Child Protective Services is supposed to protect vulnerable children when they are at risk of being put into foster care or when they are already in foster care. These kiddos enter foster care for a variety of reasons, such as mental illness in a parent, substance abuse, physical/emotional/sexual abuse or extreme neglect.
When a child reveals they have been abused, it's up to the trusted adults in their life to act. If it's a teacher, that person is a "mandated reporter," meaning, once they know of an abusive situation, they are required by law to report the allegations to the protective services office in their community. If they don't, they may go to prison and/or pay a fine. Most states have this penalty in place.
When a social worker, supervisor or an entire child protective services office fails a child, it becomes big news. In New Mexico, little Omaree Varela was killed by his own mother. As it turns out, New Mexico's Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) had been aware of Omaree's case. Because of many failures at CYFD and with the Albuquerque Police Department, this little boy slipped through the cracks, dying after being kicked by his mother.
People in all fifty states heard about the horrific death of Lisa Steinberg at the hands of her adoptive father, Joel Steinberg. In 1987, the NYPD responded to a call, finding 6-year-old Lisa beaten and unconscious, in the bathroom of her home. Her little brother, Mitchell, was tied to a chair and sitting in his own waste.
The investigation revealed that Lisa had been beaten by Joel Steinberg; she died one month later. Steinberg had terrorized his live-in girlfriend, Hedda Nussbaum so that she was unable to intervene and protect the children, who had been illegally adopted by Steinberg.
Steinberg was convicted, serving 16 years behind bars. He was released on parole in 2004. Nussbaum testified against Steinberg and was not charged in Lisa's death. Little Mitchell was returned to his birth mother.
In 2013, Brandon White, age 15, died. What makes his death particularly tragic is that child protective services in Texas had been receiving calls about suspected abuse since 1999! While protective services agencies don't want to break up healthy families, they often err too far on the side of caution, leaving children in life-threatening situations.
Brandon suffered from autism. His mother's live-in boyfriend, Robert Gray, habitually tied Brandon in bed sheets when Brandon "had fits." Knowing that Brandon had autism, it seems that his mother and other adults in her life should have had other ways of coping with Brandon's "fits." CPS investigated the White-Gray family several times, eventually ruling every referral out. This means the investigators did not substantiate the allegations of abuse. Brandon's younger sibling was finally placed into foster care. . . too late for Brandon.
This two-year-old toddler was beaten to death by his stepfather, Billy Hasel. Two months earlier, in July 2011, a CPS investigator had interviewed Deacon, who told the investigator "Bully" had hurt him. At that visit, Deacon had scratches and bruising on one temple. In a later visit, he had a bruise on another part of his body, as well as a cut lip.
Deacon's brother told the investigator that their stepfather had hit Deacon in the past. He also told the investigator that Deacon was afraid of Hasel. Still, after all of this, the investigator did not substantiate the abuse allegations against Hasel. In September, 2011, two months after those July visits, Deacon had died after suffering a severe brain injury. He suffered this injury as the result of a vicious beating at Hasel's hands. Today, Hasel sits in prison, serving a life sentence after being convicted of capital murder.
In Glenwood, Minnesota, Eric Dean was beat to death by his own mother, Amanda Peltier. By February 2013, when little Eric was three, 15 reports had been filed with the county child protective services agency. He died after the last beating in February of 2013.
Even though he was only three when he died, Eric suffered more abuse than any child should. His mother treated him differently than she treated her other children. She was harsh with him, grabbing and yelling at him. She would tell his day-care workers that they shouldn't show any affection to Eric, saying he "didn't deserve it."
One day-care teacher bought Eric a new pair of sneakers after his old ones fell off his feet. Peltier was enraged, saying he wouldn't get the new shows until "he deserved them."
In Minnesota, child protection reports must be shared with the police. In Eric's case, only one report was shared.
Jacob Noe's life started out well. His mother, Jessica Murphy, doted on him, taking him on trips to Disney World and going sledding in the winter. When Jacob was six, Murphy began to suffer from symptoms of mental illness. Murphy began to suffer from paranoia, becoming withdrawn from others.
In March, 2014, believing her son was in grave danger, Murphy took Jacob outside into the cold weather without ensuring he had shoes or a jacket on. Going to a pizza restaurant, her actions led employees to call the police. She was hospitalized and CPS opened a case.
Despite having that opened case, nothing was done for Jacob. Because of his mother's mental illness, Jacob was in immediate danger of harm. Two months later, in May, 2014, his mother stabbed Jacob to death. After following up the failures in Jacob's case, the social worker was fired.
Two-month-old William was shaken by his father, Christopher Berry when the baby "wouldn't stop crying." Referred to the Department of Children and Families, the Berry family was assessed to be at low risk of abusing the infant.
William's father served on active duty in Afghanistan, returning stateside after developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Because the family was placed into a lower-risk category, a full investigation was never completed. If one had been done, professionals may have been able to identify Christopher's PTSD as a significant risk factor.
The way DCF handles investigations after a child in its caseload dies may contribute to the failure of the agency, its supervisors and workers to provide comprehensive support and follow-up to families in need. Until child safety is at the forefront, children will continue dying.
In Pueblo, Colorado, 23-month-old Alize was already in foster care, where she should have felt safe and secure. She didn't. Her foster mother, Jules Caneo, refused to feed the child when she was hungry. She would sit on Alize, forcing her to scream and cry. The foster mother weighed 300 pounds, which was an extremely heavy burden for a toddler to bear.
Even when Cuneo's neighbor, Mary Ann Hartman, wrote a letter to the El Paso County child welfare supervisors, pleading for them to intervene, nobody did, even though Hartman included a recording from a baby monitor in her home. Five months later, in October, 2007, Cuneo threw Alize into a coffee table. The child hit the coffee table head-first. The foster mother was angry because Alize wouldn't talk to her.
After listening to the recording of Alize, her caseworker determined that wasn't enough to remove Alize from the Cuneo foster home.
Sarah was monitored by CPS in San Antonio for two years before her death. Her father was well-known for not providing medical treatment for his children when it was needed. Even worse, Sarah and her siblings had not been visited by CPS caseworkers for at least six weeks, possibly longer.
She died in February, 2009, of untreated appendicitis. In the years before she died, CPS opened six investigations into the family's care of the children, with no action taken to protect them.
Warning signs abounded. The children wore urine-soaked clothing; they went hungry; Sarah was afraid of her father, who treated her differently; the children suffered tooth decay. David Brasse threatened and intimidated social workers by threatening to file lawsuits if they took action against him. This may have influenced how workers handled the allegations agains him and his fiancee, Samantha Britain.
Child Protective Services failed Leilana even after the child's grandparents filed complaints and showed photos of Leilana's body covered in bruises. Supervisors and caseworkers deemed her safe, despite completing only one home visit. This took place before she was killed by her mother and mother's boyfriend. An internal investigation resulted in the firings of a special investigator, social worker and a supervisor.
Jeri Quezada, Leilana's mother and Charles Philfer, mom's boyfriend, called 911 to report that Leilana had fallen in the shower and hurt herself. By the time the police responded, Leilana wasn't breathing; she had bruises covering her entire body. Her death was pronounced a homicide by the medical examiner.
Philfer finally admitted to killing Leilana by throwing her so hard against a wall that her body left an imprint on a wall. Before this, the couple had beat Leilana with a belt and a bamboo stick because Leilana had drunk her younger brother's juice.
This child, from Detroit, Michigan, died after his mother, Deanna Minor, was found incapable of providing the care he needed. Beginning in April 2016, a caseworker began supervising the family. Even though there was very little food in the home, the worker deemed Aaron safe. Deanna's mental health worker made multiple referrals to CPS, stating that Deanna was incapable of providing care.
One month later, in late May 2016, an apartment complex employee entered the Minor apartment after noticing a foul odor. Inside was Aaron's decomposing body. The police found his mother in a psychiatric hospital.
Deanna was charged with child abuse, felony murder and failure to report a dead body. The social workers, Kelly Williams, 47 and Elaina Brown, 24, were charged with involuntary manslaughter and second-degree child abuse because they failed to protect Aaron's well-being. Their trial is pending.
The siblings, along with a 9-year-old girl, lived with their aunt, Tami Huntsman and her boyfriend, Gonzalo Curiel in California. After being placed with Huntsman, CPS began to receive the first of many referrals.
In August, 2016, a social worker on a home visit found the children living in a filthy home as cockroaches scurried over the bedroom walls. The children had bruises and bloody scratch marks from scratching their many flea bites. The older child (unnamed 9-year-old) said she felt safe and the worker left. The next visit didn't take place until December 11, 2016. The nine-year-old was found lying in a car with broken fingers and a dislocated jaw. She weighed only 40 pounds.
On December 13, Shawn and Delylah were found dead in barrels that Huntsman kept in her storage locker in Redding, California. CPS is "looking at the case."
Mother Samantha Green had used methamphetamine during her pregnancy with Baby Justice. This was documented by her admission and by the baby's withdrawal from the drug after his birth. Yolo County Child Protective Services failed Baby Justice and his siblings by allowing them to remain in the home even after knowing about ongoing drug use and minimization of the drug use.
Valerie Zeller, the social worker on the Green-Rees case, testified that heavy drug use was not a reason for removing a child or children from the home, citing factors of "functional alcoholics." She overlooked the dysfunctional relationship between the parents of Baby Justice, with Ms. Green using the baby to obtain his attention.
Baby Justice died of exposure after being left in a slough during cold winter weather. He was 19 days old.
Late in the summer of 2016, a seven-year-old autistic child disappeared from her family's motel room. Alexis Wartena was non-verbal, but did respond when her name was called. She left the family's motel room and wandered to a nearby canal, where she fell into the water and drowned.
Suspecting abuse or neglect, Amarillo Police Department officers extensively questioned the family and kept them from continuing their search for Alexis. After the child's body was discovered, drowned, not far from the motel, the police officers took custody of the remaining children, ages 2, 4, 5 and 6 and put them into foster care.
While in the foster home, one of the children (not identified) was abused by an occupant of the home. It's not known if it was a foster parent or a foster sibling who abused the child. When the abuse was discovered, the four children were immediately returned to their parents.
Jazzmin Davis, 15, died after being subjected to "years" of abuse by. . . not her parents. Her foster parents were the ones who abused her. Jazzmin, who lived in San Francisco, wasn't visited regularly by her social workers. This is a clear violation of state law.
The San Francisco Human Services Agency had exempted foster homes from regular visits. After Jazzmin died, the agency changed this practice, instituting home visits for "some" of the foster homes. It also increased social worker supervision. Jazzmin had been placed with her aunt, who was her foster parent.
Her aunt beat her with a clothes iron, a padlock locked to a belt, carpet tack strips and a broken closet rod. Jazzmin's twin brother, also placed in the same home, was awarded $4 million from the city and $750 thousand from the Antioch school district after the case management failures were identified.
This horrific case made the news throughout the entire state of New Mexico in 2013. Omaree, age 9, along with his little sister, had been referred several times to the state's Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD).
In a tragic combination of errors and oversight, CYFD and the Albuquerque Police Department failed to act when confronted with plain evidence of his abuse.
CYFD is named in a lawsuit that charges two specific social workers for making poorly thought-out decisions that may have been "reckless" in nature as they managed Omaree's case. Among the allegations: CYFD failed to investigate Casaus and Omaree's mother, Synthia Varela-Casaus, for substance abuse or allegations of abuse. Instead, the agency returned the children to their parents. Two days after Christmas, 2013, Omaree's mother stomped and kicked him to death. "I kicked him the wrong way."
Sources: NY Daily News, Watchdog.org, Projects.statesmen.com, StarTribune.com, WRGZ.com, BostonGlobe.com, DenverPost.com, MySanAntonio.com, listverse.com, Chronicle of Social Change, davisvanguard.com, SacBee.com, KOAT.com, First to Know, Austin American Statesmen, The Denver Channel, Babysbreath.us, San Antonio Express-News, KTLA, Reality Chatter, Albuquerque Journal