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.”
Tag Archives: news
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.
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
Posted by Sandra Ami
These could very easily be YOUR children!
“Hundreds of children die every year in the custody of Child Protective Services. That’s not something the general public is aware of. But that lack of awareness will hopefully end this winter when the full length documentary, Innocence Destroyed, is released.
Innocence Destroyed is not being produced by a half-witted conspiracy theorist but by former firefighter and federal law enforcement officer, Bill Bowen. Bowen, as you can see in the shorter version of the film he has posted on YouTube and which I have embedded below, is intelligent and articulate and just the sort of man needed to produce such a documentary. When you listen to Bowen, you instinctively know that here is a man you can trust–here is a man who tells the truth…”
full story by: Albany CPS and Family Court ExaminerDaniel Weaver
( http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-14537-Albany-CPS-and-Family-Court-Examiner~y2009m9d28-Bill-Bowens-documentary-Innocence-Destroyed-about-kids-murdered-while-in-custody-of-CPS-is-powerful )
** 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
Recently, I ran across the question on LegallyKidnapped.com ‘Is Child and Family services a Government ran Kidnapping Ring?’ I have to answer this question with a firm “yes”. I’m not the only one who has done investigations of CPS, DCFS, DFS, DHS, or whatever they call themselves in your area, there have been many.
As parents have access to the internet, and are asking the questions “why was MY child(ren) taken away?” they are discovering a bleak and traumatic truth.
There are hundreds of websites, if not thousands, that parents have created to get the message out to unsuspecting parents out there, with information they have discovered.
Parents have experienced that in these “Secret Courts” that are ran and administered by the same people that are taking the children, that it is in fact a “Tribunal Court”. There is virtually no possible way the parents can win. In these courts, parents are placed with Gag Orders, as to ‘not discuss the case’, this way, the social workers can conduct their business outside of scrutiny, and they can lie on the reports and to the Judges free to perjure themselves without question, after all who will complain?. Parents are often not even allowed in the court rooms while their cases are being discussed. All the people involved are playing the parents like a fiddle. Social Workers are very nice, claiming they are there to “help you” and they are sure ‘you’ll probably get your children back’, however each time you express any type of conflict with them or their decisions; something to either expose them, or to prove your innocents, they threaten that they will and can “put your child up for adoption”. This is not a false story,, this is a fact.
The children are being taken at an alarming rate, and although they are only investigating ONE child… they will take them all, regardless of the circumstances. They are stealing the children legally. Social Workers (SW) have no problems falsifying documents, lying about parents and extended family members, they threaten the parents into so called “services” which by parents taking these services is an automatic admission of guilt (even if they have done nothing); SW’s will do whatever it takes to ensure your child WILL be placed up for adoption.
Children are often placed into care and deemed “special needs” ensuring more Federal Funding and Non Profit Grants for these children. New Hampshire’s Social Services website states that one criterion to be deemed for a Special Needs child is simply to be of age 6 or more. It has been documented that babies as young as a few months old are deemed to have “mental issues” and are given strong psychotropic drugs. With each medial issue that can be found (or created) the state and Federal Government gets more money, not just from the demand for more taxes, but also from the Non Profit Grants that you so kindly donate to.
The Governments motto is “NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND” I don’t believe this is only meant to be a slogan for Educationm as most children are taken, from schools… “NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND” a slogan most likely used by Social Services.. a slogan for all government, after what I’ve seen, experienced, researched and learned I believe this to be true.
No Child Left Behind, means that the Social Workers, the State, and Federal Government including the Non Profit groups, Adoptions Agencies and all their agents and affiliates have a guaranteed income, and I can tell you the economics involved is one of the highest in America.
Just as Cancer will not be cured, due to the amount of job losses and business losses, government investments and Mental Health, too many doctors would be out of business, along with the countless Oncology Hospitals popping up, Child Stealing by the Government will also only increase.
I was told by a Government Official, during my investigation, that Social Services does in fact “have a quota, and are REQUIRED to increase their child intake each year” per County.
Does this scare you? If you have children or are thinking of having children, or even have grand children, this should scare you. I’ve had a few social workers tell me that “the majority of the children they take come from really good homes, and never go back”
I was also told “if you don’t make the claims against the parents, you lose your job”
I have spent approximately 3 years worth of time (in 1 ½ years time) looking into this, as I wanted to know why my own son was taken, and I was appalled at my discovery.
Please feel free to ask questions, I have many answers.. Though there are many more that still need to be discovered.
“… laws, according to state documents, encourage counties and their private contractors to earn money by placing and keeping children in foster care. The county receives $30,000 to $150,000 in state and federal revenues annually for each child placed.”
[While reading this, please keep in mind the age of the story. The statistics have not decreased in the past 9 years, but on the contrary have increased.
Although the beginning doesn’t give the full impact of the article, please do read on as you will find it increasingly interesting and somewhat enlightening. ]
December 28, 2003
Children committing suicide at younger age
Los Angeles County’s child protective system is one of the most
violent and dangerous in the nation, and its foster children are up
to 10 times more likely to die from abuse or neglect than elsewhere
in the country, a two-year investigation by the Daily News has found.
In 2001 in the United States, 1.5 percent of the 1,225 children who
died from abuse and neglect were in foster care, but in the county
14.3 percent of the 35 children who died of mistreatment that year
were in foster care, government statistics show. The percentage in
the county from 1991 to 2001 averaged 4.23 percent.
The taxpayer-funded county and state systems are so overwhelmed with
false allegations – four out of every five mistreatment reports are
ruled unfounded or inconclusive – and filled with so many children
who shouldn’t even be in the system, experts say, that social workers
are failing in their basic mission to protect youngsters. Nationally,
two out of three reports of mistreatment are false.
Since 1991, the county Coroner’s Office has referred more than 2,300
child deaths to the county’s child death review team – and more than
660 of those dead children were involved in the child protective
system, including nearly 160 who were homicide victims.
In many of these deaths, county Children’s Services Inspector General
Michael Watrobski made recommendations to the Department of Children
and Family Services to conduct in-house investigations to determine
if disciplinary action was warranted against those workers involved
in the cases.
Of 191 child deaths Watrobski investigated since 2001, he made a
total of 63 recommendations to address systemic problems to improve
the way the system works in an effort to reduce the number of child
Despite spending more than $36 million on foster care lawsuit
settlements, judgments and legal expenses since 1990, DCFS
disciplined less than a third of the social workers responsible for
the lawsuits, most of which involved families who alleged social
workers’ negligence contributed to the deaths and mistreatment of
their children in foster care.
“That’s pathetic,” county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said.
“When you have a department that is responsible for the health and
safety of children there is no excuse to have a dismal record of
accountability like this.”
Meanwhile, in the various facilities that make up the county’s foster
care system, between 6 percent and 28 percent of the children are
abused or neglected – figures comparable to the rate in New Jersey,
which many experts have long called the state with the most dangerous
child welfare system in the nation.
In the general population, only 1 percent of children suffer such
“When I stepped into this job, I said that too many kids are hurt in
foster care,” said DCFS Director David Sanders, who started in March
after the forced resignations of the previous four directors. “That
is absolutely glaring and the fact this department has never been
willing to say that is a huge problem.
“It is clear when you compare us to other systems, we have more kids
being hurt in our care than in other systems. That is absolutely
inexcusable. I can’t say that more strongly. If is a reflection of a
system that isn’t working.”
Despite the staggering number of child deaths and mistreatment of
thousands of children, Sanders said the department’s efforts have
saved the lives of hundreds of children over the years. He also noted
that the vast majority of foster parents don’t mistreat children.
And child advocates say for the first time in the county’s history
the DCFS director is taking unprecedented steps to reduce the number
of deaths and percentage of foster children who are mistreated.
“In the past, the system has failed to protect children in its
care,” said Andrew Bridge, managing director of child welfare reform
programs at the private Broad Foundation. “The new leadership at the
department has been left with that legacy and is taking aggressive
steps to fix it and protect children.”
DCFS statistics show the percentage of foster children abused and
neglected averages about 6 percent, but in the foster homes
supervised by private foster family agencies, an average of 10
percent of children are mistreated. However, the rates range up to 28
percent in some homes, Sanders said.
Statewide, the rate averages close to 1 percent.
In New Jersey, the foster care mistreatment rate ranges from 7
percent to 28 percent in different parts of the state, said Marcia
Lowry, executive director of the New York City-based Children’s
Rights advocacy organization.
Of 20 states surveyed in 1999, the percentage of children mistreated
by foster parents averaged a half percent. The rate of abuse ranged
from one-tenth of a percent in Arizona, Delaware and Wyoming to 1.6
percent in Illinois to 2.3 percent in Rhode Island, according to
Susan Lambiase, associate director of Children’s Rights, was
surprised to learn of the percentage in Los Angeles County, calling
it “absolutely horrendous.”
“(Los Angeles County is) a child welfare system in crisis because
the children are getting pulled from their homes to keep them safe
and the system cannot assure that they are being kept safe,” said
Lambiase, whose organization has filed about 10 class-action lawsuits
to place state child welfare systems under federal consent decrees
and is considering what action it might take in Los Angeles County.
“It’s unacceptable,” she said. “This is a malfunctioning foster
care system given that its role in society is to protect children
from abuse and neglect.”
Critics say social workers are so busy filling out paperwork and
investigating false reports that they are overlooking the warning
signs of many children in the community in real danger and are not
able to properly ensure the safety of children in foster care.
“When you overload your system with children who don’t need to be in
foster care, workers have less time to find the children in real
danger,” said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National
Coalition for Child Protection Reform in Alexandria, Va.
The Daily News investigation found that up to half of the 75,000
children in the system and adoptive homes were needlessly placed in a
system that is often more dangerous than their own homes because of
financial incentives in state and federal laws. These laws, according
to state documents, encourage counties and their private contractors
to earn money by placing and keeping children in foster care. The
county receives $30,000 to $150,000 in state and federal revenues
annually for each child placed.
Some examples of settled cases involving the deaths of foster
–Long Beach resident Jacquelyn Bishop, whose twins were taken away
because she hadn’t gotten her son an immunization. Kameron Demery, 2,
was later beaten to death by his foster mother.
The foster mother was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced
to prison. In 2000, the county settled a wrongful death case with
Bishop for $200,000.
–Gardena resident Debra Reid was awarded a $1 million settlement
last year for the death of her 9-year-old son Jonathan Reid, who had
been in foster homes in El Monte and Pomona. He died of an asthma
attack in 1997 after social workers didn’t notify the foster mother
of his severe asthma and diabetes conditions – a tragic irony,
because the boy was placed in foster care after county social workers
alleged Reid was neglecting her son by not providing appropriate
medical care for his diabetes and asthma.
Reid’s other son, 10-year-old Debvin Mitchell, who received $100,000
as part of the settlement after he was wrongfully detained, said his
foster parents were “brutal” to him during his one-and-a-half years
in multiple foster homes.
“I thought that it was cruel and unusual for being beaten like that
for no reason,” said Mitchell. “When I came home, I had bruises
everywhere. I feel good to be back with my family where I don’t get
beaten for silly things for no reason and most of all I’m glad to be
back with my mom.”
Anthony Cavuoti, who has worked as a DCFS social worker for 14 years,
said the department does a poor job of protecting children.
“The nominal goal is to protect children, but the real goal is to
make money,” he said. “A caseworker used to have 80 to 100 cases.
Now we have 30, but we have to file five times as much paperwork. If
the workers put kids before paperwork and administration, they are
going to be forced out or harassed. With such a mentality, children
are always in danger.”
In a historic step to address the problem at the root of the system’s
failures, Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash recently called
for a historic reevaluation of half of the 30,000 cases of children
in foster homes to determine who could be safely returned to their
families or relatives.
If properly done by providing the services families need, experts say
this step combined with the DCFS request for a federal waiver to use
$250 million of its $1.4 billion budget on services to help keep
families together could ultimately reduce the number of children in
foster care and social workers’ large caseloads, giving them more
time to help protect children in truly dangerous situations.
“The court system itself should only be for those cases that reflect
serious cases of abuse and neglect,” Nash said. “We have to have
more of a talk first, shoot later mentality rather than a shoot
first, talk later mentality. We can do a much better job.”
Sanders said more than 25 percent of those children will probably be
able to return home. Concerned that two-thirds of his 6,500-employees
are working behind desks, Sanders said he plans to move 1,000 staff
promoted to office jobs by previous directors back to the streets as
social workers, which will reduce caseloads and give workers more
time to spend with families, a critical element to assure the safety
Keywords: LOS ANGELES COUNTY – FOSTER CARE – CHILD – DAILY NEWS –
VIOLENCE – DEATH – MURDER – US – STATISTIC – COMPARISON – REPORT –
CHILDREN FAMILY SERVICES – DCFS – REACTION – ABUSE – ISSUE – LIST –
CALIFORNIA – REFORM
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