in 2005, Gilliland said.

She came up with the story at the same time she learned that her twin siblings were going to live with their mother again, but she was not, Gilliland said.

Prosecutor Strunsky said the girl's disclosure did come while she living with her aunt. It was at a time when she felt safe and protected, which experts testified is normal. There is no evidence that she concocted the tale to get attention, he said.

There is no way a child so young would know so much about sex and the male anatomy unless she was, in fact, raped, Strunsky said.

"You just can't make this stuff up, especially when you are nine years old," he said.

Both lawyers pointed out that Billock's wife, Wendy, gave testimony contrary to the child's account of what happened.

The girl said she tried to tell Wendy Billock, but the woman was too busy to talk her. The girl also said she actually told Wendy Billock, who did not believe her.

Wendy Billock testified that the girl never came to her with allegations of sexual abuse.

Gilliland said Wendy Billock is a credible witness.

"Is Wendy's testimony reasonable doubt enough?" Gilliland asked. "Do we doubt anything that Wendy says? This is a case where I feel like there is reasonable doubt all over the place."

Strunsky said Wendy Billock has lost their foster children because of her husband's actions. She is one of his victims, he said.

"He's fooled his wife. He's fooled the people who have come in here," the prosecutor said. "Do not let the defense fool you."

The jury is expected to resume deliberations today.


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Postby Marina » Sat Apr 19, 2008 10:47 pm

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Calif. suspends 10th license after sex offender audit

Last Update: 4/19 7:37 am

SACRAMENTO (AP) - State regulators have suspended another license in their ongoing investigation of sex offenders living with foster care or daycare providers.

The action announced Friday brings to 10 the number of licenses suspended.

State Department of Social Services spokeswoman Monique Blue says eight licenses have been suspended in Los Angeles County, with one each in Fresno and San Bernardino counties.

Four are foster homes, while six are child daycare homes. Blue says no more suspensions are immediately expected.

The investigation began after a state audit found the addresses of 49 registered sex offenders matched those of 46 child care facilities throughout the state.

Investigators have found no indication that any children were molested.


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Postby Marina » Sat May 31, 2008 10:22 am

. ... vices.html

A permanent fixture of injustice: Child Protective Services

by Amanda Smiles, Poor News Network
Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Young mother’s attempt to help a friend leads to invasion by CPS

Single mama Alicia has had all three of her children taken by CPS.Three years ago single mama Alicia (whose name has been changed) never would have thought her desire to help a friend in the wake of tragedy would lead to a tragedy all her own, when Child Protective Services would enter her life and become a permanent fixture.

It began when Alicia was 23 and, with her young daughter, decided it was time to leave home in Union City to be on her own. She moved into Elizabeth House, a transitional residence for single women with children in Oakland, enrolled in school and found a job.

At Elizabeth House she met Karen, a single mama of four. Over time the two formed a friendship and in order to help Karen, Alicia often babysat her youngest son. One morning, Alicia awoke to discover Karen’s youngest had died from bacterial meningitis. Karen, shocked and distraught from the sudden loss of her child, threatened to leave Elizabeth House and go back to the streets and back to using drugs.

Alicia, in a desperate attempt to help her friend, called her family asking for help with her own daughter but to no avail. As a last resort she put an ad on Craigslist seeking a government agency to help with her child. Someone did contact Alicia through the housing director, but it wasn’t a child care agency; it was a case worker.

The case worker assigned to Alicia came to Elizabeth House to evaluate her, after which she decided Alicia wasn’t “fit to mother her child.” In order to keep her child, Alicia was told by the housing director that she needed to quit school and work and “move into the house mentally.”

In addition to quitting school and work, Alicia was also told she needed to be back at Elizabeth House by 2 p.m., despite the fact that Elizabeth House has no curfew. Alicia abided and for a while things went well. That was until her daughter got sick.

One day Alicia attended her friend’s book signing with her daughter and afterwards they went to her friend’s house to rest. When Alicia woke from her nap she picked up her daughter and almost dropped her because she was so hot. Alicia rushed her daughter to the Emergency Room in Hayward. Although the doctor did not call Elizabeth House, he told Alicia he would confirm her whereabouts if needed.

When Alicia called Elizabeth House herself, the director demanded that she return to the home immediately. She abided and returned home. Twenty minutes later her case worker arrived to take her daughter. The reason? Alicia didn’t return to Elizabeth House before 2 p.m. The documents Alicia brought from the ER had little effect.

Seven months later Alicia regained custody of her daughter with restrictions. At this point Alicia had found her own place and, with her job at a school in Oakland, was able to pay for rent and groceries. Alicia was also pregnant with her second child.

In order to maintain a job while still finding time to bond with her daughter, Alicia would bring her daughter to the school she worked at and have her in the classroom. Her caseworker deemed this inappropriate and Alicia stopped. On her Christmas break, Alicia planned and paid for a trip to Disneyland for herself and her daughter. When her caseworker found out she accused Alicia of “too much bonding” and forced her to cancel the trip.

Several months later, Alicia’s water broke while she was at home and she took herself to the hospital where she had a cesarean birth. When Alicia was released she went to a friend’s house in order to rest and receive assistance with her daughter. After a few days, Alicia decided to return home with her two children.

When she arrived her caseworker called to tell her she was coming to see her. Immediately afterwards, the father of Alicia’s newborn baby, who had wanted her to terminate the pregnancy, called threatening to kill her and her family because he heard she’d had the baby.

Alicia, fearing for her life and her children, went to the notary and got a notarized letter, which she made a copy of, giving temporary custody of her children to her neighbor, who was a foster mom and regular churchgoer. Alicia’s plan was to hide her children with her neighbor until she could sort out the threats from her ex, but when Alicia returned home the police and her caseworker were waiting for her.

The caseworker took her baby and the letters and demanded to see the house. Alicia agreed and the police and the caseworker searched the house for some type of “immediate danger” that would allow the police to take her kids. When the caseworker said her house was “too messy,” Alicia explained that her water had broken at home and this was her first time home since the birth.

The police, unable to find any reason to take the kids, left. The caseworker, who informed Alicia that a hold had been placed on her daughter so that Alicia would be unable to pick her up from school, called an ER worker to examine the newborn, who had deep brown spots all over her body. These spots, which the caseworker accused Alicia of being bruises, were actually Mongolian Spots, which are dark brown, purple or blue birthmarks that are common in newborns. When the ER worker arrived and examined the marks, she confirmed that they were not bruises. It seemed Alicia was going to be able to keep her baby.

Minutes later the caseworker asked to speak to the ER worker alone. As Alicia waited she realized her kids were going to be taken again. When they emerged from their private meeting, the ER worker consented to taking the kids away. The reason? Alicia’s custody letter, meant to protect her children, was considered a ploy to “give her children away.”

Once again Alicia’s children were taken into foster care and she was only allowed to see them at visitation. One foster mother passed on words of advice that forever changed Alicia’s attitude from abiding to fighting.

“She told me, ‘Some mothers don’t deserve to have their kids and some mothers deserve to have the right to fight for their kids.’ She told me never to give up my right to fight,” says Alicia, “So, I started to ask questions.”

Alicia became pregnant for a third time and started to see a doctor at a clinic. When she went into labor, Alicia went to a different hospital, one that was closer to where she was, simply because she was so close to giving birth when her contractions started.

While Alicia was preparing to go home, the nurse informed her that the caseworker had been in the room earlier without Alicia knowing. When preparing for discharge from the hospital, the charge nurse told Alicia that she would be leaving there without her daugher. The reason? The caseworker accused Alicia of going to another hospital to “avoid her”.

After her third child was taken, Alicia sought legal aid to get her children back. Her lawyer got her a court date but on her court date she was ill and was admitted to the ER. While she was not present, her rights as a parent were terminated in court, which is illegal, and Alicia’s lawyer refuses to file an appeal.

Now Alicia has supervised visitation once a week with her baby, but she does not have visitation rights with her other two daughters. However, she volunteers at her oldest daughter’s school and her aunt is the foster mother to her two oldest children and Alicia is able to see them often.

Several months ago one of her daughters had intestinal surgery and Alicia asked her caseworker if she could be with her daughter for the surgery. The worker’s supervisor responded, “It is my professional opinion the baby should see who’s loving and caring for her.”

“I feel like there is racism, ageism and sexism in the CPS system,” said Alicia. “I know what mistakes I made but I told them I’ll never stop fighting for my kids. A mother’s divine right is to mother her kids and I will never stop doing that.”

Alicia is seeking legal aid. Please call Poor News Network at (415) 863-6306 if you can help. Read more about issues of poverty and race written by the people who face them daily at www.poormagazine.


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Postby Marina » Sun Jul 06, 2008 4:16 pm


Civil grand jury finds problems in Santa Barbara County foster care system

Posted: June 30, 2008 07:38 PM EDT

Monday, June 30, 2008
Reported by: Danielle Lerner

An investigation by a civil grand jury finds several problems in the Santa Barbara County child welfare system.

Here are the Facts First:

The jury investigated the county's foster care system to see how well it serves foster children.
In a report released Monday, the jury issued five findings and recommendations on how to improve the system.
In its report, the jury labeled the county's Child Welfare Services as "a system of care that lacks stability." Now, it is up to the county to make some changes.

The nine-page report sheds new light on those services.

The number of children in foster care has shot up 81 percent since 2002, mainly because of a nationwide increase in methamphetamine abuse. The report suggests that Santa Barbara County is struggling to keep pace.

In one finding, the jury said many foster care kids are not ready for life outside the system.

"They don't have a support system, they don't have anyone to fall back on," said Steve Anselm of Family Care Network. "Once they turn 18 and exit the system, no one is there to really help them through, especially with housing."

32 percent of young people released from the system last year were homeless within six months. So now, more than ever, local agencies are ready to help.

"All our services are focused on that time, when they leave their foster home or their transitional housing, on, 'Are they ready?'" Anselm said.

A high turnover of social workers is another part of the problem, something the report says leads to inconsistencies in care.

Another tip? Better communication with group homes, foster parents and other service providers.

A Santa Barbara County spokesperson said it welcomes the criticism and remains proud of its Child Welfare Services.

"We are very appreciative of them preparing the report, and we'll be getting our responses back to them within a very short time frame," said Terri Nisich, Assistant CEO of Santa Barbara County.

A team of people from the county is busy analyzing and responding to those findings. In the next two or three months, the county's Departments of Social Services, Human Resources and the Board of Supervisors will respond in writing to each of the jury's findings.

Read the full text of the Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury report on Child Welfare Services here.

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Postby Marina » Sun Jul 20, 2008 3:30 pm

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Governor signs pair of foster care transition bills
By Steven Harmon Contra Costa Times Sacramento Bureau
Article Launched: 07/18/2008 12:03:58 AM PDT

By Steven Harmon

SACRAMENTO — Teen parents in foster care would have the right to consult their court-appointed attorneys before they agree to place their own children into foster care or under a supervised program under legislation signed this week by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The bill, AB2483, was one of a pair Schwarzenegger signed that address the transition foster-care youth make into adulthood. Another bill, AB2310, would require that foster-care youth are provided with documentation they need to apply for jobs and financial aid as they age out of the system.

Though the supervision programs are voluntary and allow social workers to provide services for the children, teen parents are often unaware that they could lose their children if they fail to comply with terms of the program.

"The system is geared to taking babies away and putting them in foster care," said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, the author of AB2483. "But taking the child away does not solve the problem. It's better to help the (teen parent) become an adult and a parent."

Minor parents in foster care are dependents themselves, coming to the system from abusive or neglectful homes. Their children often become dependents of the juvenile court, though minor parents often choose voluntary programs of supervision to avoid having their children in foster care.

All too often, however, minor parents are unable to live up to the terms of

the program, leading to the loss of custody of their children. The terms can be as simple as requiring the parent to attend parenting classes or finish school, but are difficult to meet if resources for transportation or child care are not offered, Bass said.

Teen parents can be intimidated by the system or are afraid to say no to a laundry list of conditions to avoid having a petition filed on their baby in dependency court.

But if a teen parent refuses to put his or her child into supervised programming, their social worker can file a petition to make the child a dependent of the court.

An attorney can fight for more resources to ensure a teen parent can meet the conditions, Bass said. At minimum, attorneys can make it easier for minor parents to understand the terms of the program.

"The main point is that without legal counsel, you have a child navigating through an extremely stressful situation," said Bass, a leader in foster-care advocacy who is hoping to place a bond on the 2008 or 2010 ballot to overhaul the foster-care system.

Juvenile courts are required to appoint a counsel to minor parents in the foster-care system.

Under AB2310, every county welfare department would be required to make sure documentation — such as Social Security cards, birth certificates, and proof of citizenship or residence — are provided at the time they age out of the foster-care system.

It also requires they have documentation to help them obtain benefits and services, such as extended Medi-Cal eligibility, referral to transitional housing or assistance in finding other housing or employment or other financial support.

The bill was co-authored by Assemblyman Bill Maze, R-Visalia, and Bass. The legislation takes effect Jan. 1, 2009.


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Postby Marina » Sun Aug 17, 2008 4:18 pm

Judges call for extensive reforms
By Karen de Sá
Mercury News
Article Launched: 08/07/2008 01:35:19 AM PDT

Santa Clara County's two top juvenile court judges are calling for sweeping reforms of the dependency courts far beyond what a statewide commission is considering, contending the current child welfare system designed to protect children from abuse "often does more harm than good."

Judges Patrick Tondreau and Katherine Lucero wrote to a commission studying problems in the state's dependency courts to highlight their firsthand view that removing children from their homes following allegations of abuse and neglect "is not the silver bullet we may have led ourselves to believe." Tondreau is the county's presiding juvenile court judge; Lucero, the supervising dependency court judge.

The letter, addressed to Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, the commission chair, describes a system disproportionately affecting children of color and women with addiction problems, while focusing scant federal funding on prevention and reunification services. Expecting dependency court to solve societal problems, they wrote, is "like trying to place a nail with a sledgehammer."

The judges wrote that breaking up families too often results in children adrift in foster homes, separated from siblings and failing at basic literacy.

Lucero said in an interview that she and Tondreau chose to write the letter because "it was our one opportunity to tell a body of experts and concerned leaders about what we see in our courts every day." She described the challenge

of juvenile court judges as turning a "big, big freighter boat - we have to change course."

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Postby Marina » Sat Aug 23, 2008 9:59 am

CPS documents altered in abuse case
By Marjie Lundstrom and Sam Stanton - [email protected]
Last Updated 10:32 pm PDT Friday, August 8, 2008

In the 16 days between the time 4-year-old Jahmaurae Allen was beaten to death and Sacramento Child Protective Services publicly released portions of its records this week, the case file was altered to change the original finding in the case, The Bee has learned.

One early version of the report from the social worker, who began handling an allegation of abuse involving the 4-year-old on June 19, described the allegation as "unfounded," two sources who read the document told The Bee this week.

Another version obtained by The Bee described the allegation of abuse of the little boy as "inconclusive."

But the portions released by CPS to The Bee this week under a new public records law do not reflect either of those findings. Instead, those files indicate the allegations of abuse were "substantiated," a finding listed as being "effective 7/21/08" - the day Jahmaurae was beaten to death, allegedly by his mother's live-in boyfriend.

A top county official said today she was unaware of the varying case files until The Bee raised questions, and that an inquiry had begun.

"We're pulling computer records right now to find out what's happened," said Lynn Frank, director of the county's Health and Human Services department, which oversees CPS.

The existence of differing versions of the case file sparked outrage among children's advocates who work closely with the agency. Some had been instrumental in getting the new California law passed, which forces county child welfare agencies to open the files of children who die on their watch.

"This is unbelievable," said Robert Fellmeth, a law professor and director of the San Diego-based Children's Advocacy Institute, which backed the new disclosure law.

"If you don't take the kid (from the home), the only check you have is this - the record of what you did or did not do...," he said. "If you start playing with that and altering that, you undermine the only check these kids have on failure to protect."

Alarm over child welfare employees falsifying or backdating files has surfaced elsewhere.

Last week in Philadelphia, criminal charges were filed against two social workers involved in a case that led to the starvation death of a disabled 14-year-old girl. Workers there were accused by the grand jury of falsifying documents after her death to make it appear as though they had performed their jobs properly.

In New Jersey, a children's advocates group sued that state's child protection agency several years ago for allegedly ordering case files to be altered.

"If this is what happened (in Sacramento), whoever did it and whoever ordered it should be fired immediately," said Richard Wexler, executive director of the Virginia-based National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

"It's dishonest," he said. "It's covering up the extent of whatever errors may have been, and that endangers the next child."

Jahmaurae's death has spawned a Sacramento County grand jury probe of CPS, and the agency itself said Tuesday it was planning to have an independent review of CPS conducted.

CPS has conceded that it should have done more to protect Jahmaurae before he was killed, and suspended the social worker in the case.

At the time, the agency said the social worker "worked in isolation and did not follow established department procedures, such as: required contact with reporting party; required contact with medical personnel; required contact with persons who may have knowledge of the family; and reviewing the case with the supervisor."

Sources familiar with the case say the social worker's entries and narrative about what happened were not accessible until after Jahmaurae was killed. It remains unclear who completed portions of the file.

CPS documents show the social worker evaluated the case after a doctor reported to the agency June 17 that Jahmaurae might be the victim of physical abuse. That doctor reported finding a painful swelling and bruise on the boy's chest the size of an adult fist.

CPS documents indicate the social worker tried to contact the boy and his mother on June 19, going to their Foothill Farms apartment. The worker went to the wrong apartment at first, the documents state, and when she found the right apartment no one was home. She left her card on the door and returned to make another attempt at contact June 21, the documents state, and left her card again.

page 2

She finally made contact when the mother called her June 23, according to an early version of the case file that was not released by CPS. The social worker went to see the family the next day, and Jahmaurae told her that the bruise on his chest had come from a fight with his 3-year-old brother. He "denied being hit by anyone else," it said.

At some point, the social worker filed a report that the allegation of abuse was "unfounded," sources said.

In CPS jargon, "unfounded" means the report is determined not to be true, according to agency literature.

But another report on the case obtained by The Bee - also not the one ultimately released by CPS - does not reflect that finding. Instead, that version reads:

"The allegation in regard to physical abuse was assessed by this reporter with a case disposition of inconclusive. This was evidenced by lack of disclosure from the minor that the mother's boyfriend had hit him. Also, the minor's sic were observed jumping off furniture and throwing things at each other."

"Inconclusive" means there isn't enough information to know either way, according to a CPS pamphlet.

However, the documents CPS eventually provided The Bee under the new disclosure law do not contain either the "unfounded" or "inconclusive" findings. Instead, those documents show the allegation of abuse was "substantiated" on the day Jahmaurae died.

Such a finding means "there is credible information to believe that child abuse or neglect did occur," CPS background materials show.

The documents CPS provided also differ from an earlier version of the case file in other ways.

An entire passage in the document provided by a source does not appear in the documents released by CPS, and the content does not appear to be the type of sensitive information that typically would be redacted.

That passage, dated June 23, 2008, discusses what happened when the social worker finally heard from Jahmaurae's mother:

"The mother stated she received my card off the door and called this reporter back. The mother stated she was afraid that this social worker was trying to take her children. The mother stated she is new here from the Bay Area. This social worker told her that I have to see her and the children and do an assessment and then we would talk further. This social worker told her not to be concerned about the article in The Bee Sunday CPS is supportive of families."

That was a reference to an investigative series on CPS that began appearing in The Bee that day.

William Grimm, a senior attorney at the Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law, said he was deeply disturbed by the "unfounded" report on Jahmaurae.

"If a physician sees a fist-sized bruise on a 4-year-old - the red flag automatically goes up," he said. "I just don't understand how any reasonable person could make a judgment other than 'substantiated' - period."

Jahmaurae was the seventh child to die since September whose family had contact with CPS, a streak that has caused concern among elected officials and children's advocates.

The suspect in the case is 26-year-old Jonathan Lamar Perry, a 6-foot-4-inch, 250-pound man who was in the apartment with Jahmaurae and the boy's 18-month-old sister. The children's mother was at the hospital late that night with her 3-year-old son seeking treatment for an illness.

Sheriff's investigators say Perry became angry at Jahmaurae and beat him to death, then called 911 and reported the child had had a seizure and was unconscious.

Perry is charged with murder and child endangerment in the case, and also faces charges for the alleged abuse of the 3-year-old. He is being held in the Sacramento County Jail and has yet to enter a plea.

Robert Wilson, executive director of Sacramento Child Advocates, said Friday he "would sure be interested to see how CPS explains" the different versions of the case file. His office, whose attorneys represent children in dependency court, received the same version from CPS that The Bee was given this week.

"This is yet another reason I think an outside investigative body should be looking at this to determine if records have, in fact, been altered," he said.

Fellmeth, a former prosecutor, said the California government code is "very, very broad" and makes it a criminal offense to alter a public record - even if that record won't be given to the public. "You're not supposed to be altering, period," he said.

The proper way to make changes in public documents is to "overlay, or add the correction - not subtract or erase or alter."

"You don't create a new reality," he said.

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Postby Marina » Mon Aug 25, 2008 5:18 pm

Metropolitan News-Enterprise
Monday, August 18, 2008

C.A. Overturns Award of Fees to Accused Child Abuser

By a MetNews Staff Writer

A San Diego County man who obtained a writ of mandate requiring that officials classify a complaint of child abuse as “unfounded” rather than “inconclusive” was not entitled to an award of fees under the private attorney general statute, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.

Div. One, in an unpublished opinion by Justice Joan Irion, said San Diego Superior Court Judge Eddie Sturgeon erred in awarding fees to attorneys for John Paul Starting because none of the criteria of Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 1021.5 were satisfied.

Starting was the subject of a 2003 complaint charging that he used a foreign object to sexually abuse the three-and-half-year-old son of the woman to whom he is now married. In accordance with state law, the county investigated and reported to the state’s Child Abuse Central Index that the complaint was “inconclusive.”

After Starting’s request for administrative review resulted in the same finding, he brought a petition for writ of mandate. Sturgeon, after hearing testimony from the investigator, Starting, and Starting’s wife, the judge ruled that the allegation was unfounded and ordered the that the index be corrected.

The judge subsequently awarded more than $30,000 in fees under Sec. 1021.5, concluding that “from a practical perspective...the statutory criteria has been met.”

The trial judge abused his discretion, Irion wrote.

To be awarded fees under the statute, the justice explained, the prevailing party must enforce “an important right affecting the public interest,” must obtain “a significant benefit” for “the general public or a large class of persons,” and must show that “the necessity and financial burden of private enforcement are such as to make the award appropriate.”

Starting, she said, met none of those requirements because the suit “was focused on obtaining relief for himself under the unique facts of his case” and did not have a significant impact on others, whose right to seek legal redress for an erroneous finding by child abuse investigators was already well established.

The case is Starting v. County of San Diego, D051184.

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Postby Marina » Fri Oct 03, 2008 7:51 pm

CPS admonished to cooperate in grand jury probe
By Marjie Lundstrom and Sam Stanton - [email protected]
Published 12:35 pm PDT Friday, October 3, 2008

Complaining that its investigation of Child Protective Services is being stonewalled, the Sacramento County grand jury has warned all CPS employees and its leaders that they must cooperate with the panel's probe.

In a strongly worded two-page letter issued to all CPS workers this week, the grand jury said it has "been met with staff resistance and staff improperly refusing to answer general program questions..."

"Any further refusals to answer general program questions or the citing of confidentiality statutes when none apply will be considered a direct attempt to interfere with the Grand Jury's investigations," said the letter, which indicated it was being sent by grand jury foreman Donald Prange Sr.

Grand jury proceedings are confidential. A copy of the letter obtained by The Bee today indicates that Prange sent the warning on Wednesday to Penelope Clarke, the county administrator who oversees CPS and its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services. The letter was then forwarded to all CPS employees instructing them to cooperate with the panel's probe, sources said.

CPS spokeswoman Laurie Slothower had no immediate comment today on the letter, and requested that questions about it be submitted in writing.

The grand jury's investigation was sparked by stories in The Bee in recent months concerning a string of child deaths and the agency's altering of documents in one case before they were released publicly.

Prange indicated in the letter that CPS staff members have resisted or refused to answer the panel's questions and have improperly cited confidentiality statutes in doing so.

"So that the Grand Jury can continue these investigations without further delay, please direct DHHS management and staff to fully cooperate with our investigations," the letter said.

The letter indicated that one of the areas being examined includes "policies regarding altering documents," and it warned CPS administrators that they cannot retaliate against employees who cooperate with the investigation.

"There should be no intimidation/harassment of interviewees by management and no questioning regarding testimony taken by the Grand Jury," the letter said in one section that was in bold-face type

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Postby Marina » Sun Oct 12, 2008 9:44 pm

CPS official confirms dead boy's file altered, denies cover-up
By Marjie Lundstrom - [email protected]
Last Updated 9:57 am PDT Thursday, September 18, 2008
Story appeared in OUR REGION section, Page B7

A top manager with Sacramento County's Child Protective Services admitted in an internal document that a dead child's file had been altered before it was publicly released – a felony in some states – but she insisted that there was no "cover-up," blaming the matter instead on the "lack of work of one long-time poor performing SW (social worker)."

The admission by CPS Division Manager Kim Pearson came in a series of e-mails regarding the beating death of 4-year-old Jahmaurae Allen, released to The Bee under the state's Public Records Act.

CPS has been under fire for its handling of Jahmaurae's case and others involving children who died in recent months after their families had contact with the agency. In June, The Bee detailed persistent shortcomings at the agency, including poor investigations and serious mistakes.

Then came the July 21 death of Jahmaurae, whose mother's boyfriend has been charged with murder. The case – opened and closed by CPS the month before his death – was riddled with error, including an apparent failure by CPS to conduct a criminal background check on the boyfriend until after the child was dead.

Had that check been done earlier, the agency would have learned that 26-year-old Jonathan Perry, who was baby-sitting the mother's three kids, had faced juvenile charges of lewd and lascivious conduct, indecent exposure and assault, The Bee has learned.

Internal records and e-mails reflect a scramble by CPS supervisors following the death.

CPS issued three different findings related to a doctor's report in mid-June that the boy might be the victim of child abuse, according to documents obtained by The Bee. Medical professionals' allegations generally are taken seriously by CPS, several social workers said, especially when a child has suspicious injuries.

But the doctor's allegation initially was dismissed by social worker Adriane Miles in June as "unfounded," meaning that the report was deemed to be false or unlikely to constitute child abuse. After Jahmaurae died, that finding was replaced in the state's electronic reporting system with a finding of "inconclusive."

When CPS released portions of the file Aug. 5, as required under state law, the conclusion read "substantiated" effective July 21 – a change that outraged children's advocates, and led to the county's promise to investigate. The revelation also sparked a grand jury investigation of CPS. Both probes are in progress.

CPS guidelines state that "corrections or additions to contacts must be added to the end of the original entry with an explanation as to why the change is being made." But CPS staff also said there was nothing wrong with altering the files, telling county supervisors last month that changes were made simply to reflect the evolving status of the case.

A county official said Tuesday that a private investigator was hired to review the records following The Bee's disclosure of alterations. The three-week probe determined that the changes were not made "with criminal intent," wrote Laura McCasland of the Department of Health and Human Services in an e-mail.

"The review did confirm some operational issues," McCasland added.

Altering or falsifying a public record in California is a violation of the government code, punishable by up to four years in prison or a fine. Elsewhere in this and other states, alteration or falsification of child welfare records is being prosecuted as a criminal offense.

In El Dorado County, for instance, a misdemeanor case is pending against a social worker who prosecutors allege submitted false information that allowed children to be returned to an unsafe household. The social worker's attorney denies the allegations.

Earlier this year in Philadelphia, two social workers were charged with involuntary manslaughter and falsifying public records for allegedly trying to conceal that they had rarely checked up on a disabled 14-year old who withered to 42 pounds before her death.

In Florida, it is a felony – punishable by up to five years in prison – for a child welfare worker to alter, destroy, overwrite or delete records.

"When you have a child welfare system that's dysfunctional and lacks adequate checks and balances and accountability, you breed a culture where that kind of thing happens and is not punished," said Susan Lambiase, associate director of Children's Rights, a New York-based advocacy group that has sued child welfare systems for poor performance – including record tampering.

E-mails released by Sacramento's CPS show top officials were warned by one of their own social workers on Aug. 7 that "management is changing/editing/deleting information from the documentation provided to the media" in connection with Jahmaurae's death, according to an e-mail from CPS Director Laura Coulthard.

In her e-mail to Steven Turoff, a social worker in the family reunification program, Coulthard called the matter "a very serious allegation" that would be investigated. Turoff declined to comment, referring a reporter to CPS officials.

Three days after that e-mail, CPS Division Manager Kim Pearson sent Coulthard an explanation marked "confidential" that said the "unfounded" determination had been deleted and replaced by an emergency response supervisor.

But Pearson explained that the manager did "not do so as a 'cover-up' but rather stated based on ER (emergency response) experience … this is how we correct the inaccurate finding."

Pearson expressed concern that not everyone at CPS was "clearly aware that deleted contacts – is NOT the avenue … (T)his needs to be made known no deletions period."

"It is disheartening that due to the lack of work of one long-time poor performing SW (social worker), hard working people are being put in adverse situations – yourself and me included," Pearson wrote.

Miles, the social worker, was suspended with pay after Jahmaurae's death. She has not responded to requests for comment, including telephone messages and a letter hand- delivered to her home.

CPS workers have told The Bee that disciplinary action is rare within the agency, with firings even less common. In reporting its June series, The Bee identified six cases where children were killed or seriously injured after CPS employees violated policies and procedures, yet the workers and supervisors remained in their jobs.

The e-mails released to The Bee cover only the period from July 24 through Aug. 20. Sacramento County Counsel Rick Heyer said some of the e-mails for the week Jahmaurae died will not be released because they are "confidential."

The state Department of Social Services, which oversees county child protection agencies, recently reviewed Sacramento's electronic records on Jahmaurae and was able to see the "inconclusive" and "substantiated" findings, but not the original "unfounded" report, said spokeswoman Shirley Washington.

DSS Chief Deputy Director Bob Garcia said it is "not unusual" for records to be modified after supervisors have reviewed them. The state, Garcia said, is waiting for the county to finish its own investigation before determining if state intervention is warranted.

But Jahmaurae's father, Trironn Allen, and great-aunt Gloria Allen, who both live in Richmond, say they are outraged by how CPS handled the case.

They recently learned of the doctor's call to CPS on June 17 to report a suspicious, fist-sized swelling and bruise on Jahmaurae's chest. The agency called for an "immediate response."

Despite CPS requirements that such responses be handled within 24 hours – Sacramento actually has a "target time" of two hours – the social worker did not make contact with the family for seven more days. Jahmaurae told the worker that his 3-year-old brother had hit him. Jahmaurae's mother, Tiffany Lacy, said she was no longer with Jonathan Perry.

After that meeting, Miles determined the doctor's allegation was unfounded and the case went no further, records show.

"CPS – they weren't doing anything," said Gloria Allen. "That child would be alive if the mother hadn't lied about what happened to (the children), and if CPS had gone in and done their job."

Perhaps the most critical lapse, however, was that the social worker apparently did not immediately ask for a criminal background check on Perry. On emergency response cases, CPS policy calls for social workers to obtain criminal histories of all adults living in the home.

Rick Heyer, the county counsel, said he would not release information about whether or when a criminal background check was conducted on Perry.

However, two sources told The Bee there is no evidence that any check of Perry was conducted until Jahmaurae died and that Perry's juvenile record likely would have caused law enforcement officials and social workers to remove Jahmaurae from the home.

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Postby Marina » Mon Dec 01, 2008 7:35 pm

Records show gaps in child welfare oversight before Jazzmin's death
Agency took trust over proof

By John Simerman and Hilary Costa
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 11/29/2008 02:59:26 PM PST

The child welfare worker overseeing an Antioch foster child who police say was tortured for 15 months and starved to death by her foster mother violated state regulations that require regular reports from doctors, therapists and others.

She also did not verify that Jazzmin Davis had enrolled for her freshman year in high school, when police say she was isolated and abused in her Antioch home.

The head of the San Francisco Human Services Agency acknowledged last week that the social worker trusted Jazzmin's paternal aunt and foster mother, Shemeeka Davis, to the point of failing to seek required proof of her long-overdue medical care.

Agency Executive Director Trent Rhorer said the case notes, which the Times obtained through a court petition, raise "questions about the medical documentation and the comfort the child welfare worker had with the caretaker (Davis), and whether that obfuscated her objective assessment of the case."

It also has prompted an internal review of the agency's practice of seeking exemptions that allow social workers to visit some foster families every six months, instead of monthly, Rhorer said.

The agency oversaw the care of Jazzmin and her twin brother from their placement as infants with Davis, until she was awarded guardianship six days before Jazzmin's Sept. 2 death.

The agency followed that biannual schedule with the twins for more than a decade — despite Jazzmin's reported history of

behavior problems at school and home; repeated complaints Davis made about Jazzmin's behavior and her own ability to parent her; and Davis' years-long pattern of losing or avoiding contact with social workers, to the point that they sent telegrams to reach her.

Rhorer said a lack of crisis line calls about the twins, and no evidence of abuse in the case file, help prove the veteran child welfare worker, Ann Marie Smith, had little cause to doubt Shemeeka Davis' honesty.

"A placement that's as stable as this, for as long as this — there was no reason to believe Shemeeka would be hiding anything, or Jazzmin hiding anything," said Rhorer. "There were no cues."

Davis, 38, now sits in a Richmond jail in lieu of $1.5 million bail, facing charges of murder in Jazzmin's death and torture and abuse of both twins. She has declined interview requests.

Before her arrest, Shemeeka "ingested a handful of pills," then told police she hit Jazzmin with a wooden dowel and a belt that day "because she continually defies her and cut her holes in her jeans," according to a search warrant affidavit.

Jazzmin's case file shows no sign that Smith — who started with the agency nearly 30 years ago — sought to verify the aunt's assertions in the past several years, including one in 2006 that Jazzmin was undergoing regular therapy for behavior problems.

Meanwhile, Smith steered the family toward legal guardianship as police say Davis intensified her abuse, sometimes locking the twins in a small bedroom closet for up to 10 hours.

In July, 2007, after struggling to reach Davis, Smith wrote her a letter suggesting that a lower-level social worker, whose job it was to annually run down a checklist on the home's condition, could conduct the next child welfare visit.

"If the kids are home, then she can see them and I won't have to come out again," Smith wrote in the letter, where she also suggested a move to guardianship that would end the county's oversight. Neither Davis nor the twins appeared at the Aug. 27 court hearing that finalized Davis' guardianship.

Attempts to reach Smith by phone, e-mail and at her home were unsuccessful. Rhorer said she is on leave. He said he couldn't explain Smith's letter but that the agency is pushing its social workers to seek guardianship and adoption.

One child welfare advocate, told of the contents of the letter and the foster care notes, cited several red flags that warranted more scrutiny. Among them:

Smith was alerted to a live-in boyfriend, Jackie Turner, with a recent criminal drug history. She told Davis he needed to leave. Police now say he never left.

A near-total dearth of records of doctor's visits for Jazzmin, and none since 2003, despite regulations requiring periodic checkups.

No evidence to verify Davis' claim that Jazzmin was obtaining therapy after a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder and years of trouble in school and at home.

"There was fundamentally insufficient monitoring of the case," said William Grimm, senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, who has led challenges to child welfare practices in several states. "The practice of asking the foster mother or father, they telling you something and taking it as gospel — it's just not the way investigations and monitoring of a child's placement can be done."

State regulations direct that social workers "shall have contact with other professionals working with the child, parents/guardians, and out-of-home care provider ..." Among the professionals specified in the regulations are physicians and therapists. The social worker "shall request written reports from the professionals ..." and "shall ensure that such reports are received and documented in the case record," they state.

Smith's notes from June 2006 say that Antioch therapist Nanette Kappl had requested a medication evaluation for Jazzmin. "Jazzmin ... is so out of control at home that her caretaker thought about giving her up but has changed her mind," Smith wrote.

A month later, Smith reports after a phone call with Davis that both twins "are doing well."

Kappl told the Times she treated Jazzmin "at most four times." She said Jazzmin did not appear physically unhealthy, but that mentally, "there was a prevailing sadness there."

School officials are not specifically listed among the child's "collateral contacts" who social workers should consult, but it should be standard practice, said Grimm.

"That's just sort of one of the fundamental things you check out with children is, are they going to school, how are they doing in school, are they skipping class, how are their grades," he said. "Basic things you ask about your own child."

The infrequent home visits, he said, would have made it easier for Davis to put on what police call a "good show," fixing up the house and prepping the twins for home visits.

Also living there were Turner, Davis' two teenage sons and a 7-year-old daughter. Police said her other three children weren't physically abused. Her rental of the four-bedroom house, in a newer Antioch neighborhood, was subsidized by $1,700 per month from Section 8 housing funds. Davis also received more than $13,100 per year for the twins' care.

Among the state criteria for exemptions to monthly visits is that the child "has no serious emotional problems caused or aggravated by the placement." Rhorer said the agency seeks the exemption in a few hundred cases and is reviewing them all as a result of Jazzmin's death.

The last recorded home visit for the twins came March 12, the case log shows. Like other recent entries from Smith, it is brief and upbeat.

"The twins are in the ninth grade and have improved their grades ... Jazzmin has C's which is great for her. The twins appear to be very content — there are no more problems and issues with Jazzmin ... Both children were friendly, talkative, and appeared to be very health (sic)."

Smith maintains she visited in person, and Rhorer said she described it in detail to police. Still, Antioch police Lt. Leonard Orman said he's not completely certain, given the signs of abuse.

The autopsy report describes a 15-year-old body weighing only 78 pounds and laden with scars and burn marks old and new, and five broken teeth.

Police seized an array of suspected weapons, including a clothes iron, belts, a carpet tack strip, a lamp base and a workout weight.

Jazzmin's brother was enrolled in school, but police say he suffered similar abuse.

"He's just a sweet, sweet boy. His attitude was, 'If I had been better, this wouldn't have happened,'" Antioch police Sgt. Diane Aguinaga said. "It's so involved and so tragic and so sad. Normal people, I think, can't understand it."

A social worker assigned to such a long-term and supposedly stable foster placement wouldn't have searched beneath the kids' clothes for injuries without reports of abuse, said Rhorer. He said there were no apparent clues.

Still, said Antioch police Lt. Leonard Orman, "Even if you missed the abuse, to look at those kids in the last year and think they were healthy would have been — they didn't look healthy."

The log for the final home visit also mentions a recent visit by the children's court-appointed advocate, Tali Soltz, who said she couldn't comment on the visit. "I feel like everyone did their jobs, as best as I can tell," she said. "I feel like this is a tragedy for all of us."

Rhorer suggested a communitywide failure, noting that Jazzmin's old school friends said they saw her scarred and bruised, and that no teachers reported it. No neighbors came forward either.

Police say Davis had a charm that calmed suspicions. She put off welfare visits to make her home "look as right as she could," Orman said, and may have doctored a report card found on the refrigerator.

"She ran the show," Orman said. "The people in that house, you did what she said or things were not pleasant."

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Postby Marina » Sun Dec 14, 2008 6:23 pm

Girl told CPS of abuse 2 years before stepdad's rampage, documents show

By Marjie Lundstrom and Sam Stanton
[email protected]
Published: Thursday, Dec. 11, 2008 |

The 14-year-old girl who survived the slaying of her mother and siblings by her stepfather Dec. 1 had reported him to authorities two years earlier for allegedly beating her with a stick, forcing her to go without food, shaving her head and making her sleep in the garage without blankets, documents from Sacramento County's Child Protective Services show.

CPS briefly took the children out of the home in September 2006. Yet it determined that the then-12-year-old's claims were "unfounded" and returned the children to the south Sacramento home of her stepfather, Ying "Chris" Moua, and her mother, Bouavanh "Kim" Moua, internal documents released to The Bee Wednesday indicate.

Sacramento sheriff's officials say Ying Moua, 33, went on a rampage Dec. 1 and killed his wife and the couple's 2-year-old twins, and seriously injured their 3-year-old daughter, before he shot himself.

The 14-year-old was not harmed because CPS had placed her in protective custody on Nov. 21, after a teacher at her school discovered a journal she had kept for more than a year that described her stepfather's abuse of her. Another sibling, an 8-year-old boy, also escaped harm because he had been living in a different home at the time.

The deaths raise new questions about CPS' decision to leave the three siblings in the home after the teenager reported her abuse allegations last month, and for its failure to even go to the home to investigate. Instead, the agency asked sheriff's deputies to inspect the home on Nov. 22, and no further action was taken.

"I don't know how many more little coffins the people of Sacramento County have to see before the Board of Supervisors, who run this program, start taking personal responsibility for the number and nature of these crimes," said Ed Howard of Sacramento, senior counsel for the Children's Advocacy Institute.

"The accumulated weight of these deaths indicates a deeply rooted, systemic problem" that transcends individual social workers, Howard said.

A CPS spokeswoman reiterated Wednesday that the agency cannot comment beyond the required release of the documents because of confidentiality laws.

With a few exceptions, the Board of Supervisors has been largely silent about the string of deaths. In August, they signed off on a $100,000 review of CPS' policies and procedures. That audit is under way.

Supervisor Roger Dickinson said the board has been, and continues to be, deeply involved in CPS issues. "I don't think there's been any lack of attention or concern," he said.

CPS has been under scrutiny for much of this year following a series of deaths of children whose families were known to the agency. A Bee investigation published in June found that the agency still was troubled, despite large funding increases that followed the 1996 death of 3-year-old Adrian Conway.

The agency also is the subject of a county grand jury investigation that was sparked by The Bee's revelation that documents in the death of one child this year had been altered. But recalcitrance inside the agency apparently was so great the grand jury took the unusual step of warning all CPS workers and management in October that they must cooperate with the probe, which is ongoing.

The documents released Wednesday indicate that CPS was told about three weeks ago about violence in the home, as detailed by the 14-year-old in new abuse claims. Portions of the documents were redacted, but it is clear the girl reported one member of the family "has been thrown onto a wall" by the stepfather.

That document, an emergency response sheet that indicates it was compiled the afternoon the girl lodged her allegations, also states that "mom is being hit by the stepfather" and "the stepfather is reported to have anger issues."

It notes that "(m)om knows about the abuse and has not interceded," and lists allegations against the stepfather as including "emotional abuse, general neglect, physical abuse." The document also indicates that CPS was aware of the September 2006 abuse report but states those earlier accusations were "unfounded."

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Postby Marina » Sun Dec 14, 2008 6:27 pm

Records detail past abuse in murder-suicide case

By Marjie Lundstrom and Sam Stanton
mlundstr[email protected]
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008

The 14-year-old girl who survived the slaying of her mother and siblings by her stepfather Dec. 1 had reported him to authorities two years earlier for allegedly beating her with a stick, forcing her to go without food, shaving her head and making her sleep in the garage without blankets, documents from Sacramento's Child Protective Services show.

CPS briefly took the children out of the home in September 2006. Yet it determined that the then-12-year-old's claims were "unfounded" and returned the children to the south Sacramento home of her stepfather, Ying "Chris" Moua, and her mother, Bouavanh "Kim" Moua, internal documents released to The Bee today indicate.

Sacramento sheriff's officials say Ying Moua, 33, went on a rampage Dec. 1 and killed his wife and the couple's 2-year-old twins, and seriously injured their 3-year-old daughter, before he shot himself.

The 14-year-old was not harmed because CPS had placed her into protective custody Nov. 21 after a teacher at her school discovered a journal she had kept for more than a year that described her stepfather's abuse of her. Another sibling, an 8-year-old boy, also escaped harm because he had been living in a different home at the time.

The deaths raise new questions about CPS' decision to leave the three siblings in the home after the teenager reported her abuse allegations last month, and for its failure to even go to the home to investigate. Instead, the agency asked sheriff's deputies to inspect the home on Nov. 22, and no further action was taken.

The documents released today indicate that CPS was told about three weeks ago about violence in the home, as detailed by the 14-year-old in new abuse claims.

Portions of the documents were redacted, but it is clear that the girl reported one member of the family "has been thrown onto a wall by the stepfather."

That document, an emergency response sheet that indicates it was compiled the afternoon the girl first lodged her allegations, 10 days before the murder-suicide, also states that "mom is being hit by the stepfather."

"The stepfather is reported to have anger issues," the document states.

It notes that, "Mom knows about the abuse and has not interceded," and lists allegations against the stepfather as including "emotional abuse, general neglect, physical abuse." The document also indicates that CPS was aware of the September 2006 abuse report the girl had made but it also indicates that her allegations at that time were determined to be "unfounded."

A determination of "unfounded" means that CPS deemed the report to be false or unlikely to constitute child abuse.

The 2006 documents from CPS show that the girl, who was then 12, reported that - besides the beatings and shaved head - her stepfather "curses at them and calls them names."

"(She) is very soft spoken and crying," according to the emergency response referral form. "She is afraid to go home."

The CPS screener wrote that the mother "witnesses this abuse and does not intervene. Three younger kids are not abused."

At the time, the girl's siblings reportedly were taken into protective custody but were quickly returned home, according to one source familiar with the case.

Ultimately, in the 2006 case, the agency determined that the children's risk of neglect was "moderate" and risk of abuse was "low," according to the newly released CPS documents. A safety assessment on the same day determined that there were "no children likely to be in immediate danger of serious harm."

The documents were provided to The Bee in response to a Public Records Act request, but there is no indication from the files released that any further reports were compiled on the family or the allegations until Dec. 1, the day Moua killed his two children, his wife and himself.

That document, written after the killings had been discovered, indicates that the 14-year-old's allegations of general neglect and one form of abuse had been "substantiated" by CPS. Claims of emotional and physical abuse were deemed to be unfounded.

A finding of "substantiated" means the agency has credible information to believe child abuse or neglect did occur.

Nonetheless, only the 14-year-old was pulled out of the home by CPS.

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Sacramento County child protection

Postby Marina » Sun Jan 04, 2009 8:39 pm ... 2520Region

Sacramento County child protection woes extend into management, critics say

By Marjie Lundstrom and Sam Stanton
[email protected]
Published: Friday, Jan. 02, 2009 | Page 1A

Within days of 4-year-old Jahmaurae Allen's beating death last summer, the leadership of Sacramento County's Child Protective Services laid the blame for the troubled investigation on a single social worker who operated "in isolation."

Her work was described by top CPS management as "shoddy" and "totally inadequate," according to internal e-mails obtained by The Bee.

But those documents and recent interviews reveal a broader failure of the county's child protection system that reached into CPS management ranks – before and after the boy's July 21 death.

CPS officials, responding to questions from The Bee, recently acknowledged that a supervisor of social worker Adriane Miles did not scrutinize Miles' work in June as required, even though the original abuse complaint involving the boy was classified as an emergency.

The supervisor did not review any case documentation until the boy was dead – five weeks after the emergency referral.

And, at least two CPS supervisors went into the boy's case file after his death and altered the records before they were publicly released, a violation of the government code and Child Protective Services' written policy.

The CPS investigation into Jahmaurae's household was so cursory that the agency's top four managers debated by e-mail three days after the child's death how to massage the case file to more closely reflect reality.

Those e-mails, initially withheld from The Bee in August as "confidential," were released last month after the newspaper independently obtained them from a source.

"It sounds as though CPS – instead of taking top-level responsibility for the systemic, stubborn and ongoing failures of its supervisors and leadership – has adopted a policy of trying to throw individual social workers under a bus," said Ed Howard, senior counsel for the Children's Advocacy Institute.

A worker's inexperience also was blamed in 2006 death

The death of Jahmaurae – along with other children who died despite the agency's intervention – graphically illustrates why the agency needs massive internal changes, said Howard and Robert Wilson, executive director of Sacramento Child Advocates.

The two said they are especially upset by the string of child-abuse deaths that followed the July 2006 death of 12-year-old Daelynn Foreman of Orangevale, who withered to 23 pounds and allegedly starved to death under CPS' watch. The agency, which received six referrals about the child with cerebral palsy, blamed the fiasco on an inexperienced social worker.

"The Board of Supervisors needs to take an active role and do the job they were elected to do," said Wilson, whose attorneys represent Sacramento children in dependency court. "They need to hold those in (CPS) leadership accountable for a pattern of mismanagement and unfortunate deaths."

CPS Director Laura Coulthard told The Bee earlier this year – before the newspaper published an investigation in June about weaknesses and lack of accountability within the agency – that CPS had a rigorous "checks-and-balances" system of oversight.

A cornerstone of that oversight, Coulthard said, was careful case review by supervisors.

That didn't happen for Jahmaurae Allen, whose mother's boyfriend, Jonathan Perry, was arrested and charged with murder and child endangerment in his death. The mother, Tiffany Lacy, also was arrested in November on felony child endangerment charges related to the boy's death.

"We didn't do what we should have done for this child," said Lynn Frank, director of the county's Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees CPS. "And that child died."

Unidentified supervisor got 'verbal update only' on case

Through interviews and internal documents, The Bee pieced together a disturbing picture of how the agency responded in the 34 days between the first report of suspected abuse June 17 and Jahmaurae's death July 21.

As previously reported, emergency response worker Miles made a series of missteps – from a six-day delay in meeting the family to her failure to consult with a doctor who had first phoned CPS on June 17 with suspicions about a bruise the size of an adult fist on the boy's chest.

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