Practice of Deliberate Indifference: How L.A. County DCFS Failed a Ten-Year-Old

Anthony Avalos had a long life ahead of him. Notice how we said “had.” Los Angeles County failed this young man as we – Robert and Kathleen Raskin – will show you. Imagine being a child in an abused home in 2014. Imagine your aunt’s family stepping up to fill in the role that your mother couldn’t: potty training, consulting with your teachers in preschool, hearing about how someday you’re going to be a fireman. Imagine that you confided in them that your mother and her boyfriend abusing and neglecting you and your siblings over several years. Imagine the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services not hearing your aunt and uncle’s reports, turning a blind eye to the pain and suffering you endured while you waited for a solution.

Imagine being your aunt, hearing of your torture and death in 2018.

9,000 employees at L.A. County’s DCFS handle 30,000 family and child welfare cases. They claim not to take their commitment lightly, yet there was an interaction recorded on the department’s hotline where a DCFS social worker laughed while describing abuse against Anthony. What has become the standard – as previously reported here – a contracting service is involved. The lawsuit named Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services, a Pasadena-based contractor for the DCFS that offers mental health and welfare services.

Not only that, but in 2013, the same company worked with the family of Gabriel Fernandez. He was an 8-year-old Palmdale boy tortured and killed by his mother Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre. The red flags were flying for this, because it became his case a symbol of bureaucratic failure and propelled what were meant to be far-reaching reforms within the county’s child welfare system.

Here’s a quick video about the abuse in L.A. County:

A System in Disarray: The Child Welfare System in Nebraska

Nebraska seems fine at putting their children at risk. Over ten years ago the state decided to privatize their child welfare services, but – surprise, surprise – the entire system fell apart. It took YEARS to fix what happened while the double-pronged approach also had them cleaning up their image in the public eye. As with children in the system, stability is vital to a successful, persistent, and constantly replenished system. But the goodwill they earned at cleaning up their mess didn’t seem to mean much to the State because now they’re shaking things up again to the detriment to the people they serve. We’re Robert and Kathey Raskin, and we’re here to tell you all about what we’ve learned.

If It Isn’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has selected a new, out-of-state private child welfare provider for Douglas and Sarpy Counties. The current provider, PromiseShip, had high scores for service quality and management. Our research has found that HHS awarded the contract to St. Francis Ministries.

St. Francis’ history in Kansas has drawn ire from Nebraska lawmakers and child advocates. These concerned citizens cite concerns about foster placement stability, case manager workloads, and costs. They bid $196 million over five years, far lower than PromiseShip’s proposal of $341 million. That’s a big red flag to us, because you get what you pay for. Caveat emptor: one of the oldest clichés in the book, yet it always seems to be viable to the situation at hand.


The Debate

A spokeswoman for Saint Francis claims the organization “will meet all expectations outlined in our Nebraska contract and conform to all applicable state regulations and laws.”

Former CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Kerry Winterer points out that “changing contractors at this time based only on cost and ignoring PromiseShip’s experience and success in providing these services, not to mention its scoring better on the substantive criteria, is a mistake and puts our children at risk.”

The state has an enormous responsibility to get this right. Child welfare service is complicated, as you know from the reporting that we’ve done over the years. It demands a high level of competence. The potential for corruption is high within the industry and the children lose.

KMTV gives you a rundown on the changes here:

Is This the Right Path? West Virginia to Outsource their Foster Care System for Three Years

Time for another update on a previously reported location: West Virginia. We’re Robert and Kathey Raskin, and we don’t feel that outsourcing the current system is the right way to go. You can claim to have oversight when you outsource something. But the fact is, you’re not. Not only that you’re taking away jobs from hard-working Americans. It’s because you don’t have the foresight to take a proactive stance, drain the swamp, and protect Americans from 8 weeks to 80 years.

Who Are We Helping Here?

The state Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) recently reported that they’re putting up for bid a three-and-a-half-year contract, beginning January 1, 2020. The estimated value will be nearly $200 million per year. Of course, as with most things, it’s subject to change if additional services need to be integrated into the program. Services provided by NECCO are independent of this contract. DHHR would continue to provide services to the Bureau for Children and Families.

Making Good on Threats

According to the Associated Press, the move is billed to help streamline care for children in state custody and adoptive families. The reason why it’s moving over to a managed care organization is because local lawmakers passed a bill requiring DHHR to transfer children in foster care to an MCO by January 2020. But they only moved forward with this because the Department of Justice threatened to sue the state over possible violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act within its foster system.

You’re reading this right. They only decided to pursue an MCO because they were being threatened with a lawsuit. Not once did it occur to them to take control and do something about it before it even got to that point. This lethargic approach is why we’re adamant that the problem is within the department, and the department should handle it. Bringing an outside source in is only a Band-Aid. Unless we work to clear out the disease, it’ll come back time and again.

Hear more about the West Virginia Senate Select Committee on Children and Poverty from Executive Director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy Ted Boettner:

Indiana Foster Kids Fight Back: A Pending Class-Action Lawsuit Was Filed Against Indiana Department of Child Services, Governor Holcomb

We’re Robert and Kathey Raskin, and we’re delighted to learn that the children in Indiana’s child welfare system are fighting back against the apathy that they’re in. We’re proud of these patriots standing up and claiming what’s theirs: a fair and just examination of the fouled-up system that they’re in here. Their allegations stem from their opinion that Indiana is failing in its duty to protect more than 22,000 children in the state’ child welfare system.

We’ve written about the state of affairs that makes up the welfare system for children in Indiana in the past. We always try and follow up on previously reported locations to provide timely updates on what’s happening out there. We’re not a one and done blog. We stay on top of everything that concerns what we see as the lethargy and corruption that plagues the system worldwide. The entirety of the child welfare system deserves a closer look. We reveal what we can here.

Failure to Protect the Kids

The lawsuit alleges that the nine children – unnamed for their privacy – felt that the state put them in inappropriate, unstable, or overly restrictive settings. They represent a class of 22,000 children who are in DCS custody, as well as an ADA subclass of thousands of children with disabilities who are wards. They didn’t receive the necessary support services and medical care. Their medical care, mental health, and physical needs are hampered by irregular DCS assessments and the lack of available resources.

Furthermore, they weren’t given meaningful case management resulting in delayed or no services and little oversight of a child. All these factors – among many others – allowed children to languish in foster care for years. Eventually, they were reunified with their primary caretakers, adopted, or aged out of the system.

Statistics Mean Nothing Without Tangible Results

The Child Welfare Consulting Group criticized the agency’s disorganization in a 2018 audit. The agency claimed to have made changes – too little, too late, we say – including a 17 percent decrease in total cases since January 2018 and a 14 percent decrease in out-of-home placements. They claim staff turnover is down 18 percent, and attorney caseloads are lessened as well. They added 25 positions since January 2019.

But the kids are smart. Their lawsuit points this out by alleging DCS appears to focus more on improving statistics. They still failed to properly investigate allegations, or they would send children home too quickly and without necessary services and aftercare. They demand that Indiana transform its foster care system, including acquiring properly trained caseworkers to meet the needs of foster children.

Here’s more information about the lawsuit below:

When Will People Stand Up for the Kids in Arizona?

There’s a foster bed shortage in Arizona. We’re Robert and Kathey Raskin and we want to tell you more about this alarming development. There aren’t enough cribs for infants either. There are over 21 private agencies operating in central Arizona. While it’s true that foster beds are always in demand, the shortage is more prominent because they’re simply unable to find foster families. There are checks and balances in place. For example, Child Crisis Arizona is one shelter in Mesa that handles the overflow of intakes when the Department of Child Safety can’t locate a foster bed. Yet, there was no room in their facilities to handle the multitude of children coming through the system. Strangely enough, of 200 foster homes that agency gives licenses to, none of them had open beds.

Drop in Applications

Something’s wrong statewide when there’s a significant drop in new foster-home applications. DCS has been offering $200 gift cards to current foster parents who send referrals their way. All they must do is complete foster-care training and get their license. A private agency named HRT offers a $75 bounty for successful referrals. It’s sad that you have to incentivize the life of a child to get people interested.

There are more than 1,200 foster homes with on hold licenses, meaning they’re unable to continue being foster locations. This is offered when families want to take a break, go on an extended vacation, or dealing with other extenuating circumstances that prevent them from being fully committed to their duties. While understandable, DCS should stay aggressive and on top of their game, knowing that lulls in availability are possible. We implore the State of Arizona to take a deeper look at their current system.

Streamline the Process

It’s been said that it typically takes four to six months for prospective foster parents to complete the needed training, background checks, and home inspections. So why wouldn’t they have done their research and realized that the DCS preference for moving older children out of group homes and into foster placements is more than likely what caused the kink in the pipeline? They should have had the foresight to know that when you focus on one area, another becomes lax. We should always account for bumps in the road when it comes to our children. Arizona has let them down.

Arizona is making plans to fix the system but let’s see how far they get. Stop DHR is on the lookout for improvement and once we see results, we’ll tell you more.

When Will It Stop: More Deaths in Monitored Homes

Maine has become a hotbed for children killed in homes in the past 12 years. These were cases where child welfare officials were previously made aware of where children were subjected to abuse or neglect, sometimes for years. Not only that, but an additional 34 deaths were ruled accidental or of natural causes in the same type of environment. The State of Maine is doing a great disservice to their citizens by not following up on these sorts of issues. We’re Robert and Kathey Raskin, and we’re here to shed light on this gross miscarriage of justice against children in this state.

More About the Fallout

Dr. Stephen Meister claims that “changing behavior and identifying the families that have multiple risk factors, which dramatically increases the likelihood of death, accidental or otherwise. So, death may not be the result of abuse, but can be linked to an increased number of hazards.” He is an Augusta pediatrician and member of the state’s Child Death and Serious Injury Review Panel. In the latest report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children & Families, Maine did not submit data about the deaths of children. This report was from 2017 and would’ve included child fatalities and the rate of fatality per 100,000 children. But nobody knows what’s happening up there.

We Demand Answers

As is the case with most child welfare agencies in America, the Office of Child and Family Services is rotten. There’s high staff turnover at the caseworker level. Workers are responsible for too many cases, far beyond what anyone can manage in a regular office position. There are zero incentives to stay where they’re at which is sad about how things are there.

Furthermore, they’re bogged down by a paperwork system that’s entirely burdensome and needs desperate modernization. The department can’t seem to hang onto administrators either, which has led to a leadership vacuum. It’s a thankless career and an overburdened system that helps no one. We call upon the State of Maine to stand up and do something about it.

News Center Maine tells us that the State is making headway on upgrading their ancient system below.

A Different Way of Doing Things: Big Data is Coming for Child Welfare

We’re Robert and Kathey Raskin, and if this is your first time here, then you’re probably intrigued about what we are trying to do here. We try to write daily, so come back in the next few days for a fresh post. Now, we’re continually talking about the overhaul of the child welfare system across the United States. There’s systemic abuse of the order by its workers, the people utilizing the service, and local governments. It needs a complete and total overhaul. A lot of the methods can be part of the 21st century by embracing the resources provided by the so-called big data niche of tech.

But First, the Facts

Roughly 7 million children come to the attention of child welfare authorities every year in the United States; one in three will be the subject of maltreatment investigations in their lifetimes. This data is what we shed light on every time we hear about another new case. Emily Putnam-Hornstein – a USC professor of social work – thought that there had to be a better way to protect kids. Frequently there are fraudulent or non-emergency issues submitted to the child welfare system.

She noted that the system has lots of calls of potential abuse and neglect, but the investigators find it was a misunderstanding. We are wasting resources that could be on the kids who get lost in the system. Since we don’t have the people power to sift through the noise, she hit on the way to identify and protect children more efficiently.

Pennsylvania is Onboard

Allegheny County, Pennsylvania connected with Putnam-Hornstein to develop a predictive analytics tool for the Office of Children, Youth and Families to help screen allegations of child abuse and neglect. That Pittsburgh-based agency is under scrutiny for failing to investigate kids who died from maltreatment.

Thousands of child maltreatment referrals were studied to help create an algorithm that would assign a “risk” score to every family reported to Allegheny County child protective services. The process eliminates the biases and randomness of human decision-making. The algorithm considers a handful of factors and computes the family’s risk based on dozens of determinants from public databases: use of mental health and drug treatment services, criminal histories, receipt of government benefits, and so on. The human screeners get a say, and there are checks and balances to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

American Enterprise Institute has further insight into how big data could work to revolutionize the dated system in place and to help remove the corruption that exists that we’ve reported on for so long.

Are Stricter Rules Any Better? A Study of New York’s Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment

They do things differently on the East Coast, as evidenced by this act. We’re Robert and Kathey Raskin, and we were intrigued by what we found during our investigations. When accused parents get slapped with charges of child neglect or abuse in the state of New York, they face an investigation by child protective workers. This approach leads to their case heard in family court and the possibility of having their children removed from their care. You’d think, okay, that sounds about right. That’s the job of social services.

However, the process can take months of home visits, disrupting the stability of a child’s life. Their parents may be required to comply with various recommendations about and for social services. The goal – of course – is to make sure that children feel safe in their homes. The glaring problem for us is that once a case of child neglect is in the system, their parents are on the state registry for an egregiously long time, even if their case was heard and dismissed by a family court judge.

How Much is Too Much?

The Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment is easy to get on. But it’s challenging to get off. Not only that, it can restrict parents’ employment opportunities for up to 28 years. That’s not normal. Imagine being 12 years old and a case opened on your family when it was a misunderstanding. You’ll be 40 years old – long past the age of majority – and your parents may be struggling financially due to their lack of steady work.

They can’t work with people in vulnerable situations, such as jobs in daycares, as a substance abuse counselor, and as a home health aide. These are positions that are on the upswing but can’t seem to find enough good people. Imagine being told that you couldn’t continue with the career that you built because of this constraining law. That’s not fair at all. The current methods in place are something to examine with a deeper lens.

Neglect Means Different Things to Different People

If you’re suffering under this law, then you’re probably doing the math in your head. You can indeed be on the registry longer than you would a felony in the state of New York.

This short video tells how kids end up in foster care in New York.

Three Years Until Burnout: The Sad Trajectory of a CPS Caseworker

In Outagamie County, Wisconsin, within the Children, Youth & Families Division, a typical caseworker handles about 15 families at once. Imagine being one of 28 social workers in a county of more than 180,000 people. These numbers are disgustingly skewed because our local governments are doing enough to help its citizens. We’re Robert and Kathleen Raskin, and we’ve been reporting on the failure and utter corruption of social services across our great nation for many years. This situation is yet another example of what’s going on right under our noses. And we shouldn’t stand for it!

The goal of caseworkers is to keep families together. They must make decisions that will reverberate within the families they oversee for years to come. It’s when they fail to see the facts at hand and return children to dangerous situations for the sake of keeping families together. It’s not right. It’s not fair to the kids when the reasons that brought Child Protective Services in the first place continues and – in some cases – the abuse intensifies.

Studies Show Corruption

In 2017 alone, an estimated 1,720 children died from abuse and neglect in the U.S. A quarter of them were previously known to CPS agencies in their jurisdictions. It’s especially heartbreaking when you become aware of the death of Andrew “AJ” Freund in Illinois. The resolution from that charges against his parents for murder. It’s an ideal solution, but child welfare workers could’ve prevented his death. They had been called to their home previously.

Reports of abuse nationwide have increased by more than 12% since 2013. Thankfully, more stringent laws that require the reporting of suspected abuse, which brings more eyes to these disastrous situations. There has also been an increase in calls related to the opioid epidemic over the years. In Outagamie County alone, the number of kids in the system has doubled over the past four years.

Workers Reduce Risks, But Can’t Eliminate Possibilities

That’s their job, and they’re unable to perform the duties of their career. In America, it’s a sad day when we realize that’s what it’s come down to here.

This documentary sheds light on the crisis of in the southeastern part of Wisconsin.

Child Deaths Stack in Oregon Foster Care

Child Death Justice

We – Robert and Kathey Raskin – believe in enforcing the laws already on the books. They’re right, and they do what they’re supposed to do. In Oregon, the law requires child welfare officials to promptly review the deaths of children killed by abuse or neglect in the year before they died. The bill was supposed to provide oversight for the overworked caseworkers, helping them identify any missteps that may have occurred before the death of the child. From there, solutions would be provided to fix what wrong so that they don’t happen again.

Failure to Follow the Law

The local press has reported and showed that the Department of Human Services failed to meet existing deadlines to follow the law to the letter. By sheer incompetence, they knowingly and gradually told the public less about the department’s preemptive actions, if at all. The blatant lack of respect for the law is nonsense. What is going on in Oregon that we can’t protect children? The department’s backlog of unreported child deaths stretches as far back as 2017.

A seven-month-old infant died after being thrown from a car that veered off Interstate 84 near Boardman, Oregon, court documents say. The department – who was familiar with this family – barely launched a review nine days after police concluded the driver was drunk. This bureaucratic approach helps no one, and a more mindful approach about the family’s situation brought an unnecessary death.

Failing the Children

Of 14 categories related to child welfare, a Child and Family Services Review shows Oregon DHS failed unconditionally. We know that is patently absurd.