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Postby Marina » Sat Mar 22, 2008 6:54 am ... inia/6502/

Foster-care cases on rise in deep Southwest Virginia

Published: February 28, 2008

ABINGDON—Widespread abuse of painkillers and methamphetamine across far Southwest Virginia has led to a dramatic surge in the number of children in foster care, according to social workers struggling to cope with the boom.

With mothers and fathers being led off to serve jail or prison terms for drug use, children increasingly are being sent to foster parents. That taxes social-services departments unable to afford new caseworkers, forcing them to spend time recruiting more foster families and leading them to send some children to homes out of the county.

“I think it’s a catastrophe,” said Debra White, supervisor of children’s services for the Tazewell County Department of Social Services.

“If you read anything or do any research, you know that kids growing up in the foster-care system do not normally grow up to become fully productive adults. And if you overload the system with more kids, they’re getting less attention.”

The increase in foster cases in Southwest Virginia comes as the state social-services system copes with growing populations in Virginia’s suburbs. Chesterfield County, for instance, has seen its foster-care caseload jump 48 percent since the beginning of the decade as 40,000 more people made the area home. The growing counties of Henrico and Hanover also have seen substantial jumps, 25 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

While population growth appears to explain the increases in foster-care cases in some counties, social workers point to the widespread abuse of drugs as the driving force in Southwest Virginia.

The state Medical Examiner’s Office reports that Virginia suffered 8.3 fatal drug overdoses per 100,000 residents in 2006, while counties in the western corner saw overdose rates many times that: Buchanan’s overdose rate was 32.8 per 100,000, Dickenson 49.4, Lee 21, Russell 41.7, Tazewell 44.8 and Wise, 50.1, the highest in the state.

. . .

Statewide, the number of children in foster care has grown 4.6 percent since the beginning of the decade, from 7,661 on Oct. 31, 2000, to 8,019 on Nov. 1, 2007.

By contrast, some of the counties in Virginia’s Appalachian corner have seen increases in their foster-care caseloads skyrocket. The number of children in foster care in Washington County jumped 11 percent, Tazewell shot up 28 percent, Dickenson and Russell 61 percent, Wise 62 percent, and Scott 126 percent.

Tony Fritz, director of the state Department of Social Services’ Abingdon office, which oversees the six counties, said a standard caseload for a foster-care worker is about 15 cases. The dramatic increase in workload, he said, is attributable directly to the abuse of painkillers and methamphetamine. “Foster-care cases locally are going out of sight.”

Though the six rural counties make up 2.7 percent of the state’s population, they accounted for 5 percent of all children in foster care as of Nov. 1, 2007.

Joyce Spriggs, a Washington County woman who has been a foster mother for nearly two decades, said she’s seeing more children who come from homes broken by drugs, especially methamphetamine.

“Usually one parent’s in jail, sometimes both,” she said.

Spriggs, 51, said she has five foster children.

. . .

Social workers in Southwest Virginia said alcohol and drug abuse accounts for 50 percent to 70 percent of foster-care cases in some counties in the area.

That makes the mountainous region unique in Virginia: statewide, including the Richmond area, 70 percent of children in foster care are there because of abuse and neglect, said Marianne McGhee, spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services.

The huge increases have meant serious strain to the system in the six counties, according to social-services directors across the area.

“I’ve had to turn kids down,” said foster parent Loretta Sherfey, 37, of Washington County. “It’s just hectic. There ain’t enough foster parents anymore to send them to. It’s pitiful.”

Sherfey cares for four former foster children that she adopted, one foster child in long-term care, and two she said she’s keeping for just two weeks.

Ten years ago when she became a foster parent, she said, “we only had one child, and we didn’t get another for three or four years. It ain’t like it is now where there’s so many kids.”

“I’ve lost three foster-care caseworkers this year,” said Tom Stanley, director of social services in Wise. “I think the caseload has gotten to everybody.”

The loss of caseworkers in Stanley’s office has meant more work for those remaining. Trevor Boggs said when he began as a caseworker in Wise eight years ago, he handled 15 cases; today he handles 35.

“When I got here, it just kept growing and growing and growing,” he said.

Social workers said they have received no additional state money in more than a decade, while local governments, poorer than their urban and suburban counterparts, have been too cash-strapped to help them hire more caseworkers.

. . .

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine is seeking an extra $36.2 million for foster care and adoption subsidies in Virginia, some of which would increase the amounts paid to foster families.

Families currently receive monthly payments ranging from $368 to $546 per child, the exact amount depending on the child’s age.

Del. Clarence E. Phillips, D-Dickenson, said more money is needed immediately because the increase in the foster-care caseload has made it difficult to find enough families to take in children. Phillips said he worries the area is reaching the point where caseworkers could begin losing track of children.

“It’s a major issue down here,” he said. “We need the funds, or we can’t cope with these children. We have to have more personnel to work with these children, and we need to find more families to take them.”

Phillips said he is asking his fellow legislators to send more money to the social-services departments in Southwest Virginia.

Social-services directors in the area said they welcome Kaine’s request for more money; but, after years of disappointment, they are wary of entertaining hope that the General Assembly will go along with it.

“The proof will be in the end result,” echoed Sarah Snead, director of social services for Chesterfield County and Colonial Heights and president of the Virginia League of Social Services Executives.

“We have asked for a number of years for additional dollars in the foster-care system. I would hope they put the money where it’s needed most.”

Contact Rex Bowman at (540) 344-3612 or [email protected].


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Postby Marina » Sat Mar 22, 2008 9:43 pm

. ... ?rss=local

Foster mom trying to get out of jail

Bond denied for foster mom

Date published: 3/20/2008


Attorneys for a Stafford woman accused of having repeated sexual relations with her teenage foster son will try again to get her released on bond.

A judge Tuesday denied a bond request for 33-year-old Suzanne Ibsen Collares, who is facing 20 sex-related charges in Stafford Circuit Court.

Bruce Strickland, one of Collares' attorneys, said Collares' bond might be reconsidered when she is arraigned Tuesday in Stafford Circuit Court.

"She is devastated by these allegations, and she absolutely denies any wrongdoing," Strickland said yesterday.

Collares was arrested earlier this month at her job with the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board. She was indicted by a Stafford grand jury a day or so earlier.

She is charged with 10 counts of statutory rape and 10 counts of taking indecent liberties with a child.

The sex acts are alleged to have occurred between March of 2005 and August of last year at Collares' former home in Argyle Hills.

Court records show that the boy, who was in middle school at the time, reported the relationship in January. He had already been moved to a new foster home by then.

Mark Murphy, Collares' other attorney, said at a bond hearing Tuesday that the allegations surfaced just before the alleged victim was sentenced on his own molestation charges.

He was convicted of molesting a girl who was also associated with Collares. Murphy said the timing of the allegations indicated possible vindictiveness.

Prosecutor Eric Olsen argued against bond. He said that Collares is on suicide watch at the Rappahannock Regional Jail because she has threatened to harm herself.

Olsen also noted that Collares is a citizen of Denmark and her work visa here has expired.

According to an affidavit for a search warrant filed in Circuit Court, the investigation started when the victim's older brother complained about Collares to social workers in Arlington County. Collares was in the foster care program under Arlington.

That boy relayed an incident in which he said Collares improperly touched him while he was sleeping.

Investigators then contacted the boy involved in the charges against Collares, and he said he began having sex with Collares when he was 14, according to the affidavit.

He said he never told anyone, not even his older brother, because Collares asked him not to.

Among the incidents mentioned in the affidavit was one in which Collares' husband walked in while she and the boy were having sex. The boy said they immediately pretended to be asleep.

Strickland said the allegations are untrue and that Collares, who works as a drug court therapist, has spent her life helping kids, not harming them.


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Postby Marina » Sun Mar 30, 2008 7:27 pm

. ... ?rss=local

Task force increases scrutiny, removals in child abuse cases

Spotsylvania officials say new approach to child abuse and neglect is working, but more help needed


Date published: 3/30/2008

A new Child Abuse Response Team formed in Spotsylvania County has led to more children being removed from unsafe homes and more charges of child abuse and neglect, officials say.

"Overall, we've taken a more aggressive approach" in combating child abuse, said Commonwealth's Attorney William Neely.

But those involved in protecting children say more still needs to be done.

Neely, Sheriff Howard Smith and Department of Social Services Director Loraine Lemoine created the team in October after the deaths of two young people known to social services were killed in what police called domestic incidents.

Public criticism about the department's handling of abuse reports, including complaints from Neely, prompted officials to look for solutions.

CART was one of those solutions, designed to increase communication among the three departments that handle child abuse.

The team is composed of a Child Protective Services worker, a sheriff's detective and the victim-witness coordinator for the commonwealth's attorney's office. It operates out of a spare room in Neely's office, and members meet daily to discuss new and pending cases.

Local officials say the team is unique, and the Virginia Department of Social Services couldn't find a similar program in an informal poll of regional social services supervisors.

While Neely, Smith and Lemoine have noticed more charges and prosecutions stemming from the team, Neely said it is too soon to provide extensive data to back that up.

Numbers last fall showed that Spotsylvania's agency opted for services over investigations in 81 percent of its abuse and neglect complaints, well above the state average of 66 percent.

The most recent numbers, from 2007, show the department opting for more investigations, and using the services option 75 percent of the time.

sharing information

The idea for CART goes back to the 1980s, when the commonwealth's attorney worked across the hall from social workers. Detectives dropped by all the time.

After the slayings last year, Neely, Smith and Lemoine decided to revive that face-to-face communication.

Besides their daily meetings, CART members call each other all the time, even in the middle of the night, about cases.

This communication, Smith said, eliminates bureaucracy and builds stronger cases.

"It's a great program. It's working fantastically," Smith said. "It's benefiting the people it needs to benefit, and that's the children."

But even staunch supporters acknowledge that the new effort has a few holes. Team members say they are overworked, and an area child advocate said she still sees delays in investigating suspected abuse.

Smith and Lemoine have each requested an additional staff member for the team in Spotsylvania's proposed 2009 budget. The total cost for both a CPS worker and a detective would be about $180,000.

County staff didn't recommend any new staff positions in the proposed budget because of an expected shortfall, Spotsylvania Administrator Randy Wheeler said. But the CART staff remain on "a very short list" of additions the supervisors are still considering, he said.

more help needed

Detective Twyla DeMoranville, a CART member, calls the workload frustrating. She oversees 64 cases. The average detective in Spotsylvania handles about 40, Smith said.

"Each victim and their family deserves 100 percent," DeMoranville said. "Due to the magnitude of our caseload, it's difficult to give 100 percent, and that saddens me."

Regina Johnson, the CPS worker on the team, and the other five CPS workers in Spotsylvania handle more than 25 new cases at a time. The Child Welfare League of America recommends CPS workers deal with no more than 12 new cases.

Jill Payne, executive director of Rappahannock Area Court Appointed Special Advocates, said the county has been more aggressive in removing children from families. Her agency is serving more children.

But she cautions against seeing the team as a systemic solution.

It "is an attempt at improvement," Payne said. "It's a step in the right direction, but it's a quick and easy fix."

"I'm not sure what else really has changed," she added.

Payne said the team does not address the confidentiality issue. Critics have said keeping victims' names and case information private allows the department to run with virtually no oversight.

CART also doesn't address the system that allows social service agencies to offer services instead of investigating child-abuse cases. That system is designed to help families before they get in crisis, but critics say it opens the door for social services to ignore those who need serious help.

Recently, the team removed a child in conditions similar to those of 13-year-old Kayla Reynolds, whose father was charged with killing her last year. Friends and neighbors later complained that Kayla was not removed, even after social services staff visited the home, where she did not have a bed and lived surrounded by filth.

It's impossible to know if the CART system Kayla's death helped bring about could have helped her, Neely said.

"We're trying to look forward," he said.


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


Child Neglect Case Still on Hold

Thursday marks one full year since an Augusta County woman faced a jury on a felony child neglect charge. But the case has seen a pair of mistrials and a third one is not on the calendar.

The prosecutors are not tipping their hand at this point. Nothing in Virginia law prevents them from taking the case to trial yet again. But the circuit docket in Augusta County still shows the most recent trial for Amber L. Sprouse, April 24, 2007.

The 24-year-old Sprouse was indicted on the felony charge in July 2006. That's about a month after her 11-month-old daughter drowned in a bathtub in their Crimora home.

Sprouse's first jury trial in January 2007 ended in a mistrial when a juror was injured in a fall outside the courthouse. Three months later, a different jury was hearing what prosecutors billed as a taped confession. But one jury member loudly declared that deputies were trying to coerce the defendant and the judge declared mistrial number two.

Last fall, prosecutors said a change of venue is possible so a third jury would be less influenced by pre-trial publicity. Neither the prosecution nor the defense returned calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Amber Sprouse, meanwhile, is free on bond, but this criminal charge still looms. A conviction would carry a possible prison term of up to 10 years.


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Postby Marina » Sun Jun 01, 2008 2:17 pm


Gov. Kaine signs foster care reforms
Virginia's first lady, Anne Holton, said the bills were targeted largely at older kids striving toward adulthood.

By Mason Adams

Photos by Kyle Green | The Roanoke Times

Gov. Tim Kaine formally signed a series of bills Friday that is intended to reform Virginia's foster care system.

During a signing ceremony at Family Service of Roanoke Valley on Campbell Avenue, Kaine told a crowd of advocates and elected officials that the bills are "child-centered, family-focused and community-based."

Kaine and his wife, Anne Holton, toured the Family Service building and met with 10 teenagers in the agency's Teen Outreach Program prior to the bill signings.

Holton said her experience as a juvenile and domestic relations district court judge in Richmond led her to support many of the measures that became law Friday.

"There's a whole lot of legislation this year about helping kids in foster care connect with their siblings or connect back with their biological families or extended family or new family, and get them the support they need like Family Service here," Holton said to the agency's staff members.

She said the legislation was targeted largely at "older kids in foster care striving mightily to become successful independent adults, to be good family members themselves to their future families and to their loved ones despite all the odds."

"The gist of what we came up with, what you need to help these young people more, is really quite simple," Holton said. "It's you need to recruit more families and you need to support them better. You need to support biological families so that children may not need to come into care. You need to support extended families so that extended family can help take care of young people where possible. You need to recruit alternate foster and adoptive families to be permanent families, to be new families to young people who need them, and you need to support them better."

Several of the bills were sponsored by Del. William Fralin, R-Roanoke, who attended the ceremony.

He carried bills to enhance visitation rights for siblings separated by foster care and ensure that foster children older than 18 but younger than 21 maintain a support system even after leaving foster care.

Another bill, co-sponsored by Fralin and state Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, establishes a framework for the Office of the Children's Ombudsman in the Commonwealth, which is intended to act as a clearinghouse for parents dealing with child-related government agencies.

Although no funding was provided for the office in the two-year budget passed by the General Assembly, Kaine said it's an important piece of legislation.

"It's not unusual to put initiatives in the budget, to kind of put a framework in without money on the hope that, 'OK, we can find money when things open up,' " Kaine said.

Kaine likewise touted Fralin's bill to provide more support for older foster children.

That legislation allows individuals to discontinue receiving living services, but opt back in within 60 days if things go awry.

"A reality that many of them face is they would get to be 18 or 19, they would age out of the foster care system, and then ... Where do they go for Christmas? Who calls them on their birthday?" Kaine said.

"Nobody at age 18 is really capable of just walking into the world as a free agent without community support, especially if the child has had some real challenges growing up because of lack of stability of adult relationships in their life. That's what we've tried to tackle with this," he said.


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Postby Marina » Thu Feb 12, 2009 5:01 pm ... 87927.html

Another legal kidnapping in Arlington

By Barbara Hollingsworth
Examiner Columnist | 2/8/09 5:13 PM

On January 4, WRC-TV’s Barbara Harrison featured Arlington social worker Jenna Duffy and one of her young charges, 11-year-old foster child Moses Washington, on the station’s long-running “Wednesday’s Child” feature. Moses said his “big hope” was to find a permanent home.

Viewers had no idea that Moses had been taken away from his mother on unsubstantiated charges of medical neglect. Or that the same cast of characters who snatched Sabrina Slytor from her parents - even though they had previously been cleared of wrongdoing - were involved in Moses’ case as well.

In February 2005, Banita Washington was forced out of her Arlington apartment without being told why. In a court affadavit, Duffy claimed the then full-time Lockheed Martin employee was “evicted from her Section 8 apartment for failure to pay.”

But a rent history obtained by The Washington Examiner showed regular payments and no outstanding balance when the family vacated the unit. After staying with friends and relatives and exhausting her savings at a Quality Inn near her two youngest children’s schools, Washington finally moved into an Arlington homeless shelter to regroup.

She was still scrambling to find a new place to live when Evelyn Fernandez, assistant principal at Key Elementary School, called her at work on Oct. 25, 2005 with more bad news. Eight-year-old Moses, who suffered from respiratory problems since he was two, was having difficulty breathing. She would have to pick him up and take him home.

After questioning Fernandez, Washington says she concluded that Moses’ symptoms were serious enough to call an ambulance, and said she would meet him at the hospital instead.

Her sister, Vanessa, confirms that Banita called her asking for a ride. But Vanessa had a meeting that morning and could not leave work. She also described Washington as an indulgent parent who was “overly protective of Moses – he was spoiled rotten.”

Donna, a former co-worker, sat two cubicles down from Washington - who would often brag about her kids when the two women ate lunch together. She had no idea the family was living in a homeless shelter. “I was really surprised,” she told me. “I didn’t know she was going through all this stuff.”

That morning, she overheard Washington saying to somebody on the phone: “No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m coming to get my son.” and “Did you try his nebulizer?” Washington asked to borrow cab fare, but Donna didn’t have much cash.

She left immediately after another co-worker gave her some money. “She was rushing to get there. She seemed concerned and stressed.” A patient advocate at Georgetown Hospital later refused to accept Washington’s apology for being curt with the staff when Moses was admitted.

But by the time Moses was discharged on Nov. 3, 2005, Tammee Gaymon of Arlington Child Protective Services had convinced Judge Esther Wiggins Lyles that Moses would be “subjected to an imminent threat to life or health” if he was released to his mother. So he was discharged in her custody and Duffy, a foster care/adoption worker, was assigned to his case.

Like Sabrina’s mom, Washington was forced to undergo a psychological evaluation at the Multicultural Center and jump through numerous legal hoops in the hopes that she would get to see her son.

Sharon Gustafson, the same guardian-ad-litem who was supposed to look out for Sabrina’s best interests, was assigned to do the same for Moses. But she didn’t intervene when Duffy informed his mother that although he had been “distraught” during his first year in foster care, he was now in a “place of relative calm” – so any further contact would not be permitted.

The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 requires states to document reasonable efforts to place a child with a relative or guardian, but Washington’s cousin – a psychotherapist who works with children – told me she never received a reply to her offer to take in Moses and his sister Te’Ayra until Washington could get back on her feet.

On June 26, 2007 – less than a month after Judge James Almand terminated the parental rights of Sabrina’s parents – he did the same to Moses’ mother as well. She still keeps a room for him decorated in a Nationals theme just in case a miracle happens.

Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Washington Examiner’s local opinion editor. She can be reached by email at: [email protected].

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