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CPS to come under more scrutiny
PROTECTING CHILDREN AT RISK
CPS to come under more scrutiny
Lawmaker says recent changes not enough
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Brandon Williams' mother, Diane Marsh, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for child abuse. Prosecutors said the autistic boy death in 2007 was caused by a skull fracture.
'I have to believe these reforms are going to save some kids like (Brandon) in the future. I know that to be the case.' State Rep. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson
Christopher M. Payne
Tucson vs. Statewide averages per case worker
Investigations In-home Out-of-home
Year Caseload Caseload Caseload
2005 12.6 / 13.4 24.0 / 25.5 20.2 / 21.4
2007 12.6 / 13.4 23.2 / 22.6 19.6 / 19.1
2009* 12.3 / 12 23.4 / 22.9 19.7 / 19.3
Tucson numbers in bold
*First three months of fiscal 2008-09, which began July 1.
The current Arizona monthly caseload standards for a CPS specialist:
19 in-home cases (children remain in the home)
16 out-of-home cases (children have been removed from the home)
Kimberlie Sullivan, dead at 6 weeks old in summer of 2008
A Tucson police officer responds to a 911 call about a child seen wandering along Mission Road.
Police inform CPS that the family's home is filthy, there are four children, ages 6, 4, 2 and one month.
Police inform CPS the mother isn't concerned that her neighbors say her children are often filthy, hungry and unsupervised for hours outdoors.
CPS workers make two unannounced visits to two different apartments. They know the family was evicted for nonpayment of rent. The family doesn't respond to CPS business cards left in the door.
The Sullivans call 911 to report their 6-week-old baby stopped breathing.
They are arrested on murder charges after detectives say the mother admitted she "forgot" to feed the baby and the father didn't seek help for the infant.
Effect new law would have had on this case: None.
Fabian Silva, dead at four years old in August 2008
Fabian Silva's mother takes him to a hospital in October 2007. Doctors find a blood clot in the back of his head and bruising around the base of his penis they said appeared to be caused by the organ being "constrained."
His mother says he was roughhousing with an older brother.
Doctors advise CPS of suspected physical abuse.
CPS recommends "intensive" in-home services, including parenting training and counseling.
In November, the older boy writes a letter to his biological father saying his mother's boyfriend was abusing him and Fabian.
On Jan. 24, 2008, a CPS worker talks with Fabian's mother about preventing domestic violence in the home. She appears cooperative. The boyfriend takes care of the children while she works.
On Jan. 26, the mother's boyfriend brings Fabian to a hospital 30 miles from the family home. The boy, in cardiac arrest, died. An autopsy showed he died from blunt force trauma to the head and bleeding in the brain.
Alejandro M. Romero, 25, is alone with the boy when the injuries occurred, police said.
For weeks after the death, CPS continues to work with Romero and the boy's mother, although it initially orders him to have no contact with her older child. She is not charged in her son's death.
Romero was jailed on a charge of reckless manslaughter and child abuse.
Effect new laws had on this case: None
Baby girl, 17 days old in September 2008
Witnesses saw Catina D. Smith, 32, drop her baby girl on her head on the floor at a Wal-Mart on Sept. 5 and appear unconcerned about whether she was injured. They report the incident to CPS.
CPS workers can't locate the family and call in Tucson police to help .
Detectives locate the woman and baby three days later.
The baby had a skull fracture. Both the baby and Smith's 4-year-old son are placed in foster care.
Smith is jailed here on a charge of felony child abuse.
Police checking other states for CPS records on Smith find she earlier lost custody of four other children in Kansas. they also find that Kansas child welfare workers have been looking for the 4-year-old.
Effect of the new law on this case: CPS called in TPD to help locate the family (law had not gone into effect at the time of this case).
December 03, 2008, 6:12 p.m.
State Rep. Jonathan Paton, who wrote a bill this year that imposed several reforms on the state's child welfare agency, said that he and other legislators will keep up their scrutiny of Child Protective Services in the next session of the Legislature.
He said increased transparency was just the start of more reforms.
Paton said a key issue is that CPS sees itself as a social welfare agency - services are voluntary unless they are court-ordered - and workers don't want to be too closely associated with law enforcement.
He said how the agency works with law enforcement deserves a closer look when the Legislature considers more CPS reform next year.
Paton, a Republican from Tucson, was among several legislators who called for reform of the state's child welfare laws after the deaths of Brandon Williams, 5, who was killed by his mother, and of Ariana and Tyler Payne, who were 4 and 5, and apparently died at the hands of their father, Christopher Payne.
Payne is awaiting trial in January on two first-degree murder charges in their deaths. His live-in girlfriend, Reina Gonzales, pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in a plea deal and has agreed to testify against him.
"Brandon Williams would be alive today if changes in the state's child welfare laws (which took effect Sept. 26) had been made sooner," Paton said.
One change requires CPS to report a child at imminent risk of harm to authorities as a missing person.
"I have to believe these reforms are going to save some kids like him in the future. I know that to be the case," he said.
The changes in child welfare law were enacted after public legislative hearings into the mostly secret operation of the publicly funded agency.
They now allow for:
Public review of discipline records of CPS workers so that anyone can see who was disciplined and why.
Making public the details of deaths or near-deaths of children whose families were under the supervision of CPS. Previously this could be done only by court order. Now such information is published on a state Web site.
CPS to report to law enforcement a child it can't locate who it believes is at imminent risk of harm. The child's name is placed in a law enforcement missing-child database.
In the case of Brandon Williams, who had autism, his mother Diane Marsh had been a CPS client for years before Brandon was born.
The agency knew she had taken in a homeless couple and was emotionally fragile, depressed, in chronic pain and unemployed when it lost track of Brandon, according to CPS records.
Marsh's two older boys - by a different father - were removed from her home by the child welfare agency in the 24 months before Brandon was killed.
CPS workers knew he had stopped attending school. No urgent action was taken to locate him.
An autopsy showed he died of an inflicted skull fracture and had been scalded with hot water and tied at the wrists and ankles.
Marsh was found guilty of negligent homicide and child abuse Aug. 4 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Under the new laws, a CPS worker would have been required to report Brandon Williams' disappearance to a missing child database so that law enforcement would be called in to find him.
Previously such action could have been taken, but it wasn't required by law.
In the case of Ariana and Tyler Payne, CPS workers never checked to see who had legal custody of the children, telling police to leave them with their father although the mother, who had no criminal record, had sole custody.
CPS also never looked up father Christopher Payne's criminal history.
Payne had a record of drug and domestic violence convictions here but CPS workers didn't know that.
Their mother had called police to help her take the children from Payne after a visit, when he refused to return them. Police called CPS and the agency advised police to leave the Payne children at his home.
He moved to another apartment and to a motel, and months later the children disappeared.
CPS never did any follow-up, including a home visit to Payne's apartment - to see if the children were safe.
New law now requires CPS workers to determine if there are court orders governing custody and to honor them.
The decomposed remains of Ariana Payne, 4, were found in a plastic tub in a storage locker in 2007. Tyler's body hasn't been found. Police believe the 5-year-old's body was dumped in a landfill.
In June, the state paid Jamie Hallam, the mother of the Payne children, $1 million to settle her negligence suit against CPS. As part of the settlement, the state was not required to admit wrongdoing.
"Getting CPS and law enforcement to work together in general is going to save lives," Paton said.
Liz Barker-Alvarez, spokeswoman for CPS in Phoenix, said the agency began to make significant changes 18 months ago in how it protects vulnerable children, under the direction of Ken Deibert.
Deibert came to Arizona from Iowa two years ago with a national reputation in child welfare work to take charge of the troubled CPS. He retired last month.
During his tenure, he oversaw a shift in Arizona from "an incident-based investigative process," which had CPS workers looking into reports made to the state's CPS hot line, to a "holistic approach."
Now CPS workers are "linking people up with the right kinds of services at the right time to prevent disruption" to the family and harm to children, Alvarez said.
"We look more globally and see where we can intervene and offer resources in the community, she said.
Previously, "we would check out allegations and only those allegations of abuse or neglect and unless there was something glaring we would see in a home visit, we would end our involvement," Alvarez said.
She said the agency has had "joint investigative protocols for several years now" but that a collaborative process was used "in the most egregious cases." Now it will be used more often.
And now, she said, CPS workers will do a home visit in CPS cases after someone new has moved into a child's home.
However, changes in child welfare law can't prevent all deaths from child abuse or neglect, even after CPS has been alerted there is a problem.
In August, 6-week-old Kimberlie Sullivan starved to death, Tucson police said, two weeks after officers notified CPS that one of the family's four preschool-age children was found wandering along Mission Road.
"In records provided to me, it indicates the initial police report did list Kimberlie Sullivan, one month old, as being in the home," Alvarez said.
"The (police) report said a child was wandering and the home was filthy. It did not reference any concern about any of the children being fed appropriately," she said.
"We were following up on the report that a child had been wandering and the home was dirty. We made attempts to get in touch so we could begin offering services," she said.
Over the next two weeks, CPS workers attempted two unannounced home visits to the family, following up on police concerns of neglect.
Each time, they said, no one was home and a CPS worker left a business card on the door.
The family didn't follow up by calling the agency.
On Aug. 30, the Sullivan parents called 911 to report the infant stopped breathing.
The mother, Terri Sullivan, told detectives she was a former meth addict and that she started forgetting to feed the baby when she was 10 days old.
The father, Scott Sullivan, told detectives he knew the baby needed help but he didn't take her to a doctor or the hospital.
Both parents are charged with first-degree murder and remain in the Pima County Jail awaiting trial.
The Sullivans' other children, ages 6, 4 and 2 - described as filthy and hungry by neighbors - were placed in state custody and remain in foster care.
Barker-Alvarez said that though the agency had a report of neglect, there was nothing to indicate that a child was in immediate danger.
Nevertheless, Alvarez said of the Sullivan case, "when this kind of thing happens, it has a profound affect (on CPS workers). "They care about kids and want to help children and their families. We share in the community's grief."
While some improvements have been made in how CPS operates, Paton said: "There are things that are still broken that should be fixed."
One is ensuring that only the best employees available work for the agency.
Screening of applicants was strengthened under Deibert
Paton suggests the agency try to keep its "quality" CPS workers by paying incentives for them to stay, rather than spending money to train new workers who move on, daunted or defeated by the work.
It wasn't until after the two-year relationship of a CPS case manager with her former child-abuse client was exposed in the media that the worker left the agency. The relationship was known by her supervisors.
Alvarez said the agency takes no action to seek criminal charges against employees whose negligence or errors may have resulted in harm to children.
CPS employees who make mistakes in judgment or are negligent in their duties are handled "through our personnel process," Alvarez said.
"If we feel a case warrants disciplinary action, that is what we have, disciplinary measures. That is what is in our purview."
And when a child is killed in a family known to CPS, "in many cases we identify systemic improvements" that can be made, Alvarez said.
Currently, CPS caseloads are higher than state standards for some workers because there are unfilled vacancies and new hires in training, Alvarez said.
The state's child welfare agency has begun providing brief accounts of cases it handled in which a child died or nearly died.
Before changes in state law took effect Sept. 26 to allow this public disclosure, details on CPS cases were secret.
In some cases, they were eventually revealed in criminal records or in court testimony but not by the agency itself.
In the past, in order to report on cases involving children who died of abuse, media organizations have sometimes had to sue.
Liz Barker Alvarez, spokeswoman for Child Protective Services in Phoenix, said providing details of abuse cases on the Department of Economic Security's Web site is the agency's response to the new law.
One goal of the bill is to increase transparency of the agency without revealing facts that could harm families of children at risk of abuse or neglect.
Now the agency has published on its Web site the details of three "near-fatalities," all involving children in the Phoenix area.
A 2-year-old boy was hospitalized in Phoenix Oct. 2 with injuries allegedly inflicted by a 32-year-old identified as Saul Garcia.
A previous report of physical abuse of the child by the same man was investigated by Phoenix police. No charges were filed.
The family accepted "family support services" and the case was closed in September 2008 after the family "successfully completed services."
CPS and Phoenix police are investigating the October assault and CPS may file a dependency petition with the court.
On Oct. 6, a month-old boy was hospitalized in Phoenix after suffering undisclosed abuse or neglect.
A 4-year-old who lived in the home has been removed and CPS may file a dependency petition to protect the infant.
On Oct. 15, a 3-year-old girl was hospitalized with near-fatal injuries.
CPS says the alleged abuser is Mia Speed, 40. Speed has been arrested in the case. Her relationship to the child was not disclosed.
In 2005, CPS received a report that Speed neglected the child.
A CPS investigation found no neglect, but two other children were removed from the home in 2006.
In February 2008, the children were returned home.
In May 2008, the family completed a CPS-supervised reunification plan.
To read these accounts online, or get information on how to request CPS records, go to: www.azdes.gov/cpsinfo.
CPS posting cases involving dead children online