An 11 Year O.C. Custody Fight Stops Just Short of the U.S. Supreme Court
A long, bitter custody fight won’t go to the Supreme Court, but it’s not over yet anyway. Mom says her kids were wrongly taken away for years, and a jury agreed. But the Social Workers were never disciplined.
Tag Archives: adoption
An 11 Year O.C. Custody Fight Stops Just Short of the U.S. Supreme Court
An Orange County social worker who lied to a juvenile court commissioner in order to take away a woman’s two daughters — and cost the county $4.9 million in a court judgment — was later promoted to a supervisor, county officials confirmed.
She now trains other social workers.
It took Seal Beach mother Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick six-and-a-half years to regain custody of her children, who were 6 and 9 when they were taken from her in 2000.
Fogarty-Hardwick’s oldest daughter, Kendall, is now 20, and filed her own lawsuit against the county and three of its social workers for depriving her of a relationship with her mother.
Orange County Social Services social workers Marcie Vreeken and Helen Dwojak filed false reports and held back evidence which would have cleared Fogarty-Hardwick, an Orange County jury found in 2007. A third social worker was cleared of liability.
The jury awarded Fogarty-Hardwick $4.9 million in damages, with the county responsible for the bulk of the award. The county appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied the county’s request to be heard last week.
Vreeken and Dwojak were never disciplined.
In fact, Vreeken was later promoted, according to county records. She earned $103,441.48 last year as a senior social services supervisor, according to county records.
Dwojak, who was Vreeken’s supervisor, retired from the county in 2006, according to county records.
“I am certain and I stand by my social workers that they did not fabricate, they did not suppress any information and they did not perjure themselves,” said Dr. Michael Riley, director of the Orange County Social Services Agency. “If they had I would have dismissed them.”
Social Services conducted an investigation into how the social workers handled the case and found no wrongdoing, Riley said. “This woman is the epitome of integrity,” Riley said of Dwojak. “They did nothing wrong.”
According to court papers, Vreeken threatened that if Fogarty-Hardwick did not “submit” to her will, she would never see her children again. The social workers also tried in 2000 to coerce Fogarty-Hardwick to sign a document saying she was a bad parent by threatening to take her daughters away, Fogarty-Hardwick alleged.
According to daughter Kendall Hardwick’s lawsuit, Vreeken “attempted to coerce Kendall into visiting her father by threatening that if Kendall did not visit with her father she would be taken away from her mother and ‘put in a home.’ ”
Kendall Hardiwick’s lawuit accuses Vreeken of lying in a Feb. 17, 2000 court report, including failing to disclose her threats against Kendall and her sister that left the two girls in tears and a subsequent argument between Vreeken and Fogarty-Hardwick.
A county commissioner ordered Fogarty-Hardwick’s daughters taken from their mother and put in Orangewood Children’s Home immediately. Vreeken and another social worker went with a uniformed police officer to to take Kendall’s younger sister, who was “screaming and crying for her mother as she hid under the principal’s desk,” according to Kendall’s lawsuit. Kendall was also forcibly removed, leaving her “devastated.”
The girls were later put in foster care.
Kendall Hardwick’s lawsuit also accuses Vreeken of repeatedly lying in court reports and on the stand to thwart Fogarty-Hardwick’s attempts to regain custody of her daughters.
In a March 31, 2000 letter, a therapist wrote to the agency that “Kendall … shows signs of emotional regression. She was tearful throughout the session, begging to go home. … She doesn’t know how much longer she can cope and visibly shook while relating this.”
“Defendants knew of Plaintiffs emotional collapse,” the suit reads. “Yet, while testifying in the juvenile court trial, Vreeken refused to acknowledge the children were mentally deteriorating.”
The social workers instead reported the children “were doing well,” according to the lawsuit.
Fogarty-Hardwick gave her ex-husband full custody in 2002, hoping to protect her daughters. She was then allowed two supervised visits a month for two years. She eventually won 50-50 custody in 2006.
Fogarty-Hardwick sued the county in 2002, arguing the Social Services Agency and its two social workers violated her civil rights. A jury ruled against her.
She sued again, arguing this time county’s policies violated her constitutional rights, including her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Fogarty-Hardwick’s accused the county of violating her constitutional rights by removing her children without making a finding of imminent danger or serious physical injury; interviewing her daughters without a parent present; holding her children without cause; fabricating evidence; and failing to properly train employees about parents’ constitutional rights.
The jury voted 10-2 in favor of Fogarty-Hardwick. The county appealed.
In the Fourth District Court of Appeal opinion, Justice William Bedsworth wrote, “the evidence adduced at trial obviously caused both the jury and the judge to conclude not only that something seriously wrong was done to Fogarty-Hardwick in this case, but also that the wrongful conduct was not an isolated incident.”
“Despite Fogarty-Hardwick’s complaints, and the concerns expressed by others about the handling of this dependency case, SSA did not investigate the situation or consider assigning different social workers to the matter. Neither of the social workers involved was disciplined. Instead, Vreeken was promoted to supervisor in 2001,” Bedsworth wrote.
Child Protective Services cases are not open to the public, a fact which Riley says prevents him from providing the whole picture.
“We have no agenda to disrupt families,” Riley said. “Our goal is to keep families together.”
By Sandra Ami
“… Law enforcement and CPS routinely use the law to hide their misconduct from the public. They cite “privacy concerns” as reasons to fail to release evidence that damns their conduct as corrupt and lawless. Even citizens who have been egregiously wronged have trouble getting to any of this evidence. Further, if they dare oppose the government, they risk retaliation. CPS and the police retaliate against “troublemaking parents” by taking away their children with no good cause and then turning what should be routine investigations that take a few weeks into many months or years of refusal to comply with the law, refusal to comply with judicial directions, and working relentlessly to build a cast of co-conspirators who will help defend each other from their misconduct and pin the blame for it all on the target parent.
San Diego’s children and their parents are not safe from government abuse at the hands of CPS and its allies until the agencies and people who engage in these unlawful and abusive activities are removed from their positions and punished or prosecuted for their misconduct.”
Click for full story: http://www.scribd.com/doc/33306169
** WARNGING ** HOW CHILDREN ARE PLACED FOR ADOPTION When they have GOOD parents and Families. IT HAPPENS EVERYDAY.
By Sandra Ami
Sadly, there is a huge cover up, there is a small (and I do mean SMALL) amount of personnel who are claiming to correct the problems; I do also believe that it’s only a front to show people they are trying to do something, this is partially why:
Over and Over we hear of “no funds available” yet if the dollars where truly accounted for, one would find just the Children alone bring in TRILLIONS of dollars.
Again, as I have said, as the REALITY goes (and there is even more)… :
1) First a Child’s name and address come up to Social Services. It could be by anyone, and more often by doctors these days. Once Social Services has a name and address, they then start the process of stealing the child(ren) from the home. Usually in the Public Schools, as it’s easier to get cooperation from the staff when taking children, especially because they too are Govt. Employees.
2) They attempt to interview the parents and EACH WORD THE PARENTS SAY is used in creating the reports AGAINST THEM (and I can give several examples).
3) The SW goes back to the office and (through a pre-formatted form), types ALL THEY CAN negative about the parents, in the reports they will have compiled a list of things the parents have told them that they can use against them, the shock only comes after you appear in court when you realize you have told them things which can include but most definitely not limited to: if the parents drink Soda or Coffee; if the parent(s) were verbally or physically abused (explaining a pattern of abuse in the family to substantiate any claims the SW conjures up); If you dropped out of College- that too can be used against you; They want to know if your parents were divorced, that will be used about your mental stress or inability to connect as you had/have issues with the divorce that you have never dealt with; do you EVER drink alcoholic beverages (you will be deemed a drinker PERIOD); do you work? if you are a mother that stays home, they will report that the ‘stress of being a full time mom’ even if you claim no stress; they will ask if you EVER argue with your spouse (if you are a single parent WATCH OUT) if you EVER argue, that will be held against you as STRESS giving you the INABILITY TO PARENT YOUR CHILD..The list goes on, and their lists in their reports go on. The idea is to put so many allegations against you that it is virtually impossible for you to defend. The things you find to be meaningless (which in actuality are) are in fact things they take advantage of and use against you. IF you take ANY prescription medications, you are automatically deemed, dependent or mentally ill. Therefore they then can recommend you for Mental Health Care, and Counseling which they get paid extra for (it’s all part of the payment plan from the govt.) It doesn’t matter if you have personal Health Care, because the do NOT allow you to use it, they put you on Govt. Health Care Plans so that they can control and monitor all your records, without you having access. Your children will ALSO be placed on these plans to prevent you from accessing your children’s records. AFTER the report is made against you, and the children have been taken, these children feed into the Mental Health (DHHS) industry as well, by placing them on drugs to calm them as they have been traumatized by their kidnapping from schools and are not able to see their parents or go home, but instead thrusted into a place with a group of strangers who, really don’t care about them, as they are just another kid being brought in for money. The child cries profusely, therefore it’s justified they need medication and Counseling (which is more funding, and deeming the child(ren) as “special needs” (more funding). They don’t tell you, that also one criteria for being a Special Needs child is simply being 6 yrs of age or older.
4) There is a TDM (Team Decision Meeting) with the parents to “determine where the children will be placed IF not with the parents” though they have NO INTENTION of placing the children with the parents OR any of those discussed in the TDM. The purpose of the TDM is basically to abide by the law in having one, there is absolutely no other purpose for it. Everything that is said in the TDM will NOT be placed in the reports as required by law. In fact, they can, do and have put into the report that, after the meeting “No FAMILY AVAILABLE” “REQUEST CONFIDENTIAL FOSTER CARE” even after you had discussed family and/or friends for placement, even if those family and friends were present in that meeting.
5) The case goes to court, and in ALMOST ALL cases, the parents are NEVER ALLOWED TO SPEAK, and in Orange County CA, the parents wait outside while the cases are being discussed, leaving NOTHING for the Court Record. The parents are SOMETIMES called in when the FINDINGS are decided upon outside of the parents presence. The parents are in that courtroom for a total of 20 seconds to state they were there and hear the findings read.
6) The parents are told “if you plea guilty, they will allow your children to come home (or with a family member) if you do not plead your child will go into a foster home where he/she is 10 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO DIE”. Parents then substantiate all the claims, even though they are all false and grossly exaggerated, by pleading to protect their children from harm or death. Only to find.. they lied, and your child IS PLACED IN A FOSTER HOME, and NOT sent home with you. You can complain as much as you like, and tell anyone they lied to you, however it was all only words and not in writing, therefore none of what they said matters ((((( THIS IS EXACTLY WHY I TELL PARENTS TO ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN in a Journal.. RECORD EVERYTHING digital recorder if possible, and ALWAYS COMMUNICATE VIA EMAIL when you can )))
But remember, in these “secret courts” no one is allowed Cameras or any recording devices what so ever, UNLESS YOU ARE THE ADOPTIVE PARENTS adopting the child (your child).
7) Now that they have to show that they have TRIED to “RE-UNIFY” the parents, because it’s the law, they will then put the parents through a battery of “services” telling the parents “if you take (ie.) Parenting classes, abuse classes, counseling etc. AND TAKE MEDICATIONS (in most cases) WE WILL GIVE YOU YOUR CHILDREN BACK UPON COMPLETION” these services must be facilitated by the Social Worker, and they fail to tell you they WONT START THESE SERVICES in most cases until it’s too late for you to complete them in time for the TERMINATION of Parental Rights Hearing. They also fail to tell you that IF you should miss even ONE of your appointments that you have FAILED to comply with the Re-Unification process. AND YOUR CHILD IS ADOPTED..
They put the parents through these “services” because (and ONLY because) it brings their Organization more Federal Funding and PRIVATE Non Profit Grants.
The courts, in most cases, provide your child with their own attorney called The Guardian et Lidem or GAL, with whom generally never meet the child.
Each parent is given their own attorney (so they can not form an alliance, while they are being plotted against one another with accusations). Each parent is told they will be able to get the child(ren) if they side with the Social Worker against the other, which actually only to substantiates their case for ADOPTION, however the parents comply to protect their children. (IF you admit your wife/husband is ___ then you will be able to take the children home.. the same is told to the other parent). The parents are desperate to protect the child and get them out of the Children’s home or Foster Home. The parents are also told they are not allowed to discuss the case with ANYONE but their attorneys, not even each other. They are told this from the first day of court. THE SECRETS BEGIN to protect THE GUILTY.
Parents want to tell everyone, they want to scream at the top of their lungs for help.. yet.. even if they do mention it to anyone, the first responses are “you must have done something wrong, they are after all protecting children.. they are CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES” and no one will listen. While Social Services laughs knowing their marketing scheme has worked and people BELIEVE they are there to Protect children.. but little do people know, CPS is FOR REVENUE CORP. ((Many of the Judges, Social Workers and others involved, have started their own Foundations that get funds and Grants when children are taken.. Judges profit off the adoptions they order, Judges, DHHS workers and others involved in this process are on the Board of Directors for agencies such as United Way and other Foundations.
Child Protective Services does Fund Raisers for Untied Way and other Foundations, Untied Way then gives Grants to CASA (the child avocacy hired by the courts to be suposedly unbias on the Child’s behalf after they have been taken) CASA gives grants to Child Protective Services, and CASA (in CA) is in the State Building right next door to the head Child Protective Services office. )
Once 12 months has gone by, there is a REVIEW hearing, the children are STILL NOT HOME, as they have promised over and over and over each month that “if” you do ___, the children will most likely come home after the next hearing.. the next hearing has come and gone, and the parents are told they must do ___ now, all creating more services and more money prolonging the case as much as possible till the 18 mos has run out.. the 18 month hearing.. is THE TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS hearing.. The law states they must place the child in a PERMANENT HOME.. and you have a good chance betting it wont be that of the parents, or any other family member..
(In over 70% of the cases, the children should NEVER have been taken in the first place.. as said by former L.A. Director of Child and Family Services, as well as SOME honest Social Workers and others within the system brave enough to place their jobs in jeopardy to make such statements)
They also fail to tell the parents that it will be likely that the Gay/Lesbian social worker will be or has placed your child with a Gay/Lesbian couple who wishes to Adopt. ((YOUR CHILD)) (boys are often placed with Gay men, and girls with Lesbian couples)
Remember.. in “THE OC” (Orange County, CA) there are between 3000 and 5000 children taken each MONTH, those numbers are higher in San Diego County and Los Angeles County, I’ve been told by a head of the Appealate courts… So.. that’s Souther California alone.. it’s safe to say that an estimated amount of children is in the 10’s of thousands EACH MONTH.. One portion of one state. Other states are equally as bad and it’s argued could be even worse. States I know about that are horrible for these practices and make huge profits off the abduction of children are: CA, OR, FL, NH, CO, TX, TN, KS, KY, NY, NC, NJ, VA, GA; These are just a few, that I have personally found to be so brazen. If you live in another state, don’t think that you are immune from it.
It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do, they can still take your child. Attorneys have had their own children taken, when they have tried to defend the parents in these courts. Neighbors and Family members have also been threatened by the Social Workers that their children will also be taken if they don’t give information to them about the ones in question.
The threats are in abundance. After all .. who are you going to plea to, for the safe return of your child(ren)? The only people you can, are those who Kidnapped them in the first place.
(Keep in mind.. that Doctors are contracted with Social Services, and will lose their contracts if they do not substantiate the claims made against a parent, MANY social workers and people in positions connected are even adopting children.
MANDATED reporters ; nurses, teachers, doctors, councilors, school personnel etc. are all threated with their licenses if they do not substantiate claims, or turn parents in. Many of these professionals are using CPS to retaliate against parents who they do not get along with. Doctors are calling CPS if a parents gets a second opinion, teacher are calling if parents don’t like the teacher, nurses are if there are conflicts with the nurses.. these Mandated Reporters are nothing more than SCOUTS for CPS, to obtain children for Federal and State Funds and Grants from both as well as Non Profits, such as United Way and others. There is so much more..
I was personally told, by a government official, “CPS MUST obtain more and more children each month in order to justify their Budget”
I’ve been told that Social Workers have a quota to fill each month, for children being placed up for adoption. Where are all these children going to come from? Ask yourself, do you really believe there are THAT many parents who abuse or neglect their children?
Social Services (CPS, DCFS and by other names) claim most of their cases are “Neglect” cases. Neglect is defind broadly from a simple sunburn, to a missed doctor’s visit. Neglect can be an unbathed child, or toys left out in plain view. Neglect can be anything the Social Worker wants to define it as.
AND most Social Workers don’t even carry a license in any field of Social Work.
YOU NEED TO KNOW THE TRUTH.. YOUR CHILD ”’CAN”’ BE TAKEN AT ANY TIME FOR NO REASON OTHER THAN FUNDING.
August 31, 2009
The state’s Department of Children and Families is under fire again, and rightly so.
Recently, a task force issued its final report documenting how weak oversight and lax compliance with guidelines fostered a culture where officials often blindly doled out powerful drugs as chemical pacifiers to help caregivers manage difficult children.
These troubling concerns aren’t new to DCF. But in the wake of the withering report, DCF Secretary George Sheldon concedes lapses and vows to heed and fund task-force proposals.
Such accountability is encouraging. But we expected reform before. In 2003, the Statewide Advocacy Council report made similar findings, and concluded, “…unnecessary dispensing of psychotropic medication remains a threat to [foster children]. Until there is more information regarding the safety and efficiency of these drugs, Florida’s foster care children should be monitored closely.”
That report’s proposals were largely ignored. Now, six years later, only swift reforms and a strong mandate to comply with existing rules that govern psychotropic drugs will shelve suspicions that this is déjà vu all over again.
Gabriel Myers becomes the latest Florida foster child whose tragic end led to familiar calls for DCF reform. The boy was removed from his drug-addled mother and turned over to state custody on June 29, 2008. Gabriel hopscotched between a relative and a foster home over the next 10 months. While in state care, he received several psychotropic drugs without valid parental or court consent, as state law requires. One of the drugs, Symbyax, an adult antidepressant, can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.
On April 16, Gabriel put a shower cord around his neck in the bathroom of his Margate foster home.
Shortly afterward, Mr. Sheldon convened the Gabriel Myers Work Group to investigate the tragedy. The group’s 26-page report outlined 148 systemic breakdowns in Gabriel’s death.
It notes the egregious disregard of safeguards for foster children that are well “articulated in statute, administrative rule, and operating procedures.” Breakdowns in communication, advocacy, supervision, monitoring and oversight only exacerbated matters.
Gabriel was repeatedly evaluated while in care, and often saw therapists, including one who noted, “It is clear that this child is overwhelmed with change and possibly re-experiencing trauma.” Somehow, though, caregivers missed the red flags.
And the report backs child advocates who long have insisted the state overmedicates kids: “Psychotropic medications are at times being used to help parents, teachers, and other caregivers calm and manage, rather than treat, children.”
In Florida, 15.2 percent of foster kids take at least one psychotropic drug, compared with a 5 percent rate among the general population.
DCF must junk the “fix-it with pharmaceuticals” mentality that, for the sake of expediency, often skirts safer avenues for taming disorderly behavior. Adopting the task force’s call for “a higher requirement for due diligence prior to seeking approval for administering these drugs” would be a step forward.
The task force outlines a raft of reforms that include beefing up therapeutic services, adding court-appointed guardians, and bringing on a medical director to direct the use of psychotropic drugs.
Mr. Sheldon says he’ll free up resources within DCF to act on the suggestions. And despite austere budgets, he vows to cajole the Legislature to fund such options as behavioral therapy as an alternative to drug therapy. But a will to change must follow words.
Mr. Sheldon told the Fort Myers News-Press that in the past, “Regrettably, I’m afraid people said, ‘We dodged a bullet’ and it [reforms] never got out into the field. That cannot be the case this time.”
It better not. Or DCF almost assuredly in the months to come will experience another tragic case of déjà vu.
Copyright © 2009, Orlando Sentinel
San Francisco Chronicle
Persuasive Writing and Commentary
Entry: Why are these children dying?
A three-piece editorial package
Credit: Editorial Writer Caille Millner
Date: December 3, 2006
Pages: E4, E5
On Foster Care Reform
Why are these children dying?
THE STATE OF California cannot say how many foster children die each year, even though a state law that took effect in 2004 requires counties to release the names, dates of birth, and dates of death for these children. The new law is not being followed by all: The Children’s Advocacy Institute, a San Diego-based research and lobbying group that co-sponsored the 2004 law, requested the names for 2005 from all 58 counties. Nearly a year later, they’re still waiting for two counties to respond.
The names that they do have for 2005 — 48 so far — offer more questions than answers. What does it mean, for example, that nine of the deaths were children age 17 or older, five of whom were within six weeks of their 18th birthday? Are 17-year-olds simply more likely to get in car accidents? Suffer drug overdoses? Skateboard without helmets? Or does it mean the fulfillment of our worst fears — that some children, facing the harsh realities of homelessness and desperation when they “age out” of the system at 18, are taking their own lives instead?
“There’s no way to get more information without going to the courts,” said Christina Riehl, staff attorney for the Children’s Advocacy Institute.
There is absolutely no reason why an advocacy group, a newspaper, an elected official, or any other concerned member of the public should have to go to court to find out what happened when a foster youth dies.
But due to California’s baffling policies on disclosure, it’s extraordinarily difficult for the public to learn who in the system is dying and why. Nearly every bill that has come through the Legislature in the past several years has been stonewalled by the County Welfare Directors’ Association.
Take AB1817, a very modest bill sponsored by Assemblyman Bill Maze, R-Visalia, three years ago. Concerned about a wave of foster children’s deaths in his district, Maze simply wanted legislators to be allowed to review the case files of deceased children in the system. But he couldn’t get his bill out of the Judiciary Committee.
“They said that, as an elected official, I’d just use these cases as a political forum,” said Maze. “I think it’s just baloney. We need to know if there’s some kind of pattern or trend or lack of oversight in case management, because, until we know that, we won’t know how to fix the problem. But needless to say, I’ve been fought against on this issue tremendously by the welfare directors of this state.”
Maze is not the only one frustrated by the lack of information about child deaths from California’s social-services bureaucracies. Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determined that the state was violating federal law by failing to file reports about the deaths and near-deaths of children due to abuse or neglect. Threatened with the loss of $60 million in child-welfare funds, this summer the state began requiring counties to file these reports. But — and here’s the rub — the Department of Social Services keeps all names confidential, even in the case of foster children.
Imagine — our state’s most vulnerable children, betrayed by a state system that was supposed to protect them — and we have no idea who they are. A look at the questionnaires the state started providing this July offer only haunting glimpses of their fates:
— On July 30, a 15-year-old foster child died after either jumping or being pushed from a moving car in a suspected sexual assault.
— On Aug. 17, a 2-year-old foster child drowned after her foster parents left her alone in a bath tub.
— On Aug. 24, a 16-year-old committed suicide by shooting himself in the head after telling his sibling that he couldn’t take their legal guardian’s abuse anymore.
Confidentiality is important, especially when it comes to protecting the identities of family members and abuse reporters. We understand, as well, that it’s important to protect the names of abused children who suffer near-fatalities but are expected to recover. But there are no good reasons why the full case files — including names, counties and histories — for dead foster children shouldn’t be open to all of us. There can’t be any accountability without transparency.
When we asked Sue Diedrich, assistant general counsel for the state Department of Social Services, why they couldn’t tell us more, she said that the state could risk its federal funding.
That’s simply not true, according to a federal official who tracks the issue.
“Federal law doesn’t require that a state release (those details), but it doesn’t prohibit those disclosures either,” said Susan Orr, associate commissioner of the children’s bureau in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Indeed, there are at least two states, Georgia and South Carolina, which offer up just the sort of connect-the-dots information that an informed public needs — and unlike California, they haven’t had any threats of a funding cut-off.
There is a solution to this, and this year Assembly members Sharon Runner and Karen Bass even tried to offer it. It was AB2938, which required the release of juvenile court records, and county and state files, in the case of a child death pertaining to abuse or neglect. AB2938 should be expanded to include the deaths of foster children, regardless of whether or not they died as a result of abuse or neglect.
Unfortunately, although the governor and Legislature worked together to pass many important pieces of child-welfare legislation this year, AB2938 wasn’t one of them. The county welfare directors’ association voiced its opposition again, and it didn’t go past its first committee.
For some reason, there are still people who seem to believe that if we don’t get the information, we won’t pay attention to the fact that our children are dying.
They’re wrong. It’s time to resurrect — and expand — AB2938. What we don’t know can hurt us. It’s unconscionable to let children pay the price.
Foster Care Reform
These deaths drew news coverage.
But we need to know what happened
whenever a foster youth dies.
When Conrad Morales’ relatives sent him to live with his aunt and uncle in the mountainside town of Randle, Wash., they thought they were providing him with a better life.
After spending his first 11 years in Los Angeles motels with his mother or relatives’ homes in La Puente, the idea was that the boy might benefit from forests, meadows, fresh air, animals — from the concept of an innocent childhood that his parents, both of whom had spent time in jail on drug and assault charges, hadn’t been able to provide for him.
Two years later, the police pulled Conrad’s body out of a trash can.
The suspects in his murder case are the very same aunt and uncle who were supposed to shelter and protect him. The boy — a high-spirited, popular student and avid birdwatcher — told his best friend weeks before his death during the summer of 2005 that he was being sexually abused and beaten. Now that best friend — and the entire town of Randle — is still wondering how they could have failed to miss the warning signs: the filthy house, the erratic school attendance, Conrad’s requests for make-up to cover the bruises on his face and neck.
Months before his death, Conrad began making desperate calls to his older sister, Vanessa Gallardo, in the Los Angeles area. Gallardo, who had already fought unsuccessfully for custody with Los Angeles County Child Protective Services, was perhaps the only one who called social workers and asked that someone check on the boy. She never found out about that check, but the police estimate he was killed weeks before they received a missing person’s report.
Kayla Lorrain Wood
The life of Kayla Lorrain Wood has a made-for-after-school-TV-special quality to it: She was sexually abused, schizophrenic and depressed. She bounced around in Child Protective Services while her mother racked up drug charges. She was suspected of prostitution. And she died a terrible death — this September, the Moreno Valley police discovered her stabbed and abandoned body after firefighters came to put out a fire in a building where transients gathered.
But beneath this tale of woe lies a 16-year-old girl who loved art, music and animals. Tall and thin, she dreamed of becoming a model — an appropriate choice, perhaps, for a young woman who her mother describes as girly, pretty and frilly. In her foster-care placements, she ran away frequently — to find her family.
Eventually, the police found her body instead.
Could anyone have saved her? In 2005, after an evaluation showed that Kayla was suffering from a mental disorder, Child Protective Services recommended that she be committed to a secure psychiatric facility. She ran away from her group home four days later. Though she later returned, no one followed up on the recommendation.
Although Kayla went missing at least 10 times during her two years in the foster-care system, social services admitted to losing contact with her parents. They didn’t know she was missing until she was already dead.
The life and death of Jerry Hulsey shows how difficult it is for social workers to make the right calls when it comes to protecting children — and how important it is that they do.
Jerry’s biological mother and father were habitual drug users. His first brush with the Department of Social Services came at the age of nine months, when his biological mother passed out from a heroin overdose with him in the car. She was charged with child endangerment and ordered into drug treatment, where she met Vicki Lynn Hulsey, Jerry’s future foster mother.
Though his biological mother couldn’t stay out of trouble — she didn’t complete her treatment program and left her son in the care of anyone who would take him — she did notice that Hulsey treated the boy well. So when she went to prison in 1996, she asked that he be left in Hulsey’s care in Monterey.
Hulsey acted quickly to be certified as Jerry’s foster parent, and by the accounts of friends and neighbors, treated him with love. When she petitioned for adoption, social workers weighed that more heavily than Hulsey’s other problems — namely, her background as a child-abuse survivor, her struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, and her bipolar disorder. In the end, Hulsey’s past caught up with her — she beat 10-year-old Jerry to death this year. An autopsy showed that he had cocaine in his system and that, at 4 feet 9 inches, he weighed 60 pounds.
Hulsey’s deterioration and Jerry’s tragic death shows how difficult it is to predict what will happen in an adoption. But it also shows how important it is for the public to understand social workers’ choices.
Foster Care Reform
It works in South Carolina
FOR MORE than 10 years, South Carolina has had one of the nation’s strongest policies about public disclosure for the deaths of foster children. South Carolina’s clear and succinct policies stand in stark contrast to California’s confusing and disjointed disclosure system.
“We review all the records and talk about what the agency did or didn’t do in a specific case — was there a failure to make a home visit? Did someone not follow a policy concerning documentation?” said Virginia Williamson, general counsel for South Carolina’s Department of Social Services. “The reports talk about agency activities instead of laying out the family’s dynamics or revealing information about siblings or other relatives.”
A public request yields plenty of information. They sent us a document containing summary information about the circumstances of death for children who died in 2004. The document included not just children who had died of suspected abuse or neglect while in active protection, but also children whose deaths were the result of accidents or natural causes and received no public attention. By listing this last group without names, their privacy is protected — but the public can still do comparisons.
Composed in a simple, clear format, each entry is easy to read and analyze. For example, we learned that in 2004, there were nine child deaths due to abuse and neglect while in active protection, one well-publicized child death due to homicide, and 28 accident- and natural cause-deaths. Of the nine abuse and neglect deaths, one was a foster child — Lakeysha Tharp, a 10-year-old in Richland County, of probable asphyxiation. We learn that the foster mother has been charged with homicide by child abuse, and that the foster mother’s son (unnamed, because he is a minor) has been charged with the murder as well.
It’s all there: the case, the lost child, and what’s being done to ensure that her death was not in vain. And the sky hasn’t fallen in South Carolina as a result of such disclosure. If they’re worried about “privacy,” or “liability” or “politics,” the excuses that certain authorities offer in California, it hasn’t stopped law enforcement from serving or social services from protecting. Nor has it stopped the public from carrying on with their private lives. The only difference is that the public also has the knowledge to ask questions and push for improvement.
“It’s always a delicate balance between being accountable to the public for how we do business, the privacy interests of families, and protecting the state from lawsuits,” said Williamson. “But ultimately we feel that transparency and accountability are important.”
So do we.
About the series
California legislators and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made progress this year by approving a series of measures to upgrade the level of consistency and oversight in the state’s troubled foster-care system — but there is much work to be done.
Today’s editorials were researched and written by editorial writer Caille Millner. You can e-mail her at email@example.com.
To read earlier editorials on this topic, go to SFGate.com
— John Diaz, editorial page editor firstname.lastname@example.org
False allegations are nothing new to these brasen criminals. Many Social Workers are encouraged to lie on reports in order to take your children and are backed by their Supervisors. You have no way of complaining; who would you complain to anyway? The kidnappers are the ones parents have to negotiate with. The children have a bounty and the parents pay with their lives and still lose in court, as there is no one to defend them.
Unfortunately, parents believe their Public Defenders are going to “take care of them”, little do they know….. it will rarely if ever happen.
Social Workers (CPS) are “hardened to these cases, and don’t care about the parents” as I personally was told by a Social Worker.
They are given bonus’ and have Quotas to take children. Yours COULD be next!
These are the people making life decisions for you and your children!