Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Editorial: Sundering of families demands reforms
Louisville Courier-Journal, Jan. 15, 2007, pg. A6.

A 12-month investigation has turned up shocking abuse and neglect by some social workers and supervisors in Hardin County who unjustifiably took children away from parents. Investigators for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services' Office of the Inspector General spent 5,000 hours looking into nearly 400 allegations of wrongdoing.

Many of the problems, the report said, "were long-standing and, to a certain extent, part of a culture" that had developed in the Lincoln Trail region of the Department for Community Based Services.

The investigators found that records had been falsified, that courts had been deliberately misled and that placements, including "permanency decisions," had been made subjectively and without proper oversight.

As well, parents who complained and whistle-blowing staffers were intimidated and retaliated against.

Some social workers actually "boasted about making it difficult" for clients, the report said, and "thrived on the power of controlling certain families."

And they were largely able to do so, according to the investigators, because the Patton administration's decision to decentralize community-based services in Hardin County produced the opposite of what was intended: unaccountable fiefdoms populated by ostensible public servants nicknamed "The Queen of Removal" and "The Terminator."

None of the Hardin County social workers or supervisors was named in the report, but 13 cases of potential individual criminal conduct have already been turned over to the appropriate prosecuting authorities

Tom Emberton Jr., undersecretary for social services, told The Courier-Journal's Deborah Yetter that most of the top supervisors in the Hardin office have already been replaced, and that there's now a management team in the region that reports to him.

These are good steps.

But what concerned Kentuckians should demand is that the Fletcher administration and the General Assembly act quickly and decisively on Inspector General Robert J. Benvenuti III's key recommendation.

It is that "the cloak of secrecy that currently dominates the process is not in the best interest of Kentucky's children and must be removed as part of any material reform."

Secrecy doesn't protect children; it fosters their harm.


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