New Report on Educational Outcomes for Foster Youth in California Released

The California Child Welfare Co-Investment Partnership, a group of state, county, court, and foundation leaders working together to improve the state’s child welfare system, released Understanding Foster Youth Educational Outcomes, analyzing the educational outcomes of California foster children from kindergarten through college. The report highlights familiar educational statistics for foster children including low graduation rates, below average scores and grades, and high rates of grade repetition. It cites the physical and emotional barriers to learning that many foster children have when placed in the child welfare system.
Beyond just listing statistics, however, the report demonstrates the effectiveness of certain services and supports in helping foster children reach their academic potential. For instance, the California Foster Youth Services program, which provides students with mentoring, tutoring, and other services, has been very successful in increasing the percentage of foster youth who complete high school. 71% of youth who participate in the program complete high school, compared to just 49% of foster youth overall. Similar results were found when analyzing the 79 campus support programs for foster youth on college campuses around the state. The report analyzes what types of programs and services work in boosting foster student achievement and provides a helpful set of recommendations for policymakers, school administrators, public agencies, and community partners.
 

Foster Children with Incarcerated Parents a Murky Subject for States, Report Finds

States child welfare agencies are resistant to pursuing reunification with parents – 30,000 or more – who are incarcerated while their child is in foster care, according to a report issued by the Government Accountability Office this week. The study was requested by U.S. Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), both members of the House Ways and Means Committee.

At the same time, the main federal instrument for measuring the performance of child welfare agencies – Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), is limited in its ability to depict an accurate number on how many foster children have a parent behind bars.

AFCARS only reveals cases in which a child was removed “at least partly due to the incarceration of a parent”; it does not capture any child removed from a parent well after the other parent was locked up, or cases in which the parent was incarcerated after a child was removed from the home.

Of the 420,971 open foster care cases in 2009, AFCARS figures show 30,038 cases (7 percent) in which the child’s removal was in part or entirely based on the incarceration of a parent.

But estimates from two federal surveys of inmates suggest that the AFCARS figure might capture most of the total. A 2004 survey of federal and state prison inmates found an estimated 19,300 inmates who had at least one child in state care. A 2002 federal survey identified in the GAO report, this one of adults in jail, found 12,000 with children in foster care.

Combined, the jail and prison survey estimates are in line with the 30,038 AFCARS figure from 2009.

The 2004 federal and state prison survey found 13,700 men and 5,600 women who had a child in foster care. Based on a 2007 estimate that there were 809,800 parents in prison, that means 9 percent of female parent inmates had a child in foster care compared with 2 percent of male parent inmates.

The report authors also studied state legislation related to incarceration as a factor in the termination of parental rights. Most states had some legislation that enabled its child welfare agency to use incarceration as a determining factor for termination, and a number of the states allowed the system to forgo reasonable efforts at reunification with a parent who was incarcerated.

Nebraska was the only one of the 10 states studied where “a petition to terminate parental rights shall not be filed on behalf of the state if the sole factual basis is that the parent or parents are incarcerated.”

GAO’s recommendations include the idea that states always include incarceration status in a youth’s AFCARS information, not just when it is a factor in removal, and that the incarceration information get updated periodically throughout a youth’s stay in foster care.

The Administration for Children and Families, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recently solicited comments on how to redesign its Child and Family Services Review process, which could include changes to what AFCARS measures and how often it measures those entries.

According to GAO, “Officials [have] not yet determined whether the new proposed rule would include the same requirements on gathering additional information on a caretaker’s incarceration at multiple times throughout the foster care case as had been included in the 2008 proposal. Officials also said that they did not know when a final set of reporting requirements would be issued.”

The total number of children under 18 with a parent in prison rose to 1.7 million by 2007, a 20 percent increase from 1997 and nearly double the number in 1991.

New law to benefit state’s foster care program

Federal rules will let funds be used to keep kids in homes

A bill awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature would give new federal support to state programs like Washington’s that help keep children out of foster care, according to the bill’s sponsors.

Senate Bill 1542 would reform rules that now prohibit states from using federal foster care funding on programs that help keep children at home with their families. States that reduce the number of case- loads now lose federal dollars for foster care, called Title 4-E funds. Under the bill, those states could tap that stream of money for programs that help keep children at home or reduce the duration of their stay in foster care.

The changes could significantly benefit Washington, which wasn’t able to claim about $2.7 million in federal appropriations between 2008 and 2010 because it reduced its caseload by 13.8 percent.

“We have been implementing innovative programs to improve (the) foster care system for years,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., during a speech on the Senate floor Friday. “Unfortunately, instead of being rewarded for these actions, we were penalized, and that is what this legislation has helped to correct.”

The existing federal funding system reimburses states for the number of children placed in foster care. When a state decreases its caseload, it loses money from the federal government. The bill’s supporters said the system offers no incentive for reducing caseloads and penalizes states that have developed innovative programs to keep children out of foster care.

“We do a good job of preventing kids from being taken out of their home in the first place or unifying children with their families,” said Rich Pannkuk, finance director for the state Children’s Administration. “What happens is we lost those Title 4-E funds. This bill gives us the ability to focus on the front end by preventing out-of-home placements while using (federal) Title dollars.”

Sharon Osborne, chief executive officer for the Children’s Home Society of Washington, said keeping children with their permanent family is crucial to emotional and mental development.

“Giving the child the ability to bond is extremely crucial,” Osborne said. “To the extent at which that is interrupted it can cause problems with the child throughout their lives.”

Children’s Home Society, which has offices in Vancouver and Washougal, offers parenting skill development programs to families referred by Child Protective Services. The bill could benefit those programs.

States that want to use the new option for spending the federal dollars have to apply for a “flexible funding waiver” from the federal government and may do so beginning in 2012. The application includes a plan and goals for reducing caseloads. Between 2012 and 2014, 30 states will be awarded the waiver, said Dan Ashby, chief of federal funding at the Children’s Administration. The waivers last for five years, he said.

One of the state services that could receive federal funding under the bill is the Intensive Family Preservation Services Program. That state-backed program provides in-home crisis intervention, education, assistance and skill development to families whose children are at imminent risk of being removed from their home. The skills and resources given to families through the program often can make it safe for the children to remain with their family instead of being placed in a foster home, said Cindy Hardcastle, an area administrator for Child and Family Services in Clark and Skamania counties.

Clark County now has money to serve about 100 families in the program, Hardcastle said.

“We have just so many families we can serve, and that’s it,” Hardcastle said. “We have many, many more who could benefit from the in-home services. If we don’t have capacity to provide intensive at-home services to keep children safe, then we really have to weigh if the child should remain in the home.”

The state has been a national leader in innovative child welfare reform. Cantwell wanted the state to be able to keep federal dollars to support its proactive approach, said Janeen Heath, Cantwell’s deputy press secretary.

The bill was passed in the Senate and House Thursday and Friday and is now in queue for the president’s signature. Obama could sign it by the end of the week, Heath said.

About 600 children are in the foster care system in Clark County, and another 200 families are in the Child Protective Services program, Hardcastle said.

Passage of Federal Foster Care Law Will Help Improve The Lives of More Vulnerable Children and Their Families Across The Nation

Law will give more states the flexibility to invest in programs that reduce the need for foster care and ensure more children have safe, stable and permanent families.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Casey Family Programs, the nation's largest operating foundation dedicated to improving the foster care system, today applauded Congress for passing and President Obama for signing into law a foster care funding reform measure that will help keep more children safe from abuse and neglect and improve the lives of vulnerable children and their families across the United States.
Passage of the bipartisan Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act , was due to the tremendous leadership of Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Representatives Geoff Davis (R-KY), and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX).
Because of their efforts, and the sustained leadership of Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), America is one step closer to fundamentally reforming its child welfare system. Passage of this law means that states will be better able to invest in initiatives that help improve child safety and family stability as well as move children from foster care into safe permanent homes.
The law reauthorizes two important child welfare programs and incorporates improvements to ensure that children can safely remain with their own parents or be supported by other caring adults. The law renews child welfare waiver authority to allow more states to invest in new ways of serving children at risk of abuse and neglect. In addition, the law establishes a process to create child welfare data standards that can help drive further improvement to foster care systems.
"By approving this law, the President and Congress have taken a significant step toward improving the lives of the most vulnerable youth in our nation," said William C. Bell, Ph.D., President and CEO of Casey Family Programs. "This law will encourage more innovation and connect young people to the critical services they need to have a bright future."
The law supports many essential pieces of Casey Family Programs' 2020 Strategy for America's Children, which seeks to ensure that more children are able to grow up in safe, stable and permanent families. The 2020 Strategy seeks to safely reduce the number of children in foster care 50 percent by the end of the decade and improve outcomes in education, employment and mental health for children who do experience foster care. In particular, the law:
• Reauthorizes Title IV-B of the Social Security Act, which includes the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program. These programs are the primary source of federal funding for prevention initiatives that can reduce the need for foster care while keeping children safe with their families. They also support adoption and other programs designed to help more children in foster care quickly return to safe, stable and permanent families.

• Allows more States to apply for Title IV-E waivers. The waiver program gives states greater flexibility in how they spend federal child welfare funds to invest in programs that will improve the lives of children, families and communities. Existing waivers in places such as Los Angeles, Florida and Oregon have helped prevent child abuse and neglect, helped more children remain safely in their own homes and improved the quality of services to vulnerable children and families. Casey has supported expansion of the waiver program as a critical interim step toward a comprehensive reform of the federal child welfare finance system. For more details, read our white paper on the issue http://casey.org/resources/publications/NeedForWaivers.htm.
• Extends the Court Improvement Program which provides grants to state court systems to assess foster care and adoption laws and reduce the time it takes for children to be placed in permanent homes. The law extends the program through FY 2016. In addition, the law streamlines the program by allowing states to submit one application for each of three court improvement grants instead of three separate applications. The law also makes tribal courts eligible for funding.
• Improves the effectiveness of federal child welfare data by requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to better standardize the type of data collected from states. This will provide and important foundation for improving foster care services by providing administrators, policy makers and the public with more data to make effective policy and practice choices. Casey's recent white paper on promoting improved accountability covers this topic in more detail http://casey.org/resources/publications/accountability.htm. In addition, the new law will help improve how child deaths are reported by states, allowing better assessment of trends in this area. This was an important conclusion in our recent white paper on child safety http://casey.org/resources/publications/FosterCareReductionsChildSafety.htm.
The Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act is the second major piece of child welfare reform that has become law in recent years. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act in 2008 also provided significant progress in efforts to better serve children in foster care and to help more children find safe, stable and permanent families.
About Casey Family Programs
Casey Family Programs is the nation's largest operating foundation focused entirely on foster care and improving the child welfare system. Founded in 1966, we work to provide and improve ─ and ultimately prevent the need for ─ foster care in the United States. As champions for change, we are committed to our 2020 Strategy for America's Children ─ a goal to safely reduce the number of children in foster care and improve the lives of those who remain in care.
Contact Casey Family Programs at
info@casey.org, 206.282.7300, or 2001 Eighth Avenue, Suite 2700, Seattle, WA 98121. For more information, visit our website at www.casey.org.
SOURCE Casey Family Programs

Foster care system: broken beyond repair?

By Darcy Spears

Clark County, NV (KTNV) - Desperate parents. Children with no rights. Ruthless caseworkers, and a corrupt system. That's how Clark County's Department of Family Services has been described by child welfare experts who say our system is broken almost beyond repair.

"We are damaging children so much more within the system..." says Anita Stephens of the Clark County Caregiver Advisory Board.

"I think what you're seeing here is exactly what happens when children do not have a voice," says Janice Wolf of the Children's Attorneys Project.

"I believe if anybody should be charged with child abuse and neglect it should be the Department of Family Services," says Vicki Lambou, a foster mom.

Those concerns are echoed across the valley by judges, attorneys, child advocates and parents who are hoping against hope that change comes to Clark County.

"Nevada is woefully behind," says Wolf. She leads the Children's Attorneys Project through the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. She says they only have the resources to represent half of Nevada's 3200 foster children.

"We're catching up, but in so many states the law requires every child to have an attorney."

Matthew and Brandon did not have an attorney. The two brothers lived with UMC emergency room nurse Vicki Lambou for three years. She was supposed to adopt them and says they all dreamed of being a family.

"I told the children I'm not going anywhere. I'm here. I'm mommy forever. Forever. I had no idea that the DFS was capable of something like this."

Clark County's Department of Family Services took Matthew and Brandon out of Vicki's home based on a substance misuse charge that was later overturned in Family Court for "insufficient credible evidence." Despite that, Vicki never got the boys back.

"They've betrayed me and they've betrayed the children. They've used me. And now I'm being discarded like I'm trash."

Child welfare experts believe this case illustrates what's wrong with Nevada's foster care system, which they say is staffed with inexperienced, overloaded caseworkers who often fail to put children's best interests first.

"They're in a fragile little bubble and the slightest thing can pop that and destroy their world," says Anita Stephens, past president of the Foster Parent Association. She currently sits on the Caregiver Advisory Board made up of foster parents and DFS staff. She's been closely following Vicki's case.

"We have to use a little more compassion in my opinion in really looking at the situation and not just saying I'm the almighty authority."

Over seven and a half years, she and her husband have fostered 43 children, two of whom they've adopted.

"I've worked with DFS enough to know that blanket rigmarole that they put out there of the confidentiality."

She believes DFS often hides behind confidentiality laws in order to protect their decisions. That's exactly what they did when Contact 13 asked about Vicki's case.

"It's the nameless, faceless little people that the bureaucracy of DFS and CPS and the County Commission and all these other people make decisions around," Stephens says.

Vicki went to the County Commission for help, and accountability for DFS.

"And I'm asking for there to be an eye on what happens and who's looking out for the best interests of the children in our community. And why are we taking foster parents that are stepping up to the plate to adopt these children and crucifying them?" Vicki asked Commissioners.

She told then that over a three-month period, DFS filtered the boys through five different foster homes, at times separated from each other.

DFS is now trying to get their biological grandparents to adopt them.

"I know in Vicki's case that's kind of what the premise is--they should be able to be with biological family--but that's where they were removed from. No one's addressing that piece," Stephens says incredulously.

Also, there was no transition for the brothers out of the home where they'd lived for three years. DFS left most of their things behind too.

"I think it's a classic example to look at and say this is what goes horribly wrong within the system and it happens more often than not," Stephens says.

County Commissioners are working to at least get Vicki visitation with the boys.

The National Center for Youth Law in San Francisco is also reviewing the case.

And, just this week, the County Commission approved funding to expand the Children's Attorneys Project.

That means every foster child in the system will have an attorney within the next two years.

Vicki Lambou has started a petition to ask our elected officials for accountability and transparency from DFS.

She's gotten over 200 signatures so far. We've posted a link to that along with this story.

And we'd like to hear your thoughts on this story. Sound off in an email to 13investigates@ktnv.com.

And if you've got a story about the foster care system, you can send that to us as well.


DCF updates lawmakers after ex-foster child death


Locked in her bedroom, Kelly was bruised and hurting. Her stomach rumbled from hunger. She had come home

earlier that day with a report card full of Fs. She had been afraid to go home, because of the consequences she knew would come. The verbal and physical abuse that followed came from Allen, her mother’s boyfriend.

Kelly was just 6 years old at the time.

Despite the abuse and neglect, Kelly’s mom did not stand up for her daughter against Allen. For Kelly, the message was clear – she was unwanted, unloved and alone.

One day, while Kelly and her twin brother, Keith, were at school, a teacher discovered suspicious bruises. Questions revealed a traumatic reality of malnourishment as well as verbal, physical and sexual abuse.

A few weeks before this, Kelly had asked her mom if she and her brother would ever be taken away. After initial surprise, her mother replied, “No, why would you be taken away?” Looking back, Kelly knows now that God was preparing her for the change that was coming. The Department of Human Services stepped in and removed the children from the home.

Kelly was upset, but not surprised.

DHS kept the twins together. They had two older brothers who were placed in other foster homes. Kelly and Keith went from one foster home to another, searching for love, acceptance and a place to belong.

Kelly recalls the day they arrived at their fourth and final placement. “Walking into the Blonsky home, immediately, it was different. You could feel the love.”

She remembered a simple thing from her early days with the Blonskys. “I had never tasted orange juice, ever. I remember drinking a glass and asking for more, saying, “We get orange juice!”

The twins turned 9 right after arriving at the home of Jim and Susan Blonsky. The Blonskys already had four biological children but after several years of fostering, they legally adopted Kelly and Keith at the age of 15.

Kelly remembers those years, “My adoptive dad and mom worked tirelessly to help Keith and I with all of the issues we had. We dealt with so much rejection, anger and bitterness. Our parents were patient and loved us like their own, sacrificing so much for us. Meeting me now, you would never realize what I had gone through in my past.”

But the work went both ways. “I allowed my new family in and had to learn to forgive and to let go of hatred. I allowed them to love me. And they did,” she said.

One of the challenges that came up for Kelly was staying connected with her past. “Being an older kid coming into the DHS system, I wanted to stay connected to my bio family while embracing my new life with my adoptive family. I felt I needed to do both in order to heal but it was something I had to work through with my adoptive family.”

Finding her own identity in the midst of a new family, and apart from her past was another challenge.

Looking back, she sees things differently than her younger self. “I realize now that everything happens for a reason. People mess up and don’t do things right, but God always has plans for you. And no matter what, you will make it. I was very strong-willed and needed a strong family. God gave me that and now I know why.”

Today, Kelly is married to husband Ryan Davis, and is a mother of three. She and her family reside in Pryor. She was chosen as Mrs. Pryor 2011, and is looking forward to competing for the Mrs. Oklahoma title Dec. 3 in Guthrie.

“The reason I am doing this is to share my story. I knew I could encourage so many women and girls as a survivor,” she said.

And her platform? “I wanted to make Court Appointed Special Advocates my platform because I wished that I had an advocate for me when I was in the system years ago,” she said. “A CASA volunteer works to develop a relationship with a child in custody by becoming their voice in court. Volunteering in this way allows me to give back. Because I have been there, I know how these kids feel.”

With Oklahoma ranking fifth in the nation in the rate of child abuse and neglect deaths, there is a need for rescuers and advocates for these children. Whether choosing to help through mentoring, becoming an advocate, fostering or adopting, Kelly said, “All that children in the system need is someone with a willing heart and someone who knows how to love. That was what truly changed me.”

Stepping into the life of a child is powerful, lasting and difficult. Kelly said, “You never know what you are getting into when you take kids in, or when you volunteer. But I will say as having been a child in need, that being adopted changed my whole life and I would not be here today if it was not for my family taking me and my brother in. There were some very good times, and some very hard times but all in all it was worth it.

Trial begins in death of former county foster child

Tuesday, Oct 4 2011, 2:20 pm


None of the 12 people called to the jury box knew Danny Hembree.

None said Monday afternoon that they knew Heather Catterton, the girl Hembree is accused of slaying.

Catterton spent much of her life as a foster child in Cleveland County.

But one woman felt she needed to speak up as to why she couldn’t sit on the jury for the capital murder case.

Twelve jurors will decide whether or not Hembree, 49, killed Catterton and dumped her half-naked body in a culvert in York County, S.C., in 2009.

Several members of the jury pool, which will include three alternates, told Superior Court Judge Beverly Beal of life circumstances that would make a six- to eight-week trial difficult for them: school, medical problems, children at home. Many of those telling their tales of woe were dismissed before names were called to fill the jury box.

By late afternoon the first potential jurors took their seats in the box while nearly 100 others filled the audience, some being forced to stand due to lack of space.

Beal began questioning potential jurors, asking about their residency and occupation. Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell threw out a few questions.

The room was cleared when one of the possible jurors said she knew an important name in the case.

Once alone in the jury box the woman said she was a distant relative of Randi Saldana, another woman Hembree is accused of killing in 2009.

The potential juror said she and her family have talked about the case. Many of them have already formed an opinion of Hembree’s guilt, she said.

“It might be really awkward for me to be on the jury,” she told Beal.

Beal eventually agreed and dismissed the woman.

Hembree faces three first-degree murder charges. The trial that began Monday will address solely the death of 17-year-old Catterton.

Police arrested Hembree for the deaths of Saldana and Catterton in December 2009.

During the course of their investigation, detectives say they uncovered new evidence that pointed to Hembree as the killer in the death of Deborah Ratchford. The 30-year-old woman’s slaying had gone unsolved since she was found dead in a Gastonia graveyard in 1992.

Police have said that Hembree knew Catterton and 30-year-old Saldana. He dated Catterton’s older sister, and they all ran in the same circles.

Investigators have said that the trio lived an at-risk lifestyle.

Hembree’s mother, sister and son spent the day watching the proceedings. They gave modest waves as the tall man walked into the courtroom wearing a lime green shirt and khaki pants. He took his seat between his attorneys, Brent Ratchford and Rick Beam.

Catterton’s family sat behind Bell and Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hamlin.

Jurors filled out a six-page questionnaire that was handed to the attorneys late in the day Monday.

Finding 15 impartial people who are willing to consider the death penalty might be time consuming, according to Beam.

Jury selection could take more than a week, and the trial could go on for two months.

Attorneys barely scratched the surface in questioning the jury panel before Beal adjourned for the day. That practice will resume at 9:30 a.m. today.

Logan County Jury Finds Amy Holder Guilty Of Child Abuse

GUTHRIE, Okla. -- After more than 10 hours of deliberations on Monday, a Logan County jury has found Amy Holder guilty of child abuse.
 Click Like For Oklahoma News Updates:
Holder was accused of beating her foster daughter, Naomi Whitecrow, in 2009. The girl died, but an autopsy was unable to determine what caused her death.
Prosecutors said they did not have enough evidence to charge Holder with murder.
The Edmond woman's trial began two weeks ago and wrapped up Monday afternoon afternoon after the jury heard from dozens of witnesses. Holder also took the stand in her own defense.
The courtroom was packed with Holder supporters, many of whom wept when the verdict was read.
Amy Holder said nothing as she walked out of the courtroom. Her attorney, Scott Adams, has maintained his client is innocent, but said this is a verdict they can live with.
"Obviously what the verdict told us is there are no winners in this case," said Adams. "Our heart goes out to the Whitecrows and Naomi and all of her family." Adams added, "It's still a very sad case in that we have a 2-year-old that is no longer with us."
Prosecutors and the Whitecrow family declined to comment following the verdict.
The jury recommended a fine of $5,000. Holder could have been sentenced up to life in prison. Formal sentencing in the case will take place in November.
Holder's attorney said his client will most likely pay that fine and hopefully, begin to move forward.
"Let this be over," said Adams. "Maybe everyone can heal now. That's what we hope."

St. Louis lawsuit claims sexual abuse at former children's home

ST. LOUIS • Two men filed a joint lawsuit today in St. Louis Circuit Court alleging authorities didn't do enough to stop sexual abuse they suffered as minors living at the former St. Joseph's Home for Boys in the 1990s.

Antoine Conners and Bryan Mitchell, both in their 20s, say they were abused by other residents staying at the home, according to the lawsuit. Mitchell claims he was abused several times a week for a year. Conners said he was sexually abused at least once.

The Missouri Department of Family Services placed Conners and Mitchell in St. Joseph's. According to the lawsuit, Conners lived at the home from July 1994 to August 1995; Mitchell was there from July 1994 to May 1996.

Conners and Mitchell currently live outside of Missouri, said plaintiff's attorney Nicole Gorovsky.

At the time of the abuse, St. Joseph’s was run by Catholic Services for Children and Youth, now Good Shepherd Children and Family Services, according to the lawsuit.

Also named in the suit are the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which helped oversee the home, and Archbishop Robert Carlson.

Archdiocese officials did not comment on the lawsuit Monday.

St. Joseph’s, which used to be located at 4753 South Grand Avenue, closed in 2001.

Willowbrook man wins award for foster care

Working in a foster home with children who have assorted mental and medical health conditions can take its toll emotionally, but for every one of those hurdles encountered, Willowbrook resident Ivan Harrison has a memory to reinforce why he loves the work he does.

Harrison has been the foster care manager at Children’s Place Association since 2004. As foster care manager, Harrison makes it his priority to try to find children with varying medical or mental illnesses a home.

“We really try to make sure when making a placement decision that we make a good placement match,” he explained. “When you’re working with our population of kids who have special needs, you have to be careful about who you recruit and place the kids with. Once we get the information about the child, we know what kind of foster home we need to accommodate them with.”

Harrison said the agency originally worked primarily with kids who have HIV/AIDS-infected families, but now the organization has widened and accepted children with varying disorders. Other care goes to children with cerebral palsy, pediatric cancer and severe juvenile diabetes.

“Some of our clients are needy and we have to not only deal with their special needs, but they also have to deal with things like poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse and things like that, so it can be emotionally draining at times,” he said. “You also have those positive moments where you work with a family and a child is adopted, or one of your clients graduates and go to college.”

Because many of the children have behavioral or medical conditions, Harrison works closely with schools to make sure the child can thrive.

“We work with the staff and maintain communication with the schools and try and problem-solve,” he said. “We try and do whatever we can to help them achieve their full potential despite any barriers or special needs they might have.”

In recognition of his work, Harrison received the Outstanding Para-Professional Award by Congressman Danny Davis during the 7th Congressional District 15th-annual Recognition Ceremony this summer. He was nominated by one of the foster parents who live in Davis’ district.

Harrison said he was surprised and thankful to the parent when she informed him. Davis couldn’t attend the ceremony because he needed to be in Washington, so Davis’ wife, Vera, presented the award.

“He felt so bad that he wasn’t able to be there that he graciously called in,” Harrison said. “He called his wife and she put him up to the mic so he talked to us from Washington and thanked us for our contributions. ... (For) him to take the time to do that, it was very nice.”

Arizona infant who drowned was in foster care

SPECIAL TO THE LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

Posted: Sep. 28, 2011 | 5:59 p.m.
Updated: Sep. 30, 2011 | 8:48 a.m.

An 8-month-old boy who drowned in northwest Arizona over the weekend was in foster care at the time, according to the Mohave County Sheriff's Office.

David Whatahomigie was unresponsive when pulled from a bathtub Sunday at a home in Valle Vista, about 15 miles north of Kingman along Historic Route 66.

Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Trish Carter said he was pronounced dead after being taken to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas.

She said the infant had been placed in the home by officials who manage the foster care program for the nearby Hualapai Indian Tribe.

Carter said the incident remained under investigation and will be reviewed for possible charges by the county attorney's office.

A 3-year-old foster child and other children ages 12 and 13 were temporarily removed from the home where the incident occurred, she said.

Plum foster mom to go to trial on DUI charge

By Paul Peirce, TRIBUNE-REVIEW

An Allegheny County woman accused last summer of driving under the influence on Interstate 70 with five foster children in her vehicle waived her right to a preliminary hearing on Monday.

Catarina Jean Delgiacco of Holiday Park Drive, Plum, will stand trial in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court on charges filed by Rostraver Police of driving under the influence of alcohol, five counts of reckless endangerment, five counts of endangering the welfare of children and failing to use proper restraint systems.

Delgiacco was charged after a traffic stop at 2:08 a.m. July 15. Police said the woman had been celebrating her 60th birthday two hours earlier with family members in the Mon Valley.

Police Officer Joseph D. Spinola wrote in an affidavit of probable cause that he saw Delgiacco's 2008 GMC Yukon driving erratically -- crossing the white fog lines and nearly hitting a concrete barrier as she drove east near the Arnold City exit.

When Spinola pulled Delgiacco's car over, he noticed a strong odor of alcohol and that her speech was slurred, according to the affidavit filed before West Newton District Judge Charles Christner. In the rear seat, Spinola said, were five young children who he later determined were between ages 2 and 10.

The two youngest passengers, age 2 and 5, wore seat belts but were not properly restrained in car seats as required by state law, according to police.

Spinola said Delgiacco failed three field sobriety tests at the scene.

The children were released to family members. Delgiacco was taken to Mon Valley Hospital in Carroll Township, Washington County, to have blood drawn. Police reported a portable alcohol breath device indicated her blood-alcohol content was 0.16 percent, or twice the legal limit, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

Delgiacco's status with the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau as a foster parent in light of the arrest could not be determined yesterday afternoon.

She was ordered to appear Nov. 16 before Judge Debra Pezze for formal arraignment. She remains free on recognizance bond.

Foster dad gave girl cannabis

A 62-year-old who smoked cannabis with his 14-year-old CYF foster daughter has narrowly avoided a prison sentence because of his poor health.

Claude Clifton Lowe was sentenced at the High Court in Auckland today to 12 months supervision for supplying cannabis to a minor.

He was found guilty of the charge at a trial in June, where he was also found not guilty of five counts of rape and one of threatening to kill.

Those charges also related to two teenage girls he and his wife fostered.

The 14-year-old girl Lowe supplied the cannabis to lived with him and his wife Diane from March to June 2006.

The girl said at trial that Lowe began supplying her with cannabis soon after she moved in with the CYF caregivers.

She said she smoked cannabis with Lowe "quite a lot" through a pipe or in a joint.

Justice Judith Potter told Lowe that the supervision sentence was "very lenient" and if Lowe's health had not been too poor to send him to prison she would have imposed a short jail term.

Lawyer David Hoskin told the court Lowe had nearly died from heart problems after his trial and spent two weeks in North Shore Hospital recovering.

The 62-year-old is due to undergo triple heart bypass surgery soon and would not cope with prison conditions, a pre-sentence report said.

The report also said Lowe was still in denial about his offending and showed no remorse.

Justice Potter ordered Lowe to undertake any rehabilitative courses or counselling recommended by his parole officer during the course of his supervision.

Lowe would have been an ideal candidate for home detention but that was not possible because his home was too far away from the nearest probation centre, Justice Potter said.

Home detention was further ruled out as an option because a member of Lowe's family has been bailed to his house on charges relating to sexual abuse of a young person.

At the trial, the two teenage girls accused Lowe of raping them four times, including once when one of the girls was in the shower.

Crown prosecutor Nick Webby told the jury Lowe would offer the complainants cigarettes if they would let him touch, or have sex, with them.

Lowe denied all offending and was found not guilty on all charges except supplying cannabis to a minor.

DCF updates lawmakers after ex-foster child death

By KELLI KENNEDY

Associated Press

MIAMI -- The state child welfare agency said Tuesday it was diverting tens of millions of dollars to recruit and train child protective investigators and beef up an antiquated abuse hotline system after the death of a 10-year-old former foster child.

Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins updated two legislative committees, saying his agency has reduced child investigator caseloads by 30 percent and plans to reduce them by another 30 percent. The agency has hired about 100 child investigators, mostly in South Florida, and trained more than 1,100 on interviewing techniques, shifting the focus of the job from social work to law enforcement. Wilkins said DCF needs to do more to train and retain them, calling their position his top priority.

DCF came under scrutiny earlier this year for failing to piece together warning signs from medical professionals and school officials that something was wrong in the home of Jorge and Carmen Barahona in the years before their child, 10-year-old Nubia, was killed. The agency blamed it on a system wide failure, including poor judgment by child protective investigators, overwhelming caseloads and missed opportunities at every turn.

Nubia's decomposing body was found in the back for her father's truck by the side of the road on Valentine's Day. Her twin brother Victor survived, but was badly burned by a toxic chemical. Jorge and Carmen Barahona have pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder and a slew of child abuse charges. The state has said it will seek the death penalty.

DCF has also asked the legislature for permission to redirect $35 million within their nearly $3 billion budget to revamp technology and overhaul the abuse hotline. The Legislature provided $5 million last year to begin the process.

Most of that funding would go to front-line workers for mobile devices and other technology. When hotline operators currently receive a call, they can't pull up a family's history, showing prior complaints, outcomes and school and medical issues. A centralized database would allow real-time access to all officials.

The agency hopes to retain a vendor by January and have the system running before school starts in the fall of 2012, Wilkins said. Hotline calls typically spike during the school year.

The investigator assigned to check on the whereabouts of the Barahona twins did not have a phone number for the family and didn't know the children had been removed from school and were being home-schooled.

Wilkins said child protective investigators should be able to quickly pull up data when they are following up a hotline call, just as law enforcement would check during a criminal investigation.

A hotline caller warned the Barahona twins were being tied by their hands and feet and locked in the bathroom for days, but DCF officials never contacted the police and the hotline operator didn't flag the call as an emergency. Since then, DCF officials said they have collaborated with law enforcement to develop protocol for future emergencies.

In the past, the hotline did little more than collect information from callers and route it to local offices.

"Quite frankly we weren't even answering all the phone calls that were coming in," Wilkins said. "At this point we've sort of patched the dam."

The goal is to shift the hotline from data entry to data investigation, where operators get details that will make it easier for child protective investigators to do their jobs, he said.

Our Kids, the private contractor overseeing case managers in the Barahona case, was also put on a corrective action plan, stressing that case managers need to take ownership of cases.

DCF has criticized Our Kids and other private contractors around the state for not using the DCF database or entering only incomplete data on children, making it difficult to get a full picture. DCF officials said they will require all contractors and DCF employees to use the system going forward and will discipline those who do not. DCF said some contractors not only failed to use the state's system, but purchased their own system. Some contractors complained DCF's system was unwieldy and difficult to use.

A grand jury report in July made several recommendations following Nubia's death, including psychological evaluations for foster parents seeking to adopt. The report also recommended re-licensing foster parents every two years to make sure they are still fit caretakers and that those who are subject to abuse or neglect reports be placed on probation that would require more frequent visits from caseworkers.

Critics worry the stipulations might deter some from becoming foster parents or subject current foster and adoptive parents to unfair scrutiny.

Wilkins said the agency is still reviewing the recommendations.

"A lot of them are very controversial in terms of how we would do them or if we would do them," he said.