Saturday, January 13, 2007

HARDIN COUNTRY, TENNESSEE

Here is another investigation into social workers. This was done in Tennessee. Its all about secrecy and lies. Its all about power over people. Another reason to open the records to all involved in an adoption.

Report criticizes social workers
Inquiry finds lies, falsified records

By Deborah Yetter
dyetter@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal

State social workers and supervisors in the Hardin County region lied in court, falsified records about child abuse and neglect cases and mistreated parents and children, a state investigation has found. In 13 cases, alleged violations have been referred to local prosecutors for possible criminal charges, according to the report released yesterday by the inspector general for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. "Such individual conduct is cause for grave concern and must not in any way whatsoever be condoned, minimized or excused," according to the report from Inspector General Robert J. Benvenuti III. The workers are not named in the report, and state officials declined to identify them or say how many are involved, saying they don't want to jeopardize possible criminal charges or disciplinary action. Mary Henderson, a Lexington mother of four who has testified before two state panels in the past year about her problems with the child welfare system, called the findings "heart-wrenching." "I think about how many families that have been affected by illegal and immoral behavior," she said. The investigation was triggered by a report by advocates a year ago that found families in that region believed they were treated badly by the system, that their rights were ignored and social workers hastily sought removal of children from homes for so-called "quick trigger adoptions." The inspector general's report did not substantiate the adoption allegation but found other problems. The report found that most social workers are dedicated and honest, but some in the eight-county Lincoln Trail social service region operated a rogue child welfare system "free from any meaningful oversight," the report said. The year-long investigation focused on conduct of state workers in cases where children were removed from their parents -- sometimes permanently -- and placed in adoptive or foster homes. Sharon Ray of Elizabethtown, who battled the local social service office for several years to get custody of her stepgrandson, who had been severely abused, said she's glad problems she observed have been exposed. "What really bothered me is that they weren't acting in the child's best interest," she said. 'Cloak of secrecy… must be removed'Tom Emberton Jr., state undersecretary for social services, said he doesn't know immediately how the cabinet can correct problems in past cases, but officials will try to do so. He said most top supervisors at the Hardin office have been replaced and a management team at the region reports to him. The inspector general's report lists a number of recommendations to improve the system and reduce the possibility of abuses. But its primary recommendation is for the state to eliminate the secrecy that surrounds the child welfare system and court proceedings involving child abuse and neglect. "We strongly believe that the cloak of secrecy that currently dominates the process is not in the best interests of Kentucky's children and must be removed as part of any material reform," it said. Worse than suspectedAlleged violations cited in the report include: Workers falsified records showing they had conducted home visits of families under investigation. Also, supervisors sometimes ordered social workers to conduct home visits when no one was home to make it appear families were not cooperative. Workers added or omitted information in case files to mislead judges who must decide whether to terminate parents' rights. Some workers also gave false testimony in court about cases. Workers ignored parents' complaints about problems in foster homes, including one case in which the biological mother had said her children were filthy, poorly clothed and lice-infested when she saw them. Investigators found the foster home dirty, cluttered and foul-smelling, with dogs and goats in a yard that was overgrown and strewn with trash. Supervisors sometimes created their own policies, and arbitrarily tried to remove children from homes. In one case, a judge became so angry at how social workers treated a family whose children had been removed temporarily that he told them "they no longer needed to cooperate with the cabinet." Workers who tried to report wrongdoing said they suffered retaliation. In one case, supervisors sought to discipline a worker who had provided evidence to the inspector general during the investigation. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, which helped produce the report, called the findings "shocking." "It's worse than we ever suspected," said Brooks, whose organization compiled its report on the Hardin County region along with David Richart, a longtime youth advocate in Louisville and director of the National Institute on Children, Youth and Families. The report does not state a motive for the alleged wrongdoing but cited a "culture" among some workers "which thrived on the power of controlling certain families." Richart said that is consistent with what the advocates found through interviews with families and workers in the Hardin County region. "There are people who are power hungry working cases," he said.


Open child-removal court hearings urged
THOSE INVOLVED PREDICT TOUGH FIGHT OVER ISSUE
By Valarie Honeycutt Spears
HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITE

Secrecy has long shrouded court proceedings in Kentucky involving the removal of children from their biological families and the termination of parental rights.This week, in a report critical of the way some state social workers took children from their parents, state Inspector General Robert J. Benvenuti called for the General Assembly to change laws so that those particular court proceedings are open.Though at least 20 states across the country allow some level of transparency in child removal cases, several people involved in Kentucky's child protective and court systems said yesterday that the issue is likely to bring on a tough fight in Kentucky."I think it's something we need to look at, but I don't think it's something we should rush into," said State Rep. Susan Westrom, a Lexington Democrat who has been involved in adoption and foster care issues. "We need to work with the experts to see what the pros and cons are."David Richart, the executive director of the Louisville-based National Institute for Children Youth and Families, said that opponents to the open-court hearings fear that children will be unfairly stigmatized if the media publishes details about alleged abuse or neglect.Richart said he would favor a change in the law that would allow more transparency in such cases. But along with that, he would also recommend that the media follow voluntary guidelines that would afford protections to the vulnerable -- children and people terrified of coming forward with complaints.Jon Fleischaker, general counsel for the Kentucky Press Association, recalled the "strong institutional resistance" that his group has faced in the General Assembly and in court challenges. The KPA has unsuccessfully fought to open court cases involving juveniles, including those involving abuse, neglect and termination of parental rights. Fleischaker said opening the child removal court cases "is long overdue.""When you have secrecy, you have a real and constant threat of abuse of process, " he said.In 2000, the National Center for State Courts in Virginia published findings from a federal Children's Bureau conference with state officials about public access to child abuse and neglect proceedings. The consensus reached by the Children's Bureau was that the open courts held child welfare systems accountable and did not have negative consequences on children's rights, as long as judges had some discretion to close individual cases.The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges supports the idea of opening such cases as long as judges are given the option of closing proceedings on a case by case basis, said David Gamble, a senior information specialist.In Kentucky, the Inspector General's recommendation followed a yearlong investigation of a state social worker office in Elizabethtown. Said Benvenuti's report: "Allowing the proceedings to be open, with exception only by court order, will provide the most fail-proof form of oversight."The investigation uncovered inappropriate and possibly criminal behavior against biological families.Benvenuti's office and a Cabinet for Health and Family Services task force are both reviewing complaints that some state social workers improperly took children from their families and put them into foster care to increase the number of state adoptions. New state laws designed to fix the problems are in the works, but the legislation hasn't been unveiled yet.Westrom said she has called a meeting for late February so family court lawyers and child advocates can scrutinize proposed bills.Westrom expects that the proposal to open the child removal cases will be high on the meeting agenda because it has the potential to increase oversight, but she doesn't anticipate that the change will become law without an extended debate.Fleischaker said people need only look at the Inspector General's report to understand how much the open court proceedings would protect children."If it could happen in Elizabethtown," said Fleischaker, "it could be happening in other places."

3 comments:

Third Mom said...

Hi, Amy, just wanted to say thanks for the incredible amount of research you are doing. Your site is an amazing database that documents the secrecy and lies of adoption.

mary said...

The investigation was triggered by a report by advocates a year ago that found families in that region believed they were treated badly by the system, that their rights were ignored and social workers hastily sought removal of children from homes for so-called "quick trigger adoptions."


The year-long investigation focused on conduct of state workers in cases where children were removed from their parents -- sometimes permanently -- and placed in adoptive or foster homes.


Amy, Imagine if there were as much public outcry about all of these unsubstantiated and spurious removals of children in these child welfare cases, children taken away from the only parents they ever had and knew, as there is in contested adoption cases that sometimes become protracted legal battles -- and the outcry is about an infant or child "being taken away from the only parents they ever knew". Even though it may have started out as revocation of consent when the child was less than a day, or even less than a month old!

Thank you for blogging this article and helping to bring attention to this serious and widespread problem.

AMYADOPTEE said...

I wonder if social workers, adoption agencies,and adoption attorneys realize that they are dealing in human lives. Animals get treated better than our children do. I think the adoption industry and the foster care system needs some serious revamping.