Articles on Records & Confidentiality

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Articles on Records & Confidentiality

Postby Marina » Fri Jul 27, 2007 7:09 pm

. ... 90ea4.html

Objection to releasing slain kids' files ends

08:04 PM MST on Tuesday, July 24, 2007

By Josh Brodesky / Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX — The Pima County Attorney's Office has dropped its objection to releasing Child Protective Services case files for three slain Tucson children who were under its watch.

After a hearing Monday in Maricopa County Superior Court, Judge Edward O. Burke said he would rule on whether to release the files to the Arizona Daily Star and the Arizona Republic — which sued to obtain them — by next Monday at the latest.

For months, the County Attorney's Office had said that releasing records of CPS' involvement with Ariana Payne, Tyler Payne and Brandon Williams would compromise its prosecution of the children's cases.

Last week, however, CPS released case summaries after the County Attorney's Office said the information would not affect its prosecution.

And on Monday, the Arizona Attorney General's Office, representing the state's Child Protective Services, did not argue against releasing the more complete files. Rather, it presented Burke with a full version of the files and a version with some confidential information blacked out, for his review.

Assistant Attorney General Gaylene Morgan acknowledged that in addition to the release of the case summaries, the County Attorney's Office has "no position" on the release of case files.

As a result, the hearing's main focus wasn't so much on whether documents should be released, but rather on how much information can be released while balancing any potential remaining privacy issues.

"The children have died. Information about the parents is public. What am I balancing?" Burke asked.

On Feb. 18, police found 4-year-old Ariana's body in a trash bin. Despite several searches, police have not found 5-year-old Tyler's remains.

Their father, Christopher Matthew Payne, and his girlfriend, Reina Gonzales, have been charged with their murders.

In March, 5-year-old Brandon Williams, who was autistic, died from a skull fracture, but he also had a large amount of over-the-counter medication in his system. His mother, Diane Marsh, and a roommate, Flower Tompson, have been charged with his murder.

Phoenix attorney Kevin Wein, who represents the Star, said any lingering confidentiality issues should be minimal.

The children are dead. The parents have been arrested, and Jamie Hallam, who is Ariana and Tyler's mother, has waived her confidentiality rights.

"The privacy interests that are left are minimal at best," Wein said.

The cases are of intense public interest, he said. And the lack of information about the agency's involvement with the children — and what its workers did and did not do to protect them — undermines public debate about the agency and how it could improve in the wake of the deaths.

After the hearing, Wein said, "CPS would benefit, because what's happening now is speculation is being fueled by a continued veil of secrecy that's being imposed on everybody, including the agency."

Wein and the attorney representing the Arizona Republic asked that full files, with minor deletions, be released to the public.

In an interview after the hearing, Ken Deibert, the state Department of Economic Security's deputy director, said the agency has been following state and federal confidentiality laws and trying not to undermine prosecution of the cases in withholding the files.

He also agreed with Wein that the release of the case files could benefit the agency — although he had a different take on why. The media, he said, have painted "an inaccurate picture of how we conduct ourselves."

"I believe the public at times has a misconception of what child welfare does or doesn't do," Deibert said.

Also in attendance, but not participating in the hearing, was Jorge Franco Jr., who is representing Hallam.

Franco said he plans to file a notice of claim against the state in the next few weeks, and he will move to have all of the case documents made public at that time.

Gov. Janet Napolitano, to whom CPS ultimately answers, defended withholding the files.

"First of all, nobody wants a child to die," Napolitano said. "So let's begin with that. Whenever a child dies and there's CPS involvement, we . . . go back and say: Is there something CPS should have done or could have done differently that would have prevented a death?

"The issue of what files get open and when, the easiest thing to say is: 'Of course. I believe every record should be public immediately,' " she said.

But there are some impediments to doing that, including confidentiality laws and the needs of prosecutors, Napolitano said.

"If there's a criminal prosecution, that should take precedence," she said.

In addition, she said, "when you're dealing with a child-abuse situation, you have, many times, other children involved, innocent family members involved. You have very, very delicate and private information about innocent people involved who themselves may be victims. . . . That too needs to be taken into account," she said.

Meanwhile, in Pima County Superior Court on Monday, Judge Richard Fields denied Payne's motion to dismiss the case against him.

Defense attorneys Rebecca McLean and John O'Brien asked for dismissal, saying there was a lack of evidence.

Although grand jurors were told Ariana suffered some broken bones in the months before her death, they weren't given any evidence about what caused her death, McLean said. In addition, prosecutors were unable to provide the grand jurors with proof that Tyler was dead, McLean said.

Payne told detectives that Tyler and Ariana died of starvation, but Tyler hasn't been found, and the autopsy performed on Ariana didn't corroborate that statement, McLean said.

In denying the motion, Fields said he agreed with prosecutors who argued that the evidence presented to the grand jury could be interpreted many ways.

Find links to past CPS stories in the online version of this story at

Last edited by Marina on Mon Aug 20, 2007 6:28 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Marina » Sat Aug 04, 2007 7:55 pm

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CYF sworn to secrecy in child welfare cases

Saturday, August 04, 2007

By Torsten Ove, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Ever since Rachel Booth was charged with killing her father, the public has questioned why no one did anything to protect the 13-year-old girl, who said she endured years of physical and sexual abuse at his hands.

Many people following the story in the media have expressed outrage that neighbors apparently heard screams from the house on Pitt Street in Elizabeth Township but never called authorities.

Some have also wondered if the county's office of Children, Youth and Families did its job properly in investigating allegations of abuse in the Booth family.

During a tour of the filth-ridden Booth home yesterday, District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. joined them in leveling an accusation.

The county child protection agency had been involved with the family for years, he told the media, and "CYF is going to have to answer some questions" about why Rachel was left in the house for as long as she was.

Rachel's father, Matthew Booth, 34, had custody of Rachel and her 14-year-old brother. Her mother, Michelle Fazek, had custody of the couple's 12-year-old.

Told of Mr. Zappala's remarks, Marc Cherna, head of Allegheny County's Department of Human Services, said state law does not allow him to reveal any information about CYF cases.

"I have not heard that statement, but if it's true that he did say that, I'm disappointed that he would make a statement like that without knowing all the facts," Mr. Cherna said. "I wish the law allowed me to speak about the case. But unfortunately, my hands are tied."

Civil court documents filed over the years by Matthew Booth and the children's mother, Michelle Fazek, indicate that CYF responded to various claims of abuse or neglect.

But Pennsylvania, like most states, has very restrictive laws against discussing those investigations, so it's difficult to know what action CYF took.

"Confidentiality laws that protect families who benefit from the services we offer through child welfare consequently legally prohibit us from disclosing any information about a family's situation," Mr. Cherna explained this week in a letter to the editor in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "But be assured, every allegation of suspected abuse is investigated and acted upon. Every one."

Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, Alexandria, Va., said only a handful of states would allow an official in Mr. Cherna's position to discuss a case such as Rachel's.

"In Pennsylvania, unfortunately, they're not allowed to talk when they want to, and they are not required to talk when they should," he said.

In most states, child welfare records are sealed and usually court hearings are, too.

But there are a few states where a child welfare agency is allowed to comment, and Mr. Wexler said the trend is toward more openness.

He said that in Arizona, for example, Mr. Cherna's counterpart could "confirm, clarify and correct" anything said about a case that has become public. He said New York, Maine and Iowa also have statutes that would allow an agency to say something about what it did or didn't do, at least in some instances.

In New York City, he said, officials have been increasingly open about investigations, realizing that saying nothing often creates the impression of guilt.

"The city child welfare agency has been smart enough to figure out that even when it is their fault, when they get the information out quickly, at least they won't get accused of covering up," Mr. Wexler said.

He said Allegheny County's CYF is a model agency, although in the interest of full disclosure, he also mentioned that in 1995 he served on the search committee that recommended Mr. Cherna and another candidate as finalists for the job.

"Every child welfare agency makes terrible mistakes. Allegheny County makes them less often than others," he said. "It's not just a good reputation, it's well-deserved."

But, he said, state lawmakers should allow the agency to talk, especially when a case generates so much public interest. Although some experts are of the opinion that disclosing information hurts children, Mr. Wexler maintains that secrecy harms them more in the long run.

"The Legislature needs to give Marc Cherna and his counterparts the right to defend themselves," he said. "This also helps force them to take responsibility when they're wrong."


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Postby Marina » Sat Aug 04, 2007 8:01 pm


Judge seals man’s records

Aug. 4, 2007

Adoptive parents fight legal battles

Brad Shannon
The Olympian

A Thurston County judge sealed the Child Protective Services records of a deceased man Friday, despite objections of the man’s adoptive parents, who think the records show misconduct by the state.

Superior Court Judge Christine Pomeroy said she was bound to follow the law, which required her to seal the administrative file.

Jo Ann and Dick Lang of Vancouver did not attend the hearing but objected through their lawyer, Kevin Johnson of Olympia.

In a related matter, the Langs are pursuing a lawsuit against the state to reverse a finding that they had abandoned the boy, whom Jo Ann said was born to a mother who used crack cocaine. As the child got older, he became too violent to manage, and a court found the boy was not manageable, Jo Ann Lang said.

Child Protective Services later entered a finding into the Department of Social and Health Services’ records that the family had abandoned the child.

Jo Ann Lang said the family never abandoned the child and that the state didn’t give notice of the abandonment finding until the Langs applied to take in another child and learned they were flagged in state records. Their suit is meant to reverse the record and recover their costs for two adoptions that were blocked as a result.

“This is ridiculous. I can’t even begin to explain how devastating that is to our family. Both emotionally and financially, it is devastating,” Jo Ann Lang said.

An assistant attorney general handling the case, Timothy Jaasko-Fisher, said the records are not subject to Public Records Act disclosure requirements and must be sealed by law to protect the child. However, the Langs are free to get copies of the records and can share them because they were the parents, Jaasko-Fisher and Johnson said.


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Postby Marina » Sun Aug 05, 2007 4:39 pm

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Aug 5, 2007 4:08 PM

Some lawmakers want to open up some CPS hearings to public

Some state lawmakers examining the effectiveness of Child Protective Services are pushing for some otherwise closed-door hearings on the agency to be open to the public after a judge ordered that news reporters be allowed to access some case files.

The agency was ordered in late July to surrender its files of three Tucson children from two families who were killed by their parents. Newspapers had sued to get access to the normally confidential files.

State and federal laws require Child Protective Services case files be confidential to protect the privacy of the child and family. But the dissemination of the files by the courts may be enough to allow legislative leaders to open the meeting to the public.

Republican Rep. Kirk Adams of Mesa, chairman of the state House's government committee, told the Arizona Capitol Times that he has contacted one of the Legislature's attorneys about opening the hearings to the public, but no decision has been made.

Adams said he understands the need for confidentiality laws in most Child Protective Services cases, but he questioned whether they even need apply in these specific cases, as the three children who were subjects of the reports have died.

"Where I question the confidentiality laws is when children are dead and the parents are in jail," he said. "In these cases, we're not protecting the confidentiality of children who already died."

If the hearings are opened, the decision would apply only to hearings and discussion pertaining to the case files released in the lawsuit. Other issues and cases would still need to be discussed in private hearings because of confidentiality laws, Adams said.

He said he might introduce legislation next session to provide exceptions in the confidentiality laws because "different cases have different needs."

Republican Rep. Pete Hershberger of Tucson, who leads the House's human services committee and deals extensively with Child Protective Services, believes the public's attention could attract political posturing.

"I just don't want it to become a witch hunt with people seeking media attention," he said. "I want something meaningful to happen."

Republican Rep. Jonathan Paton of Tucson, who signed an affidavit in support of the newspapers in the lawsuit, said the sensitive issue of the hearings - children dying from parental abuse - will create a media swarm, even if the meetings are closed.

"It'll be a media circus if it's closed because people will want to know what's going on," he said.


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Postby Marina » Mon Aug 20, 2007 6:31 am


Recent rulings on public records

_ On July 27, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered state Child Protective Services to release documents pertaining to the murdered Tucson children who had been under CPS supervision though the court allowed some material to be redacted to protect privacy interests of innocent people.


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Postby Marina » Tue Aug 21, 2007 7:33 pm


Judge orders Michigan to release documents in foster care case

A federal judge Friday ordered Michigan officials to let an advocacy group examine case files involving foster children who have died in recent years while under state care.

The Michigan Department of Human Services said it would obey the order by Donald A. Scheer, a U.S. District Court magistrate judge in Detroit. Scheer approved a motion seeking the information, filed by New York-based Children's Rights.

"The court's ruling today tells the state that it cannot hide behind confidentiality laws designed to protect children in order to shield itself from public scrutiny," said Sara Bartosz, attorney for the group.

Children's Rights is suing the state over the quality of its child protection program, contending it is riddled with inadequate resources and poor services. That has resulted in substandard physical and mental care and foster children repeatedly being moved between homes, the August 2006 complaint says.

The group requested records involving six living children named as plaintiffs, in addition to 68 children who have died while in state care since 2004, a spokeswoman said. The class-action lawsuit represents all 19,000 Michigan children in the system.

State officials argued that privacy laws required them to withhold or edit documents to prevent release of information that could identify children, foster parents and biological parents. Case files typically include material such as Social Security numbers and medical and psychological records, said Maureen Sorbet, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services.

In his ruling, Scheer said the advocacy group's need to evaluate the department's performance outweighed the state's confidentiality concerns.

The law allows release of personal information when doing so "will promote the best interests of the children involved, the proper function and oversight of the system, or the interests of justice," Scheer said.

In a separate order, he instructed all those involved in the suit to protect confidential information from leaking.

"We will, of course, comply with the order," Sorbet said.


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Postby Marina » Sun Aug 26, 2007 9:22 am

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Forum debates juvenile open court

Some see no harm; some distrust press

By Deborah Yetter
[email protected]
The Courier-Journal

In Nebraska, the law is pretty simple about whether juvenile court should be open.

"It's open unless there's a particular reason to close it," Wadie Thomas, a juvenile judge from Omaha told a group of judges, prosecutors and child welfare workers yesterday at a conference in Louisville.

Despite fears about removing confidentiality that cloaks juvenile and family court in Kentucky and 16 other states, the system works in Nebraska, Thomas said.

"Generally speaking, I don't see it as a problem," Thomas said. "My position is that the courts should be open."

Another speaker at the conference, Jerry Foxhoven, director of a children's rights center at Drake University in Des Moines, said Iowa also has open juvenile courts and thinks states with closed courts should reconsider.

The comments at the one-day conference came as a panel of state officials and advocates in Frankfort are studying whether Kentucky should change its law and lift the secrecy that surrounds courts that hear cases involving children who commit offenses or are victims of abuse or neglect.

Children's advocate David Richart, a member of a working group for the panel looking at possible changes in the law, said the group hasn't reached a decision and probably won't be ready to recommend any changes by the time the legislature meets in 2008.

"My own personal philosophy is that the court proceedings ought to be open with the discretion of the judge," he said.

Still, some at the conference raised questions, including whether children could suffer from release of sensitive information and whether names of children in such cases should be public.

Campbell Family Court Judge Michael D. Foellger wondered if the courts could rely on reporters not to identify children who commit minor offenses or are victims of abuse or neglect. "I'm highly suspicious of the media," he said.

Others raised questions about allowing friends and relatives into cases involving possible removal of children from parents, which are often highly charged and emotional.

Thomas said judges in Nebraska handle it as they would any other courtroom.

If someone's disruptive, "I just put them out," he said.

Jefferson Family Court Judge Patricia Walker FitzGerald said the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, which sponsored yesterday's conference, has for several years recommended states open such courts. FitzGerald said she attended national meetings on the subject and "I don't recall that a single judge in one of the jurisdictions where the courts are open stood up and spoke against it."

Family Court Judge Joan Byer said she has long believed the juvenile and family courts should be open to the press and public.

"It holds everyone accountable," she said. "What are we really hiding?"


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Postby Marina » Sun Sep 23, 2007 6:41 pm

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Nashua Mom Charged With Abuse Faces Wiretapping Charge

POSTED: 10:44 am EDT September 20, 2007

NASHUA, N.H. -- A woman charged with tormenting her daughter is facing an additional charge of illegal wiretapping.

Police charged Theresa Bergeron, 36, with the misdemeanor count over allegations she secretly recorded a meeting with a state social worker.

Lt. Jeffrey Bukunt said Bergeron is accused of using a hidden digital recorder to record an April meeting with a social worker for the state Division of Children, Youth and Families. Bukunt said the meeting was related to the child abuse charges against Bergeron.

Bergeron already faces felony assault, reckless conduct and child endangerment charges. She was arrested last December and charged with forcing the then 10-year-old girl to stand all night as a punishment.


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Postby Marina » Wed Oct 10, 2007 4:55 pm

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In wake of baby's death, governor seeks more public disclosure

By NANCY HICKS / Lincoln Journal Star
Wednesday, Oct 10, 2007 - 06:48:11 pm CDT

When a 1-year-old Omaha child in foster care died last month, allegedly at the hands of a potential adoptive parent, the state couldn’t provide much information to reporters.

The state couldn’t do much to correct inaccurate information in news stories about the death of Davion Winrow Sept. 27, officials said.

Health and Human Services leaders were hogtied by the state’s very strict law making almost all information about a foster care case confidential.

Davion died after suffering head fractures and bleeding on the brain, authorities said. He had been in state custody since his birth.

Joleet “Joey” Poole has been charged with felony child abuse resulting in death.

Poole had applied to be a licensed foster parent, according to Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services officials. Douglas County prosecutors have said Poole was in the process of adopting the boy and had been allowed unsupervised visits with him.

Frustrated by the state’s inability to defend its decisions, Gov. Dave Heineman hopes to change the state confidentiality law to allow more public information.

Confidentiality is important but so too is confidence in the state’s foster care system, Heineman said.

Providing more information about the state’s decisions in these cases would help build public confidence and trust, he said.

The law change would allow the state to release information about the reason for removal, the number of placements and type, permanency objective, whether families have adopted children previously, criminal history checks, services provided to the family, and other reasons, said Todd Landry, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Children and Family Services.

“Nebraskans are very open and upfront. We believe we can earn the public’s trust when they understand the decisions,” said Chris Peterson, CEO of HHS.

A former foster care caseworker, state Sen. Gwen Howard will sponsor the legislation developed by her office and the governor, to allow for greater disclosure of relevant information, Heineman said during a Wednesday morning news conference.

Howard praised the governor’s courage in personally tackling the issue. “It would be much easier to delegate (this bill) to someone else,” she said.

The agency can provide more details about a case in which a child dies or almost dies, but only after the criminal case is finished.

“We have to be respectful of a child’s privacy. Just because someone has become a ward doesn’t mean that every detail of their life should be exposed,” Howard said.

But there should be enough information that the public understands why decisions are made, she said.

These are very “complex, sensitive, emotional and difficult decisions,” Heineman said.


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Postby Marina » Sat Oct 13, 2007 11:19 am

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Child abuse? Can't say

State says federal memo puts a lock on its files in fatality cases

Friday, October 12, 2007
Star-Ledger Staff

For the past 10 years, a federal law has required welfare officials, following a child-abuse death, to disclose any prior involvement they had with the child's family.

Now state officials are withhold ing information that they previ ously would have made public in child-death cases, citing new guidelines from Washington on what they can release.

Federal officials say the guidelines do not represent a change in policy. But state Department of Children and Families Commis sioner Kevin Ryan, after consulting Attorney General Anne Milgram, believes they prohibit the state from disclosing a family's history -- such as a previous investigation -- if it does not pertain to the incident that caused the child's death.

The state cited a federal memo this week in declining to provide The Star-Ledger with details of the state's involvement with 2-year-old Zaheera Williams of Newark, who died Monday after swallowing her great-grandmother's medication, according to police.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Child Advocate -- the independent "watchdog" agency for government entities serving kids -- has not re leased a report on the state Divi sion of Youth and Family Services' prior involvement with three children killed in two incidents last year.

Ryan's staff fears Washington may sanction the state by withholding federal funds if the information is made public, Child Advo cate's Office chief of staff Tiffany Ellis said.

The state's concern stems from a Sept. 5 memo issued by the U.S. Administration of Children and Families.

An official in the federal agency said the law has not changed and New Jersey should continue to re lease information to the public as it always had.

The September memo was meant only to prevent states from revealing "personal identifying information and things not relevant to the facts of the case," said Susan Orr, associate commissioner of the Children's Bureau in the Administration of Children and Families. New Jersey "can decide whether previous involvement is relevant," Orr said.

State officials say they asked for a clarification, but when that ar rived Oct. 3, it was just as murky, said Ryan spokeswoman Mary Helen Cervantes.


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Postby Marina » Sun Oct 28, 2007 11:09 am

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CAS worker forgets info in client's home


The Toronto Sun

An Oakville couple say they were shocked when a case worker with the Halton Children's Aid Society left behind papers that they say contain sensitive information about other families.

"It scares me to death," said the 33-year-old woman, a mother of four children, aged 15 to 5. "Is my information out there at somebody's house? We don't think this is right at all."

The CAS worker left the stack of clipped papers on the kitchen table following an hour-long visit Monday afternoon to the couple's Oakville home, the woman said.


The woman said the Halton CAS has had an open file on her family for nearly four years following allegations made after the breakdown of her abusive, former marriage. She has full custody of her children.

"I thought they were papers for me," the woman said. "I didn't think it would be information on all these families."

The woman alleged the papers contained the addresses of foster homes where kids are living, as well as other potentially sensitive information.

"This is stuff that shouldn't be out there," she said.

Nancy MacGillivray, executive director of the Halton CAS, said she spoke to the case worker yesterday and "we have no idea what they have in their possession."

The case worker "doesn't seem to be missing anything," MacGillivray said.

"If we've left confidential information behind, of course it's concerning on our part, but I have no idea what it is," MacGillivray said.

The agency left a message for the couple Tuesday and two Halton CAS officials visited their Oakville home yesterday afternoon to ask for the return of the papers, the woman's fiance, 33, said.

A letter, written by the agency's director of protection services, noted the couple had information with the names and addresses of 15 clients.

"We look forward to the immediate return of our documents," the fiance said, reading from the letter. "I am sure that you can appreciate that privacy and confidentiality of all of our clients are of the utmost importance to us."

The couple, who have a hearing today in family court in Milton, said they plan to turn the papers over to the judge instead.


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Postby Marina » Tue Oct 30, 2007 6:45 am


Day Care Waivers Granted To Some Criminals

AP - 10/28/2007 3:31 PM - Updated 10/29/2007 6:34 AM

An investigation into the Department of Human Services shows the agency has granted special waivers to criminals so they can be around day care children. A report by an Oklahoma City newspaper shows those granted waivers include people who committed domestic abuse, crimes of violence, drug offenses and sex crimes.

DHS has a policy barring certain former criminals from ever operating, working in or being in day cares. But they can ask for exemptions from the ban and, more often than not, DHS consents.

One exemption went to a former robber who went to prison four times and was described by prison officials as a violent, deceiving criminal prone to continued crime.

DHS Director Howard Hendrick says he thought his agency gave exemptions mostly to rehabilitated drug offenders and people convicted of property crimes.

He says waivers should not be given to anyone who would create a risk for children.

The official who granted the waivers was Janice Matthews, licensing coordinator for the DHS child care division. She declined comment.


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Postby Marina » Mon Nov 05, 2007 8:29 pm

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Acquittal doesn't necessarily mean clean slate for those accused of child abuse

Registry lists names in cases that are deemed 'substantiated.'

By Martha Raffaele | Of The Associated Press
November 4, 2007

A high school driver's education teacher in suburban Harrisburg has been acquitted of charges that he sexually molested a 16-year-old girl during a driving lesson last year.

But being cleared by a court doesn't give James D. Frank a spotless record, as far as the Department of Public Welfare is concerned.

Frank's name is among more than 4,000 in the state's child-abuse registry, which lists perpetrators in cases that the department deems ''substantiated.'' It must remain there until his victim turns 23, unless he successfully appeals to have it removed.

Frank still has his job -- his teaching is limited to the classroom -- but he might have a problem going to another school district because the listing would show up in a child-abuse records check as part of his job application, according to his attorney, Terrence McGowan.

''It doesn't mean he can't stay where he is … but in practical terms, it would be difficult for him to get another teaching job,'' McGowan said.

At first glance, Frank's case appears to raise questions about whether the state's policy is fair to people who face allegations that don't hold up in court. But state welfare officials point out that the legal standard of proof differs substantially from the standards used by child-welfare caseworkers to determine whether abuse occurred.

Frank was acquitted in August, but he will have to wait until early next year for an administrative hearing on his child-registry appeal, McGowan said. The process could take several months.

Larry Frankel, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said that while Frank is fortunate to have an employer willing to give him a second chance, that may not be the case for others in similar situations.

Although states have varying standards for determining what constitutes child abuse, it is standard practice to keep a registry regardless of whether the alleged abuser has been convicted, said Tom Birch of the National Child Abuse Coalition, an advocacy group in Washington.

Pennsylvania substantiates abuse through court rulings, a perpetrator's admission, medical evidence or a child-protective services investigation.

Child-welfare investigators can determine independently that abuse occurred if they gather enough credible evidence to support a victim's allegations, regardless of whether it results in a criminal conviction, said Richard Gold, deputy secretary of the Office of Youth, Children and Families.

''If you're charged with a criminal offense, your standard of proof … is different than if you're a subject of a child abuse report in Pennsylvania,'' Gold said. ''Our burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence.''

If changes to the system are warranted, the appeals process might be worth examining rather than the registry itself, said Cathleen Palm, co-founder of the Protect Our Children Committee, a state advocacy group. She said the state sets a fairly high threshold in the child-welfare system for determining what constitutes child abuse, and some cases never reach a courtroom because children are reluctant to testify, particularly against family members.

''If we were only to go by … positive prosecutions, we would be opening the door and really fraying the safety net for children,'' Palm said.

Jenna Mehnert of the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers said she is talking with lawmakers about developing stricter requirements for hiring child-welfare investigators, who are currently unlicensed.

The state's employment prerequisites include a bachelor's degree or equivalent work experience, but they are not necessarily required to be educated as social workers, she said.


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Postby Marina » Mon Nov 05, 2007 9:01 pm


Deciding Which Criminals Can Be Around Day Cares

AP - 11/4/2007 2:44 PM - Updated 11/5/2007 7:11 AM

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A Department of Human Services committee will take over the process of deciding which former criminals will be allowed in day cares.

DHS Director Howard Hendrick says the change in practice of relying on one official's judgment in such matters will allow more consistency.

It was reported last month that DHS allowed child abusers, robbers, prostitutes and other former criminals to work or live at day cares. DHS bars certain ex-convicts from operating, working or living in days cares, but they may seek waivers from the ban.

More than 90 former criminals were reportedly given exemptions between Jan. 1, 2006, and July 19. Records showed that almost half were involved in some kind of violence


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Postby Marina » Mon Nov 12, 2007 4:53 pm

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Report urges open access to records for adult adoptees

Report urges access to birth certificates, adoption court files

By Bonnie Miller Rubin | Tribune staff reporter
November 12, 2007

Few issues are more heatedly debated in child-welfare circles than whether adopted citizens should have access to their original birth certificates and other legal documents.

In most states, including Illinois, adoptees are legally prohibited from obtaining those records, based on the belief that such practices best serve both the birth parents who relinquished their children and their new families.

But a report scheduled to be released Monday by the Evan B. Donaldson Institute challenges those assumptions, suggesting that all adult adoptees should have unfettered access to their court files and that barring them from such personal information raises significant civil rights concerns.

Currently, only eight states fully open such records, reflecting the nation's long tradition of shrouding adoption in secrecy. The report, considered the most exhaustive on the topic to date, examined individual states' experiences in restoring access and analyzed current research and policy.

It concludes that the rest of the nation should move to share such information -- and the sooner, the better.

Moreover, there is no evidence that the states that do allow such transparency have caused undue hardship to biological parents' lives by revealing their names.

"Good public policy is not based on anecdote or stereotypes but on real knowledge and research," said Adam Pertman, executive director of the New York-based independent non-profit organization. "We hope by providing that research, we can inform the national conversation, leading to laws that are responsible and humane."

Changed views

In states that have amended their statutes, none of the negative consequences predicted by opponents has come to pass, the study concluded. Chief among the concerns: Without the assurance of anonymity, pregnant women would be more likely to choose abortion.

"It's just not accurate, it doesn't happen," Pertman said. "Sealed records are a symbol of a time when adoption was an embarrassment ... and that time has gone by."

Adoptees are the only Americans, who, as a class, are not permitted to obtain their original birth certificates, depriving them of medical data and answers about their personal histories. Illinois has long favored privacy over access. In 1996 proposed legislation to open adoption records was derailed even before it got to the House floor for a vote.

In 2003 state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), an adoptee, successfully sponsored a measure that allowed designated intermediaries to do records searches, following her own long quest for information.

While Illinois law may offer more openness than other states, going through a third party still treats this population like second-class citizens, the legislator said.

"The laws should be written to protect people they serve ... and instead they were written for the minority -- the [birth parents] who don't want post-adoption contact," said Feigenholtz, who said she receives about two calls a week on the issue.

"I dream about the day that every adopted person can walk into [an office of vital records] and obtain their original birth certificate," she said, indicating that she intends to sponsor such a bill in the future.

Bruce Boyer, head of the ChildLaw Clinic of Loyola University Chicago's School of Law, said the report makes a "strong case" that the privacy of birth parents is insufficient reason to keep adult adoptees in the dark. He added that it should be a basis for "taking another look" at Illinois' confidential intermediary law.

"I think the social science around adoption has evolved a lot in the last several decades," said Boyer, who is on the board of the Donaldson Institute. "In many ways our laws still need to catch up on contemporary thinking."

The right to information is simply the right to information, Pertman said, and should not be confused with the right to a relationship, which he said is something mutually developed between individuals.

"These are adults we're talking about, not people looking for new mommies," he said.

However, some advocates preach caution.

"How can we respect everyone's right to know while recognizing the birth mother's right to privacy and confidentiality?" said Nancy Golden of the Midwest Adoption Center. "It's very complicated."

Records can help adoptees connect not only with parents but also with brothers and sisters, Golden said.

"Sibling connections are the happiest because there isn't the same shame of having placed a child," she said.

'Opening a Pandora's box'

Golden, whose agency has run the confidential intermediary program for the state for the last decade, has seen a wide range of reactions on the emotionally charged issue. Today, when unmarried celebrities flaunt their pregnancies, it's difficult to recall a time when out-of-wedlock births were surrounded by shame and stigma -- one reason that files were sealed for so long.

"Even if a birth mother is open to an outreach, it may be that no one else in her life knows she made an adoption plan 50 years ago," Golden said. "The choice of saying yes to a birth relative may not be simple. ... You may really be opening a Pandora's box."

David Berzofsky, 42, knows the situation firsthand. He was born in New York in 1965 and recently connected with his birth mother, who was from Chicago -- something he was able to do only because he paid a hefty sum to an investigator.

While he considers his experience very positive, his sister -- also adopted -- received a different response from her birth father.

"It just went very, very badly," Berzofsky said. "He was like someone from out of 'The Sopranos' and didn't want any part of her."

Risks aside, he said, everyone should have the opportunity to get information -- whether they choose to act on the information or not.

"Access should be up to me, not the state," he said. "It's my life."


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Postby Marina » Tue Nov 13, 2007 4:58 pm


Bogus child abuse claims targeted by legislators

But DCFS fears losing a tool for spotting patterns

By James Thalman

Deseret Morning News
Published: Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2007 12:13 a.m. MST

Targeting people who make false claims of child abuse and ridding the names of accused but unsubstantiated persons from the state's abuser tracking system are yet again the focus of proposed legislation.
Alleging child abuse is becoming a disturbingly popular tactic among divorcing couples arguing over child custody, says the sponsor, Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake.

The fact that making a knowingly false claim is a felony under Utah law is not proving to be much of a deterrent.

"People resort to making a claim, legitimately or not, if they believe they're up against the wall," Davis said. "While it helps one, it can destroy the other person. Once the system's gears get turning, not only is it next to impossible to stop them, the name of the accused stays in the state Management Information System indefinitely."

Under Davis' bill, the names of accused but unsubstantiated abuse suspects would be removed after five years. His legislation received conditional approval last week by fellow lawmakers on the Child Welfare Legislative Oversight Panel.

Critics of the state Division of Child and Family Services — the state's main child protective-services agency — say the handling of false claims is the biggest flaw in a system heavily weighted against anyone accused, regardless of the source or merits of the claim.

A flaw to some is a vital tool to DCFS, which does not endorse the legislation, at least in its current form. Agency administrators say the possible damage to someone's reputation who is falsely accused and on the list is almost nil. The chance of missing a pattern of reported behavior over many years — which is a common trait of abusers who are ultimately caught — is almost a certainty, they told lawmakers.
Rep. Steven Mascaro, R-West Jordan, who is co-chairman of the Child Welfare Legislative Oversight Panel, agrees with the intent of the legislation. He is cautious in his support of it, because he believes the system can be dodged by those who are legitimately accused abusers.

"I don't want someone unduly punished for a claim, nor do I want someone who knows how to work around the system get around an ongoing (abuse) problem," Mascaro said.

Duane Betournay, director of DCFS, considers the current policies and practices regarding fraudulent claims "very well calibrated to protect the individual and the agency." He said that DCFS is obviously against people using the system to get the upper hand in a child-custody battle, adding that the agency is willing to "take a step further" and review the process and the training of employees to better recognize false reports.

However, he added, the agency remains opposed to any additional provisions that would remove unsupported findings from the system. Doing so "would limit the ability of the division and the courts to use information in researching possible patterns of abuse" that removal of the names might preclude, he said.

The issue of cases being brought without merit has been addressed previously by lawmakers, and new language has been debated several times, said Rep. David Litvak, D-Salt Lake. "I think we agree on the overall goal, but at the same time, we can't discount the concerns raised by the very people the state has assigned and relies on to keep children safe."

In the 2007 fiscal year, social workers investigated 20,340 child-abuse and neglect cases. Of those, 8,396 reports were substantiated.


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Postby Marina » Tue Nov 13, 2007 5:09 pm

. ... news03.txt

Terminated Bus Driver On State Child Registry

Tuesday, November 13, 2007 9:23 AM CST
By Amy Sherrill
TIMES RECORD • [email protected]

A bus driver for the Greenwood School District was fired last week because she is listed on a state child maltreatment registry, according to records released by the district on Monday.

Angela Crossland was terminated by a unanimous vote of the Greenwood School Board at Thursday night’s meeting.

The reason for her termination was not released until the newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the school.

The state FOIA states that employee evaluations and job performance records are open to public inspection if a public employee is fired.

Crossland was placed on administrative leave with pay in late August and Superintendent Kay Johnson notified her by letter that she intended to recommend to the board of education that she be terminated from her position as bus driver.

“The Child Maltreatment Central Registry has identified Angie Crossland as an offender of a true report of child maltreatment. The type of maltreatment was sexual abuse and it was called in to the Arkansas State Police Hotline on 12/04/1993,” states Vellor Williams, manager of the Child Maltreatment Registry, in an Aug. 27 letter to the Greenwood School District.

Crossland asked the school district to continue her administrative leave with pay until she could contact the Department of Human Services about what she perceived as a mistake.

The board voted Thursday to pay Crossland for the first 25 days she was on suspension and for the additional 25 days she asked to remain there while she attempted to clear her name.

“I understand that you believe this is a mistake on the part of the Central Registry and that the finding is not against you,” states Amanda Epperson, child care licensing specialist, at Arkansas Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education in Johnson County.

“In order to determine that the finding is not against you, I need you to go to your DHS office and get us some kind of proof that this actually was not you. Due to the severity of the finding against you, until you can provide us with this documentation, we cannot allow you to be anywhere on the school campus or on the school buses.”

A stipulation of employment, Johnson said, is to pass a state and federal background check which Crossland did prior to her beginning employment in the fall of 2004 as a bus driver.

However, a new program on campus — Arkansas Better Chance funded preschool — is administered by the Department of Human Services, which has different requirements for background checks.

“There would have been no way of our knowing about this because there were never criminal charges,” Johnson said.

Since all bus drivers would potentially come in contact with the 4-year-old preschool students because they are allowed to ride a bus home, the drivers had to submit to a background check by DHS, Johnson said.


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Postby Marina » Mon Dec 03, 2007 11:04 am


Child Welfare Records Will be Released in Toddler Death Case

Posted: Nov 30, 2007 10:04 PM EST

Child Welfare Records Will be Released in Toddler Death Case

Mother, Fiance Appear in Court to Face Child Murder Charges

By Pam Elliot
24-Hour News 8 @10:00

INDIANAPOLIS - A mother accused of killing her 3-year-old daughter was taken to a juvenile court where a judge made a significant ruling. Judge Marilyn Moores decided it was in the public's interest to release records about the welfare system's involvement in Tajanay's short life.

The documents released by the court show that at least as far back as May of 2006 Tajanay Bailey was in danger and in need of the state's help. Records show it appeared she had been abused and her mother, Charity Bailey could not provide a reasonable explanation.

Now Bailey is charged with her murder and her history with her daughter is exposed.

Before Juvenile Court Judge Marilyn Moores, Bailey's attorney argued against releasing the records. He worried his client wouldn't be able to get a fair trial with such information out in the public's hands. But he lost his argument.

"We're going to have to see about appeal and also we're going to have to deal with the situation at trial best as we can," said attorney Ray Cassanova.

In the end, it was the testimony of the only witness, the managing editor of the Indianapolis Star that seemed to make a difference.

She argued the public deserves to know if the state failed Tajanay.

Even the man in charge of the Indiana Department of Child Services believes in releasing not only the court records but his own agency's file on the little girl.

"This is about being honest, truthful, transparent, and if there are things we have to be answering for we want to do that," said Child Services Director, Jim Payne.

Monday, the court will make available stacks of documents from the Department of Child Services relative to Tajanay Bailey's care.

It is important to note that DCS Director Payne said the case worker and supervisor tied to Tajanay's case have been put on desk duty. Not as punishment but to protect them as well because they are devastated by the little girl's death.


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Postby Marina » Mon Dec 17, 2007 3:40 pm


Medicaid system revealing sealed adoption information

Associated Press - December 16, 2007 2:15 PM ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Yet another glitch in Ohio's troubled child-welfare system.

A snafu is revealing information from sealed adoption records, a data breach some child advocates say is a massive violation of confidentiality.

Ohio's Department of Job and Family Services says the problem involves children in 35 counties who were adopted out of the foster-care system and have Medicaid cards through the new Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System.

In some cases, when medical personnel use the number on the Medicaid cards to look up health records, the system spits out sealed data such as a birth mother's name.

The state has not yet determined how many children are directly affected, although several counties have registered complaints. The agency says it's working to pinpoint the problem.

Information from: The Columbus Dispatch,


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Postby Marina » Sat Apr 12, 2008 3:28 am

. ... /389828802

Published: Friday, April 11, 2008

State withheld records on abused boy, suit says

By Diana Hefley
Herald Writer

EVERETT -- The state has illegally withheld records about how social workers handled abuse allegations involving a young boy who nearly starved to death last year, according to a civil lawsuit filed Thursday against the state Department of Social and Health Services.

Shayne Abegg, now 5, was removed from his father's south Everett apartment in 2007 after he was found severely malnourished. The boy could barely walk and his hair was falling out when police found him. His father, Danny Abegg, recently was sentenced to 8 years in prison for starving Shayne. The man's girlfriend, Marilea Mitchell, also was sentenced to 8 years behind bars.

Seattle attorney David Moody alleges that the state has failed to turn over thousands of documents he requested under the state's public records laws. He requested the documents in December and has received only a fraction of the records the state has about its involvement with Shayne, according to the lawsuit filed in Snohomish County Superior Court.

"It is clear that Shayne's records were being requested and reviewed at the top levels of state government almost immediately after his story was made public in March 2007," Moody said. "For DSHS to drag its feet and fail to turn over Shayne's records is shameful. I suspect that there are dozens of documents that DSHS does not want the public to see."

A spokesman for DSHS declined to comment about the lawsuit.

"We can't debate the issues in the news media," spokesman Steve Williams said. "We have been and continue to process the records that were requested."

The state must be careful to protect the identities of other people named in the records and must read each document carefully, he said.

Moody, who was hired by Shayne's court-appointed guardian, also plans to file a civil lawsuit against the state for failing to protect Shayne and ignoring numerous warning signs that the boy was wasting away even as state social workers visited the family.

Shortly after Shayne was removed from his father's apartment, an executive review was ordered by the Children's Administration, part of DSHS. The review was completed in December. State social workers missed a pattern of abuse and neglect, didn't follow policy to make sure Shayne was safe and failed to hold his parents more accountable for their son's well-being, according to the review.

Moody on Thursday released testimony from a neighbor, who called Child Protection Services as early as May 2006. She alleged that Shayne and his brother were being abused and always seemed hungry. The woman said she was never contacted by state social workers.

Documents show that caseworkers investigated the allegations but concluded they were unfounded. They encouraged Danny Abegg and Mitchell to move away from the neighbor.


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Postby Marina » Sat Apr 19, 2008 10:02 pm

. ... xml&coll=2

Enquirer newspaper wins right to names, addresses of foster care parents

Friday, April 18, 2008Jon CraigCincinnati Enquirer

Columbus- Names and addresses of foster care parents, sought by the Enquirer after the August 2006 murder of 3-year-old Marcus Fiesel, must be released to the newspaper, a unanimous Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The favorable ruling came despite a new state law passed in February that will bar public access to foster home details. However, that law doesn't become effective until May 14.

During oral arguments in January, John C. Greiner, a Cincinnati lawyer representing the Enquirer, told the justices the newspaper was not seeking the names of any children. The Enquirer made the public records request shortly after Marcus' death. The newspaper asked for an electronic database of all foster homes in Ohio.

Marcus, a developmentally disabled boy from Middletown, died after his Clermont County foster parents left him tied up in a closet while they took a weekend trip to Kentucky. Liz and David Carroll Jr. were later convicted in the boy's murder in Clermont County Common Pleas Court.

In today's ruling, Justice Terrence O'Donnell wrote that the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services failed to prove any of the persons on the database were protected from disclosure under existing state or federal laws because they also happened to receive public assistance. "The director is ordered to divulge the database containing the names and addresses not otherwise excluded," O'Donnell wrote in today's 7-0 opinion.

In March 2007, the Enquirer reported that Hamilton County court officials discovered 27 foster parents had arrest records. Greiner argued the state Department of Job and Family Services made a policy decision - not a legal decision - to withhold foster license records, effectively daring the newspaper to file a lawsuit. Greiner also said the newspaper never sought the names of foster children, so it would not have placed them in danger.


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Postby Marina » Sat Apr 19, 2008 10:04 pm

. ... /804180344

Court's foster-care ruling is sound

The Ohio Supreme Court's unanimous decision Thursday ordering the release of some foster parents' names to The Enquirer is a win both for the public's right to know and for the media's ability to hold public agencies accountable for protecting children.

The Enquirer sought the names from the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services in September 2006, shortly after the murder of 3-year-old Marcus Fiesel by his foster parents. It became apparent that agencies involved in foster care had failed in their oversight - for example, in checking the backgrounds of foster parents, some of whom had criminal records.

The Enquirer wasn't seeking the names for publication, but for the right to make sure agencies were doing their job.

The court ordered the department to release names and addresses of foster care providers whose identities were not protected from disclosure by federal or state laws at the time. The exemptions could include those who were receiving certain public assistance payments.

But it is unclear how many of Ohio's nearly 10,000 foster homes will be released. That depends on how many the ODJFS can prove were eligible for the exemption at the time of the request. It will be an incomplete list, and future disclosures won't be possible because of a law going into effect May 14, passed by the legislature in response to the Enquirer suit.

Still, the court said that a public agency does not have the right to make a policy decision on what is a public record - that's up to the legislature. It affirmed that such statutes as the new non-disclosure law cannot be applied retroactively. And it reiterated the principle that public records are to be considered open unless there's a specific exception made - not the other way around.

Foster parents. are in essence public contractors, and it is vital to ensure that the public's interests are well-served in these contracts. Ohioans may disagree on how much information should be released and how it is used, but we all ought to agree on the ultimate goal: protecting and caring for children.


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Postby Marina » Sun Aug 17, 2008 7:38 pm

I-Team: DFS Refuses Release of Murdered Teen's Records

Updated: Aug 7, 2008 11:49 PM EDT

Nicole Yegge's mutilated body was found in a shallow grave over the weekend.

The I-Team has learned the Clark County Department of Family Services has refused to release information about its history with Nicole Yegge. The 17-year-old runaway's mutilated body was found in a shallow grave over the weekend.

State law requires the public release of information whenever a child known to the child welfare system dies.

During an interview with Eyewitness News last year, Yegge claimed she entered foster care at the age of 13.

DFS says it will not release her case history because her death does not fall under the definition of a child abuse and neglect fatality.

The state auditor reviewing all child deaths tells the I-Team he has requested Yegge's case file and will release the required information as soon as he receives it.

Janet O, Reporter
Murdered Teen Lost in the System

Updated: Aug 6, 2008 10:52 AM EDT


Nichole Yegge had been in the foster care system since she was 13-years-old. She bounced around before she landed at Boys Town -- a place for many of the county's troubled teens...

It all seemed to be going well, but after nine months, she left Boys Town. Still in the care of the system, Nichole was reported missing in late May. ...

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Postby Marina » Fri Sep 19, 2008 5:25 pm ... child.html

DCF reports falsified; investigator arrested

September 2, 2008 - 7:13PM
Andrew Gant
Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH - Police say a former employee with the state Department of Children and Families changed interview dates in certain child abuse and neglect investigations this year.

Jeanne Nelson, 46, of Gulf Breeze, was charged Saturday with falsifying records.

She was a child protective investigator with the agency in Fort Walton Beach.

"Even if a child is safe, we will not tolerate falsification of records," said Janice Thomas, the DCF's circuit administrator.

In Nelson's arrest report, police list three cases in which Nelson reported she spoke with a child, parent or grandparent a day earlier than she actually did.

Investigators are required to contact clients within 24 hours of their initial abuse or neglect report.

In an interview with Fort Walton Beach police, Nelson said she was at times "overtasked" and "her work was compromised," according to her arrest report.

Thomas said workloads can fluctuate, but investigators assigned too many cases were encouraged to ask for help.

"It's never a better solution to falsify even a time frame," Thomas said. "You're not going to be disciplined or even fired for missing a time frame.

"Credibility is a huge part of us being able to manage our jobs, and once that is compromised, you can never replace it," Thomas added.

Nelson's records were discovered as DCF officials compared it to a companion case, Thomas said.

Thomas said Nelson resigned during the investigation, which began in late April. She has since been replaced.


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Postby Marina » Mon Nov 24, 2008 8:26 pm ... ?track=rss

Top Lawyer Broke Own Agency's Rules

Jon Lender | Government Watch
November 23, 2008

Officials at the state's Department of Children and Families call it their legal duty to protect the confidentiality of tens of thousands of their clients in cases of child abuse and neglect.

So it was a big problem when the agency's own chief lawyer gained access to those computerized records — twice — for unauthorized personal reasons.

Now, two months after the incidents were reported to the agency, DCF has handed a 10-day unpaid suspension to Barbara Claire, its $125,848-a-year legal director, who heads a staff of more than 20 lawyers, public records show.

"Specifically, this action is taken due to you accessing … records, on two separate occasions, on a case matter involving a member of your family," DCF Deputy Commissioner Heidi D. McIntosh wrote Nov. 3 to Claire. "In light of your role and responsibilities as Agency Legal Director, your actions constitute serious misconduct."

When Claire took advantage of her access to the computerized DCF database for other-than-official reasons, she breached the confidentiality of a member of her family and broke DCF confidentiality regulations, McIntosh wrote.

The agency would not identify the family member or give any details about the DCF case involved, citing the same confidentiality requirement that Claire violated.

Claire appealed her suspension to state personnel officials last week, even as she served it. No decision has been made. "I categorically deny any wrongdoing and I have filed an appeal with the Office of Labor Relations," she said in an e-mail Friday night. "I have no further comment."

The Claire episode would be troubling even in good times — but these aren't good times at DCF.

For one thing, two state legislative committees are in the midst of an investigation of various DCF failures and are considering at least a partial breakup of the massive agency.

For another, a high-ranking legal lieutenant of Claire's at DCF, Maureen Duggan, is facing discipline by the Statewide Grievance Committee for lawyers.

Duggan in 2004 wrote an intentionally misspelled "anonimus" letter posing as a parking lot attendant and alleging irregularities inside the State Ethics Commission's office where she then worked as a staff attorney. It led to the firing of her boss and the dismantling of the ethics commission.

DCF Commissioner Susan Hamilton has said "we have had no concerns regarding her performance or professionalism during her employment with this agency."

But DCF's image also isn't helped by the similarity between Claire's case and that of a Hartford police officer who was charged criminally this year for accessing a crime database to obtain information about a woman to give to a friend. The cases aren't identical, because Claire is not accused of giving the confidential information to a third party; if she had, she might have been fired.

Claire's suspension — two weeks' worth of workdays on Nov. 6, 7, 10, 17, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, and 28 — is more severe than discipline meted out to others who accessed records for personal reasons but didn't disclose information to "a third party outside the agency," DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said.

Claire got more than the typical suspension of one or a few days because, "as legal director … there's an expectation that she would be fully aware of, and versed in, these important rules," Kleeblatt said.

During an Oct. 22 disciplinary hearing, Claire acknowledged that she understood "the rules regarding access to confidential case information and the appropriate use of state equipment," McIntosh wrote in her Nov. 3 letter.

"What's not apparent from the letter is that the misconduct dates back to 2005, when she was assistant legal director to Sue Hamilton," Kleeblatt said. Claire has held her current position more than two years.

The Claire incident was reported to DCF in September after it was uncovered by the offices of state Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

In a Sept. 19 letter, they told Hamilton their offices had received allegations about Claire's actions and had verified through an "electronic footprint" that she had obtained access to the computer records.

They did not include case details, but did mention that Claire took part in a family matter before DCF. In July 2006, they said, Claire "served a subpoena on DCF in connection with court proceedings involving family members."

Blumenthal and Milstein wrote that Claire has access to confidential case files, but DCF employees are only supposed to use such access for official reasons.

Also, they wrote, there was no record "of any steps taken by DCF or Barbara Claire to ensure that Claire did not have any official role with respect to any file concerning her family members" or to ensure that "the ordinary course of DCF action" would not be "affected or influenced ... by her position within DCF."

Kleeblatt said that Claire would have been legally entitled to all or most of the information to which she gained computer access because "an individual whose family is the subject of a child-protection record is entitled to those records."

But the process by which citizens must obtain that information involves examination of records by a DCF lawyer to see if any information must be withheld about non-family members or others whose privacy rights require legal protection. So not everything in the file would necessarily be available via the normal route.

Blumenthal and Milstein issued a joint statement Friday:

"In child protection work, information is a supremely important public trust because it reflects not only confidential facts, but provides power over children. Any violation of this trust to children is an egregious breach of duty that breaks faith with vulnerable individuals in the state's care. When it occurs, it deserves strong and severe sanction."

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