Sunday, May 20, 2007

Why are these 13 social workers still on the job and working with children?

Probe alleged violations of law and policy
Honeycutt-Spears, Valarie. Lexington Herald-Leader, May 2, 2007, pg. 3B.

FRANKFORT -- At least 13 state social workers remain on the job nearly four months after a Kentucky inspector general's investigation alleged that they had committed crimes and violated policies while removing children from their families.

Also still working is a supervisor under investigation since April 2006 for allegedly trying to alter documents and intimidate witnesses in the investigation by the inspector general for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, spokeswoman Vikki Franklin has confirmed.

Franklin said the supervisor, Pam Tungate, an assistant administrator for the cabinet's Lincoln Trail region based in Elizabethtown, is working in another county until the cabinet completes an internal personnel review launched as a result of the inspector general's report.

Former Inspector General Robert J. Benvenuti spent a year investigating inappropriate state adoptions, terminations of parental rights and foster care before releasing a report in January.

Benvenuti found that employees gave false testimony in court and falsified public records and adoption records. The investigation showed that one social worker threatened, struck and cursed clients. Another social worker did not visit families, but lied and said she did.

All of those workers are still on the job. Cabinet officials are reviewing the cases to determine appropriate personnel actions while they continue working, Franklin said.

Benvenuti turned his findings over to Hardin Commonwealth's Attorney Chris Shaw, who could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Louisville-based Kentucky Youth Advocates, said his organization is concerned that the workers might still be dealing with families.

Brooks said his organization is not suggesting that the social workers be pegged as guilty before the investigations are complete.

"But if the cabinet is serious about changing its climate and practices," Brooks said, "you have to wonder if you can do that with the same players."