From the South Bend Tribune Feb 5, 2012, Reporting “dramatic drops” in child abuse, could be because  only half the calls are being answered due to the equally dramatic change in how the reports of abuse are handled (about twice as many calls are screened out under the new centralized call center procedures).

10-year old Tramelle Sturgis had been reported as regularly beaten with two by fours, eyes swelled shut, bruised face, no heat in the home.  The caller stated he heard Tramelle say, “you’re killing me”.  Indiana is purging records after 120 days if a worker deems them unsubstantiated.

So the case went without further investigation.

When ditching records is made public policy, it will happen more often than not to reduce case loads and accountability.

This case deserves scrutiny and perhaps prosecution.  Who represents the rights of a child murdered by his parents?

Tramelle’s story reads just like last summer.  Many visits, no action, & the brutal death of a child.

Interviewing the beaten child in the presence of the father?  Who trained this worker?  What processes were in place to insure Tramelle’s safety (life)?

St. Joseph County prosecutor Michael Dvorak was “so frustrated by the lack of older records in the Sturgis case that he urged state Sen. John Broden… to amend the law in the current General Assembly Session”

Bruce Greenberg, CEO of Family & Children’s center wrote this when the region was congratulated for its performance in child protection;

“We have children dying in our region and we are awarded with recognition of system improvement. Really?” he wrote. “The timing of this award is hard to accept given the recent tragic death of 10-year-old Tramelle Sturgis.

“How many more kids will die before we all take a deep look at what is going on with child welfare services in Indiana and reverse the draconian cuts in funding and see how those cuts are negatively affecting the safety net of child welfare?”

As someone who has worked with social workers for many years (as a volunteer guardian ad-Litem), I refuse to blame them for child death on their watch.

The guilt lies with the Governor, Director James Payne, and those that supported shorting the system of resources and process that could have made a difference.  The process and resources were a part of Indiana Child Protection until these men made the changes to eliminate them.

I find it difficult to believe that the state’s newborn screening fund, collected from birth fees paid by parents, has been captured by the governor & directed back into the general fund instead of providing services and supplies for infants with birth disorders?

How could Indiana retroactively terminate adoption subsidies to the five hundred families that adopted special needs children based on the promise that they would have assistance for their special needs children?

Ethically and economically, these were terrible decisions that will cost Indiana children & citizens for many years to come.

Before these cuts Indiana Ranked almost last, 49th out of the 50 states in not supporting child welfare, 37th in child mortality, 47th in juvenile incarceration, 32nd in child death from ages 1 to 14, & 33rd In births to teen moms (As listed by Child Well Being, Geography Matters).

My last trip to Indiana introduced me to the frustrations and disappointments being visited upon abused and eglected children and the foster and adoptive parents trying to help them.

Call Mitch Daniels  317-232-4567 & James Payne 317.234.139 & ask them if they can imagine what it’s like to be a 12 year old adopted child with disabilities knowing that you are a burden to your adopted family because the state redirected funds promised your new family for your education, transportation, & well being.


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For the Love of Children: Does boy’s death point to larger problem?

In the wake of a 10-year-old’s abuse, some question how well the system is working

February 05, 2012|By VIRGINIA BLACK and MARY KATE MALONE | South Bend Tribune
  • The basement of the Sturgis home
South Bend Tribune/VIRGINIA BLACK

A growing number of those involved in protecting Indiana’s children are alarmed at the quiet revamping of the state’s Department of Child Services — changes they say too often result in a reluctance to act appropriately on reports of abuse and neglect.

A Tribune investigation in the wake of the highly publicized beating death of 10-year-old Tramelle Sturgis in November and the deaths this year of several other Indiana children suggests that centralization, funding cuts and the mandated confidentiality of Child Protective Services is worrying social workers, doctors, program providers and even juvenile court judges.

After reports that Indiana’s record of protecting children was among the worst in the country, Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2005 appointed a new DCS director, creating a Cabinet-level position, and pledged more state money toward hiring more case managers in an effort to lower caseloads across the state.

Director James Payne, a former Marion County juvenile court judge for 20 years, has led the overhaul over the last few years, hiring and training 800 new case managers, instituting more consistent policies and creating more systems to review cases. He points to these changes as bringing Indiana’s policies more into line with those of other states.

But he has also led some sweeping changes that others who work in the system point to as serious missteps that are often failing children:

– The 800 phone hot line used to report suspicions of abuse or neglect now rings in a central call center in Indianapolis rather than a local office.

Using a streamlined set of questions, more calls are “screened out”: In the year the centralized call center has been in effect, the “screen-out” rate — calls determined to not merit further investigation — has risen from 16 percent to 39 percent statewide (calls from September through November 2011, the latest figure available).

Both Elkhart and St. Joseph county juvenile courts report that during 2011, the first year the centralized call center was fully functional, the number of cases of alleged abused or neglected children in those courtrooms dropped dramatically.

– DCS has further emphasized its long-standing philosophy of trying to keep children at home whenever possible, citing the risk of greater emotional damage in removing children from their parents if it is not necessary.

But critics of “Safely Home-Families First,” as the policy is called, say the DCS emphasis on leaving kids in a potentially abusive or neglectful home is dangerous — and a way of saving state money by not paying for the more expensive treatment they might need.

– The state has also taken control of the money for child services and streamlined what it spends across the state, negotiating contracts with agencies and residential treatment facilities and refiguring its pay rates for foster and adoptive parents.

Others in the system point to dire consequences in what has substantially lowered access to programs for children; tied the hands of juvenile judges, who can order only DCS-approved treatment programs unless they find other sources of money for them; and resulted in the scaling back and even shutting down of some group homes and residential treatment facilities.

Director Payne, who returned more than $103 million of unspent dollars to state coffers last summer at the end of the last fiscal year, says in response to a current state Senate bill calling for the establishment of a DCS evaluation committee, “The data is pretty clear. We have more children with fewer dollars and better results; that typically would not indicate you need more oversight.”

But reflecting the growing frustration with state changes, Bruce Greenberg, CEO of the Family and Children’s Center in St. Joseph and Elkhart counties, wrote an angry group e-mail Nov. 21 in response to an announcement that the region had been lauded for performance.

“We have children dying in our region and we are awarded with recognition of system improvement. Really?” he wrote. “The timing of this award is hard to accept given the recent tragic death of 10-year-old Tramelle Sturgis.

“How many more kids will die before we all take a deep look at what is going on with child welfare services in Indiana and reverse the draconian cuts in funding and see how those cuts are negatively affecting the safety net of child welfare?”

How did it happen?

Tramelle’s death and the resulting publicity of more than three years of abuse discovered in the Sturgis family has raised the same sense of incredulity among those who work with children in Michiana.


  1. I believe that at any point in this article you could put most states names and have it ring true. The Child Protection System is broken and it is not the social workers. You can only squeeze so much before it dries up. Again our country does not honor children and women/families. They are the first that money is cut, programs go by the way side. Then the world is shocked when tragedies happen. Until this country looks at the whole picture and makes some homest changes in the name of children, this will continue.


  3. I read this article and have to agree with much that was said. I have worked in the child protection field for the past 8+ years. Funding has always been an issue and statutes that regulate what constitutes child abuse are also always changing. These children need help now and it needs to be steady and consistent.

  4. Dr Marsha,

    I accept that mental health is a core issue in child protection but find the “do gooder” charges you make seem a bit mean spirited and inaccurate.

    Writing in all caps makes you look like a screamer & less concerned with constructive ideas and improving the lives of abused and neglected children than making hurtful statements.

    Of the hundreds of social workers and foster/adoptive parents I met over the years as a volunteer guardian ad-Litem, I would argue that only a very few were less than fully committed and dedicated to improving the lives of children.

    Certainly, the lack of training and support makes their success less likely and many of them struggled mightily with really troubled children.

    The lack of understanding, support, and empathy from the media or politicians, unable to comprehend the cost of human life & damage to the community incurred by ignoring mental health issues ensures the cycle of dysfunctional families and more damaged children will continue.

    Most other industrialized nations long ago identified the necessary support young families need to ensure healthy children able to become productive citizens.

    It seems to me, that all of our energy should be directed in a search for better answers.
    Blaming and name calling solves nothing.

    If I am misunderstanding your meaning, please clarify.

  5. Thanks for the reply, Mike…I have a heart of gold and no axe to grind. History has already taken up all of those slots. Perhaps you did miss the core of my message reply, which is the fact that we all have talked too long and written far too much about a problem that is systemic to the core and that has as its roots a flawed and fallen society. Historical facts bear this statement as being true! The discussion was opened up, I believe, for true and honest dialogue and I jumped at the chance to do just that! Take care and again…thanks for the reply!

  6. Mike Tikkanen asked that I add the following that I posted to a different group. It is tangential to the discussion above, but as a Principal, this is helpful to know on what to look for in abused children. Don’t forget we’re all partners in helping the children.

    The attached link is to an article that shows children who are abused or who have witnessed abuse have higher incidents of psychosomatic symptoms (stomach ache, headache, sleeplessness, dizziness, back pain and loss of appetite). Other reasons for psychosomatic symptoms include poor performance in school and bullying.

  7. Rick, has there been any studies done on children who have been part of the dependency process rather than just being the child in the process? I have found that when case workers talk to children, listen to them, and encourage visitation with not just the parents but the extended family and even friends, the child appears to do much better. Grades improve, self-esteem is strengthened, and the child is healthier. We can’t just take care of safety issues without bringing the child (with age appropriate dialog, of course!) into the process. They often are ignored because case workers don’t know how to talk to them. They need to understand the court system, the issues within the home, and what we are doing to help things. They also have information on extended family so foster care can be avoided. I was just wondering if this would help them long term?

  8. Hi all, not sure I like where this is going. “THIS AGENCY HAS BEEN RIFE WITH AN ILL REPUTATION FOR YEARS” ill reputation does not kill children, complacency does. “WHAT CAN WE SAY? WHEN YOU HAVE UNWANTED CHILDREN AND ADULTS HAVING UNWANTED AND PLANNED CHILDREN…THEN SOMEHOW YOU END UP IN THE HANDS OF SO CALLED PROFESSIONALS WHO WERE UNWANTED AND CAST A WAYS AS CHILDREN THEMSELVES” Please, where does this view come from? Certainly not anyone who has researched this issue. “WILL A “REAL GROUP OF PSYCHIATRISTS PLEASE STAND UP AND HELP US ALL OUT!!” We need to step bak and look at the realities of child protection and safeguarding as a whole.

    I completely agree with Sheri’s coments. Ultimately, not to be too blunt but, social workers need to pro-actively do there job, managers need to pro-activly manage. It is not benificial for anyone, least of all the child, to play the “Blame Game” Managers need to manage the process and ensure their staff are actualy doing something when they visit a family. Doctors and consultant’s need to take their head out of the clouds and accept that, theory does not always work in practice. Lets not forget that a doctor examined baby Peter a day before the child died. When asked why he missed the injuries to the child he stated “Baby Peter was very agitated so when I tried to take his clothes off so I left him alone” If my child was Not agitated by a stranger trying to take his clothes off I would be concerned. Ultimately Baby P was found to have a broken back, multiple bruising, broken ribs and other injuries, no wonder he was agitated.

    Ultimately we, as a profession need to accept that we are going to “lose some”. We also have to accept that child abuse happens, it is not rare, niether is it going away. The answer is not just financial, social workers, certainly in the UK, are paid large somes of money for what they do, it has not stopped child death.

    Better training and better staff selection, better management and ALL professionals taking responcibility would be a good starting point.

  9. Numerous studies have been done (and you can google them, I’m tired of doing people’s research for them) and found that the social services system is overwhelmingly corrupt and incompetent in all fifty states. Children are regularly used as “sacrificial lambs” to get title funding for county and town costs. It’s disgusting.

    This comment will probably be flagged or blocked though. Social workers typically stick up for an outright deny any and all wrong-doing, just like cops.

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