America's reliance on juvenile incarceration is unique

States and counties around the nation are debating what services to provide & how much money should be spent on their youngest citizens.  This snapshot review does not include Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, or Texas (where conditions are much worse).

Arizona has experienced a huge uptick in abused and neglected becoming state wards.  Due to the hundreds of millions of dollars cut from child friendly programs these past few years, caseloads for social workers are at 2 to 3 times their acceptable level (over 14,000 children in the foster care system).

Positives; Ensuring adoptive parents who return children to CPS to get mental  -health treatment don’t have to relinquish parental rights.

Negatives; Is $2.50 per day a reasonable stipend for grandparents and great grandparents who step forward to keep their troubled kin (often special needs children) out of the foster care system?

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Tortured In California;  

Long before Ingrid Brewer was charged with torturing her children, one of them told a social worker that she was scared.

Even before the adoption was finalized, the county’s own files contained at least nine investigations of alleged abuse involving Brewer going back a dozen years, according to a person familiar with the investigation who provided a detailed account to The Times.

When detectives interviewed Brewer, she told them the children were punished for stealing food. The case “even shocked some of our most veteran children’s case workers,” Hudson said.

Brewer pleaded not guilty to eight felony counts, including torture, cruelty and assault with a deadly weapon at her arraignment Jan. 18. Her attorney, alternate public defender Hung Phi Du, declined to comment.

After Brewer’s arrest, county investigators uncovered a history of child maltreatment investigations involving Brewer going back to 2001, when callers to a hotline twice reported that she was abusing her two biological children. Both times, social workers concluded that the allegations were unfounded.

In 2006, Brewer was recruited by a private agency called Aspiranet. Based in South San Francisco, the contractor is one of the state’s largest foster care providers, serving 2,000 children a year.

Aspiranet placed 23 children in Brewer’s care over the next five years, among them the half siblings she ended up adopting.

The children’s mother had been found to be suffering from schizophrenia and depression. They came to Brewer in 2009; it was their fourth foster home.

During Brewer’s five years as a foster parent, the county child-abuse hotline received at least seven calls from people alleging that she was maltreating children, including the half siblings.

Nevada,  From KLAS TV Las Vegas; Watching Roderick “RJ” Arrington Jr. sing “This Little Light of Mine” somehow makes his death at 7 years old seem that much darker.

According to police, RJ’s stepfather beat and shook him into a coma as punishment for falling asleep before finishing his homework.

Nevada children are more likely to die at the hands of their caregivers than in any other state and because of under-reporting and almost nothing is known about the children who die.

At the I-Team’s request, Cotton reviewed available information on the more than 300 child deaths in Clark County last year.

His conclusion, the county failed to report at least 19 deaths — and as many as 34.

At the time of Cotton’s review, Clark County had disclosed a total of 15 deaths.

“If you just look at the seven drownings and the eight co-sleepings, that’s 15 right there,” he said. “And you still have 11 babies that died due to maternal use of meth. You have a baby that died from a plastic bag in her mouth. To me, you’re already way beyond the 15.”

Washoe County, the rural counties and the state are all reporting in the same manner as each other.

Only Clark County has a different approach. According to the state, it’s working with county attorneys to reach a resolution.

Late Thursday the county unexpectedly released the findings of its internal review into RJ’s death. The county determined that those who might have saved him didn’t do their jobs.

 

Tennessee has almost eliminated court ordered oversight of the Department of Child Services, including investigations of child death in the state.  At least 6 groups and many of the independent experts have disappeared & Commissioner Kate O’Day has asked her own staff to provide the reviews (no conflict of interest here?)

Texas abuse cases are lost for months by overwhelmed CPS workers (30% of new workers quit within the first year).

Julia Martinez, a toddler with a heart defect, died as she and her mother waited for CPS to find her at-home care.

In Abilene, last year’s bungled investigation involving a military family prompted a police investigation into CPS’ actions. Four top workers there are on leave after the child in question, Tamryn Klapheke, died of dehydration eight months after an investigation was opened.

 

Team: Clark County Underreporting Child Deaths

Posted: Jan 31, 2013 9:22 PM CSTUpdated: Feb 04, 2013 11:28 AM CST

By Colleen McCarty, Investigative Reporter – bio | email
By Kyle Zuelke, Photojournalist – email
Roderick “RJ” Arrington Jr.

LAS VEGAS — Nevada children are more likely to die at the hands of their caregivers than children in most other states, according to a recent national report on child maltreatment.

However, a law designed to shed light on those deaths has the state and Clark County at odds over underreporting.

In 2007, lawmakers lifted the veil of secrecy on child deaths, requiring child welfare agencies to disclose basic information, in part to determine whether the county’s child protective services were living up to their mission.

But a string of high-profile child deaths has revealed Clark County is underreporting when compared to the rest of the state, meaning almost nothing is known about what happened to those children who died.

Watching Roderick “RJ” Arrington Jr. sing “This Little Light of Mine” somehow makes his death at 7 years old seem that much darker.

According to police, RJ’s stepfather beat and shook him into a coma as punishment for falling asleep before finishing his homework.

“I can’t bring him back,” said Latanza Harris, RJ’s grandmother. “I want to bring him back.”

In the days after RJ’s death, his grandparents questioned whether more could have been done to protect him after a child fatality disclosure — required by law — revealed someone reported RJ’s alleged abuse the day before he died.

Child welfare officials didn’t respond in time.

“That is a clear example of why the law was enacted,” former state Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley said.

Buckley helped to craft the law that requires child welfare agencies to disclose information about child deaths and near fatalities, including what, if any, history the agency has with the child or his family.

“The more you know, the more you can look at ways to potentially prevent near fatalities or deaths,” Buckley said. “Could, for example, someone have done something differently? Not a blame game, but if we can learn from bad things that happen and prevent them from happening in the future, everyone benefits.”

The county’s most recent omission was the stabbing death of 10-year-old Jade Morris.

Clark County insists her death was not the result of abuse or neglect, so disclosure isn’t required.

“I don’t see any reason why that wouldn’t be disclosed,” said Ed Cotton, former director of the state’s Division of Child and Family Services.

At the I-Team’s request, Cotton reviewed available information on the more than 300 child deaths in Clark County last year.

His conclusion, the county failed to report at least 19 deaths — and as many as 34.

At the time of Cotton’s review, Clark County had disclosed a total of 15 deaths.

“If you just look at the seven drownings and the eight co-sleepings, that’s 15 right there,” he said. “And you still have 11 babies that died due to maternal use of meth. You have a baby that died from a plastic bag in her mouth. To me, you’re already way beyond the 15.”

The Clark County Department of Family Services declined the I-Team’s request for an interview.

Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said the county is simply following the district attorney’s legal advice as to what it can and should reveal.

“It’s not a matter that we want to hide anything,” Sisolak said. “That’s simply not the case. It’s that we want to protect the children and at the same time give the public as much information as we feel is comfortable and fair.”

In the absence of agreement, the state has begun disclosing those deaths and near fatalities it believes the county should report, but won’t.

Jade Morris was the first.

RJ’s death prompted an internal review, but the results of that won’t be released, according to the county.

“You can’t even imagine how tough this is,” said Harris, RJ’s grandmother. “This is a nightmare right now.”

Washoe County, the rural counties and the state are all reporting in the same manner as each other.

Only Clark County has a different approach. According to the state, it’s working with county attorneys to reach a resolution.

Late Thursday the county unexpectedly released the findings of its internal review into RJ’s death. The county determined that those who might have saved him didn’t do their jobs.

 

From the Tennessean;

Reduction of DCS watchdogs called ‘total disaster’

Legislator’s demand for accountability brings Q&A session

Written by
Anita Wadhwani
The Tennessean
  • For nearly two decades, the Department of Children’s Services had to open its files to an independent team of 13 experts who would retrace every step taken to protect and care for children under the state’s watch.

Last year, DCS Commissioner Kate O’Day abruptly ended the agency’s relationship with the Children’s Program Outcome Review Team despite the protests of children’s groups and lawmakers.

Since 1994, that team’s work had been touted as the only unbiased, independent quality review of the cases of children in DCS care.

But DCS watchdogs have been disappearing.

In the past two years, at least a half-dozen groups that once monitored DCS’ work have been eliminated — some by O’Day, who took over the department in early 2011. Others fell victim to reorganizations of the legislature or state government by Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey or House Speaker Beth Harwell.

State Rep. Mike Turner, a Democrat from Old Hickory, called the department’s dismantling of oversight a “total disaster.”

Turner’s demand for accountability has yielded some results. O’Day has agreed to answer questions Wednesday morning from lawmakers on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

The diminishing level of oversight comes as O’Day and her department face increasing scrutiny for unreported child deaths. DCS was ordered by two separate courts last month to hand over details of its work with children who subsequently died since 2009.

O’Day declined to be interviewed for this story. Instead, DCS spokeswoman Molly Sudderth provided The Tennessean with a list of nine groups that are among a “number of external reviews which continue to provide extensive oversight and reviews of the department’s work.”

The list includes the Division of State Audit, which reviews the department’s financials; an accreditation body that reviews DCS’ detention centers for delinquent youth once every three years; and a state Sunset Audit performed by the Comptroller’s Office once every eight years.

Four of the oversight groups DCS cited have had their own difficulties with the department:

The Second Look Commission, which reviews DCS’ handling of child abuse, was given faulty data; DCS failed to respond to recommendations of the Citizen Review Panels for more than a year; members of another group on DCS’ list, the Children’s Justice Task Force, said O’Day had not met with them in two years. And outside evaluators appointed by a federal judge had to postpone their report on the department because they cannot get accurate data from DCS.

The local Foster Care Review Boards cited by DCS advise courts on the status of individual children and were singled out in a recent report for not being “consistently effective and efficient across the state.”

An audit of the agency’s foster care program by the federalAdministration for Children and Families recently ended, and its findings will be published later this year.

More eliminations

While those programs remain, many of the independent experts who provided monitoring of DCS are gone.

O’Day ended the $1.2 million Children’s Program Outcome Review Team contract as a budget-cutting move, asking her own staff to conduct reviews of the agency instead — a move that critics said was akin to the “fox guarding the henhouse.”

In response, Sudderth noted that staff at Vanderbilt University are involved. Their role, however, is limited to selecting a scientifically accurate sample of children’s cases for DCS staff to review and to observing and assessing how DCS staff conduct the review.

Eliminated, too, was the Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination, a multidisciplinary team that for nine years reported directly to the governor about how well DCS, TennCare, the Department of Human Services and other state agencies were serving children. Haslam disbanded his group shortly after his election in 2010.

Former director Bob Duncan, now a Milwaukee-based vice president of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, has been watching the troubles unfold at DCS from afar.

“Our job was to examine any failure of service, and we’d bring together a group to do a fish-bone analysis of what went right and wrong and what we could do to fix the situation,” Duncan said. “There would have been a lot of work around this.”

Also eliminated was the Select Committee on Children and Youth, a panel of lawmakers who focused specifically on DCS and child issues. It was disbanded by Lt. Gov. Ramsey and Speaker Harwell as part of a larger downsizing of legislative committees.

“We have dampened the effectiveness of the legislature and taken away the legislature’s role,” Rep. Turner said of the elimination. “We have a job to do. Part of our role is to protect the people from problems of government and to step in when it’s not working.”

State Rep. Sherry Jones, a Nashville Democrat, last week introduced a bill to reinstate a legislative committee to examine the work of DCS.

Monitoring impact

Ira Lustbader, an attorney with New York City-based Children’s Rights, which represents foster children in DCS care in federal court, said his group would monitor the impact of the oversight changes.

“As counsel for children, I think more sunlight and more outside sources of government accountability is better for kids and taxpayers,” Lustbader said. “We’ll know soon enough how well those programs are doing in-house. If there are problems with it, we’ll act on it.”

Children’s Rights has been hampered in its own court-ordered responsibility to oversee the department.

DCS’ computer problems have meant it cannot accurately provide those overseers with data on children in its care. Instead of providing a report on DCS to a federal judge last December, the group will submit it in July.

Another layer of oversight of DCS was eliminated last year when a law requiring DCS to report on how well it was serving delinquent youth to the governor and the General Assembly was changed.

DCS is also voluntarily removing itself from the oversight of the Council on Accreditation, a national overseer of child and family agencies that sets standards for how they serve children. In 2010, when DCS first got accredited, then-Gov. Phil Bredesen praised the move to meet the “highest standards” as one of the agency’s most ambitious accomplishments.

O’Day has declined to pursue reaccreditation when it expires in 2014, Sudderth said.

Contact Anita Wadhwani at awadhwani@tennessean.com or 615-259-8092.

 

From the Arizona Republic February 4 2013

Support for families lacking in state

Child advocates urge prevention funding

by Mary K. Reinhart – Jan. 26, 2013 11:15 PM
The Republic | azcentral.com

Aaron Fulbright is keeping his family together but, like thousands of other Arizona families, the single dad struggles every day to care for his kids.

His boys, ages 5, 7 and 8, have no health insurance. Their mother is in prison. The family lives paycheck to paycheck.

The Fulbrights exemplify one ofArizona’s most pressing child-welfare issues: supporting struggling families to prevent child neglect so their kids don’t join the hundreds coming into foster care every month. The increasing number of kids in foster care comes at a great cost to the children, their families and state taxpayers.

A year ago, the family was homeless. Today, they’re living in a small, one-bedroom home in south Phoenix and scraping by on what Fulbright makes from freelance construction jobs.

The Arizona Republic profiled Fulbright last February, in the first of a yearlong series of stories about the challenges facing Arizona’s beleaguered Child Protective Services, where caseworkers are overwhelmed and a record 14,400 children are in foster care.

State policy makers pledged last year to reduce a backlog of thousands of cases, increase the supply of foster homes and cut paperwork and caseloads so workers could spend more time with children and families. They also vowed to keep serious child-abuse cases from falling through the cracks.

In the months that followed, efforts to recruit more foster families began to pay off, while reports of child abuse and neglect, the number of kids in foster care, CPS caseloads and worker turnover all continued to increase.

Now, Gov. Jan Brewer wants to spend an extra $82 million to hire more caseworkers and keep up with rising foster-care costs this year and next.

Legislators and child-welfare experts say the governor’s plan is akin to treading water and will make the foster-care system bigger. They say it will do little to ease caseloads for CPS workers, reduce the time foster children spend in care, or improve the well-being of kids and families because it won’t stem the flow of children coming into the system.

The governor has identified the protection of children as a key legislative and budget priority, but she and her administration are not offering any new programs or services.

Brewer’s budget proposal for caseworkers, foster-care housing and services for families involved with CPS — $14.8 million for the remainder of this year and $67.2 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1 — will barely keep up with the system’s unprecedented growth.

Nor does it reinstate the hundreds of millions of dollars lawmakers cut from programs that support families, such as child care, welfare and housing assistance, which would go a long way to helping parents like Fulbright.

During her State of the State speech Jan. 14, Brewer said of her CPS plan: “These commonsense steps will help at-risk children get the assistance they need before it’s too late. … Arizona must protect her children.”

But by the time CPS gets involved, many children are already suffering.

Child advocates say Brewer’s proposals are a good start, but what’s also needed are the leadership and commitment to support families and children in ways that will prevent abuse and neglect, slow the increasing flow of maltreatment reports to authorities and reduce the number of kids in foster care.

“Where’s the leadership for prevention?” said Becky Ruffner, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona. “When are we going to take a step back and say we’ve got to protect children from getting hurt in the first place?”

The governor’s plan

Brewer made improving the state’s child-welfare system a centerpiece of her State of the State speech, and it accounts for 15 percent of the new spending she’s proposed in her fiscal 2014 budget.

Lawmakers from both parties seemed warm to Brewer’s plan to add 200 staff members to CPS, including 124 caseworkers, a 13 percent increase over the current 970 caseworkers.

There’s also broad support for providing emergency funding to hire 50 of those workers as soon as possible and add $10.4 million this year to shore up services, such as visitation and counseling, for families with children who have been removed or are at risk of removal.

The Governor’s Office says it’s a generous request given the state’s nascent economic recovery. But others question whether it will make a dent.

“I believe they should be asking for much more than they’re asking for. They need more positions to get ahead of the curve,” said Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix. “Because it’s a matter of life and death for a lot of kids in our communities.”

According to the state Department of Economic Security’s own projections, the funding boost is aimed at maintaining caseloads and keeping up with rising foster-care expenses.

DES expects the number of reports to the child-abuse hotline to climb by 10 percent in fiscal 2014, slower than the current 20 to 25 percent growth but still leading to more kids entering foster care.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the governor’s CPS proposal is significant, particularly in light of the state’s financial picture. The agency has seen historic growth in child-abuse hotline reports and foster-care rolls, but eventually that will taper off, he said.

“There will always be more to be done,” Benson said.

“The governor is committed to working with her agency and with child-protection groups across the state to improve the overall system,” he said. “But getting more caseworkers on the front lines of this system is going to have an impact for Arizona’s children.”

The budget request is a marked difference from last year when Brewer, following the recommendations of a child-safety task force she created, asked for $3.7 million in new funding to beef up investigations and reward experienced caseworkers.

Lawmakers obliged, as caseloads were exploding, but made no effort to address the soaring rate of abuse and neglect reports.

If approved, the 200 new workers would be the first increase since 220 CPS staff members were hired under reforms pushed by former Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2003. They would be phased in over two years, with hiring starting sometime this summer. The hope is that additional caseworkers and support staff will reduce caseloads, now double or triple state standards, and reduce the 30 percent staff turnover rate.

Child-welfare experts say they understand the political realities, and they’re grateful for the governor’s attention. But adding dozens of new, inexperienced CPS workers could end up creating more problems if the agency doesn’t take steps to keep the seasoned staff they have, particularly supervisors, and ensure that there are immediate, adequate services for families.

“When you take kids, you have to have services and supports to send the kids back home,” said Karin Kline, a longtime CPS administrator now with Arizona State University’s Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy. “We’ve had this incredible increase in reports and a greater increase of kids coming into care. Everything around it needs to increase as well, not just CPS workers.”

Economics of prevention

Most CPS cases have their roots in poverty, substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence or a combination of those factors. About two-thirds of CPS reports — including those that lead to children being removed from their families — involve neglect, rather than abuse.

Child-welfare experts and current and former CPS workers say the most effective, cost-efficient way to reduce child maltreatment and improve the safety of children is to help their families.

But since 2008, Arizona lawmakers faced with huge budget deficits balanced the state’s budget in part by cutting more than $300 million from programs that help struggling families before they reach the point where they abandon, abuse or neglect their children.

Arizona has seen a 40 percent increase in its foster-care population since 2009, when Brewer and legislators imposed the first in a string of budget-balancing cuts to DES and other family-support services, including child care, health care, housing assistance, substance-abuse treatment and job training.

Since then, children also have been staying longer in foster care, which is part of the reason the number of Arizona foster kids is at an all-time high.

Because of a shortage of foster homes, a growing number live in group homes and crisis shelters. Experts agree a family setting is the best place for children removed from their homes, particularly babies and young children, who make up about 40 percent of the foster-care population. Foster homes also cost much less than so-called congregate care.

Arizona wasn’t alone in its economic struggles during the recession, but it is one of just a handful of states with growing foster-care populations.

“There are many states that have had tough economic times, and they haven’t seen a (record) increase in foster care,” said Anne Ronan, who represents children and families as an attorney with the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. “This is a lack of services to support families. I don’t know what else it could be.”

Nationally, the number of children in foster care has been declining for the past five years, and more states are implementing policies to keep children out of the system.

Child-welfare experts say Arizona’s 40 percent increase in foster children since 2009 is the highest in the nation.

“The general trend across the country is to say, ‘We can’t keep experiencing these highs and lows in child welfare,’ ” said Linda Spears, vice president of policy and public affairs for the Child Welfare League of America. “If you don’t address the front end, your back end will constantly have this problem.”

Various studies have shown a significant return on investment from prevention-related programs.

For every $1 spent on early-childhood and family-support services, the government could save from $4 to $25 on incarceration and public assistance later in life, according to the research.

“The problem is not CPS. The problem is child abuse,” Ruffner said. “It’s preventable and it’s economically viable to do it. To not do it is unconscionable and economically unsustainable.”

Nina Williams-Mbengue, child-welfare program director for the National Council of State Legislatures, said a growing number of states are implementing two-tiered responses to child-abuse and neglect reports, where low-level cases are diverted to contracted service providers whose aim is to determine what families need to remain safely together. Nearly 30 states have some version of a “differential-response” system.

“Many states are experiencing reductions in their foster-care caseloads and have been over the past number of years,” she said.

DES Director Clarence Carter told a legislative committee earlier this month that caseloads and worker turnover are too high.

“I am not standing here and telling you that all is well,” Carter told the House Reform and Human Services Committee.

He said his agency must address prevention of child abuse and neglect and reduce the number of reports coming into the statewide hotline.

Carter has said he wants to begin planning a two-tiered response system and request funding next year.

Child advocates, however, say waiting until mid-2014 to start prevention efforts is too late. “It’s unacceptable,” said Dana Wolfe Naimark, president and CEO of Children’s Action Alliance. “The crisis will only deepen in the meantime.”

Naimark said lawmakers will be doing a disservice to children if they provide only enough funding to keep CPS even with caseload growth and fail to implement broader system changes.

“Things will look just the way they are a year from now,” she said. “You will still have kids sleeping in offices. You will still have caseloads that are absurdly high, that prevent kids from being safe.”

Politics of prevention

The debate over preventing child abuse and neglect is freighted with the politics of personal responsibility and the appropriate role of government. And prevention efforts always involve money, which Arizona’s conservative GOP lawmakers are reluctant to provide.

“There comes a point where if you make it too easy, people say, ‘Why should I work so hard? I could get all that for free,’ ” said Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria. “The level of dysfunction in our society has increased. … I don’t think there’s any government program that’s going to change that.”

Murphy and other GOP lawmakers balk at funding social-service programs, based in part on the theory that government involvement undermines motivation and responsibility. The more government gives, the theory goes, the more some people will take.

But Fulbright, the struggling father, is proud that he doesn’t rely on the state for assistance. A year ago, he was unemployed, despondent and terrified of losing his kids.

He has since paid down his debts and put a roof over their heads, which in turn eased the boys’ behavioral and physical health problems.

“I just kept hustling and working,” Fulbright said. “I’m a survivor.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said he believes lawmakers will support more money for CPS “because the system is in real trouble.”

But he said the agency and Brewer need to defend their budget proposal, and are unlikely to get more than they request. “We’re still in tough fiscal times,” Kavanagh said. “So the thought that we would put more money into a system than the director or the governor asks seems remote.”

Democrats hope to restore some of the budget cuts that undermined struggling families, but they’re unlikely to have much success.

Providing child-care assistance for low-income parents, for example, would make it less likely that working parents leave their kids home alone, or in the care of an older sibling or questionable acquaintance.

“We’re going to see more and more children being put in very dangerous situations so that families can keep a roof over their head,” said Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix.

Hobbs said the governor’s child-welfare plan is based on what the administration believes lawmakers will approve. But Brewer and Carter should push for what’s needed, she said, not what they believe is politically palatable.

“As long as they’re doing this treading water, they’re going to continue to have the same burnout and turnover of staff,” she said. “Bottom line: Kids in (CPS) care are not safe and kids who should be in their care don’t get there because they have too much to do.”

While the state added more foster homes last year, foster parents say it’s still not the ideal way to take care of children.

Longtime foster parent Kris Jacober, who runs the Arizona Association of Foster and Adoptive Parents, says families have disparate concerns, but one shared hope for the system: keeping more families together so there are fewer foster children.

“Can’t we start to think about kids and their families before they come into foster care?” she said. “In the meantime, 30 kids are coming in every day. And they’ve got no place to sleep.”

Reach the reporter at maryk.reinhart

@arizonarepublic.com.

LOOKING FORWARD

Child welfare will be a key issue for lawmakers and Gov. Jan Brewer in the current legislative session. Here’s what to expect:

Budget: $82 million of new spending — $14.8 million as soon as possible and the rest for fiscal 2014, to add caseworkers and keep pace with rising foster-care costs.

Foster parents: Boost daily rates paid to foster families; additional funding for families who agree to be emergency receiving homes.

Foster-care licensing: Eliminate requirement that biological children be fully immunized; license within two weeks for couples with high credit rating, at least $80,000 annual income, married at least 10 years, raised a child as old as the foster child and no criminal record.

Adoption: Funding for post-adoption services for parents and kids; ensuring adoptive parents who return children to CPS to get mental-health treatment don’t have to relinquish parental rights.

Grandparents: $75 monthly stipend for grandparents and great-grandparents who care for children who would otherwise be in foster care.

Child-abuse hotline: Allow online reports of suspected abuse and neglect from so-called mandated reporters, including health-care workers and teachers.

Investigations: Divert low-level reports of abuse and neglect to social-service agencies instead of being investigated by CPS caseworkers.

Child care: Restore funding to provide child-care subsidies for low-income, working families.

CPS committee: Engage CPS oversight panel, created last session but never filled, to study the child-welfare system here and in other states and recommend improvements.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/2013/01/22/20130122support-families-lacking-state.html?nclick_check=1#ixzz2Jynu16PW

California;

Years of child abuse allegations preceded charges against mother

Ingrid Brewer was reported numerous times for allegedly abusing children in her care, but L.A. County social workers allowed her to proceed with the adoption of two foster children.

By Ann M. Simmons and Garrett Therolf, Los Angeles TimesJanuary 31, 2013, 7:01 p.m.

Long before Ingrid Brewer was charged with torturing her children, one of them told a social worker that she was scared.

After visiting Brewer’s Palmdale home while assessing her application to adopt the children, the social worker reported that the girl, now 7, and her half brother, 8, appeared stiff in Brewer’s presence and had to ask permission to do anything.

Despite that report, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services looked no further and contact with the family was soon terminated.

Even before the adoption was finalized, the county’s own files contained at least nine investigations of alleged abuse involving Brewer going back a dozen years, according to a person familiar with the investigation who provided a detailed account to The Times.


FOR THE RECORD:
Child abuse case: An article in the Feb. 1 Section A about Palmdale mother Ingrid Brewer, charged in the torture of her children, said that a social worker was assessing Brewer’s application for adoption when she reported that the children appeared stiff in the mother’s presence. The social worker reported the children’s behavior after they had been adopted.


Philip Browning, who has led the department as its permanent director for less than a year, said he could not explain why Brewer, a nursing assistant, was allowed to adopt the children — but he was deeply disappointed that the system appeared to have failed. Multiple workers involved in the case, he said, have been placed on desk duty pending possible disciplinary action.

“This is a very serious situation,” Browning said. “There is a thorough investigation that is going to be conducted to determine what happened, why it happened and how it happened.”

Brewer was arrested last month after the boy and girl were found bruised and beaten on a Palmdale street without winter clothes, huddled under a blanket in 20-degree weather.

They had run away because they were “tired of being tied up and beaten,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Hudson of the Special Victims Bureau.

The children told deputies that Brewer had locked them in bedrooms when she went to work, bound their hands with zip ties and beat them with electrical cords and a hammer, Hudson said.

They had been deprived of food and forced to use wastebaskets as toilets. Both had injuries consistent with the alleged abuse, Hudson said.

When detectives interviewed Brewer, she told them the children were punished for stealing food. The case “even shocked some of our most veteran children’s case workers,” Hudson said.

Brewer pleaded not guilty to eight felony counts, including torture, cruelty and assault with a deadly weapon at her arraignment Jan. 18. Her attorney, alternate public defender Hung Phi Du, declined to comment.

After Brewer’s arrest, county investigators uncovered a history of child maltreatment investigations involving Brewer going back to 2001, when callers to a hotline twice reported that she was abusing her two biological children. Both times, social workers concluded that the allegations were unfounded.

In 2006, Brewer was recruited by a private agency called Aspiranet. Based in South San Francisco, the contractor is one of the state’s largest foster care providers, serving 2,000 children a year.

Aspiranet placed 23 children in Brewer’s care over the next five years, among them the half siblings she ended up adopting.

The children’s mother had been found to be suffering from schizophrenia and depression. They came to Brewer in 2009; it was their fourth foster home.

During Brewer’s five years as a foster parent, the county child-abuse hotline received at least seven calls from people alleging that she was maltreating children, including the half siblings.

 

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

 

 

S.A.’s Specia seeks to right Family Services ship

By Terri Langford
Updated 12:13 am, Monday, February 4, 2013
  • State Protective Services Commissioner John Specia won praise during a Senate committee meeting Thursday in Austin. Photo: Ashley Landis, For The Houston Chronicle / copyright 2013 Ashley Landis

    State Protective Services Commissioner John Specia won praise during a Senate committee meeting Thursday in Austin.

    Photo: Ashley Landis, For The Houston Chronicle

AUSTIN — The scene, a front-and-center seat before the Texas Senate Finance Committee, usually is about as welcoming as a noonday sun in August. And if you’re a department head from the social services side of things, good luck.

Enter John Specia, a former judge from San Antonio, as the newly appointed Texas Department of Family and Protective Services commissioner.

Like many of the 11,000-plus workers he oversees now, he is new and is replacing a series of people who have hit the door in rapid succession. Specia, 63, is the fourth commissioner since 2005 and the third in two years.

Unlike his predecessors who could be counted on for tense, forced smiles before the committee, Specia displayed an easy command of the room Thursday.

Neither cocky nor apologetic, Specia, just 60 days into his new job, laid out simply what it would take to attack some of the hardest agency issues, such as retaining so many departing workers, particularly from his beleaguered Child Protective Services division.

Righting the ship, Specia said, would cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars.

That is in addition to the agency’s base state budget of $1.3 billion, which does not include federal money that the agency receives.

“The price tag is hefty,” Specia conceded of his $263 million proposal, before pointing out how amped-up raises — 10 percent at the nine-month mark — keep employees and make the entire agency run more efficiently. He detailed how worker retention is the key to attacking the agency’s crippling and dangerous backlog of child abuse cases, thereby saving more lives. He spoke of how CPS’ computer system needs to be more accessible by the courts and child advocates who represent children.

He interspersed his request with stories of stressed-out caseworkers who have told him they would rather quit than worry in the night about the children they failed to reach.

“There’s frequent heartbreaks for the workers,” he said. “They make life-and-death decisions.”

Committee members did not flinch. Instead, they seemed to hang on every word from the retired jurist who, for years, sat opposite from CPS in San Antonio juvenile and family courtrooms.

Specia, well known in child advocacy circles, retired formally from the 225th District Court in 2006 after 18 years. He was a founding member of the Texas Supreme Court Children’s Commission, and he created the Bexar County Children‘s Court, which provides specialized services for children, as well as the Family Drug Treatment Court.

In 2008, he could be seen taking notes in the jury box of a district courtroom in San Angelo, working as an adviser to the judge and presiding over the custody cases that emerged after CPS workers removed 435 children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ ranch in Eldorado.

Some have said the recruitment of Specia to take the DFPS job, by Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek, might have helped place the battered agency in a new light.

“The best possible pick, ever,” said Madeline McClure, executive director of Dallas-based Tex Protects, an organization committed to preventing child abuse.

Last week, Republican committee members, including Chairman Tommy Williams of The Woodlands, appeared, for now, more than approving of the new direction from Specia.

“I can’t remember when I wanted to applaud when I heard a commissioner finish a presentation,” said committee member Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, who authored the first series of CPS reform legislation in 2005. “You get this.”

Williams appeared to wave off Specia’s suggestion that part of the commissioner’s rather large request be used to “buy us some time” to keep running the 17-year-old IMPACT computer system that CPS caseworkers long have bemoaned as outmoded.

“What would it cost to give you the system you really need?” Williams asked.

It was a stunning debut for Specia and a sorely needed emotional win for an agency often in the news for all the wrong reasons. Whether it will translate into one extra dime for DPFS, the agency responsible for investigating child abuse and neglect, licensing child care facilities and maintaining the foster care system, remains to be seen.

Although Specia seems to have brought a rare confidence and energy to agency offices in Austin, he discussed last week the many fires the agency has worked to put out in the past year.

“I feel like a general with too many fronts open,” he said.

More than a third of the state’s child abuse investigations are “delinquent” cases that are 60 days or older.

In Harris County, investigators are battling a near-40 percent backlog of delinquent cases. In Bexar County, it is about half that, at 22 percent.

Last year, the Houston Chronicle detailed how abuse cases can get lost for months by overwhelmed workers.

In Houston, Julia Martinez, a toddler with a heart defect, died as she and her mother waited for CPS to find her at-home care.

In Abilene, last year’s bungled investigation involving a military family prompted a police investigation into CPS’ actions. Four top workers there are on leave after the child in question, Tamryn Klapheke, died of dehydration eight months after an investigation was opened.

Specia has visited with workers in that region and listened to what they say about the challenges of their jobs, including finding affordable housing in an area where oil and gas workers have driven rental and hotel prices into Houston and Dallas range.

As one veteran worker in Abilene who was in that meeting said, “He seems real levelheaded. Some changes are coming. I’m real excited.”

Last week, Specia approved a one-time 5 percent merit bonus for CPS workers in Ector, Midland, Ward, Andrews and Howard counties because of the housing challenges they face.

That is a short-term inducement. What Specia wants is to convince workers that a career at DFPS is worth having. Currently, nearly 30 percent of the state’s CPS investigators leave before their first year is up.

Specia has gone to work crafting a new job, a sort of SWAT team of “master investigators” who will travel to different regions and assist workers with their hardest-to-solve child abuse cases so children get into foster or a relative’s care quickly. The first 15 will be hired this year.

Career retention for the investigative unit is the key to curbing that workload, he said.

“We lose a ton of money and we’re terribly inefficient when we lose somebody in the first year. I’ve got to keep people two years to recoup the investment.”

terri.langford@chron.com

Twitter: @tlangford

Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/S-A-s-Specia-starts-strong-in-new-post-4247920.php#ixzz2JysId2xe

1 Comment

  1. I am the Paternal Grand Father of Rileigh Strickland. She is about to turn four tests old, and was taken from my Daughter on May 16, 2013. Since That time I and my Wife Laura have been to court twice. I have been to court three times, and I have attended all conferences since the beginning of this case. I drive my Daughter from Cedar Park, Texas to Bastrop, Texas every friday afternoon so that She may have a highly supervised one hour short visit with her Daughter Rileigh. My Grand Daughter was placed into a foster home so quickly after she was taken from my Daughter, that it seems quite PRE MEDITATED!! My wife and I have eagerly subjected oursslves, and our home to the close, and emotionally invasive scrutiny of a CPS Home Study. We have READILY, AND WITHOUT HESITATION Done Everything That has been asked of us, but have never even been informed of the results of That Home Study. We Have Raised Rileigh From Birth until only about 3 1/2 years of age. We have DILIGENTLY AND Eagerly Awaited a PROMISED Visitation privilege with Rileigh, but we have one Case Worker who will go un named at this time who will not grant visitation to Rileigh’ only Paternal Grand Parents who’s only Wish is To Get Rileigh Out Of Foster Care, which we Know COSTS TEXAS TAX PAYERS A LOT OF MONEY To continue to each month, and take Her to Our Home Where no money is required from the State of Texas to feed, clothe, house, or insure her. We Only Ask This. IS IT SO BAD A THING TO WANT TO TAKE, AND LOVE, AND CHERISH OUR GRAND DAUGHTER, WHEN SHE HAS TWO BIOLOGICAL PARENTS WHO WON’T PAY CHILD SUPPORT, AND ARE EITHER UNABLE OR UNWILLING TO TAKE HER, AND DO THAT FOR HER? Does Fhe State if Texas Have So Much Money That It is able to continue paying for UNNECESSARY FOSTER CARE FOR AN UNLIMITED TIME? Finally; I Ask This Question: IS IF HEALTHIER FOR OUR GRAND DAUGHTER TO TELL US EACH WEEK HOW MUCH SHE MISSES US, OR IS IT BETTER FOR HER TO BE RAISED BY PEOPLE WHO LOVE, AND CHERISH HER, OR BETTER THAT SHE BE RAISED BY STRANGERS WHO DO NOT EVEN LOVE HER??? If any of you can, or are willing; Please CALL OR WRITE YOUR TEXAS SENATORS, AND PASS THIS MESSAGE ON TO THEM. THIS CASE IS BASED IN LEE COUNTY, TEXAS, GIDDINGS, TEXAS. WE HAVE A WARM PLACE RESERVED IN OUR HEARTS, AND BEDROOM FULL OF HER FAVORITE TOYS WAUTING FOR HER. POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 3, 2013 by John & Laura Strickland

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