Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Note to legislators: Don't play dumb, just because you don't want to spend the money

Readers' forum: Seven years of blue-ribbon study on Boni Bill issues
Louisville Courier-Journal, March 25, 2007, pg. H2.

The Kentucky legislature is arguing about, among other things, the "Boni Bill' and components of this bill.

Some in the legislature believe we need a blue-ribbon panel to determine the need for an increase in the number of social workers, for the improvement of social worker safety and for supervised visitation centers in Kentucky.

Kentucky is fortunate to already have five blue-ribbon panels, namely, the Citizen Review Panels, located throughout the state.

These are federally mandated panels that meet on a monthly basis to review child protective service issues.

The Citizen Review Panels have made recommendations for over seven years regarding the need for more social workers, as well as voicing concerns regarding the safety of social workers.

Why waste further time and potentially more social workers' lives by appointing another blue-ribbon panel?

Legislators need only to read the annual reports sent to them every year by the Citizen Review Panels.

Additionally, some in the legislature seem to think that supervised visitation centers are "untested."

Supervised visitation centers have been in Louisville for 10 years and have protected many children from harm while affording parents an opportunity to visit with their children.

These centers have been hugely successful and should be a service available to all in the commonwealth.

The members of the Jefferson County Citizen Review Panel, on whose behalf I am writing, implore the legislators to take a look at the work we have been doing for seven years and move forward to increase funding for more social workers and provide funding for more supervised visitation centers.

These issues can no longer be ignored or put on the back burner.

Chairman, Jefferson County Citizen's Review Panel
Louisville 40206

KY state law requires all citizens to report suspected child abuse or neglect

Reporting child abuse is everyone's duty
Shelburne, Lori. Lexington Herald-Leader, March 26, 2007, pg. A10.

At issue: March 18 Herald-Leader article by Cassondra Kirby, "Michaela's '10 years of hell'; happiness was fleeting amid turbulent home life"

All who have read the story of the tragic death of 10-year-old Michaela Watkins have been sickened. We ask ourselves how anyone could so cruelly abuse a helpless child and how this little girl could have been so invisible.By her tragic life and death, this child is a shameful reminder of the depravity of some among us and the need for the rest of us to understand our obligation to help protect all children, not just our own, from abuse and neglect.

Sunday's Herald-Leader article did a good job educating the public about how a private citizen can report suspected child abuse or neglect. I urge the paper to reprint that information in all follow-up articles about this case.

Not mentioned in the paper's summary was the fact that the legal duty to report suspected child abuse and neglect is mandatory and applies to every private citizen, not just to teachers and social workers.

The system (commonly thought of as police, social services and the courts) cannot protect at-risk children unless someone reports the suspected abuse or neglect.

Professionals -- such as teachers, social workers and doctors -- who have frequent contact with children usually receive specific training about their legal obligation to report suspected abuse and neglect to the proper authorities.

What many of us may not realize, however, is that state law requires "any person who knows or has reasonable cause to believe" that a child or dependent is neglected or abused to immediately report the suspected abuse or neglect to local law enforcement, state police, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the commonwealth's attorney or the county attorney.

The statute uses the word shall to define the duty to report. The report can be made anonymously and with a phone call, but the duty to report is mandatory. Intentional violation of this reporting requirement is a criminal offense punishable by up to 90 days in jail.

In contrast, anyone who in good faith reports suspected child abuse or neglect is immune from civil and criminal liability.

Based on the Herald-Leader's articles, it appears in the case of Michaela that several neighbors and family members may have suspected or even known about abuse. It is unclear how many of those individuals actually reported their suspicions.

Presumably a thorough investigation is under way by local and state law enforcement surrounding the brutal death of this child, and we all hope justice will be served.

In the meantime, this case should serve as a reminder of the potentially horrific consequences of turning a blind eye to suspected child abuse and neglect.

We are each an integral part of the system.

-Lori Shelburne of Lexington is chairwoman of the Fayette County Bar Association's Family Law Section.

Caption: Michaela Watkins, 10, was found dead at her Winchester home on March 11. Her father and stepmother have been charged with murder.

Institutional discharge into homelessness

Readers forum: Adding to CLOUT's challenge
Louisville Courier-Journal, March 26, 2007, pg. A6.

We applaud the March 12 Community Challenge by Bishop Walter A. Jones Jr. of CLOUT. The Coalition for the Homeless has worked with CLOUT on many issues, such as affordable housing and the minimum wage, that face people living in poverty and despair in our community.Jones focused on drug and alcohol addiction leading to a revolving door of institutionalization and incarceration. A major issue not mentioned was institutional discharge into homelessness.

Without appropriate intervention before or after institutionalization, homelessness continues to grow.

Metro Louisville and Kentucky, along with many other states and municipalities, have developed 10-year plans to end homelessness. The plan's strategy calls for collaborating with all aspects of the community including the faith community to end homelessness, but institutions continue to be a feeder system into our streets and shelters.

Together with Family and Children First and the Adanta Behavioral Health Services of Somerset, we have developed a coordinated, comprehensive program to ensure that people who are released from the Kentucky Department of Corrections, mental health facilities and the foster care system are provided services to keep them from becoming homeless....

This small urban/rural pilot project, funded by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Families, proves that with some intervention, people do not have to become homeless. In the first 18 months, both sites served over 50 individuals, and only one person returned to corrections.

Kentucky's recidivism rate is 57 percent. So this program, costing $2,500 per client, saved the state approximately $850,000 per year because people do not return to prisons and jails. These 50 fragile men and women who were served have gone back to their hometowns and are now leading productive lives.

The expansion of Drug Court to intervene at the beginning of the corrections process is in the best interest of the community. Let us implement other proven interventions at other points in the system.

Each church, synagogue and mosque is needed to mentor, support and encourage people who have fallen upon hard times. It is our hope that this project, along with more affordable housing opportunities, can be replicated in every corner of the state to keep people who are suffering from substance abuse, mental illness, childhood abandonment and institutionalization from becoming part of the homeless population by being released, all alone, to the streets.

Executive director
Coalition for the Homeless

Executive director
Family and Children First
Louisville 40203

Why entrust a child to a father guilty of domestic violence?

Michaela's '10 years of hell'
Happiness was fleeting amid turbulent home life
Kirby, Cassondra, Lexington Herald-Leader, March 18, 2007, pg. A1.

WINCHESTER -- "Oh my God," Rachel Samuels repeatedly whispered when she saw her dead baby girl laid out on a stretcher early last week in a funeral home in Lexington.

Samuels searched for traces of the daughter she knew: the blond-haired, brown-eyed angel with an innocent, ivory face and dreams of being a cheerleader.But a year had passed since Samuels last saw her, and that Michaela Watkins was gone.

In her place was a sickeningly skinny 10-year-old girl. A few cuts and large black bruises covered her face. Her cheeks were distorted and sunken. Her lips had been split, and chipped teeth were visible. Her nose was dented and unnaturally turned.

"There are no words to describe what my baby looked like," Samuels said. "It wasn't her -- her face -- it just wasn't her."

Michaela was found dead last Sunday in a Winchester apartment. Michaela's father, Patrick Watkins, and stepmother, Joy -- who had custody of Michaela for about a year -- have been charged with murder.

It was a harsh ending to a harsh life that one relative describes as "10 years of hell."

"I like to think that now Michaela's in the arms of the Lord," said Audrey Stokley, Joy Watkins' mother. "She doesn't have to be afraid any more."

When Samuels went to the funeral home to view Michaela, the girl's body was wrapped in a sheet. She was visible only from her shoulders up.

Authorities told Samuels that under the sheet the girl was "bruised from head to toe," had broken ribs, and severe burns on her lower body.

Samuels -- her whispers turning to screams -- had seen enough in her daughter's face. She didn't want to look at the rest of the girl's injuries. Samuels' husband of nearly four years, Keith Samuels, practically carried her from the funeral home.

"The picture that's in my mind of her. ... I'm a 42-year-old man, and I have not ever seen anything like that before," Keith Samuels said.

Authorities have not yet released the cause of death for Michaela. But the Watkinses -- who have declined interviews with the Herald-Leader -- have said her death was an accident. They told police Michaela burned herself last Saturday in hot water in the bathtub and then slipped and fell down the stairs.

The Watkinses said they didn't think Michaela's injuries were severe enough to warrant medical treatment. They found her dead Sunday in her bed.

Police have not said whether they believe the Watkinses' account. Authorities say the Watkinses are charged with murder for failing to get medical help for the little girl.

Witnesses told police Michaela had been dead for 45 minutes before anyone called an ambulance.

School was her refuge
Relatives and others who know the family said Michaela's short life was filled with hardship.

They described how Rachel Samuels used to leave Michaela home alone in Fayette County with her baby brother, Michael, sometimes all day and night. They talked about alleged drug use and filthy living conditions. They said the children slept on a dirty mattress on the floor. Their hair often wasn't combed, their clothes weren't clean and they often weren't bathed.

"But she was still a beautiful little girl," said Robin Jenkins, who taught Michaela while she attended Dixie Elementary in Lexington. Michaela first came to Dixie in October 2004, when she was in the third grade.

Jenkins, who teaches students with learning disabilities, said Michaela worked hard and went out of her way to please teachers, seeking hugs along with their approval. Jenkins still has a birthday card that Michaela made for Jenkins' dog.

On multiple occasions, school administrators called Rachel Samuels to pick up Michaela because the girl had head lice. Jenkins and other teachers suspected that Michaela's home life was a lonely one.

"That's probably why she really seemed to enjoy school," Jenkins said. "She was so starved for positive attention. I think she just wanted someone to love her. And we did."

In the fall of 2005, Michaela and her brother were placed in foster care after authorities discovered the girl home alone.

"I'll never forget it," Jenkins said. "Michaela came in and looked gorgeous. Her hair was shiny, and she was clean. She came to me and said, 'Mrs. Jenkins, I had a bath. Do I smell good?'"

Jenkins cried as she recalled how Michaela just couldn't stop smiling that day. Jenkins said she never knew the name of the family who cared for Michaela and Michael during that time.

"I just want people to know that there was a little bit of time in her life that she did have happiness," Jenkins said. "But it was a very brief happy time."

Keith and Rachel Samuels maintain that Michaela and Michael were healthy and happy while living with them. They say they both have kept steady jobs and are working in Lexington. Rachel has an associate's degree from Central Kentucky Technical College in medical administration.

They deny allegations of drug use and say that although they allowed Michaela to pick out her own clothes, she was clean.

"When the kids were with us, they were treated fine," Keith Samuels said. "She was sent home for head-lice, but when kids are going to school they are going to pick up things like that from other kids. That's normal."

Rachel Samuels does admit to leaving the children alone from time to time, for brief periods. She said she would have neighbors look in on them. The day that social workers came, Rachel said, she left Michaela home alone for about two hours while she went to a job interview. Michael was in day care. State officials placed both children in foster care.

Father given custody
After the children were placed in foster care, Rachel said, Patrick Watkins, who had not seen Michaela since she was 3 months old, gained full custody of the girl, who was then 9. Patrick and Joy Watkins also adopted Michaela's half-brother Michael, who isn't related to either of the Watkinses. Patrick and Joy Watkins have two children of their own, Zachary, 4, and Mariah, 6.

"I begged and pleaded with the judge not to give them to Patrick," Rachel said. "I said, 'If I can't have them, leave them in foster care.' But no one would listen."

She believes her pleas were ignored because she and Patrick had gone through a messy divorce, and court officials probably thought she was being vengeful in trying to keep the children away from him.

Rachel and Patrick were married in 1995, two weeks after she graduated from high school. They met while working at Hoover's Furniture in Lexington and dated only about six weeks before getting married, she said.

They moved in with Patrick's family, and Rachel soon became pregnant. Right away, she said she realized Patrick was not the man he had seemed to be. She said he was extremely jealous and would not allow her to leave the house. She said he threatened her, wouldn't buy groceries and would take food away from her while she was pregnant.

"A bully, a very angry man," Rachel says.

Rachel filed for divorce in 1996. The divorce petition mentions two incidents of domestic violence. In one, the petition alleges, Patrick "beat her about the head, stole her personal belongings, including her driver's license and all forms of personal identification."

The divorce was granted in July 1997, and Rachel got sole custody of Michaela. Patrick was ordered to pay child support of $332.58 per month. The divorce decree also mentions a domestic violence order against Patrick in Powell County. It ordered him to stay 500 feet away from Rachel or her house or members of her family for three years, until April 2000.

According to state records, Patrick Watkins has also been convicted of burglary and failure to pay child support. In February 2000, Patrick obtained a domestic violence order against Joy Watkins after she allegedly threatened him at home, busted his nose and called his work, threatening him and yelling obscenities.

At the time, he said he believed Joy Watkins "to be armed and dangerous."

Joy Watkins was found guilty of disorderly conduct. Patrick and Joy were ordered to stay away from each other until March 2003, but family members say they quickly reconciled.

Rachel Samuels and child welfare advocates have said that because of the domestic violence allegations involving Patrick and Joy Watkins, they should not have been awarded custody of Michaela or allowed to adopt Michael.

"They should have seen that he had a history of violence," Rachel said.

Moving to Winchester
Michaela was halfway through her fourth-grade year at Dixie Elementary when she told teachers she was moving to Clark County to live with her father. Jenkins -- who did not know the Watkinses -- said Michaela was excited about the move.

There was no way of knowing the girl would be dead in a year.

Last week, more than half a dozen neighbors and family members described acts of verbal and physical abuse by the Watkinses against the children, particularly Michaela. They said they had seen the couple slap Michaela, curse at her and call her names.

"She always looked so sad and lonely," said neighbor Nancy Bowling, 60.

Betty Stokley -- Joy Watkins' grandmother, who lives next door to the couple -- said she had seen Patrick kick Michaela in the back, knocking her down. Stokley said Michaela was often not allowed out of her bedroom. A potty was placed beside her bed because she wasn't allowed to use the bathroom.

Neighbor William Deaton's 10-year-old niece attended Shearer Elementary in Winchester last year with Michaela. He said Michaela told his niece that "her dad was being mean to her and beating her up."

Deaton said his niece told teachers and a guidance counselor about what Michaela had said. He did not know what came of it.

But Shearer Principal Ed Sigmon said there were "no signs that raised any red flags with us." Sigmon described Michaela as "an overachiever" who was sweet and loving.

The Watkinses withdrew Michaela from public school over Christmas vacation. Betty Stokley said the couple decided to home-school the child because she had health issues, including a problem with urinating on herself.

Betty Stokley said she never saw such issues. State laws governing home-schooling prohibited officials from investigating why Michaela was being home-schooled or whether she was receiving an appropriate education.

"It broke my heart," Betty Stokley said. "That child loved school. She just wasn't the same after that."

She said the girl rapidly began losing weight when she was taken out of school.

Despite her concerns, Betty Stokley said she did not notify social workers because she knew Patrick Watkins would cut her out of her grandchildren's lives. - BAD MOVE

"I thought this way I could keep a close eye on them," she said. "I don't know, maybe I should have done more." - YES, YOU SHOULD

Others said they did not notify authorities because they were intimidated by Patrick Watkins, who was known to curse at neighbors. - COWARDICE

"I can't down anyone for not wanting to get in the middle of something like this," said Audrey Stokley, Joy Watkins' mother. She said she made reports to police and social workers, but nothing was done.

There is no way to know how many times social services visited the Watkinses. Officials with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services declined to release information about Michaela because of the police investigation and to protect the confidentiality of her three siblings, who have been placed in foster care. The cabinet has launched an investigation. - OF ITSELF

Winchester police received one anonymous complaint on Jan. 26 that the Watkinses were not feeding Michaela. The call, which did not mention physical abuse, led to two home visits. Officers said Michaela looked "very skinny," but a social worker told them she had an eating disorder.

Social workers continued to monitor the situation and took Michaela to a doctor to be checked out at least once, police said. Officers said they saw no signs of abuse.

But Rachel Samuels said something was wrong -- Michaela didn't have any health problems before moving in with the Watkinses. She said the girl, who weighed 95 pounds about a year ago, looked like she had lost about 30 pounds since living with the Watkinses.

At her funeral, lots of love
Rachel Samuel's father, Gary Adams, broke down in tears Friday as he stood with his wife Debbie in front of Michaela's casket.

"She looks like an angel," Debbie Adams whispered.

Michaela's body was dressed in a white sweater and pink princess dress. A bruised hand poked out from the sweater's sleeve, but there were no other obvious signs of trauma.

Funeral officials worked on the girl from Monday up until a couple of hours before the visitation, Rachel Samuels said. Inches of makeup and paste covered the trauma. Officials suggested that the family have a closed casket.

Instead, they put a sign next to the open casket, requesting that visitors not touch Michaela.

Teachers, neighbors and children flowed into Franklin Avenue Church of the Living God. Teddy bears, flowers and handwritten cards from the girl's classmates decorated the room.

On one note, a fifth-grade student wrote a haunting message: "I wish you was here but with a different mom and dad."

How to report suspected child abuse or neglect

How to report suspected child abuse
Lexington Herald-Leader, March 18, 2007, pg. A12.

If you believe a child is being abused or neglected, the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services suggest you call the Child Protection Hot Line at 1-800-752-6200, or the Protection and Permanency office in you county. The cabinet's Web site lists some answers to frequently asked questions:

Who should report suspected abuse or neglect of a child?
Anyone who has reasonable cause to believe a child is being physically abused, sexually abused, neglected or is dependent.What information do you need to provide when reporting abuse?

The following basic information is requested:
* The child's name, sex and approximate age
* The name of the person believed to have been responsible for the abuse or neglect
* A description of the injury, neglect or threatened harm to the child
* The current location of the child; day care or school; home address
* Any immediate risk to the child or to a worker going out to ensure the child's safety (i.e., guns)
* The reporter's name and identifying information only if the caller wishes to give that information; anonymous reports are accepted and investigated.

Can a person reporting abuse be sued?
The reporter is given civil and criminal immunity from prosecution as long as the reporter acted in good faith. The Department for Community Based Services releases the name of a reporter only upon the order of a judge.

Can a social worker just take a child out of the home?
No. Only the police have that authority if they feel that a child is in imminent danger. A judge can issue an emergency custody order for a child to be picked up and held for 72 hours before a hearing. The Kentucky Revised Statute allows a hospital administrator or a physician treating a child to hold that child without a court order, but they must request an emergency order within 72 hours.

If I report someone for child abuse, do I have to give my name?
No. Abuse reports can be made anonymously, however in order to follow up with additional information, callers are encouraged to identify themselves.

What happens to children who are being abused if it is reported?
Reports of child abuse will be investigated by the Department for Community Based Services. If substantiated, children may be removed from the home and placed in foster care until their family situation can be evaluated and corrected. Treatment services are provided, which may make it possible for children to remain in the home.

How to report suspected child abuse
If you believe a child is being abused or neglected, the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services suggests you call the Child Protection Hot Line at 1-800-752-6200, or the Protection and Permanency office in your county.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Brooklawn should have been more transparent and forthcoming with information

Readers forum: Questions remain about the wisdom of this one
Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 4, 2007, pg. H2.

.. You can be a supporter of Brooklawn and nevertheless challenge the wisdom of a group home placement. These ideas are not inconsistent or contradictory.

There are a number of unanswered questions about Brooklawn's proposed group home:

Why didn't Brooklawn anticipate potential objections in a single-family residential neighborhood? I live in Kensington, and such a home would be prohibited by plat restrictions. I know of no one who lives in this type of neighborhood who would expect a group home to be placed next door.

Presuming Brooklawn did anticipate this debate, did they try to fly under the radar and obtain approval before anyone got wind of what was going on? It sure looks that way

As a matter of law, if the juveniles have completed treatment, how are they disabled under the statute?

Brooklawn's letter to the neighbors claimed in December that the age group was 14 to 18, but now say the age range is 16 to 18. How and why did it change? Does that change have a legal effect?

With no track record to compare, how did Brooklawn determine that this group home would meet their objectives? Or is this just an experiment?

This group home is far from my house, and it won't affect me in any way. I'm just tired of the propaganda war and wish the facts were laid on the table.

Louisville 40205

For every child Brooklawn admits, it must turn away six

Readers forum: Soaring need requires more group homes for youths
Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 4, 2007, pg. H2.

We present some facts as part of the discussion about the proposed Brooklawn group home issue: Brooklawn's value to our community and its successes simply cannot be overstated.

Serving dependent children and youth, most of whom have emotional and behavior problems related to neglect, abandonment, physical or sexual abuse or other significant trauma, Brooklawn is an enviable human services success story for any community.

The course of treatment at Brooklawn typically takes about a year before a child is ready to be discharged.

Only youths who have successfully completed Brooklawn's campus-based treatment program will be considered for admission to the proposed group home, and almost every resident will be attending a public school or university before being considered for admission.

By state law, no youth who has committed a sex crime can be admitted into a group home or other facility with dependent, neglected or abused children.

Unfortunately, there has been a huge increase in the number of children in the state's foster care system over the last few years, overwhelming the supply of available foster homes statewide.

Thus, options for children completing treatment have been greatly reduced, and successful residents must stay at Brooklawn much longer than before.

This, in turn, prevents admission of children on the long waiting list. Sadly, for every child Brooklawn admits, it must turn away six!

Our community needs group homes. Our community needs programs like Brooklawn's that offer a proven method to help children and youth. Brooklawn helps our community, and our community needs to help Brooklawn.

Executive director, Kentucky Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Louisville 40223

Bob McFadden, president of the Louisville Affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, also signed this letter.

Maybe she played hard to get because she was afraid of intimacy (because of her time in foster care)

Couple now face challenges together
Moss, Dale. Louisville Courier-Journal, March 18, 2007, pg. B1.

He would ask, she would resist. Off and on, for years that became decades, Tom Nash chased the charms of Mary Richards.She cannot explain why she played harder-than-hard to get, only that she forever will regret it. Before he gave up, blessedly, she gave in. They acknowledged their hearts, confronted their loneliness. Last October, in a packed Park Christian Church, the couple exchanged vows.

"Love is possible for everyone," said the Rev. David Brown, who officiated. "They exemplify that."

They have mental disabilities. They are reminded routinely of what they cannot do. Not that they feel sorry for themselves or expect us to feel sorry for them. Though heartwarmingly determined, they still rely on Social Security, on subsidized housing, on rides and on pills galore, like now they rely on each other.

They chose marriage, nonetheless, and thankfully, they get to choose. Their minds were the only ones that had to be made up. "And so far," Gloria Nash said, "it's looking good."

She is the 47-year-old Nash's 78-year-old mother. Her husband, Wilbur Nash, is likewise 78 and likewise thrilled and relieved to see Tom so loved and supported. No one knows better the challenges Tom Nash poses, as well as faces. Along with his mild retardation, he is epileptic and his vision is failing. Plus he had succumbed to the sloppiness of bachelorhood.

"I'm not a good cook or good housekeeper," Tom Nash said. "I needed somebody to turn me around."

His parents had worried, obviously, who would be there for their son when they no longer would. So daughter-in-law doubles as godsend. Mary Nash must care for her new husband almost as much as about him. He suffers seizures - quick but scary. Yet she does not panic. "And I will never panic," she said.

He grew up in New Albany, in a nurturing home, a pity-free zone. Her upbringing in Aurora was troubled and sad. By 12 she was a group-home resident. "I would not want to go back to my childhood days," she said.

They met in Corydon, at a place of employment for the disabled called a sheltered workshop. He said he remembers it like yesterday, she catching his fancy and a friend urging him to make the first move, and the second, and ... . Nashes are not quitters, he explains.

"He'd bug me every day," Mary Nash said. "I'd say 'no. I'm not interested in men.'

"I was stubborn."

They lost touch, were reunited, again apart, again together. Each went on dates, each led lives apparently unfulfilling.

She enrolled last year in a GED preparation class at Park Christian, the Nash family's church. Though a high school graduate he signed up, too, coincidentally, for a brush up. Call it fate, or something. "The good Man above," Tom Nash said.

This time, right off, she gave him her phone number. He called before she even returned home. They set up a picnic alongside the Ohio River and, seemingly in whirlwind time, agreed on marriage.

"They just discovered the other person that makes their life work," said Brown, plugged in early to the nuptials plan.

Could it last? Was it necessary? Their resolve was tested. At least slow down, suggested those closest to the couple. Mary Nash said like a million people wondered if she truly was ready. "I said, 'Just butt out,'" Tom Nash said he told those leery about the courtship's pace.

They were overdue for happiness, defined their way. Sandy Bishop, Mary Nash's case manager for New Hope Services, quickly came to realize Mary and Tom belong together. "After it all came together, I could see how they were," Bishop said. "It's been good for them, really good."

Tom Nash's parents accompanied them on a wonderful, belated honeymoon to Disney World and the beach in Florida. Then it was back to adapting to the changes marriage invariably requires, plus at least one. To satisfy the gods of bureaucracy, each was no longer eligible for food stamps.

They live in a secluded apartment in Jeffersonville, near his workshop employment at New Hope and not especially far from her job with Papa John's. Still a string bean, he's gained 11 pounds on her cooking and on the surplus pizza she brings home.

"More goods than bads," she said, asked for the status.

Gloria Nash, a wife for 55 years, tells them they will be lucky to get it right. Any couple is. Then again, luck already seems finally on their side. "She (Mary) said it was her first wedding, and only wedding," Tom Nash said.

Cabinet secrecy stalls child protection reforms

Records release on a child's death varies by state
In Kentucky, youth welfare officials make decision
Honeycutt-Spears, Valarie. Lexington Herald-Leader, March 22, 2007, pg. A1.

At least 12 states have passed laws requiring that child protection records be released when a child dies from neglect or abuse.

But Kentucky, which in 2004 had the fifth-highest rate of children dying of abuse and neglect in the United States, isn't one of them.When a child dies from abuse or neglect in Kentucky, state child protection officials decide whether to release the information on a case-by-case basis.

In the case of Michaela Watkins, a Clark County 10-year-old whose father and step-mother have been charged with murder, the answer is no.

Michaela was found dead in the couple's apartment, and relatives have said that police and state social workers had previous contact with the girl and her family, including three other children in the home.

So far, the state has declined to release any records in Michaela's case, citing an ongoing police investigation and saying the confidentiality of Michaela's siblings should be protected. The state says it is conducting an internal investigation of its contact with Michaela.

Kentucky Youth Advocates, a Louisville-based child advocacy group, favors opening state social service records after child fatalities, said KYA Deputy Director Lacey McNary. The hard part, she said, is in deciding when that should happen.

"We want to ensure transparency, but we want to make sure that police can do their job," McNary said.

Under federal law, states such as Kentucky that receive federal child abuse prevention grants must have a provision in place to release state social service information when a child dies. But the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act does not require the release of information in all cases or specify the information that can be released, said Steve Christian, a spokesman for the Colorado-based National Conference of State Legislatures.

The national average of children dying from abuse and neglect was 2.03 deaths per 100,000 children in 2004, the most recent year for which national data was available. In 2004, Kentucky's rate was 3.88. Only Indiana, Washington D.C., Oklahoma and Georgia had higher rates.

Indiana, which had the nation's highest rate of deaths from child abuse and neglect in 2004, has passed a law that requires a judge to open files in child death cases after receiving a request from the public or an agency. Within 30 days of a request being made to open a record, the court in the Indiana county where the child died must exclude identifying information not relevant to the circumstances of the child's death.

Antoinette Lasky, a pediatrician who heads Indiana's Child Fatality Review Board, said the child fatality open-records law followed high-profile deaths of children in the custody of Indiana's child protection system.

Lasky said that, because each judge is allowed to decide what material to redact, the information that the public sees can vary widely from case to case. Sometimes there's too little information; other times there's too much or it's not relevant.

Though Lasky contends Indiana would be better served with set guidelines on what information should be held back, she said the law had been beneficial to the state.

"Certainly, public scrutiny has played a role in child protection reforms in Indiana," Lasky said.

Steve Key, general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association, said he hasn't heard any complaints about agencies or judges resisting releasing records in any Indiana case.

"There remains the strong sense that the public has the right to know that, when the state steps in and takes responsibility for children, that those children are protected," Key said.

Other states that require public disclosure of information on a child fatality or near-fatality include Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, New York and Nevada.

New York's legislation came about when a woman beat her 6-year-old daughter to death in 1995. The child was known to child protective services and other agencies because her drug-addicted mother had repeatedly abused her. However, because of caseworker error and little or no sharing of information, nothing was done to help her.

In response, New York lawmakers enacted the Child Protective Services Reform Act of 1996, known as Elisa's Law, to require that child fatality information be made available to state and city auditors and the public and that such information be shared among those investigating a case.

ln Arizona, state officials are required to provide summary information regarding a fatality or near fatality caused by abuse or neglect if any citizen requests it. A judicial review isn't required before the release. Information is released only about the dead child, said Beth Rosenberg, director of Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice for Arizona Children's Action Alliance. There is no information released about other people in the home.

"I think the law has helped," Rosenberg said. "Years ago, you wouldn't have gotten any information on a child."

Kentucky had the fifth-highest child abuse and neglect fatality rate among 43 states and the District of Columbia reviewed for federal fiscal year 2004, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study. The U.S. rate was 2.03 deaths per 100,000 children.

1. Indiana (4.81 deaths per 100,000 children)
2. District of Columbia (4.56)
3. Oklahoma (4.54)
4. Georgia (4.20)
5. Kentucky (3.88)
6. Missouri (3.47)
7. Wyoming (3.42)
8. Texas (3.38)
9. West Virginia (3.12)
10. Colorado (2.97)

House is right, Senate is wrong

Visitation centers are tied up in impasse
Legislators still hoping to pass social work bill
Yetter, Deborah. Louisville Courier-Journal, March 19, 2007, pg. A1.

Supervised visits between parents and children follow a careful script at The Family Place in Louisville.

Mother and father arrive through separate entrances, and the parent bringing the child never sees the parent who is there for the visit.
Doors are locked with key cards, and an off-duty sheriff's deputy provides security.

"Anything anybody can do to create more centers like this is probably one of the most worthwhile things my tax money could be spent on," said Richard Muench, a Louisville father who brought his children to the non profit agency last week for a visit with their mother.

The failure of state legislators to approve a bill that could create a network of such visitation centers around the state, as part of an effort to improve safety for social workers and families, has outraged supporters.

But lawmakers say they are hopeful they can work out differences in the final two days of the legislative session, March 26 and 27, and pass a bill.

Muench said that c onflicts with his children's mother made it impossible to hold visits elsewhere, but "I don't have to worry about the Family Place. ... It has been a lifesaver - it really has."

Setting up visitation centers across the state was one goal of lawmakers backing House Bill 362.

But the measure - named "The Boni Frederick Bill" after a Western Kentucky social service aide slain on the job last year - was caught in the last-minute gridlock between the House and Senate and failed to gain approval on the last scheduled day to pass bills in the 2007 legislative session.

But lawmakers haven't given up hope on the bill.

"I hope we're able to sit down and come together," said Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, who is chairman of the House human services budget subcommittee.

Supporters of the bill, including Boni Frederick's daughter, Sandy Travis, are upset that it has stalled.

"I was very disgusted," said Travis, whose mother was fatally stabbed and beaten when she took an infant for a final home visit with the child's mother in Henderson. "If something (like that) happened in Frankfort, they'd have security that was out of this world."

Social workers - who complain they are short-staffed and overburdened by a rising caseload - also were frustrated by the legislature's inaction, said Tricia Mack, a Louisville social worker.

"We feel alone," she said.

Lee said he thinks lawmakers were tired and tempers simply got short as legislative action last Monday stretched to nearly midnight.

"I expect everyone's going to take a few days to cool down and step back and look at things," he said.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said he is willing to work with the House to pass HB 362, although the House and Senate still have conflicts about what the final version should include.

He suggested that House members may better accept the Senate version "if they'll just calm down and start looking at it." - NO, BECAUSE IT SUCKS

Mark D. Birdwhistell, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said he hopes to work with lawmakers from both chambers to get a bill through this session. Lawmakers had reserved the final two days to consider any legislation the governor might veto but say they probably will use them to try to pass legislation that is still pending.

"We want to get the bill passed," Birdwhistell said. "I'm very hopeful we'll be able to reach a consensus on the outstanding issues."

Among the issues to be resolved:
Funding. The House had proposed $4.8 million to hire more than 100 more social workers and social service aides and open 16 secure visitation centers around the state for parents to visit with children removed for abuse or neglect.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher and cabinet officials also had backed expanding the handful of small visitation centers that now operate in a few communities, including Louisville, with budgets largely dependent on grants or local funds.

The Senate is willing to spend up to $6 million but wants to use the money to hire about 60 workers and make local child welfare offices more secure, rather than open visitation centers.

Williams has said he doesn't believe private centers would be secure and described them as "untested." He said he would rather put funds into improving security at the offices and possibly creating visitation sites there.

Oversight. The House wants an outside task force to review Health and Family Services' child welfare system and make recommendations for changes to the legislature in 2008. The Senate wants to empanel a work group from staff within the cabinet to identify possible improvements.

Both sides say they feel strongly about what they want in the bill but will try to settle the differences when they meet next week.

"I'm still optimistic," said Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, sponsor of the bill and chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee. "I think we'll come to an agreement."

If lawmakers do decide they want to expand visitation centers around the state, The Family Place - which has operated its center in Louisville for seven years - is ready to help with training and advice, said Pamela Helms, its president.

Proponents argue that such centers operate in many states to provide a secure and neutral place where families separated by violence, abuse or other conflict can visit under the supervision of trained workers.

At Family Place, clients are referred by the court. Children visit parents in one of several colorful rooms filled with comfortable furniture, books and toys - but trained workers are always nearby or in the room, if necessary.

The center has never had a serious incident, even though "the families we serve are those where there's a great risk for violence," Helms said.

Pat Dintamin, center director, said staff members defuse tensions by being polite and respectful to all parties and don't take sides in family disputes.

But Helms said adequate funding is scarce. "It seems so logical that these services are needed, but it's such a struggle to find funds," she said.

The center currently uses a federal grant to provide visits for children with families involved in domestic violence and recently got $50,000 from the state to expand family visits to children removed from homes because of abuse or neglect.

Helms, who worked as a state social worker and supervisor for 10 years, said it may be unrealistic to expect social workers to organize parental visits and hold them in a state office.

"The challenges state social workers have are so enormous, " she said. "Finding a time and place to have a supervised visit can be impossible. "

Wife kills husband, ending domestic violence saga

Woman accused of killing husband slaying ended apparent fight
Relatives describe violence
Lannen, Steve. Lexington Herald-Leader, March 20, 2007, pg. B1.

The shooting death of a man Sunday night was the tragic end of a relationship rife with physical and mental abuse, said the mother of the woman accused of pulling the trigger.

On Sunday night at 3505 Greenlawn, David and Sandra Lubben argued over whether to buy her mother a carton of cigarettes. That led to yelling, threats and David Lubben throwing a chair at his wife, said Vicky Musgrove, who was in the house.The night before he had threatened to cut up his wife with a knife, she said.

A little after 10 p.m., Sandra Lubben found a handgun she had and shot her husband in the chest, according to a police report. He was taken to the University of Kentucky hospital, where he died about 10:45, according to Lexington police and Fayette County coroner's news statements.

Sandra Gwen Lubben, 38, was arrested and charged with murder. At her arraignment yesterday afternoon, Fayette District Judge T. Bruce Bell entered a not guilty plea for her and appointed a public defender. He set a full cash bond at $50,000. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Monday.

Two uncles attended the hearing and later visited their niece at the Fayette jail.

"She's told me several times that he was beating up on her and was abusive. She told me that a lot," David Musgrove said. "He's controlling. He's the type of guy who wanted everything his way."

Sandra Lubben was hesitant to go to court to stop the abuse, said Musgrove.

"He told her if she had him locked up, he was going to hurt her bad," she said.

The couple married in July last year in Memphis, Tenn., but had dated for about five years, she said.

They had a young daughter, Musgrove and her uncles said, but Sandra Lubben had five children from previous marriages. Her oldest son is serving in the U.S. Navy, but the other children were removed about two weeks ago and placed in foster care, she said.

"I watched the kids get into the (police) car like they were so happy to get out of the house. It was unreal. They didn't cry or anything," said Sharon Edwards, a neighbor who lives across the street.

She said she and residents sometimes heard David Lubben screaming at his wife. "I don't think I ever saw her without a black eye," she said.

Still, Sandra Lubben always defended her husband, Edwards and Musgrove said.

- Sandra Lubben was charged with murder. Bond was set at $50,000.

Fruad and extortion discourage Guatemalan adoptions

Guatemalan adoptions frowned upon
State Dept. says system 'rampant with fraud'
Crary, David. Lexington Herald-Leader, March 17, 2007, pg. A3.

NEW YORK -- Citing rampant problems of fraud and extortion, the State Department says it no longer recommends that Americans adopt children from Guatemala -- the No. 2 source of orphans coming to the United States.

Some adoption officials are outraged, calling the move a de facto suspension and an overreaction that will cause more harm than good, leaving hundreds of children stranded in Guatemalan foster homes.

"It's inflammatory, it's insensitive to people's feelings," Thomas Atwood, president of the National Council for Adoption, said yesterday. "People all across the country in the process of adopting from Guatemala are frightened right now."

Adoptions from Guatemala are popular because of relatively swift procedures and have increased steadily in recent years, reaching 4,315 in 2006 -- second only to China. Yet U.S. officials have pressed Guatemala for anti-corruption reforms, saying there were frequent cases of birth mothers pressured to sell their babies and adoptive American parents targeted by extortionists.

This week the State Department issued a detailed advisory saying, "We cannot recommend adoption from Guatemala at this time. ... There are serious problems with the adoption process in Guatemala, which does not protect all children, birth mothers, or prospective adoptive parents."

The advisory stopped short of imposing a ban on adoptions from Guatemala, but said cases would be scrutinized more closely than before and reviews would take longer.

"Adopting a child in a system that is based on a conflict of interests, that is rampant with fraud, and that unduly enriches facilitators is a very uncertain proposition with potential serious lifelong consequences," the advisory said. "When you decide whether to move forward with adoption in Guatemala, you should consider factors beyond timing."

Atwood said the advisory amounted to a "de facto suspension."

"What parent now is going to enter an adoption program for Guatemala?" he asked. "What's going to happen to 2,000 kids waiting in foster care there?"

Atwood said his council, one of the nation's largest adoption advocacy groups, shared the State Department's concerns about Guatemala, but wanted to continue adoptions to the United States while encouraging in-the-works reforms.

Pending proposals would create a central authority in Guatemala to tighten regulation of an adoption industry long dominated by notaries who function as baby brokers.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Patrick Watkins offers stupid and implausible excuse for killing his stepdaughter

Couple charged with murder
Held in death of girl, 10
Kirby, Cassondra. Lexington Herald-Leader, March 15, 2007, pg. A1.

WINCHESTER -- The father and stepmother of 10-year-old Michaela Watkins were charged yesterday with murder in her death, Winchester police said.

Patrick and Joy Watkins of Winchester, who were initially charged with criminal abuse, remained in the Clark County jail. Their bond was raised from $20,000 to $200,000 each shortly after the murder charges were filed.A preliminary hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Clark District Court.

Officials continued to say little about how Michaela died. Winchester police Capt. Harvey Craycraft said she had several injuries, but he could not be more specific. County Coroner David Jacobs said preliminary results from an autopsy conducted Monday were not being released because of the continuing police investigation.

But details of the Watkinses' side of the story have begun to emerge.

According to an account the couple gave WKYT-TV, Patrick Watkins heard Michaela fall and scream after he had told her to go take a bath Saturday night.

"By the time I get up the stairs, she's red from butt to feet and her skin is peeled off," he said in the interview. "She got burned. The water burned her up."

After getting out of the tub, Michaela slipped and fell down the stairs. Watkins said his wife asked whether they should take Michaela to the hospital, but he said her injuries didn't appear that severe.

Michaela seemed fine that night. But after an outing at Red River George the next day, Michaela began having breathing problems, so they returned to their apartment. They found Michaela dead in her bed 45 minutes after they arrived home, Watkins said.

"I love my daughter," he said. "I love my family and now I've lost it all."

The Watkinses have declined interviews with the Herald-Leader.

Craycraft confirmed that the couple had given a similar account to police. He said the murder charges were prompted by the couple's failure to obtain treatment for Michaela.

Neighbors and relatives have said in interviews that the couple subjected Michaela to repeated verbal and physical abuse.

"She lived in fear of them," said Betty Stokley, Joy Watkins' grandmother, who added that she was glad to hear the charges had been upgraded to murder.

Through an open records request, the Herald-Leader has learned that police had received one complaint against the Watkinses for their treatment of the children, which led to two home visits.

On Jan. 26, an anonymous caller told Winchester police that the Watkinses were not feeding Michaela. The caller did not mention anything about physical abuse, said Craycraft, who was one of the officers who responded to the call.

"That day Michaela was very skinny and it didn't look normal to me," Craycraft said. "So I called a social worker."

The social worker told Craycraft that Michaela had a self-inflicted eating disorder. However, social workers continued to monitor the situation and took Michaela to a doctor to be checked out at least once, he said.

Craycraft said he didn't see any bruises on Michaela or any of her three siblings during his visit.

"Besides her being skinny, there was no signs of abuse," Craycraft said. "Nothing to indicate that anything was wrong."

It is not known how many times social workers visited the family. Officials with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services said they would not release details about the cabinet's contact with Michaela because of the police investigation and in an effort to protect the confidentiality of the other children, who have been removed from the home.

In the WKYT interview, Joy Watkins said that if she and her husband were treating Michaela badly, there would have been signs.

"This was a child that was in and out of doctor's offices and therapist offices every two weeks," she said. "Are people going to say that every one of those people failed her, that they missed something? There was nothing to miss."

Staff at Shearer Elementary School in Winchester, which Michaela attended until late last year, are raising money to pay for Michaela's funeral and fund a scholarship in her name. One person helping in that effort, Shane McCaslin, 38, said family members of Joy Watkins had contacted the school to see whether they could use some of the money for Joy Watkins' bond. The school declined that request.

Visitation for Michaela will be 5-7 p.m. Friday at the Franklin Avenue Church of the Living God in Winchester. The funeral will be private.

Visitation centers are tested and proven elsewhere

Readers' forum
Louisville Courier-Journal, March 14, 2007, pg. A10.

Safe visitation centers not an experiment
I would like to clarify information included in a Courier-Journal article about funding for the Boni Bill that described supervised visitation centers as "an untested idea" and "an experiment."This came as a surprise to many Jefferson County residents who developed supervised visitation services in Louisville nearly 11 years ago.

In 1996, Mary Lou Cambron of Jefferson County Family Court organized a Visitation Center Task Force whose purpose was to develop a cogent plan and strategies for safe and accessible visitation options for families and children.

In 1998, through a partnership with the University of Louisville, the first visitation center was opened with funding from the Cabinet for Families and Children, the Department of Social Insurance and the Division of Child Support Enforcement. The original Family Access Center evolved into what is currently known as the Visitation Center at Family Place.

The Visitation Center at Family Place is a component of the Louisville Metro Visitation and Exchange program. The program has been successfully operated by Louisville Metro Government with general fund and federal dollars from the Office on Violence Against Women since January 2004.

Current funding prohibits the Visitation Center at Family Place from serving families where the children have been removed, but from 1999-2003 a limited number of child welfare cases were conducted at the center.

I acknowledge that the legacy of supervised visitation centers in Kentucky is relatively short, but the idea of supervised visitation centers being used for child welfare cases is not uncharted territory in Louisville, the Commonwealth of Kentucky or anywhere else in the country.

Louisville Metro Office for Women
Louisville 40245

Cut 'a travesty'
The state Senate made a very bad decision to cut funding for the Boni Bill. One area you shouldn't play politics with is family services.

I have been a foster parent for eight years and have seen some very hard-working people in social services. The work they do for Kentucky's children is extraordinary.

Our social workers ... deserve better than what they are getting. For the state Senate to cut funding in a bill to protect social workers is a travesty.

Not only would this bill help social workers, but also and most important, it would help the kids placed in the state's care....

We need more social workers, with the growing case loads and the number of children coming into care.

The safety of the workers and children should have no price tag.

Mount Washington, Ky. 40047

Yes, Williams, visitation centers are a good use of state money (you jerk)

Impasse remains on social worker protections
Yetter, Deborah. Louisville Courier-Journal. March 13, 2007, pg. B4.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Lawmakers failed last night to break a deadlock over a bill aimed at improving social worker safety.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said the Senate was willing to put up to $6 million into the bill to hire more workers and create other safety measures in the state's child-welfare system.

But members of the House and Senate didn't resolve their differences before adjourning.

The legislature will reconvene March 26 for two days to consider any vetoes by Gov. Ernie Fletcher. There could be action on the bill then.

Efforts at compromise yesterday came after the Senate last week stripped all funds from the House version of House Bill 362, named the "Boni Frederick Bill." Frederick was a Western Kentucky social service aide slain on the job.

She was fatally stabbed in October after she took an infant to a final court-ordered visit with his mother.

The decision to remove the funding outraged critics, who said the bill was useless without money for about 100 more workers and safety measures including secure centers where parents could visit with children removed from homes because of abuse or neglect.

The House version included about $4.8 million to hire 109 social workers and open 16 secure visitation centers.

Yesterday lawmakers worked on a draft bill that would allow the state to hire about 60 more workers and dedicate about $3.5 million to making offices more secure.

Williams had challenged the notion of visitation centers and said he didn't think it would be a good use of state money.

A House- Senate conference committee was appointed yesterday to resolve differences.

Mark D. Birdwhistell, secretary of the C abinet for Health and Family Services, spent part of the evening shuttling between the House and Senate, trying to work out differences.

But some sticking points remained late yesterday .

"What they want is their bill," Williams said of the House. "That's their idea of a compromise."

Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville and the sponsor of HB 362, said House members weren't willing to drop some provisions, including an outside task force to monitor the social service system.

The Senate version called for an internal work group from the family services agency to do the monitoring .

Burch predicted the differences would be worked out.

"I think we'll end up with a good bill before this session ends," he said.

Williams, you need to open your mind to visitation centers - they have worked in other states

Break in session leaves budget items in limbo
Biesk, Joe. Kentucky Post, March 13, 2007, pg. A6.

A $28 million appropriation for improvements to the Kentucky Horse Park was left in the lurch Monday when lawmakers adjourned without reaching an agreement on a number of major construction projects.

The money was to be used to build an outdoor stadium in preparation for the 2010 World Equestrian Games. A proposal to dole out about $25 million in grants to help southern Kentucky communities deal with the effects of lowering Lake Cumberland also was not settled when the legislature adjourned for a two-week break."It's a precarious situation," said House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green.

Also not moving forward: money for a new dorm and dining hall at Northern Kentucky University and a bill that would extend tax breaks for Newport on the Levee.

Both the House and Senate were busy amid a flurry of activity Monday, the last day before a scheduled two-week break. The General Assembly was scheduled to return for two days on March 26 to consider any of Gov. Ernie Fletcher's vetoes or deal with other legislative matters.

By law, the legislature may not work beyond March 30; however, Fletcher has threatened to call lawmakers back for a special session later this year. Fletcher wants legislators to act on a Senate plan to overhaul the state's pension system and a variety of other spending proposals.

In a separate proposal, the legislature cleared a variety of tax breaks for projects throughout the state, including the proposed $465 million Museum Plaza project along the Louisville riverfront.

But the Senate did not approve a bill that would have given Newport on the Levee and other tourist attractions an additional six years to earn a state tax rebate, said state Rep. Jon Draud, R-Crestview Hills.

A plan to spend $9 million at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport so it could capture a matching federal grant to relocate the runway involved in the failed takeoff and crash of Comair Flight 5191 last summer, in which 49 people were killed, also cleared the Senate. A similar proposal had already cleared the House.

Senate President David Williams said the Senate inserted the extra spending in hopes of avoiding a special legislative session.

"If we don't pass these things, the governor is going to call us back," Williams said.

It was the second consecutive year lawmakers would leave spending matters vulnerable to Fletcher's veto. A plan to reinstate about $370 million in projects -- including millions at state universities and colleges -- that Fletcher slashed from the budget last year remained in legislative limbo. That includes $24.5 million for a new dorm and dining hall at Northern Kentucky University.

Whether that plan would be approved likely depended on the fate of the Senate pension plan, Williams said.

Democrats and Republicans in the Senate approved a plan last week in which the state would sell more than $800 million in bonds to help out the financially troubled state pension system.

Without legislative intervention, Williams has said, the plan would likely go broke by 2022 -- leaving the state with a $2 billion annual pension obligation.

Current employees and retirees would not face any changes in their pension benefits, but a key provision of the Senate plan would limit future employees' benefits. Instead of receiving traditional pensions, future employees would have a "hybrid" plan that includes a mixture of defined benefits and investments.

Richards has said he favors the bond issue but does not support changes in employee benefits.

Richards said he thinks the bill to restore funding for the university projects was being used as a bargaining chip by the Senate. Richards said he doesn't know whether the measure will pass this session, even though House and Senate leaders had an agreement.

"We don't feel like we should have to deal on it a second time," Richards said.

Another high-profile proposal that remained unresolved was legislation aimed at better protecting state social workers from on-the-job dangers. House and Senate lawmakers were trying to resolve differences in the versions passed by each chamber.

The move stems from last year's death of Henderson social worker Boni Frederick who was stabbed and beaten when she took an infant to his mother's house for a visit last October.

One sticking point appeared to be House language to create neutral locations for supervised visits between birth parents and their abused or neglected children.

Williams said such visitation centers would simply "create more targets" among workers.

Richards said lawmakers would to try to hammer out a deal on the so-called "Boni Bill."

Nevertheless, Fletcher said he thought there was enough time on the legislative clock for further agreement.

"I think it's not over till it's over," Fletcher said.

When you witness child abuse, you need to REPORT it

Neighbors describe dead girl's chronic abuse
Response by social services questioned
Kirby, Cassondra. Lexington Herald-Leader, March 13, 2007, pg. A1.

WINCHESTER -- Ten-year-old McCaylah Watkins, whose bruised and lifeless body was found in her family's Winchester apartment Sunday, was an unhappy child who lived in fear of upsetting her father and stepmother, said those who know the family yesterday.

More than half a dozen neighbors and relatives said Patrick and Joy Watkins routinely belittled and yelled at the girl in public, cursing at her, telling her to shut up and calling her stupid, along with other, harsher names.

Police arrested the Watkinses on Sunday and charged each with first-degree criminal abuse on a child less than 12 years old.

"The parents were charged with criminal abuse for failing to get treatment for the child's injuries," said Winchester police Capt. Harvey Craycraft. He said the couple hadn't made any attempts to render aid to the suffering child, other than calling for an ambulance.

Betty Stokley -- Joy Watkins' grandmother, who lives next door to the couple, said Patrick Watkins was especially cruel to McCaylah, his daughter from a previous marriage. Stokley said she had seen him kick the girl in the back, knocking her down, and had seen him force the girl to spread her fingers out on a table so he could smash them with his hands.

Stokley said McCaylah was often not allowed out of her bedroom and rarely got to go outside to play. She said the couple wouldn't even let McCaylah go to the bathroom, which was across the hall from her room, but placed a potty beside her bed for her to use instead.

"Caylah would dodge him and move to the side if he walked past her," Stokley said of Patrick Watkins, 30. "She would shake and go on. She was afraid."

McCaylah was pronounced dead just after 4 p.m. Sunday, when an ambulance and police were called to apartment 35 on Memorial Park for an unresponsive child.

McCaylah, who was found in a bedroom, had what Craycraft described as "trauma injuries." Stokley said police told her the body was badly bruised.

Patrick Watkins told police that the girl had fallen down some stairs, Craycraft said.

Craycraft could not go into more detail, but he said more charges were possible once authorities view the results of an autopsy that was completed yesterday. He said authorities hope to learn exactly what caused the child's death and when and how her injuries occurred.

Police confiscated a Dumpster after neighbors told police they saw Patrick Watkins take out trash just before calling emergency workers. Police have not said what evidence, if any, was found.

In Clark District Court, a not-guilty plea was entered yesterday for the Watkinses. Judge William Clouse said he would appoint public defenders for them. Each was being held in the Clark County jail on a $20,000 cash bond; they will be back in court March 20.

Because they are in jail, funeral arrangements have not yet been made for McCaylah.

Brother recently adopted
According to Clark County court records, Patrick and Joy Watkins, 28, do not have extensive criminal backgrounds. The most serious crime was in February 2000, when each was convicted of domestic violence against the other.

Stokley said the couple have been married for about nine years and have lived at the apartment complex on Memorial Park for about five years.

She said they were raising four children, including two of their own, Zachary, 4 and Mariah, 6. They recently gained full custody of McCaylah. And they have adopted Michael Woodrum, 4, McCaylah's half brother. He and McCaylah share the same mother, but Michael is not related to Patrick or Joy Watkins.

The other three children have been in state custody since Sunday. Stokley said she hopes to gain custody of them.

Officials with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services would not comment yesterday on past or current investigations involving the Watkinses. They also would not say whether the remaining children will be released to family members.

In recent months, Stokley said, she hasn't been a significant part of Joy Watkins' life and hasn't been allowed to see the children often, because of Patrick Watkins. She said social service workers and the police have been called several times on the couple over their treatment of the children, and Patrick Watkins blamed her for the calls and attention.

Through tears yesterday, Stokley said she blames social service workers for not doing more to prevent McCaylah's death.

"The social workers, they didn't do their part," Stokley said. "If they had taken McCaylah out of there, this little girl wouldn't be dead. I don't know if I could have done anything to save her or not. I'm so broken-hearted about this that I can't hardly talk about it."

Neighbors grieving
As residents of the apartment complex recalled incidents of alarming physical or verbal abuse against McCaylah, many wondered yesterday whether there was something more they should have done.

"They were awful mean to the little baby," said Nancy Bowling, 60. "She was 10 years old, she wasn't nothing but a little baby who had no one to turn to."

Bowling, who used to walk her grandson to school with McCaylah and Joy Watkins, said Joy Watkins often seemed hateful and rarely said anything pleasant to the girl.

"She would call her stupid and say things to her like 'shut up,'" Bowling said. "Caylah was a real pretty, sweet little girl, but she didn't look happy. I don't ever remember seeing her smile."

In one incident, Joy Watkins became upset with McCaylah and began yelling at her in the street in front of Bowling's apartment. She was screaming so loudly that neighbors stepped out onto their porches to see what the commotion was about, Bowling said.

Watkins knocked the schoolbooks out of McCaylah's hands and then stormed off while the girl, who was crying, struggled to pick up her belongings, Bowling said.

Another neighbor, William Deaton, 35, said McCaylah, who was home-schooled this year, attended Shearer Elementary in Winchester last year with his 10-year-old niece. He said McCaylah told his niece that "her dad was being mean to her and beating her up."

Shearer Elementary Principal Ed Sigmon declined to comment about McCaylah yesterday.

"I don't know what happened down there that day," Bowling said. "But I do know what I've seen -- what we've all seen."

You know what needs to be done, you just don't want to pay for it

More social-worker hires ok'd
Compromise sought on safety
Vos, Sarah, Lexington Herald-Leader, March 13, 2007, pg. C2.

FRANKFORT - Legislators struggled to work out a compromise last night on a bill to improve social worker safety.

The Senate and House, however, had agreed to hire 60 social workers, said Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville.
The main sticking point between the two bodies was whether to appoint a legislative task force or create a safety study group led by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

A compromise proposed yesterday morning would have given the Cabinet for Health and Family Services close to $6 million to hire 60 social workers and address safety issues in regional offices and technology needs for social workers, Williams said.

But the task force, which was in the original House bill, remained an issue. Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, who crafted the original bill, said the blue ribbon task force was key to improving social worker safety. It would allow the legislature to address systemic problems in the cabinet.

"How do you correct a problem in a cabinet unless you got new eyes looking inside it?" Burch said.

Williams argued that the task force should be more narrowly focused on safety and that creating a legislative committee would be pointless.

"We don't need legislators grandstanding on this issue,"
Williams said.

The Senate and House have approved different versions of the bill, and both bodies assigned conference committees yesterday morning to work out differences. The groups had not met by press time last night.

There is still time for the the committees to meet before the legislature returns for the final two days of the session, Burch said.

Senate and House arm-wrestle over Boni Bill

Many loose ends await legislators on the last day
Loftus, Tom. Louisville Courier-Journal, March 11, 2007, pg. A1.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — If Kentucky lawmakers hope the 2007 legislative session will be remembered as productive, they have a long, hard day ahead of them tomorrow.

That's the last scheduled day to pass bills, and the House and Senate have resolved only a handful of major issues.

"It's like I anticipated," said Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, a legislative veteran. "Not a whole lot is likely to get done."

The Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House have passed their priority bills. But, with few exceptions, they haven't passed each other's.

Among the major issues still pending: bailing out the financially troubled state retirement funds, making workplaces safer for coal miners and social workers, and funding construction projects vetoed last year by Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

Not only was there little progress last week on key bills, but hostility between the two chambers boiled over late Thursday.

House Democrats accused Senate President David Williams of blocking House bills and trying to force the House to accept the Senate's plan for shoring up the retirement systems.

Williams countered that the House lacked the political courage to pass the Senate's retirement system bail-out plan. Both chambers agree that the system needs more money, but the Senate wants to reduce retirement benefits for future employees, an issue House leaders say needs more study.

Fletcher said Friday that he may call a special session if lawmakers cannot agree on stabilizing the pension plans.

By week's end a few bills had cleared both chambers — among them an increase in the minimum wage, from the current $5.15 an hour to $7.25 by July 2009, and generous incentives to Ford Motor Co. to keep nearly 8,000 jobs at its two plants in Jefferson County.

And for the most part tempers had cooled.

"It won't be successful as it could have been if we don't finish some crucial matters," Williams, R-Burkesville, told reporters Friday. "But everything is still out there, everything can be accomplished that we'd hoped to accomplish."

Williams on Wednesday threatened to block many House bills that called for new spending — including the measure to authorize borrowing for the vetoed construction projects — if the House didn't accept the Senate plan for stabilizing the retirement funds.

But on Friday he resisted saying which bills he believed must pass for the session to be a success.

"I'm not going to set that defining sort of list of bills," he said. "There are a lot of important bills. I believe that we'll come to a successful conclusion."

House Speaker Jody Richards, a Bowling Green Democrat who is seeking his party's nomination for governor in the May 22 primary, said that "when you look at the work product of this House, I think you have to give it an 'A.'"

The session's success, Richards said, "is going to depend on what the Senate passes that we sent it."

The major stumbling block remains the Senate's plan to issue bonds that would raise more than $800 million to stabilize the retirement systems of state workers and teachers, and to limit benefits of future state workers.

Under the Senate proposal, workers hired after July 1, 2008, would participate in a "hybrid" pension plan. The state would contribute a smaller amount than it does now to a traditional "defined benefit" plan, while giving workers the option of participating in a 401(k)-type plan to which both employee and employer would contribute.

The concern is that lower-paid employees might opt out of the voluntary plan, thus raising questions about whether they could save enough for retirement.

Richards repeated Friday that the House can accept the borrowing. But he said any change to future employee benefits must be given more study and approved in 2008.

"We will act on something to try to get the bond part of the pension plan enacted," Richards said.
But the House is adamant, he said, in its opposition to changing benefits for future employees in the current session.

Also unresolved is spending. The Senate has held back on approving the projects Fletcher vetoed last year — a list that includes $6 million for the Louisville Zoo's Glacier Run exhibit.

And neither chamber has acted on Fletcher's surplus spending proposal, which includes $38 million to improve the Kentucky Horse Park in time for the 2010 World Equestrian Games, as well as funding for local government grants and water systems in Southern Kentucky to help cope with the federal decision to lower the water level of Lake Cumberland to make repairs to Wolf Creek Dam.

Fletcher said those spending items also might be put on the agenda of any special session.

Also to be resolved are differences in House Bill 361 — the "Boni Frederick Bill," which is aimed at improving social worker safety and is named for the social-services aide slain on the job last year.

The Senate approved the bill Friday — but only after $4.8 million in state funding had been stripped from the measure. Key House members want the money restored.

Differences also must be resolved on bills strengthening mine- safety rules, helping counties cope with costs of holding state inmates in county jails, improving math and science teaching, and allowing tax breaks for developers of the Museum Plaza project in Louisville.

Many other bills are dead, or appear to have only a slight chance for passage.

They include measures to ban public universities and other state agencies from providing health insurance for domestic partners of employees; to allow trees to be cut so billboards are more visible; to permit juries to award damages for the loss of companionship; to require women seeking abortions to get information about the risks of the procedure in face-to-face meetings; and to require immunizations of girls and young women against a virus that causes cervical cancer.

Under the current schedule, midnight tomorrow is the deadline for passing bills. But that could change: Legislative leaders could, for example, decide to add to this week's schedule one or both of the days set aside for later this month to deal with any Fletcher vetoes.

But only three legislative days remain, and the session must end by March 30.

Thanks for nothing (no funding), Kentucky Senate

Kentucky General Assembly: Senate passes social worker bill
Critics call it useless after money removed
Yetter, Deborah and Stephanie Steitzer. Louisville Courier-Journal, March 10, 2007, pg. B1.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Senate yesterday approved a bill meant to improve social worker safety — though critics claim it was gutted and key House members say they can't accept it.

Named the "Boni Frederick Bill" after a Western Kentucky social service aide slain on the job, House Bill 362 was stripped of $4.8 million Thursday by a Senate committee and changed substantially.

The changes prompted some strong objections yesterday from Sen. Dorsey Ridley, a Democrat from Henderson, where Frederick was killed after she took an infant for a court-ordered home visit with the mother.

"Our social workers are on the front line protecting our most vulnerable citizens," Ridley said. "Far too often we send them into situations where their lives are threatened."

Ridley said he objected to the Senate leadership's decision to strip all funding from the bill to hire 109 social workers and other staff and open 16 secure centers around the state where parents could visit children removed for abuse or neglect.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, defended the changes, saying they would give the Cabinet for Health and Family Services the authority to make immediate safety changes including surveying all social-service offices and upgrading security with existing funds.

But the cabinet already has the power to do that. After Frederick's death — among other steps — the cabinet with the assistance of Kentucky State Police began surveying county offices and making recommended improvements for security.

Social workers and Frederick's daughter, Sandy Travis of Dixon, said this week that the bill is meaningless without funds to hire more workers and open visitation centers.

Still, Williams defended the changes.

"To say that this bill has been gutted is an insult," he said. - A DESERVED INSULT

But others in the Senate disagreed, including Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington, and Dan Mongiardo, D-Hazard.

Mongiardo was one of several lawmakers who met with social workers at a public forum after Frederick's death.

"If Boni Frederick's death is not in vain, then we have to do something substantive to protect them,"
he said.

Sen. Julie Denton, a Louisville Republican who is chairwoman of the Health and Welfare Committee, also spoke against the changes, saying more far-reaching improvements are needed.
The bill now goes back to the House and likely will be assigned to a conference committee so members of both chambers can try to work out their differences.

The Senate approved the bill 34-0, with some members saying they voted for it only to get it to the conference committee, where they hope it can be improved.

The Senate also approved Senate Bill 83, which would raise the state speed limit to 70 mph on rural interstate highways and most parkways.

The vote was 35-2 to accept changes made by the House and send the bill to Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who has previously supported raising the speed limit from the current 65 mph. Fletcher spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said the governor would reserve comment until he reviews the bill with advisers.

Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, D-Louisville, who opposed the bill, said he feared the higher speed limit would increase Kentucky's highway death toll.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the correlation between speeds and accidents, and the faster you go the more likely you're going to die," the Louisville Democrat said in an interview after the final vote.

Before taking effect, the higher speed limit would need approval from the state transportation secretary after an engineering study of safety factors.

The bill specifies that all rural stretches of interstates are eligible for the 70 mph speed limit. The exceptions would be urban portions of interstate highways in Jefferson County and the Cincinnati suburbs in Northern Kentucky.

In addition, rural sections of four-lane parkways would be eligible for the 70 mph speed limit. Current speed limits would remain unchanged on the Hal Rogers Parkway and a portion of the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway east of Campton.

In the name of 'immediacy,' Williams guts the Boni Bill

Senate reshapes social worker bill
Schreiner, Bruce. Kentucky Post, March 10, 2007, pg. A6.

The Kentucky Senate reshaped legislation Friday aimed at shielding state social workers from on-the-job dangers, setting up likely negotiations with House counterparts on how to avoid a repeat of a social worker's slaying.

Senate President David Williams said the Senate-passed version would allow quick action to better protect social workers at their offices and during house calls."The bottom line of it is that more things need to be done immediately," the Burkesville Republican said, adding that the Senate's plan would give a state agency the flexibility to incorporate safety measures.

Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington, responded that letting the Health and Family Services Cabinet take care of the problem was "unacceptable." He said the cabinet was unresponsive by not asking lawmakers last year for more social workers.

"They don't get it," he said.

Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, D-Hazard, said the bill had been "gutted."

"If Boni Frederick's death is not (to be) in vain, then what we have to do is something substantive for our social workers across this state, to protect them," he said.

The legislation, termed the "Boni Bill," stems from last year's death of Boni Frederick, who was stabbed and beaten when she took an infant to his mother's house for a visit at Henderson in October.

In response, Gov. Ernie Fletcher proposed about $20 million to strengthen protections for social workers. He wanted to add more than 300 social services staffers, equip social workers with two-way radios and create neutral locations for supervised visits between birth parents and their abused or neglected children.

The version that cleared the House on a 98-0 vote contained $4.8 million, including $2.5 million in extra state funds. Among the uses for the money would be to hire more social workers and to open the neutral locations -- termed "visitation centers."

Williams said such centers could put even more people at risk because it wouldn't provide them training to defuse dangerous situations. - BULLSHIT

The Senate backed a version that would allow Health and Family Services Secretary Mark Birdwhistell to redirect existing cabinet funds to improve security. It also would let him request $1 million in extra state funding. Williams noted that Birdwhistell has a vast budget at his disposal in deciding what safety measures to take.

The Senate plan includes no guarantees to hire more workers, but Birdwhistell has said it would give him more latitude to try to protect them. Birdwhistell also previously said that, if he decided extra staffing was needed, he could draw on funds to accomplish it.

The Senate version would result in security assessments of social workers' workplaces, and would give Birdwhistell the authority to promptly beef up protections. Also, social workers could request that law enforcement officers accompany them on visits and could refuse to go out on the cases until getting a police escort.

Williams said that version provides "more real protection" for social workers than the House-passed plan.

House Speaker Jody Richards said the House would not accept the Senate's changes, setting the stage for House and Senate negotiators to try to resolve the differences.