3 foster children removed from home of Knox Commissioner

Three foster children have been removed from the home of Knox County Commissioner Jeff Ownby and further admissions of children to the home have been suspended, a state department spokeswoman said Friday.

Molly Sudderth, director of communications at the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, said the department through the Florence Crittenton Agency had three children in the Ownby home at the time of his arrest Thursday afternoon on an indecent exposure charge.

On Friday morning, they were taken from the Ownby home and put in another home, according to Sudderth. No more admissions are being allowed there, she said.

Return of the children depends on what happens to Ownby's court case.

Defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs represents Ownby, 45, on the charge. He said his client would be seeking counseling.

"Commissioner Ownby intends to enter a plea of not guilty to the allegation. We are requesting that everyone respect Commissioner Ownby's and his family's privacy regarding this matter," Isaacs said.

The attorney said his client would have no further comment about the arrest. He declined to comment about his client's status as a foster parent.

Ownby is expected to be arraigned next month.

The 4th District Republican first-term commissioner and John McCracken, 53, were arrested Thursday afternoon after police spotted them having oral sex in Sharps Ridge Park in North Knoxville, court records show. Officers made the arrest just after 4:30 p.m., according to an arrest warrant.

"The defendant was observed with another male engaging in oral sex with one another," KPD Officer David Munson wrote in the warrant.

"The defendant did not attempt to hide any of his actions from the public."

Ownby was released from the Knox County Detention Facility later Thursday night after posting $500 bond on the misdemeanor. He did not respond when asked by a reporter if he wanted to comment.

McCracken is charged with indecent exposure and criminal trespass, also a misdemeanor. His bond was set at $1,000, according to warrants.

Sharps Ridge has a reputation as a place where men go to meet other men. KPD's sting was conducted in response to citizen complaints of illegal activity.

Ownby is a married father of two. He has no other arrests. He was elected to represent the West Knoxville district in August 2010.

Ownby is a longtime employee of Comcast. A Comcast vehicle was towed Thursday from the Sharps Ridge scene and taken to the city's impound lot, according to an employee of Clinton Highway Wrecker Service.

Foster parent pleads guilty to sexually abusing 17-year-old girl in his care

A Forsyth County man who had served as foster parent to 10 troubled children over the years pleaded guilty Monday to sexually abusing a 17-year-old girl in his care more than two years ago.

According to testimony, the Forsyth County Department of Social Services initially investigated the allegation but closed the case without interviewing the girl. Then seven months later, the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office looked into the allegations after the girl said her foster father had sent her sexually charged text messages and a nude photo of himself, prosecutors said in court.

Steven Matthew Lepley Sr., 46, of 6010 Habersham Drive, pleaded guilty in Forsyth Superior Court to nine counts of first-degree sex abuse in a parental role.

Judge Edgar Gregory sentenced Lepley to five years to eight years and four months in prison. Lepley also has to register as a sex offender for 30 years once he is released from prison. He and his wife, Sheila Lepley, have lost their foster care license. Sheila Lepley is also charged in connection with the case.

"We cannot have foster parents having sex with the people in their care," Gregory said. "It is as simple as that."

Even though he pleaded guilty, Lepley said in court that the evidence against him was circumstantial and that the girl had serious psychological issues.

"I forgive her for making these allegations against me," he said. "I hope she gets help for those issues."

Two of his former foster children, both young men, testified that Foster was a good foster parent. Lepley's sister, Andie Pole, said her brother had taken in 10 children over the years without any complaints. Pole said the girl had developed romantic feelings for Lepley and aggressively pursued him.

Gregory interrupted Pole, telling her not to bad-mouth the victim and pointed out that Lepley had come into court and admitted under oath that he had sexually abused the girl.

Pole said that even if Lepley had done what he was accused of doing, it was a mistake and that he is not a sexual predator.

The Lepleys were foster parents through the Children's Home Inc. on Reynolda Road.

The sexual abuse started after the girl had asked the couple about sex, Detective Gary East of the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office testified. Soon after that, Steven Lepley committed sexual acts and had sex with the girl on nine occasions, he said.

After the incidents occurred, the couple took the girl back to the Children's Home, telling staff there that she had groped Lepley, according to testimony.

The Children's Home took the girl to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center for respite care, and while there she told a social worker that Lepley had sexually abused her. The social worker contacted the Forsyth County Department of Social Services.

Investigators there could not substantiate the allegations and notified the Children's Home that they had closed the case, testified Lindsay Caffey, the home's foster care supervisor. She said DSS never interviewed the girl.

Kimberly Nesbitt, social work program manager for DSS, said she could neither confirm nor deny that DSS was involved in the girl's case. In general, child protective service investigators immediately report allegations of child sexual abuse to law enforcement and coordinate with them to interview victims.

It wasn't clear from court testimony whether the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office was contacted when the allegations were first reported to DSS.

The sheriff's office was contacted seven months later when the girl told officials at the Children's Home that Lepley had sent the girl the nude photo and text messages in which he asked to have sex with her, Caffey and East testified.

Caffey said she called DSS and the sheriff's office but was told by DSS officials that they could not investigate because the girl had turned 18 by that time. DSS cannot investigate allegations of child sexual abuse if the child is 18 or older at the time DSS is contacted, Nesbitt said.

Sheila Lepley is facing charges of contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile and failure to report child abuse to the Forsyth County Department of Social Services. Her case is pending

S.I. man arraigned on charges of raping young girls in foster care

A Staten Island man was arraigned Thursday on charges of raping three young girls who were in foster care with one of his relatives, law enforcement sources said Thursday.

The investigation into Deveraler L. Mark, Jr., 23, of Livingston, started after a 10-year-old girl came forward and told authorities she was forced to perform oral sex on him during the summer of 2010, one source said.

Officials started questioning other girls in the home, leading them to two more victims, the source continued.

The youngest was just 6 when she said Mark forced her to engage in oral sex on at least two occasions between Aug. 6, 2009, and Oct. 1, 2010, the complaint states.

Between the same dates, a second victim - who was 9 years old when she says she was first assaulted - said the defendant had sex with her at least twice, according to the court documents.

Mark was hit with two counts of felony first-degree course of sexual conduct against a child, first-degree criminal sexual act and three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, officials said.

Investigators - who are worried that more victims are out there - are currently looking for and questioning other youngsters who may have had contact with Mark over the past several years, one law enforcement source said.

“The fear is that he may have been doing this to other kids all along,” the source said.

The three girls have been removed from the relative’s home, an official said.

Mark - who has three prior arrests, two that are sealed and one for criminal possession of marijuana - was held in lieu of $150,000 bail, a spokesman for the Staten Island DA’s office and police said.

“We’re denying the charges,” Mark’s attorney Eric Nelson said the Daily News, declining to comment further

Foster Kids Abuse Case: “We Should Be Embarrassed”

Foster Kids Abuse Case: “We Should Be Embarrassed”

By Jack Douglas Jr., CBS 11 News Investigative Producer

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – This is the story of three courageous children … from the moment they were born to the hopes and heartaches that followed.

It will likely leave you with the strong feeling that the state of Texas owes these children … and perhaps thousands of other kids … a big apology.

They are called this state’s “Forgotten Children” … thousands of them in foster care… hidden from the public as they are taken from abusive homes …and moved elsewhere … over and over again.

CBS 11 News gained exclusive access to records that, in incredible detail, tell the journey of three of those children — a boy, his sister and another child who would eventually become their brother.

That journey eventually led them out of the state, to the small Ohio town of Troy, where Texas authorities approved their adoption to Kenneth Brandt, an insurance claims adjuster who is unmarried. Another Texas foster boy was also placed with Brandt, but his adoption was never completed and he has since been returned to the state of Texas.

Brandt promised to offer a safe, loving home to his new children from Texas. He asked for and received financial assistance from the state to help him raise the children, including, in the case of one child, $128 a month for “tuition to (a) private Christian school,” which he said “would better meet the needs of the child …”

But authorities now say Brandt was not a good father. We will not tell you the real names of the young children mentioned repeatedly in the child welfare reports obtained by CBS 11.

But all children deserve a name …respect… especially these kids … for what they’ve been through.

We’ll call them Billy, his sister Susan, and Timmy.

Billy was born at the Medical Center of Lewisville in April 2001. His sister, Susan, stepped into the world a year and two months later.

Trouble began almost immediately. “The family reportedly resided in a car … under bridges … in motels …,” said one report.

It went on: “On occasion, the parents gave the children alcohol, which (Susan) said she spit out because it tasted bad …”

“The children were starved and neglected and reportedly abused if they asked for food …”

The state responded, ruling their parents to be unfit. When that happened, Billy confided in a counselor, who put in her report: “He is sad that his parents weren’t able to parent him.”

In a different part of the state, from a different set of parents, Timmy was born in February 2000 in Athens, Texas. Birth records show him to be healthy …ready to go.

But, like for Billy and Susan, things turned bad quickly for Timmy as well. “Two black eyes … injury to his forehead … injury to his buttock …injuries on his thigh,” said one report. …”

And then a boyfriend of the boy’s mother picks up a weapon. “Shot him in the head and buttocks with the BB gun because he was bad,” said the report.

Timmy was six when the state took custody of him.

As horrible as these reports are, a CBS 11 News investigation has found that they are not, unfortunately, unique to what thousands of kids go through in Texas.

Child advocates, judges … a senator … they all told us of breakdowns in the very system meant to protect our children.

One of the problems is that child welfare caseworkers are historically overworked and underpaid.

A former caseworker told CBS 11 News she routinely tried to watch out for an average of 60 abused kids at the same time, keeping her up at nights worrying about how she was going to accomplish such an impossible task.

And where do state foster children, especially the ones emotionally and physically scarred, go?

In Texas, it’s a problem because residential facilities for foster children are not evenly located throughout the state. So abused children are not just taken from their abusers … they’re also forced to leave their friends, their teachers, a beloved pet …

The only support they knew. “Be that 5-year-old child who’s been shipped off to Houston, and won’t ever see a face he recognizes again,” state juvenile court Judge Bill Mazur Jr. said.

Mazur did not deal with the kids sent to Ohio. But he has seen hundreds just like them in his Dallas courtroom, standing there, wide-eyed and wondering …where next?

“That child is left alone …in the truest sense of the word,” Mazur said.

Taken from their birth parents, and now presumably safe in the hands of the state of Texas, for Billy, his sister Susan and Timmy, the road to misery had not ended.

Timmy, beginning when he was six, was shuffled from one foster home to another an incredible 21 times.

He first went to Houston, where most of the state’s residential facilities for foster kids are located, and then to Carrollton, Glenn Heights, Fort Worth, Arlington …and on and on.

At the beginning of this shuffle, Timmy told a therapist he thought adoption was “when someone wants to take you home and keep you.”

But then he began to wonder.

One therapist, in a report, said of Timmy: “He expresses doubts about whether anyone loves or cares about him.”

Still, between the fits of depression and thoughts of rejection, as doctors pumped him with drugs to try and balance his mood, Timmy showed signs of just wanting to be a little boy.

“Loves Spiderman and writing,” said one report. “He enjoys learning and he is very creative … enjoys soccer and baseball … can be loving and affectionate …”

While Timmy was trying to find a home, so were Billy and his sister Susan. They moved eight times, to foster homes in Plano, Corinth, Saginaw, DeSoto, Arlington, Fort Worth and Crowley.

Billy was growing up, a report says, with “freckles … blond hair … and blue-green eyes … “ So was his sister, described in another report as having “shoulder-length blonde hair … and blue-green eyes …”

They clung to childhood hopes … in the face of broken dreams. “He often puts his sister’s needs ahead of his own … he wants to find a forever home who will accept both him …(and his sister),” one caseworker wrote.

Between nightmares and emotional outbursts, Susan, according to one report, was a “sweet and curious child … she enjoys playing with Barbies … dolls … playing with make-up…dancing …”

She had a wish: ”Would like to be able to do magic.”

Magic, for all of these kids, was to find a place they could call home … forever … with someone who loved them … for real.

The state of Texas said they found that person, finally, in Kenneth Brandt, a 42-year-old man who seemed squeaky clean, a perfect fit to become a single dad in the small town of Troy, Ohio.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services relied on Action Inc., a private adoption group in nearby Dayton, to check Brandt’s background.

Records show that more than $33,000, compliments of Texas taxpayers, was paid to Action to develop the trust needed to place children in Brandt’s home.

But that trust evaporated in late February when Brandt and two other men, Jason Zwick and Patrick Reider, were implicated in a police sex sting operation.

They were soon charged with raping the Texas boys – Billy, Timmy and the third young boy in Brandt’s home, whose adoption had not been finalized. The men remain in jail in Ohio, awaiting trial, as residents continue to talk about the depravity.

“A father, for a lack of a better term, to loan his kids out to other males was horrifying to us,” Troy police Capt. Chris Anderson said.

Anderson laid part of the blame on Texas authorities who approved placing the four foster kids with Brandt in the first place. “Somebody, somewhere has to keep better track of these kids,” he said, adding, “It’s not about how fast you can clean out your inventory of adoptable kids … make sure they are going to the right places.”

The children sent to Ohio are not alone when it comes to Texas kids being left behind, seemingly forgotten, by a state system that is supposed to protect them, CBS 11’s investigation has found.

With 231 child deaths in Texas last year, including 30 in Dallas County and 8 in Tarrant County, this state leads the nation in fatalities caused by child abuse and neglect. They were the most unlucky among the 66,000 kids injured by abuse throughout Texas – with more than 13,000 of them living in North Texas, according to statistics compiled by our investigation.

Despite this state’s poor standing when it comes to caring for abused children, Texas lawmakers last year slashed millions of dollars from programs meant to prevent those attacks from happening in the first place, CBS 11 has learned.

While at the same time, legislators left intact a $9 billion reserve, known as the Rainy Day Fund, that critics say could have been tapped to help save those programs and keep thousands of children from losing services.

“We should be embarrassed, Texas should be embarrassed, when it comes to our efforts to prevent child abuse,” said Sen. Carlos Uresti, a member of the Texas Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee.

Uresti, a San Antonio Democrat, said that as he watched his colleagues cut services for needy kids, he couldn’t help but remember the pictures he saw in 2003 of the body of a 4-year-old boy, strapped to a bed post and starved by a family member.

“When you have 231 killed in Texas last year as a result of child abuse and neglect, that’s a problem that every Texan should not only be mad about, but should get involved, knowing what’s going on,” Uresti said.

We will tell you more about what’s going on with our “forgotten children” in Texas in future reports, only on CBS 11 News

Foster mother charged in abuse of children

BENTON PA.- A foster mother has been charged with the sexual and physical abuse of two young children in her care between June and September 2011, the same time the two were being sexually assaulted by a foster brother.

State police at Bloomsburg charged Luella Jo Mengine, 47, of Sones Hollow Road, Benton, with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. She was arraigned Monday before Magisterial District Judge Douglas D. Brewer, of Millville and placed in Columbia County Prison on $100,000 bail.

The two victims, a five-year-old male and a seven-year-old female, were removed from Mengine's home in January after they, and three other children, were sexually assaulted multiple times by a 13-year-old foster brother at the home between June and September. After being taken into protective custody, the boy and girl reported to authorities about being physically and sexually abused by Mengine, as well.

According to a release, Mengine allegedly assaulted them with a tennis racket. One of the children told authorities that the foster mother held their head in a bucket of water, preventing them from breathing, and also sexually assaulted them.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 23 before Brewer.

He preyed on three girls at Staten Island foster home run by his kin, cops say

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- A 23-year-old man sexually preyed on three young girls living in a foster home run by his female relative, police allege.

Cops say Deveraler Mark, 23, of Wayne Street in West Brighton, engaged in sex acts with three young girls between August 2009 and Oct. 1, 2010.

The youngest girl was 6 years old when the abuse started, while the oldest turned 9 around the time when she was abused, court papers allege.

As a law enforcement source tells it, Mark was for a time living at his female relative's house, which is also in West Brighton, when he abused the girls.

One of them eventually spoke up to an adult, possibly a teacher, and that spurred a police investigation, the source said, adding that another girl witnessed the abuse.

Mark also made statements incriminating himself, the source said.

Mark was arrested yesterday and charged with two counts of first-degree course of sexual conduct against a child, and a single count of first-degree criminal sexual act, according to Peter N. Spencer, a spokesman for District Attorney Daniel Donovan.

Those charges are the same felony level as first-degree rape, meaning they each carry a possible maximum sentence of five to 25 years in prison.

Mark is also charged with three counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

He was arraigned in Stapleton Criminal Court today, where he was ordered held on $150,000 bail.

A request for comment about the case went unanswered by the city's Administration for Children's Services.

Foster parent guilty of raping teens

Foster parent guilty of raping teens; freeze on agency lifted

A Sumner County jury found a Hendersonville foster parent guilty Friday for the aggravated rape of two foster daughters in 2010. The allegations initially led to a freeze on foster care placements by Omni Visions, one of the biggest providers of placements in the state.

Jemel Johnson, 47, of Cole Drive, had been accused of raping two teenage foster daughters and faced a total of five criminal charges. The jury, who had begun deliberating the day before, found Johnson guilty on five counts after having reduced one of the charges against him to a lesser charge.

“(The jury) found Mr. Johnson guilty on counts one and two of attempted sexual battery by an authority figure,” said Assistant District Attorney Bryna Grant, who was part of the team that prosecuted the case. “On count three, it was originally rape, and they came back with (a guilty verdict of) B misdemeanor assault, which is provocative touching; and they came back ‘guilty as charged’ on counts four and five, which were the A-felony aggravated rapes. … On the most serious charges, they came back guilty as charged.”

Grant said that it was a complicated case and, despite the reduced charges, she said she believes the jury held Johnson responsible for what happened.

Grant said Johnson faces a range of a minimum of 15 years to a maximum of more than 55 years in prison.

Johnson’s attorney, William Lloyd Moore Jr., was not available for comment.

Grant said Johnson had admitted to engaging in oral sex with one of the girls and attempting to have intercourse with both of them but denied actually having intercourse with them or using force in the attempt.

During the closing arguments on Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Jayson Criddle detailed the account by one of the girls of what happened on the morning of Dec. 4, 2010, when Johnson started the sexual activity by allegedly asking her to perform oral sex on him, and when she refused, he pulled her head down to his genitals.

Criddle said the girls called Johnson their “granddaddy.”

“Instead of providing a place of refuge for them, he became the predator he was supposed to protect them from,” Criddle said.

Johnson declined to take the stand.

Moore said the state had no substantial proof force was used other than the testimony of the teens, who had been known to lie about things before.

An administrator at a local high school said on the witness stand one of the girls who attended the school had gotten into trouble several times and was known to lie in order to manipulate a situation.

Moore told the jury that the standard they had to set for believing the girls or anybody’s testimony, in general, was whether they would be willing to make a personal, life-altering decision based on what that person said.

“If someone says one thing one day and one thing the next, the ultimate question for you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury: Is that the type of person or that the type of testimony that you would rely upon your most important matters in your life?” he said. “And that’s really your job in finding beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Jemel Johnson’s wife, Peggy Johnson, said on the witness stand that the girls provoked him and so she blamed them for what happened.

“You’re blaming the victims?” Grant asked her.

“Yes,” she said.

Foster placement

Following the allegations against Johnson, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services froze placements by Omni Visions, which manages 700 foster homes in the state.

The CEO of Omni Visions, Eric Strickland, told the Hendersonville Star News Friday morning that the freeze on placements was lifted last March after a review of all their cases.

“There was a short period of time when ... we worked with the department to actually facilitate a review of all of our foster homes in the state,” he said. “Just as a way to verify our homes were doing what they were supposed to be doing.”

He said all the foster homes were re-cleared for placement. The director of programs at Omni Visions, Kathy Joyner, said that company also added another level of review to the approval process for foster families.

“One of the things we added was a review by staff here at our corporate office,” she said. “The previous protocol was that the regents (managers) within each one of our regions would do the approvals of foster families. While they continue to do the approvals, we have the regents send their files here at the Omni home office for us to review.”

Johnson’s sentencing was set for June 29, when Judge Dee David Gay may hear from the victims before deciding on a sentence.

Stephanie Kuntupis

Stephanie Kuntupis was rushed to the hospital in June 2007 unconscious with a head injury. She was hospitalized for nearly three months.

Her foster mother Michele Cruz-Reyes

Nevada Foster Kids Can Pursue Neglect Claims

 (CN) - Foster children in Nevada can pursue claims that Clark County failed to keep them free from harm, neglected to provide proper medical care and generally mismanaged the foster program, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.
In a 2010
lawsuit, the National Center for Youth Law and 13 foster kids alleged a litany of alleged abuses and oversights in the Clark County child welfare system.
The complaint detailed episodes of children being placed in homes known for abuse, kids left in pain for months after being denied surgery because of bureaucratic mistakes, and lost medical records resulting in dangerous drug mishaps, among other charges.
U.S. District Judge Robert Clive Jones in Las Vegas dismissed the due-process claims under the 14th Amendment and also rejected several federal statutory claims.
While agreeing with the lower court's interpretation of two federal statutes, the 9th Circuit reversed as to the plaintiff's constitutional claims.
A three-judge panel in San Francisco unanimously ruled that the foster children had alleged violations of their constitutional rights sufficient at this stage to survive qualified immunity and dismissal.
"A reasonable official would have understood that failing to authorize Jonathan's medical treatment despite knowledge of his serious illness and repeated requests from his treating physician amounted to deliberate indifference to a serious medical need," Judge Betty Fletcher wrote for the panel. "A reasonable official would also have understood that failing to respond to Linda's reports of physical abuse in her foster home or the numerous reports of abuse in Mason's out-of-state placement would constitute deliberate indifference to the children's right to safety in their foster care placements."
The panel was less amenable to plaintiffs' attempts to enforce the guardian ad litem provision of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA).
In a matter of first impression for the 9th Circuit, the panel found that "the guardian ad litem provision of CAPTA does not contain ... unambiguous rights-creating language."
But the courts can enforce the case plan and records provisions of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (CWA), as they are "couched in mandatory terms and contain detailed, concrete requirements that are capable of judicial enforcement," according to the decision.
The panel refused to reassign the case to a different judge on remand, rejecting the children's claims on appeal that "Judge Jones has prejudged the merits of the case and expressed hostility toward plaintiffs' counsel."
There is "no indication that Judge Jones is unwilling to follow our instructions on remand," the panel concluded.

Biggest child welfare payouts

1. Stephanie Kuntupis — $3.75 million: The girl, then 2, suffered permanent brain damage in 2007.

2. B.D. — $2.3 million: The boy was abused and starved from 2002 to 2004 by his Clackamas County foster parents, Thelma and William Beaver. He weighed more at age 1 than he did at age 3, when he was removed from the home.

3. Kaylie and Jordan Collins — $2 million: The twins, 3, were deprived of food and medical care, and kept in cribs covered with chicken wire in a darkened room in the Gresham foster home of Gail and Marvin Thompson from 2002 to 2005.

4. Jordan Knapp — $1.5 million: At 5, the girl weighed 28 pounds when she was rushed from the Clackamas County foster home of Thelma and William Beaver to OHSU with a broken skull in 2004.

5. Estate of Jeanette Maples — $1.5 million: In 2009, the 15-year-old Eugene girl’s body was found in a bathtub after years of prolonged beatings and starvation. State welfare officials received reports that the girl was being abused but did not remove her from the home.

Advocate program eyed for abuse, neglect victims in Allegany County

From Staff ReportsCumberland Times-NewsThe Cumberland Times-NewsSat May 05, 2012, 10:50 PM EDT

— CUMBERLAND — There were 1,234 investigations of suspected child abuse and neglect in Allegany County in 2011, an average of 103 reports per month, according to the Maryland Department of Human Resources.

The same report shows an average of 93 children were living in out-of-home placements during the year, having been removed from their homes as a result of abuse and neglect.

An average of three children were removed from their homes each month and placed in foster homes, group homes and other out-of-home placements.

A total of 61 children’s cases closed during 2011, with 15 children (25 percent) returning to their parents, 17 (23 percent) adopted and 20 (33 percent) placed with guardians. Nine youths (15 percent) “aged out” of foster care during the year.

“Children in Allegany, like all children under court protection in the state, are represented by attorneys who, in the majority of cases, are required to represent the child’s wishes,” said Zach Sparks, an intern with Lawrence, Howard & Associates, a public relations company that does publicity for Maryland’s Court Appointed Special Advocate program.

“CASA volunteers gather information through interviews with the child, biological parents, foster parents, teachers, social workers and other professionals involved in the child’s life, and make recommendations to the court that are based on the child’s best interests,” said Sparks.

Ed Kilcullen, state director of the Maryland CASA Association, a nonprofit organization incorporated in 1997 to facilitate CASA programs, said his organization was contacted by citizens in Allegany County who would like to have a program in place there.

“Allegany County is one of only five counties in the state that does not have a CASA program. We want every child to have an opportunity to have an advocate. We hope to get the court’s support and move forward with the project there. The community is the local core that implements the program and we are there to help them,” said Kilcullen.

Kilcullen said he met with local agencies last December, including the Allegany County Juvenile Court Master, Department of Social Services Public Defender’s Office, Legal Aid Bureau and a steering committee in Allegany County that is working to initiate the CASA program.

For a CASA program to be implemented, it first needs the court’s approval and support.

“The court wants to make sure the program is sustainable and see that the steering committee has a plan in place to secure funds and the keep the program going long-term,” said Kilcullen.

The steering committee must also secure funding that will be able to cover operating expenses for office space, recruiting and training of volunteers and other costs that CASA programs typically incurring in its day-to-day operations.

Screened and fully-trained CASA volunteers gather information from all parties involved in a child’s case. That includes relatives, schools, social workers, attorneys and anyone else involved in the case.

The CASA volunteer makes a report to the court that includes recommendations for what is in the child’s best interest.

Attorneys involved in the cases typically advocate for the child’s wishes.

“CASA helps the court to make its decision based on the child’s best interest.

“The court typically meets every six months in a child’s case. The CASA volunteer stays on with the child during the life of the case. The average is two years for volunteers,” said Kilcullen.

According to Kilcullen, research shows when volunteers advocate for neglected children, the child spends less time in foster care, receives more services and has generally better outcomes in terms of permanent placement in a home.

“Our goal is to get these children in a safe and permanent home,” said Kilcullen.

Steering committee members for the local CASA initiative include Stephanie Caporale, Ginny Conrad, Aaron Hendrickson, Jade Bean, Erin Blanco, Wendy McKenzie and Rhiannon Morgret.

“As a social worker for over a decade before my transition into education, I became keenly aware of the effects that abuse and neglect have on children,” said Hendrickson.

“CASA is a program that helps to ensure that children have a voice in the court systems and someone who is an advocate for them. Often, social workers and other human services professionals are bogged down with immense case loads and just cannot devote the individualized attention to their cases as a CASA volunteer would be able to do. Having once been a social worker, I understand this, and saw how CASA can impact abused, ­neglected children, and give them a voice, on a more personal level.”

Contact Jeffrey Alderton at

Hit-and-run driver strikes mom, foster child near LA Memorial Sports Arena

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Police are searching for the driver behind a hit-and-run crash that seriously injured a mother and son near the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.

Authorities said Steve Smith, 43, was driving a silver 1991 Toyota Previa when he struck a 57-year-old woman and her 5-year-old foster son as they were trying to cross Broadway at 41st Street on Friday. They were both seriously injured but were transported to an area hospital and are expected to be OK.

Police said Smith did stop, but he took off running before officers arrived on scene.

Smith is described as a black male about 5 feet 5 inches tall, weighing about 210 pounds with black hair and brown eyes. He is believed to be a resident of South Central Los Angeles.

If you have any information about Smith's whereabouts, you're urged to call (877) LAPD-24-7 or (877) 527-3247.

Akron: Foster parent guilty of rape, sexual assault

AKRON -- A jury in Akron found Roger Ball, 65, of Akron, guilty on Tuesday of rape, sexual battery and five counts of gross sexual imposition, according to Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh.

Prosecutors said that, from 2007 until 2010, Ball sexually molested five boys who were living in his home as foster children.

The boys ranged in age at the time from five to 11 years old.

Bevan-Walsh said Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Tammy O'Brien will sentence Ball on May 24.


The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

May 02, 2012

Presidential Proclamation -- National Foster Care Month

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Childhood is a time for our young people to grow and learn, protected by their families and safe in their homes. But for almost half a million children who are unable to remain at home through no fault of their own, childhood can be a time of sadness, pain, and separation. These children need and deserve safe, loving, and permanent families who can help restore their sense of well-being and give them hope for the future.

During National Foster Care Month, we recognize the promise of America's children and youth in foster care, and we commend the devotion and selflessness of the foster parents who step in to care for them. We also pay tribute to the professionals nationwide who work to improve the safety of our most vulnerable children and assist their families in addressing the issues that brought them into the child welfare system. In communities across America, dedicated men and women -- in schools, faith-based and community organizations, parent and advocacy groups -- volunteer their time as mentors, tutors, and advocates for children in foster care. We all have a role to play in ensuring our children and youth grow up with the rich opportunities and support they need to reach their full potential.

My Administration is committed to increasing positive outcomes for every infant and child in foster care, and to promoting a successful transition to adulthood for older youth. We are working to increase permanency through reunification, adoption, and guardianship; to prevent maltreatment; to reduce rates of re-entry into foster care; and to ensure all qualified caregivers have the opportunity to serve as foster parents. Through the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act, we are granting States more flexibility in supporting a range of services for children in foster care, including health care and treatment of emotional trauma. And through the Affordable Care Act, beginning in 2014, every State will be required to extend Medicaid coverage up to age 26 for former foster youth.

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the Children's Bureau, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that carries forward a legacy of protecting our Nation's children and strengthening families through programs like the Permanency Innovations Initiative. Over 5 years, this initiative is investing $100 million in new strategies to identify permanent homes for youth in long-term foster care, including more than 100,000 children awaiting adoption, and to reducing time spent in foster care placements.

National Foster Care Month is a time to reflect on the many ways government, social workers, foster families, religious institutions, and others are helping improve the lives of children in foster care, and it also serves as a reminder that we cannot rest until every child has a safe, loving, and permanent home. Together, we give thanks to those individuals from all walks of life who have opened their hearts and their homes to a child, and we rededicate ourselves to ensuring a bright and hopeful future for America's foster youth.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2012 as National Foster Care Month. I encourage all Americans to observe this month by dedicating their time, love, and resources to helping youth in foster care, whether by taking time to mentor, lending a hand to a foster family, or taking an active role in their communities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this second day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.