Police investigating death of handicapped foster child in NYC

Police investigating death of handicapped foster child in NYC

Published: Friday, March 30, 2012, 3:39 PM Updated: Friday, March 30, 2012, 3:39 PM

NEW YORK— Police are investigating the bathtub death of a severely handicapped child in the New York City home of her foster parents.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said today that the 5-year-old girl died Thursday night.

A 25-year-old man was looking after the child. He told investigators that he was giving her a bath in the Brooklyn apartment before she died.

The man said he left the bathroom after he heard a pet dog choking on something. When he returned, the girl was under water.
Kelly said today the death remained under investigation.

Embattled foster system draws new fire

Embattled foster system draws new fire

The troubled county Department of Children and Family Services came in for new criticism on Thursday with a California State Auditor report pointing out flaws in the agency's handling of child abuse and neglect allegations.

The report said DCFS had a backlog of at least 3,200 investigations into initial complaints of abuse or neglect that had been open more than the maximum 30 days.

In addition, a review of cases from 2008-2010 found that in only 31 percent of the cases social workers did the appropriate assessments of a home before placing a child there.

"This delay resulted in nearly 900 children living in placements that the department later determined to be unsafe or inappropriate," the report stated.

The audit attributed many of the department's problems to high turnover in its management. The department has had four directors in one year and also saw a high turnover in key management positions, the report said.

"A general instability in management has hampered the department's ability to address its long-standing problems such as completing timely investigations and placement assessments," the review found.

"The turnover has impeded the department's ability to develop and implement a strategic plan that would have provided cohesiveness to its various initiatives and communicated a clear vision to department staff," it said.

Other problems found by the audit included failure to meet timelines on monitoring children in their homes, failure to conduct background checks before placing children with relatives, delays in assessments on homes and caregivers and failure to make proper notifications on placements.

At the same time, the state said it found there is hope for improvement as the Board of Supervisors approved the appointment of Philip Browning as director in February and he has begun making changes.

Browning said he found the audit helpful.

"We appreciate the state auditor's reviewing our operations and look forward to working with them to resolve the issues highlighted in their report," Browning said. "Once we have completed our review of the audit, we will respond to each concern."

Also, the state found the case workload was within established targets and employees responded positively to a survey about their work environment.

The state did make two specific recommendations that the agency needs to continue to monitor its backlog of investigations and deal with them in 30 days. Also, it recommended an assessment on whether more resources are needed to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said much of the audit dealt with issues that were in the past and have since been resolved.

"We brought Philip Browning in and he's a turnaround artist," Yaroslavsky said. "He has already cut the backlog by two-thirds and he's making other changes.

"A lot of the findings were about old issues and we did have problems. But, I have to say I think the department is in better shape than it's been in a long time."

Foster parent now convicted sex offender

Foster parent now convicted sex offender

March 29, 2012 9:03 AM

A former foster parent was sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexually assaulting a boy he fostered on and off for four years.

George Steen was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault against a child Wednesday by a Lincoln County jury. The 41-year-old man admitted in court that he took showers with the boy but denied any inappropriate behavior.

The boy, now 11, said that the showers took place from the time he was 5 to 8 years old. The boy stayed with Steen at different times from 2005 to 2009.

While gripping a stuffed animal the child told jurors that he wanted to scream out for his foster mother but that Steen covered his mouth.

The boy testified that Jennifer Steen, George Steen’s wife, was never in the room when the molestation occurred.

Both Jennifer and George Steen took the witness stand for the defense Wednesday morning. Each of them said that George Steen took showers with the boy when there was a time crunch.

“The only time I took showers with him was when we were in a hurry,” he said.

Steen said that happened once or twice a week.

Jennifer Steen said that she sat on the toilet with a towel waiting to dry the child off each time.

Jurors not only listened to testimony from Steen, his wife and his accuser, they heard from a series of psychologists, social workers and the boy’s other foster parents.

The child’s other foster parents described inappropriate social and sexual behavior he displayed at a young age. One specialist said those instances pointed to a child who had been sexually abused.

Both Jennifer and George Steen said during testimony that they loved the boy and considered him part of their family.

The Steens met the child at New Vision Ministries, a Lincoln County church. Jennifer Steen worked at the church’s day care.

Not yet licensed foster parents, the couple took the child in when a fellow church member couldn’t handle the burden of all the children she was fostering.

The Steens started the process of becoming foster parents and earned their licensing.

They intended to eventually adopt the boy who later accused George Steen of sexual abuse.

Lincoln County Assistant District Attorney Beth Lari asked George Steen about his adoration for the boy during cross-examination.

Steen told her that he had an attachment to the child even when he was placed in other homes and facilities – keeping in contact with him, buying him gifts and attempting to get him back.

Steen was once ordered to take anger management classes after an outburst at the Department of Social Services offices when he couldn’t see the boy.

Lari also asked Steen why he thought the child would display behaviors of a sexually abused child.

Steen said the issue could have stemmed from a time when he left the boy at his mother’s house for a stay. Steen’s brother, Richard Steen, also spent the night.

Richard Steen, who had pending sex charges inTexas, slept in the same bed with the child. They slept in their underwear and the boy later reported inappropriate touching.

Steen’s brother was not convicted of the sex offense of which he was accused.

Like many children who have suffered sex abuse, the boy now expresses sexual predatory behavior.

Social workers told of two instances where the boy was involved in inappropriate sexual encounters with other boys – once in another foster home and once outside behind a shed.

The boy now lives in a facility for children who display such behaviors.

Steen had no prior sex charges.

Jury selection in the trial began Monday. Presentation of evidence kicked off Tuesday morning. By Wednesday afternoon Steen was led out of court by Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputies.

You can reach Diane Turbyfill at 704-869-1817 and twitter.com/GazetteDiane.

Boy testifies against former foster parent in sex case

An 11-year-old boy said his foster father sexually assaulted him multiple times a week when he was 6- and 7-years-old.

The child testified Tuesday morning that George Steen would molest him while the two showered together. His foster mother was sometimes in the Lincolnton home at the time but unaware of the molestation, the child said.

“I tried to scream the first day and the second day but he covered my mouth,” the boy said from the witness stand. “He was doing wrong things to me.”

Allegations of abuse

The child was taken from his mother and put into foster care in 2005, at the age of 4. He lived with the Steens on and off until he turned 8.

The boy said that Steen threatened to punish him if he told anyone what they did in the shower. Steen also told the child that no one believes a kid anyway.

The Steens were certified foster parents. According to the child’s testimony, he struggled to tell the truth in the past. If he told a lie, the boy would be made to eat soap when living with the Steens, the child testified.

The boy didn’t speak of the alleged abuse until he was placed in another foster home. One day while watching TV with his new foster mother the boy spoke of his relationship with Steen.

Lincoln County Department of Social Services was called, and Steen was charged with three counts of child sex assault.

Steen’s attorney, T.J. Wilson, said during opening statements Monday that the boy has a history of lying.

The defense has not yet had its chance to present evidence or witnesses.

Mental and emotional issues

Several psychologists and social workers testified in Steen’s trial Tuesday.

One psychologist talked of the child’s current mental state. He functions at a second-grade level and has sexual behavior issues. The boy suffers from depression, ADHD, expressive language disorder and reactive attachment disorder, according to specialists.

Like many children who have suffered sex abuse, the boy now expresses sexual predatory behavior. He now lives in a facility for children who display such behaviors.

Seven years in foster care

TheLincolnCountychild moved in with the Steens at age 4. It was his first foster home. His stay was short – just 21 days.

Social Services moved the boy to another family where his two sisters had gone. But taking on three children proved too much for those foster parents so the boy was removed from the home and returned to the Steens.

The child spent the next two-and-a-half years in the Steens’ home.

DSS attempted again to reunite the boy with family, returning him to his mother. But that attempt was short-lived. A month later he went into a group home. He spent six days there before being placed with another family.

The boy began acting out, according to social workers, and he was taken to a hospital for 10 days where his medications were leveled out.

He was returned to the Steens’ home in December 2007 where he stayed until February 2009.

At age 8 the child was transferred to another family for four days followed by a group home for nine days.

His next family kept him for three months before he was sent again to a group home.

In 2009, the child was placed with a family for nine months. That’s where he reported the alleged abuse.

The child now lives in a psychiatric residential treatment facility where his sexual and behavioral issues can be addressed.

On the stand

The boy was visibly uncomfortable when talking about sex in front of a room full of people. He told Lincoln County Assistant District Attorney Beth Lari that he was nervous and just wanted to finish his testimony.

He gripped a small stuffed animal. He said the toy was a way to calm his nerves.

The boy said he didn’t want to talk about it, but he wanted to make sure Steen didn’t victimize anyone else.

“That’s why I told,” he said. “I didn’t want no one else to be involved with this.”

The child left the courtroom Tuesday morning once he finished his testimony.

Killer foster mom should serve 6 years in prison: Crown

The Crown wants an Edmonton foster mother who fatally beat a four-year-old niece in her care to serve six more years in prison, while the defence suggests probation.

Those were the submissions heard Tuesday at a Court of Queen’s Bench manslaughter sentencing hearing for the 27-year-old killer, who cannot be named under a provincial law forbidding the identification of people in


Crown prosecutor Jim Stewart argued a 12-year sentence would be fit, but reduced it by five years and three months for the time the woman spent in pre-trial custody.

Stewart said two “hugely aggravating” factors in the case are the degree of the “prolonged” 2009 assault, which led to extensive bruising, broken ribs and a fatal brain injury, and the fact the woman did not call for medical

attention for several days, despite obvious signs of distress.

“Her selfish decision to not report the horrible thing she did to (the girl) condemned (her) to death,” said Stewart.

Defence lawyer Lisa Trach said a five-and-a-half-year sentence would be appropriate and noted her client will have already served it by the April 11 sentencing date.

However, she agreed a further period of probation would be warranted so the woman can get counselling.

Trach argued her client loved the children she was caring for and said the reason for the delay in calling for help was she was “in denial over committing the horrible act.”

Trach noted she treated the dying girl for flu symptoms, saying “her actions were not those of a rational person.”

She also spoke of her client’s terrible upbringing, including physical abuse and early drug exposure, and argued the province is partially to blame for what happened due to the foster mom getting little help from the


The child killer calmly apologized in court Tuesday.

“I’d like to say sorry to my family for what I’ve done,” she said. “I regret it every day of my life. I think about (the victim) every day. She was my niece. They trusted me to take care of her and I failed. I’m sorry.”

The woman pleaded guilty to manslaughter on Oct. 17.

Court heard she was given custody of her brother’s six young children in August 2008 as a result of him and his wife being unable to care for them due to crack cocaine addictions, and she and her boyfriend lived with them

in a rented west-end home paid for by the province.

On Jan. 13, 2009, emergency personnel went to the home and found the victim dead on her bedroom floor. An autopsy determined she had extensive bruising over most of her body, two fractured ribs and bleeding on the brain.

According to agreed facts, the woman caused the deadly injuries by “intentionally applying tremendous blunt force” to the child sometime between Jan. 9 and Jan. 10.

Then, despite the girl experiencing severe brain injury symptoms, such as lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea and ultimately a coma, the woman did not call for medical help.

Instead, she gave her niece cough syrup, used a T-shirt to scoop vomit from her mouth and put a diaper on her.

A defence psychological report — detailing the woman’s drug abuse problems, mental health issues and lack of parenting skills — raised serious questions as to why the province placed the six “crack babies” in her custody.

Foster parent on trial for child sex crimes

Jurors will decide this week if a former foster parent sexually abused a boy who was in his care over the course of four years.

According to Assistant District Attorney Beth Lari, George Steen sodomized the child when he was 7- and 8-years-old.

Defense attorney T.J. Wilson told jurors during opening statements Monday afternoon that the boy has a reputation for untruthfulness. The child has been in about 15 foster homes,Wilson said.

The child, now 11, was in court Monday, wearing a dress shirt and slacks and holding a stuffed animal. He will testify against Steen during the trial.

Lari told jurors that the sex crimes happened in Steen’s Lincolnton home from 2007 to 2009. Steen’s wife was not aware of the abuse, Lari said. She was either in another room or not at home when the assaults occurred, Lari said of Steen’s wife.

The boy was placed in another foster care facility in 2009 and that’s when he reported the abuse, according to Lari.

The case is being heard by a Lincoln County jury that was selected Monday afternoon.

Steen and his wife were licensed foster parents from 2005 to 2009, according to the Lincoln County Department of Social Services.

Steen, now 41, was initially arrested in 2009 and held on a $170,000 bond and has since been out on bail. He faces counts of sex offenses with a child.

Steen could face a life sentence if convicted as charged.

Jurors will begin hearing testimony and seeing evidence in the case Tuesday morning at the Lincoln County Courthouse.

Death of Dominic James led to changes in foster-care system

Sidney James hides what haunts him.

His broad smile and vibrant personality draw people to him easily and comfortably. But beneath the surface is a lingering bitterness.

James lost his only son nearly 10 years ago. The boy, 2-year-old Dominic, was killed by his foster father.

“He took my son’s life. But he only got 15 years,” James lamented.

His anger toward the man who still denies the murder is to be expected. But James also has a relentless resentment toward Missouri’s child welfare system.

“These people feel above the law,” James said.

Dominic had been put in foster care after a domestic disturbance between James and Dominic’s mother.

“There was no reason for Dominic to be in foster care—no abuse. No neglect,” James insisted.

The boy was taken anyway under the guise that he would be in a safer place while authorities figured things out with the family.

But he wasn’t.

“The end result is my son dead,” James said.

It wasn’t long into Dominic’s stay with his foster family that James started noticing subtle changes in his son.

Bruises that couldn’t be explained, a lack of a desire to play and other small differences set off alarm bells.

“There were signs and all they did was ignore me,” James said.

Then, when Dominic was hospitalized for some unexplained symptoms, his parents insisted he be taken out of the foster home. They left a later meeting with authorities thinking Dominic would be sent somewhere else.

In fact, several local officials left that same meeting thinking the child would be moved, but something — some say a misunderstanding of the plan, others say an out-right rejection of it — led Dominic to go back to his foster home.

“Then in two or three days he was dead because they sent him back to that house,” James said.

Dominic’s death sent a shock wave through the community. Numerous reforms were implemented in both local and state policies, giving many hope that these new measures would prevent a similar tragedy in the future.

But James is unconvinced.

“I thought my son giving his life would make a change,” James said.

“If this is all that’s changed—it didn’t change anything.”

James wonders what, if any, impact the state law bearing his son’s name has actually had.

Ultimately, he hopes Dominic’s lasting legacy will be a change in the child welfare system.

This summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of Dominic’s death. James is planning a celebration of his life — to remind people of Dominic’s legacy and to remember the little boy who used to love to pray.

“There’s still a lot of anger and bitterness there,” James admitted. “But I’ve learned to turn that into a positive.”

He hopes keeping Dominic’s name in the public consciousness will promote change. He hopes no other parent will face what he has faced: the burden of a death that could have been prevented.

While he misses the boy, he also feels that Dominic has buoyed him over the past decade.

“I know he’s my guardian angel.”

William Green Verdict Puts Foster Care Under Microscope

By KSEE News

Our local foster care programs are fighting a bad rap. Especially after a Fresno jury found a man guilty of having sex with his foster child. Joy Cronin is the deputy director of child welfare services.Today she's having to defend what she does. This after a 33 year old was found guilty of six counts of lewd acts with a 13 year old girl. That girl was a foster child to William Green.

"It also hurts that foster care community," said Cronin.

Theresa Hansen is part of the Child Focus Team. She's been a foster mother for 16 years, helping 80 children. Her job is to visit the homes these children are put into. It's also her job to sense if there's anything wrong.

"The interaction with the foster parent is a good cue," said Hansen.

Between Fresno County and the foster agencies there are more than 600 homes for the children. To become a parent you have to go through over 20 hours of training and that's not including more than 10 sessions of another course. And in between the foster period there are monthly and weekly checkups.

Many of the foster-system reforms have helped, but some have hurt

Dominic James should have been nearing his 12th birthday by now.

He should have been in middle school.

He might have grown out of his habit of waving at every passing car when he was outside.

Wrestling with his father would no longer be cool.

He might still love to pray, but probably not in the way he did as a 2-year-old. Back then, he’d grab peoples’ hands, bow his head and start speaking gibberish, imitating the prayers of family members.

Dominic died at the hands of his foster father in 2002. He was shaken to death.

His biological parents spent the last months of his life fighting to save him. Now his father, Sidney James, fights to make sure Dominic isn’t forgotten.

While he was alive, Dominic’s biological parents repeatedly asked that Dominic be taken out of the foster home after they grew suspicious of abuse — especially after a hospitalization for seizure-like symptoms.

But Dominic was left there.

His death just under 10 years ago upset the community and triggered dozens of reforms to the child welfare system in Missouri.

From foster care to court hearings, protocols to policies, the Dominic James Memorial Foster Care Act turned the state system on its head.

That was in 2003.

Greene County Commissioner Harold Bengsch was on a task force in 2007 that reviewed the circumstances of Dominic’s death and analyzed whether the package of law changes bearing his name was making a positive difference.

Bengsch was no stranger to the details of the boy’s death. As a member of the county’s child death review panel, he had been part of a major inquiry into the 2-year-old’s death in 2002.

Five years later, Bengsch was tasked to re-examine each heart-wrenching detail again.

“It was literally like reliving a bad dream,” Bengsch said.

The panel — the Missouri Task Force on Children’s Justice — did a systematic analysis of the Dominic James laws, looking at how it had been implemented and how the workers and volunteers on the front lines viewed the changes.

Many were positive, the final report shows. Many thought the changes the law enacted were overdue.

“Overall, it is fair to say that (the Dominic James law) has been broadly implemented, and for the most part, appears to be having a positive effect on children and families,” the conclusion of the task force’s report said.

The task force made 14 recommendations overall, and while many of them supported strengthening the measures put in place, there were some concerns over implementation and long-standing issues, as well as questions about some measures going too far.

“All respondents suggested that the State does not provide sufficient funding for the many services needed to ensure a safe and healthy environment for every child,” the conclusion of the task force’s report said.

That, said Darrell Moore, the prosecutor who handled Dominic’s case, hasn’t changed much.

“Part of any real substantive change, you have to get real staff and better pay” for Children’s Division workers, said Moore, the former Greene County prosecutor.

“We say we value kids? You have to put your money where your mouth is.”

Barbara Brown-Johnson, the executive director at the Child Advocacy Center in Springfield, said the law bearing Dominic’s name has had positive effects — better checks and balances in the child welfare system, stronger communication in family support team meetings and a growing community awareness of child abuse.

But one provision enacted in the 10 years since Dominic died brings mixed reviews.

In the 2007 review, it was noted that investigators were concerned with the higher standard of evidence required to remove a child from a home versus previous standards.

But, the report noted, it was too early to say whether requiring a preponderance of evidence was a good or bad thing.

The Child Advocacy Center lobbied against the higher standard before it became law, saying it would hurt kids. Brown-Johnson said the fears have been realized.

“We’re all seeing and saying the same thing,” she said of CACs across the state. “It’s not good for kids.”

Brown said many CACs are seeing cases that would have been enough evidence for removal of the child before the law change — but now, under the higher standard of proof, are not.

“Now that can’t be done, and they’re coming back through the system multiple times,” Brown-Johnson said.

And that’s only if child advocates are lucky enough to see the kid again. Many times, Brown-Johnson said, a kid learns that he or she isn’t believed and just stops telling about abuse.

“Let’s look at how we fix it versus who can we blame,” she emphasized.

“We need a change here.”

Moore said the law has brought small changes that have amounted to big improvements, including programs like Isabel’s House Crisis Nursery.

But bigger reforms — the kind it will take to bring down child abuse and neglect rates — will have to result from a bigger movement, Moore said.

“Dominic James caught attention because it caused a fervor here,” Moore said.

He said grass-roots groups have to pull together and demand change. He said groups already exist that are committed to child welfare, but membership is needed.

“We’re plugging away, but we need more people,” he said.

Merced woman charged in foster child's pool incident

Foster son nearly drowned; prosecutors allege inattention.

By VICTOR A. PATTON - vpatton@mercedsunstar.com

A 44-year-old woman has been charged with felony child endangerment in the April 2010 case of a 4-year-old foster child who nearly drowned in her swimming pool.

Merced County prosecutors say foster parent Wendy Ford should have been more attentive when caring for the special-needs foster child, Dexter Xavier Dixon, at her home in the 1500 block of West 20th Street. Merced police say they believe the child was riding a tricycle around the pool and fell in.

When police and paramedics responded, the boy was unconscious without a pulse and not breathing. The boy was in a coma after the accident, but survived and is recovering. Ford was scheduled to appear in Merced County Superior Court on Feb. 27, but didn't show up for the hearing. Judge Carol Ash subsequently issued a $10,000 bench warrant for Ford's arrest. Ford was contacted by the Sun-Star on Thursday about the case, but declined comment.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob Carroll said prosecutors reviewed the case and filed the charges based on numerous factors. For example, Carroll said a gate at Ford's swimming pool wasn't secured and the child was apparently left unattended.

Witnesses also told police that children had been seen running around unsupervised at Ford's home. "We just felt she should have been watching this child better," Carroll said.

According to a police report, the child was placed in the home by Approachable Foster Family Agency -- a Merced nonprofit that provides services to Merced County Child Protective Services.
The state licenses, supervises and oversees private foster family agencies such as Approachable Foster Family Agency. Merced County Child Protective Services can place children using the services of foster family agencies like that agency.

Officials with the agency told police the home had last been inspected by their agency on May 22, 2009, more than year before the near-drowning incident, according to the Merced police report.

Civil suit also pending

Franklin Vincent, Approachable Foster Family Agency's executive director, couldn't be reached by the Sun-Star's deadline Thursday. The boy's mother has filed a civil lawsuit in Merced County Superior Court against the state, Approachable Foster Family Agency, Merced County and Ford seeking undisclosed damages for the child's injuries.
In the police report, officers said a wrought iron gate outside the kitchen door and leading to the swimming pool was standing wide open. Police said there was no lock on the gate and it didn't appear the gate could be secured.
A chain-link fence surrounded the property in the back yard, with a gate on the west side, according to the report. That gate was also standing wide open and wasn't secured by any locking mechanism, police said.

On the northwest side of the chain-link fence, there was another gate secured with a lock and chain. Still, police said there was enough slack for the gate to be pulled open enough for someone to slip through and enter the back yard.
Darmahn Dixon, the boy's father, said the child is back with his biological mother. Dixon said his son suffered brain damage from the near drowning, but is back in school.
"He's blessed. It's a miracle," Dixon said, "He's working on living a normal life."
If convicted, Ford faces a maximum of six years in prison.