Sunday, January 14, 2007

Social service issues demand full light of day in order to ensure integrity of process

Foster care process criticized
Inspector general criticizes process
McGurk, Margaret A. Cincinnati Enquirer, Jan. 14, 2007

Kentucky cannot serve its most vulnerable children until it tears away the "cloak of secrecy" that envelops the state foster-care system, according to Inspector General Robert J. Benvenuti.

Responding to a 2005 study that pointed to improper operations in Hardin County, Benvenuti documented a long list of violations and bad behavior, such as falsifying records, bullying parents and retaliating against people who complained.

He came up with 17 specific recommendations for reform: No. 1 was to open up the proceedings where families' futures are decided, a step he called "the most fail-proof form of oversight."

"Simply stated, these are not matters of national security," Benvenuti wrote. "Rather, they are social-service issues that demand the full light of day in order to better ensure the integrity of the process. The fact that children are involved in the process should no longer be used as an excuse to protect these proceedings from meaningful public oversight."

The head of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services agrees; open hearings are part of a reform package headed to the Kentucky Legislature in February, said Mark D. Birdwhistell, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

"By making process more transparent, we can go a long way to preventing these problems," he said.

More than a dozen states, including Washington, Missouri and Minnesota, have opened up the courts that handle foster cases.

In Ohio, judges may allow or deny access.

The Enquirer is seeking access to a Clermont County juvenile court that will decide on custody for the children of Liz and David J. Carroll Jr., who face murder charges stemming from the death of their 3-year-old foster child, Marcus Fiesel.

Benvenuti launched the probe after Kentucky Youth Advocates and the Louisville-based National Institute for Children and Families collected hundreds of complaints from parents, relatives, foster parents and social workers.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said the study found few complaints of misconduct in the Northern Kentucky region that includes Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties, but that inconsistency was common.

"We called the report 'Kentucky's Other Lottery' because what happens when you called in a problem depended on what county you lived in and which worker you got," Brooks said.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services took the issues seriously, Brooks said. "When we presented them the findings in the report, they acted on it with all due speed," he said.

As for the report, he said, "What impressed me was he went beyond the numbers. The fact he was able to talk about things like intimidation and the sense of omnipotence among some workers ... tells me he really listened, and that the recommendations are valid, are grounded in reality."

Benvenuti appointed a trio of former police officers to investigate.

They found:
-False and backdated reports, including false signatures, and poor record-keeping.
-Burdensome, unneeded demands on parents and lack of services to help families reunite.
-Lack of training and supervision, arbitrary decision making and contemptuous attitudes toward clients.
-Lack of consistent, fact-based decision-making processes.
-Threats and retaliation against employees and clients who complained or who cooperated with the inspector general's investigation.

Failure by state officials to demand action on complaints that had been found justified by the cabinet's ombudsman.

Indifferent and unprofessional performance by guardians ad litem, who represent children in court, and by lawyers appointed to represent parents.

Birdwhistell said the original study touched off a series of administrative changes, as well as the inspector general's investigation. "We could not wait till we got to the (investigation's) results before we did anything," he said.

For instance, a statewide reorganization cut the number of service regions from 16 to nine, with consistent rules and procedures in all of them, he said.

Meanwhile, a panel of parents, experts and professionals held hearings and drafted improvement plans. Their ideas include better training for everyone from social workers to juvenile judges, defining clear-cut parental rights, and guaranteeing lawyers for those who find themselves facing the loss of their children.

Brooks also applauded Benvenuti's report for citing a lack of family support as an underlying reason children are taken away. "Part of his report that some kids are getting removed from the home because we as a state failed to support parents in creating a good home.

"In many ways this is a moral issue," Brooks said. "If we as a state can provide support for wild elk, we probably need to provide support for children and families."

Report highlights
Among the 17 recommendations from the Office of the Inspector General on strengthening Kentucky's child-protection system:

-Open court proceedings about removal of children and termination of parental rights, subject to court orders to close specific cases.

-Create statewide inspection teams to make unannounced visits to regional offices to make sure they are following correct procedures.

-Redefine overly broad legal definitions of abuse, neglect and dependency.

-Send police officers along on cases when social workers face threats.

-Require follow-up on complaints found justified by the cabinet's ombudsman.


Blogger karen said...

My daughter is facing Ky CPS. She is a good mother and my son in law is a good father. The school remains involved in tormenting my daughter by constantly questioning the children to the point that they get them to say what they want them to! This is sickening!!! My daughter &son in law are worn down,the kids are worn down...all because a social worker, working with the school are busy trying to destroy my daughter and her family.Why wont they leave them alone!!!! Its like a witch-hunt!

2:18 AM  
Blogger momree grant said...

'Witch-hunt'. Exactly! The only 'services' CPS provided our family? Removing both of them. Now? I pay the Child Support Office a percentage so they stay employeed. Now? The Social Workers earn a paycheck in lieu of 'supervised visits'. What a waste of taxpayers funds. There is no such thing as 'family reunification'. None. The only thing CPS is good for is covering up gross negligence in our schools, law enforcement, and courts.

11:07 AM  

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