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Abuse and Neglect Cases, DCS, Problems with the System

Abuse and Neglect Cases, DCS, Problems with the System

Postby Happy Mom » Mon Nov 03, 2014 8:33 am

Why do we still learn so little about abuse and neglect cases?
State law says such records should be open, but that's not the reality



Why do we still learn so little about abuse and neglect cases?
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South Bend Tribune
Austin Kinder
Posted: Monday, November 3, 2014 6:05 am | Updated: 6:42 am, Mon Nov 3, 2014.
By Virginia Black South Bend Tribune

MISHAWAKA — Late on the evening of Sept. 22, 30-year-old Austin Kinder was arrested and later charged with abusing a 10-month-old boy named Josiah.
According to charging documents, the baby suffered from abdominal bleeding and bruising, bruises on his face, skull fractures on both sides of his head and to several ribs, and liver and kidney lacerations. Kinder is charged with battery resulting in serious bodily injury to a person less than 14 years old, and neglect of a dependent.

The boy was transferred that night by helicopter from Memorial Hospital in South Bend to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. A Riley doctor told police that Josiah, according to the document filed Sept. 24, "is now in critical condition due to these life-threatening injuries."
The boy's mother was at work during the time period the harm was inflicted, a Special Victims Unit detective confirmed through work records, and Kinder was the only caregiver of little Josiah during that time. Doctors said some of the boy's injuries were in various stages of healing, suggesting he had been hurt before.
Three years ago Tuesday, in the early morning hours of Nov. 4, 2011, 10-year-old Tramelle Sturgis died after being stripped, bound with duct tape, beaten and burned by his father in the basement of their South Bend home.
Part of our horror over Tramelle's death then was the sheer surprise of it. How could this happen here? How did this child and his siblings, who also endured years of abuse, fall through the cracks?
In the months that followed, people involved in the child-protection system began to talk about changes with the Department of Child Services that concerned them. Despite confidentiality laws, school social workers, police and prosecutors, therapists, foster parents and judges started to discuss publicly the budget cuts and altered policies that sometimes stunted the way the system worked.
Through successful open records requests, including for a child-abuse hot line call six months earlier alleging serious abuse in the Sturgis household, we eventually learned that an on-call case manager waited to respond to that call until the next day, then not finding the family at home for three days afterward. Because of the publicity, then-DCS Director James Payne finally acknowledged a policy change and that the call should have initiated a more immediate response. Big changes came in 2012, including more legislative oversight, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
But the high-profile deaths of two South Bend children this summer — and some other cases, such as the case of Josiah, who we might not hear about at all — should remind us that state government still has a long way to go when it comes to transparency in how well we are protecting our children.
Last year, I wrote a story about a young Plymouth mother who nearly killed her baby, who was not breathing when an ambulance arrived at the house. The family acknowledged that when the infant was taken to Memorial Hospital, doctors told them he was in critical condition, and he spent nearly a week on a ventilator. Police verified that hospital officials told them, too, the boy was in critical condition and on a ventilator.
Indiana law provides for records to be released, minus certain identifying information, in a child's "fatality or near-fatality." The problem is, it does not describe what a "near-fatality" is.
I asked for the record surrounding the boy's near-fatality and was denied.
DCS attorney John Wood wrote in his response that federal law defines a near-fatality as "an act that, as certified by a physician, places the child in serious or critical condition." But because state definitions are murky, Wood wrote, DCS added its own definition: a child must have been placed on a ventilator in an intensive care unit.

The medical records from the Marshall County office, Woods said, "do not indicate" the child was ever on a ventilator, and "we found no record of a physician certification that the child's condition was ever classified as critical or serious. ... we must reaffirm our initial conclusion that we have no information regarding a near fatality case concerning the child."
More recently, The Tribune requested the documents surrounding the August death of 11-month-old Micahyah Crockett and those of his sister, Alaiyah, who was 14 months old in February when she was seriously hurt. She's now "in a vegetative state." After her son's death, authorities say, the children's mother admitted she also caused her daughter's injuries.
St. Joseph juvenile magistrate Graham Polando issued an order last week preliminarily denying the release of most of those records but setting a hearing for Friday, for The Tribune and WSBT to object to the court's redactions.
Polando wrote, "While the Department (DCS) alleged that (Alaiyah) suffered a 'near fatality,' the Magistrate cannot find that she has." He, too, cited the lack of a physician's certification, and that although "the medical records certainly indicate that (the girl's) physicians concluded (she) was in a 'serious or critical condition' ... they do not appear to have concluded she was in such condition based on 'an act.'" :naughty: :liar:
Regarding the release of the documents involving Micahyah, Polando notes the apparently contradictory statutes and preliminarily ruled that no medical or law enforcement documents, or DCS reference to those, be released.
Citing a lack of statutory guidance on previous DCS involvement with a sibling, Polando writes, "the records regarding the Department's 'previous contact' with Mother regarding (Alaiyah) remain protected."
After public calls statewide for more transparency and more oversight two years ago, the General Assembly added to the DCS ombudsman's small staff, set the stage for strengthened or newly created child fatality review teams in each county, and ultimately created a DCS oversight committee headed by state Sen. Carlin Yoder from Middlebury and including state Sen. John Broden from South Bend.
Last spring, I asked Broden, not only a state lawmaker interested in child welfare issues but also a former DCS attorney himself, whether he had ever seen the release of information surrounding a "near-fatality." He thought a moment before acknowledging he had not.
Federal and state confidentiality laws are meant to protect the children involved from later humiliation, authorities say. But who is really protected, when we can legally learn whether our neighbor has been accused of smoking marijuana but we are not aware that claims he abused or neglected a child are substantiated?
The public must have confidence that when cases of child abuse and neglect fall through the cracks — and of course they sometimes will — that those cases are scrutinized for what we can learn. Sometimes, a DCS caseworker, a CASA worker, judge or therapist might have misjudged a parent's mental state. Perhaps teachers or relatives did not report something they suspected. Maybe a doctor looking at a tragic injury believed a young mother's story that her toddler injured herself.
Legislators must clarify apparently conflicting interests in what the public should learn about the circumstances in which we have failed a child, and I hope they consider doing so in the next General Assembly session.
Austin Kinder, the Mishawaka man accused of nearly killing the baby just weeks ago, shuffled into court Thursday in jail garb and chains. We know from court records that he is scheduled for trial in February, and that he also has pending charges from 2013 of domestic battery and drug possession. DCS did not respond last week to a request for information about Josiah's near-fatality, so we do not know whether the agency was involved last year, whether Kinder was ordered to seek any sort of treatment or whether the child had ever been removed from Kinder's care.
But three years after Tramelle Sturgis' tragic death, and for the well-being of the other potential Josiahs among us, it's time for all of us to insist on the transparency we profess to believe in.
Virginia Black: 574-235-6321
vblack@sbtinfo.com
http://www.southbendtribune.com/news/lo ... 3d08c.html
"Preserving and protecting the principles of the Constitution is the primary role of the federal government."
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