State could be sued over foster care abuses

Special rapporteur on child protection, Geoffrey Shannon, made the prediction after a major investigation found hundreds of foster children in one of Ireland’s most deprived areas are being needlessly put at risk.

This includes some cases where children are being left with carers already facing serious allegations due to sub-standard file-keeping, staff shortages, and delays in checking complaints.

The situation was revealed by a Health Information Quality Authority (Hiqa) [url=] probe of the Dublin North West foster care service, which warned the State “cannot guarantee” the safety of 368 children.

The probe was launched after two audits of the same service in 2010 and 2011 raised “serious concerns regarding the safety of children”. These audits noted that, statistically, Dublin North West — which covers Finglas and Cabra — has the highest number of children in care and the most people living in deprivation in the country.

However, despite promises that wide-scale improvements would be made, the latest investigation found:

*The State “cannot guarantee good outcomes for children in foster care”;

*Some care plans were of poor quality and “undertaken by social workers who did not know the children”;

*Some children remained in placements which had not been approved, “although allegations had been made against their foster carers. It was not clear from the files how the level of risk was being managed”;

*38 unspecified complaints were made in the year before the Oct 2012 audit, of which 34 were confirmed;

*There are “significant delays in investigating allegations,” while complaints were dealt with “in an ad-hoc and inconsistent manner”;

*Children’s names, locations and dates of birth were incorrectly filed and “confidential documents were misfiled” and easily accessible;

*One in three children were only assigned a designated social worker “three weeks prior” to the announced inspection, while another third did not have one at all;

*Education of foster children was “not recorded”.

Mr Shannon said reforms took time to implement but stressed the State could face lawsuits.

Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald last night said she will be meeting urgently with HSE officials to “address the critical issues identified” in the investigation. .

The findings come a week after two other Hiqa audits reported by the Irish Examiner raised similar fears over other foster care areas.

ISPCC director of services, Caroline O Sullivan, said at the time that “lessons have not been learned”. The Irish Association of Social Workers also noted the impact inadequate staffing has on safety — a year after an official report found 198 children died while in State care over the past decade.

Phoenix man gets prison for sex with foster child

PHOENIX (AP) - A Phoenix man accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old foster child has been sentenced to 29 years in prison followed by lifetime probation.
Maricopa County prosecutors say 35-year-old James Christopher Contreras was sentenced Friday.
He was arrested in August 2011 on suspicion of 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and one count of sexual conduct with a minor.
A police task force served a search warrant at a Phoenix home to recover child pornography.
Police say Contreras was arrested after it was found he was in possession of child porn.
During the course of the investigation, police say they learned Contreras had allegedly committed numerous sexual acts with a 10-year-old girl while she was in his care for several months.
Police say Contreras admitted to the acts.

Parker Foster Father Pleads Guilty to Abusive Sexual Contact with a Minor

Phoenix, Arizona - Roberto Aguilar-Ramirez, 51, of Parker, Arizona, pleaded guilty in federal district court in Phoenix on February 19, 2013, to abusive sexual contact with a minor. The minor victim was a member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, and the acts occurred on the Colorado River Indian Tribes Indian Reservation.
Aguilar-Ramirez, a foster father, had been charged with engaging in various abusive sexual acts with the minor victim over a period of two years.
A conviction for abusive sexual contact with a minor carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.
Sentencing is set before Chief Judge Roslyn O. Silver on May 13, 2013.
The investigation in this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Colorado River Indian Tribes Police Department. The prosecution is being handled by Christina J. Reid-Moore and Jennifer E. Green, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, District of Arizona, Phoenix.

Foster Mother Allegedly Put Bleach-Soaked Diaper on Baby

Foster Mother Allegedly Put Bleach-Soaked Diaper on Baby

Patrica Ann Moore, 68, faces felony charges of willful cruelty to a child and infliction of injury on a child for allegedly burning her foster toddler's bottom with a bleach-soaked diaper.
A woman who allegedly soaked a diaper in bleach and made her 20-month-old foster daughter wear it, producing first-degree and second-degree burns, faces child abuse charges.
Patricia Ann Moore was arrested by SSFPD Aug. 19, 2010, after medical staff at a Kaiser hospital noticed the 20-month-old had waffle-shaped burns on her bottom, court papers indicate.
Moore told personnel that the child had a "defecation problem," so she bathed the toddler in 12 inches of water and a half-capful of bleach, court records state.
The suspect told authorities that when she noticed redness the following day, she brought the child to the hospital.
However, according to court documents, doctors noticed that the burns were in a waffle pattern typical of a diaper fabric and that there were no burns anywhere but her bottom.
They called police, who upon investigation found in the woman's trash a diaper soaked in bleach on the bottom, papers state.
Moore was indicted by a Grand Jury and on Friday, her defense attorney unsuccessfully argued a motion to dismiss the indictment, according to San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
Trial was set for April 22; a pretrial conference was set for March 18.
She is charged with felony willful cruelty to a child and infliction of injury on a child.
The defendant last October posted bond for $50,000 bail.

Foster parent fails to receive screenings; accused in brutal abuse

Foster parent fails to receive screenings; accused in brutal abuse

WEST VALLEY CITY — Two West Valley women were arrested for allegedly abusing one of the women's 14-year-old son. According to West Valley Police, one of the women accused, previously fostered 18 children and hadn't received background screenings for over two years.
Krista Miller served as a state proctor parent for the past seven years. She worked with an agency contracted through the Division of Child and Family Services. DCFS spokeswoman, Elizabeth Sollis, said that proctor agencies are required to give background screenings to proctor parents every year.
While working with the agency, Millcreek Child and Family Services, DCFS records show Miller had a two year period where she didn't receive a screening.
"If a background check wasn't done, that would be something that wasn't in compliance with their contract," Sollis said.
According to Utah Adoption Exchange Director, Kathy Searle, the regulations for a foster parent are quite strict. Typically the kids in proctor care need special attention. The compensation for these parents is also significantly more than traditional foster care.
"They do recruit families more so as this is your job, you're a professional parent," Searle said. "You're going to be trained at a higher level."
There is no indication if Miller abused any of the children in her care as a foster parent. Her mother insisted that she loved the children and took good care of them.
"She loved these kids so much," said Marsha Christensen, Miller's mother. "She still can't talk about them when they're gone. They always had good clothes. They had baths every night, meals every night." West Valley City Police said the investigation is still ongoing, and they would not comment on whether they are looking into other cases of abuse involving Miller.

Seattle minister, former foster parent gets 22 years for child rape

Seattle minister, former foster parent gets 22 years for child rape

Timothy L. Dampier is seen during his arraignment in King County Superior Court on Monday, May 23, 2011.
SEATTLE -- A minister and former foster parent who sexually abused at least 10 young boys was sentenced Friday to 22 years in prison.

Timothy L. Dampier, 39, pleaded guilty to a total of 22 counts involving ten victims between the ages of nine and 17 years old, according to prosecutors.

Dampier had been involved in a number of Seattle-area youth programs at the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, New Hope Baptist Church, Ruth Dykeman Children's Center, Ruther Child Center, Samuel House, Union Gospel Mission and Seattle Parks and Recreation. He also works as a minister at several Seattle churches, detectives said.

The allegations of abuse came to light after Dampier was hired as a musician at the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in the city's Central District in April 2011. Prosecutors say he committed the crimes between 1997 and 2011.

Detectives said Dampier had been investigated for inappropriate sexual contact with children at least four different times in the past, but because witnesses did not wish to cooperate with investigators, he was never charged.

Dampier initially denied the charges, but last September pleaded guilty to first and second degree rape of a child. He also pleaded guilty to first, second, and third degree child molestation, sexual exploitation of a minor, possession of child pornography and communication with a minor for immoral purposes.

Santa Ana foster father accused of sex with adopted children

Santa Ana foster father accused of sex with adopted children

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- An Eyewitness News Exclusive: A Santa Ana man in court, charged with sexually abusing two foster children he later adopted. Police say a videotape and photos played a major role in his arrest.
Police allege Felipe Hernandez sexually assaulted two girls, both foster children placed in his care. He and his wife later adopted them.
"He raped them, he sodomized them, just a myriad of charges," said Santa Ana Police Corporal Anthony Bertagna.
Police say they started investigating last month when one of the girls, now 15 years old, told a school counselor. The abuse allegedly took place in Hernandez's Santa Ana home going back to 2006, when she was 9 years old.
Authorities allege a video and photos also show the 66-year-old engaged in sex acts with his 17-year-old adopted daughter, also a foster child. Police arrested Hernandez last month. At the same time they removed three kids from the house, according to Bertagna.
Police say the third child was also a foster kid who the Hernandezes later adopted.
A woman who said she was Hernandez's stepdaughter did not want to be identified. When asked what her mother thinks of the charges, she said she believed the allegations were true.
She would not explain any further, and neither would Hernandez's wife. She left Felipe's court hearing with her other biological daughter who is not alleging abuse. The other stepdaughter says Hernandez never abused her either.
"It's my understanding that as of 2012 this particular family was no longer allowed to be foster-care parents," said Bertagna.
Asked if the Orange County Social Services Agency was aware of any complaints before last month, director Dr. Michael Riley said: "We cannot talk specifically about any particular case because welfare institution code forbids us to do so.
"If it's substantiated sexual molestation or sexual assault, the child is almost always removed," said Riley.
Riley says monthly visits are done to monitor children in foster homes. In this case monitoring would have ended in 2008 when the girls were adopted.
Police say while Social Services is investigating, detectives are trying to determine whether Felipe's wife should face charges.
Hernandez remained in jail, held on $100,000 bond.

VB pays up in foster child death case

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) - The City of Virginia Beach has reached a $450,000 settlement in the death of a child who died while in the care of his foster parents.

Braxton Taylor died two years ago by shaken baby syndrome. His foster mother, Kathleen Ganiere, was sentenced in November 2011 to 10 years in prison on voluntary manslaughter charges.

If approved, $170,000 of the settlement will be put into a trust fund for Braxton's siblings. His biological father will receive $75,000 and his biological mother will receive $50,000. The rest of the money will go toward legal fees in the case.

Braxton's death led to major changed in the city's child welfare programs, such as improved screening and training for prospective foster parents and weekly visits by child welfare workers.

“We have learned from this tragedy,” Deputy City Manager Cindy Curtis said. “We have made permanent changes as a result. I am confident that these changes will better serve at-risk children and their families.”


Department of Justice involved in foster care fraud case

Madison -- The state Department of Justice now has a hand in the multi-million dollar case of alleged fraud by a Dane County foster child agency – a sign of a possible criminal investigation.
Speaking to a Senate committee Thursday, state Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson would say only that her agency is in touch with justice officials. A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice didn't immediate return a phone message seeking comment.
"They’re working with us and communicating with us,” Anderson said.
At the committee, Anderson took her first public questions on an audit by her agency that found that Community Care Resources of Middleton racked up $6.1 million in inappropriate charges and profits - mostly for the personal use of owners Daniel and Mary Simon - from 2009 to 2011.
In the hearing, Anderson and agency staff told members of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services that the agency intended to audit more of Community Care’s financials, including the years prior to 2009 and its 2012 finances, which become available in July.
The completed state audit found that the Simons used the money to finance homes and renovations, luxury cars, boats and trips around the country.
The Simons are appealing the state's subsequent revocation of their license and findings by the state that their total salaries of more than $1 million over three years were inflated. In a letter given to the committee and handed out to reporters by a representative, the Simon’s attorney, David Schwartz, said that his clients were innocent.
“(Community Care) would like nothing more than the opportunity to attend the hearing and clear its name,” Schwartz wrote in the letter. “Unfortunately, due to the ongoing revocation proceeding and litigation, based upon our advice, CCR cannot attend.”
Schwartz did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Besides criminal cases, the Department of Justice does do some other legal tasks for state agencies in similar situations, including helping them collect on money that is owed to the state.

$6.1 million foster care fraud case now involves Justice Department

Madison - The state Department of Justice now has a hand in the multimillion-dollar case of alleged fraud by a Dane County foster child agency - a sign of a possible criminal investigation.
Speaking to a Senate committee Thursday, state Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson would say only that her agency is in touch with Department of Justice officials.
"They're working with us and communicating with us," Anderson said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice confirmed that but also declined to say whether there was a criminal investigation.
At the committee, Anderson took her first public questions on an audit by her agency that found that Community Care Resources of Middleton racked up $6.1 million in inappropriate charges and profits - mostly for the personal use of owners Daniel and Mary Simon - from 2009 to 2011.
In the hearing, Anderson and agency staff told members of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services that the state's move to revoke Community Care's license came only after counties had complained about not getting answers from the firm and after some of those counties had stopped using Community Care. The state, which runs foster child programs in Milwaukee County, also stopped using the firm.
Anderson said the agency intended to audit more of Community Care's financials for evidence of impropriety, including some years before 2009 and its 2012 finances, which become available in July.
The completed state audit found that the Simons used the money from taxpayers meant to help vulnerable children to finance homes and renovations, luxury cars, boats and trips around the country.
The Simons are appealing the state's revocation of their license and findings by the state that their total salaries of more than $1 million over three years were inflated. In a letter given to the committee, the Simons' attorney, David Schwartz, said his clients were innocent.
Community Care "would like nothing more than the opportunity to attend the hearing and clear its name," Schwartz wrote in the letter. "Unfortunately, due to the ongoing revocation proceeding and litigation, based upon our advice, CCR cannot attend."
Schwartz did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Besides criminal cases, the Department of Justice does some other legal tasks for state agencies with similar problems to those facing the Department of Children and Families, including helping them collect money that is owed to the state.
As a result of new audits being conducted by the Department of Children and Families, Anderson and her staff told the senators that they have revoked the licenses of three other foster child agencies over the past year.
In the previous legislative session, the agency requested and received from lawmakers for the first time the ability to do in-depth audits of agencies for foster children that could detect fraud. In the current state budget, the agency received more audit staff.
"I look at this as a good news-bad news. The good news is that we as a Legislature gave you tools to uncover this. The bad news is how many other agencies are defrauding the government?" asked Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa), the committee chair who called for the hearing.
State officials said they didn't expect any other problems as great as those with Community Care. But they acknowledged it will still take the Department of Children and Families three to five years to audit all 300 of the foster child agencies in the state.
Anderson said the fraud went undetected for so long because Community Care dealt almost exclusively directly with counties and in some rural counties was the only option officials had for placing high-need foster children.
Until recently, the state didn't collect information on rates counties were paying providers for that service. As a result, the rates varied widely and some counties had especially high costs, Anderson said.
Since agencies were being paid a set rate and were not being reimbursed for expenses, there also was not much information available on what the counties were spending money on, she said.
The state is now setting the rates, which have fallen sharply, and state officials also are looking into how private agencies are spending the money they receive, Anderson said. She told senators she would report back on further ways the state could prevent fraud in its programs.

Officials to testify on alleged foster care fraud

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The findings of an audit of a Middleton foster care agency accused of fraud will get an airing before a state Senate committee.
Community Care Resources is accused of overcharging taxpayers millions by exploiting weaknesses in financial oversight by counties and the state.
The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families has already revoked the company's license, and is seeking repayment.
The company's owner, Dan Simon, has denied the allegations.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee will hear testimony Thursday.

Foster mom accused of abuse

A Valencia County foster mom is accused of abusing the children in her custody.
35-year-old Patricia Vanderwagen was arrested in early February. CYFD says all five of the foster children she was caring for were also removed from her home.
According to the criminal complaint from Bosque Farms Police, CYFD received several complaints about Vanderwagen possibly abusing the kids.
CYFD took the kids to a physician at UNM Hospital, who reported to them the kids' injuries were not accidental. Later, in separate interviews with the kids, they had one shocking story in common.
They told investigators that on Christmas Day, one of the boys had urinated and defecated in his pants, so Vanderwagon had him strip down and stand outside in the cold while she hosed him off.
CYFD could not speak specifically to this case, but said in cases where foster parents are accused of abuse, if the allegations are substantiated, the parents lose their foster license.

9 foster care nonprofits targeted by N.J. auditor for misspending $4.2M

TRENTON — Nine nonprofit agencies providing foster care services in New Jersey are facing intense scrutiny following an audit that found they spent $4.2 million on extravagances such as bonuses and a country club holiday party, and awarded a generous roofing job to a relative.
But most of the agency directors disagree sharply with the audit, insisting they did nothing wrong — and that in several cases, their practices were approved by the state.
The state auditor for the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services last week released a report that criticized the department’s $40 million in contracts for private agencies to manage foster care services for fewer than 600 children, or 9 percent of the entire foster child population.
The audit did not identify the agencies, but at The Star-Ledger’s request, the state Department of Children and Families disclosed that nine were responsible for questionable billing from January 2010 to June 2011.
"The department has spoken with every agency and we’re working to address the issues in the report," said Kristine Brown, Commissioner Allison Blake’s spokeswoman. "Any undue funds will be recouped."
The audit criticized AtlantiCare Behavioral Health Foster Care Network in Atlantic County for spending $2,000 to throw a holiday party. But executive director Julie Drew said in an e-mail that this is a 15-year tradition the state has allowed.
The audit also cited the agency for using $5,900 in state funds to buy gift cards and "designer merchandise" for the guests.
"Children in foster care were given up to $250 in age appropriate merchandise as holiday gifts and foster siblings received $25 gift cards. Foster parents received $50 gift cards per family," Drew said. "We believe that the holiday party was reasonable and appropriate."
The audit also urged the state to cancel a contract with Youth Consultation Services, which billed $250,000 in administrative costs, then farmed out the foster care work to another agency already on the state’s payroll, according to the report.
YCS executive director Richard Mingoia said in an e-mail the auditors didn’t understand the contract, which included far more than foster care services. YCS also provided intense mental health treatment and housing to 150 "high-risk" youth, and also oversaw the administrative responsibilities for the foster care services, provided by a partner agency. "The state approved the contract and the budget … and never questioned it or disallowed any part of it," Mingoia said.
Family Intervention Services of East Orange paid a consultant $252,000 over three years to produce "no measurable product," according to the audit. It also spent $126,000 to pay the mortgage in violation of state policy that covers only rental costs.
"While we strongly support efforts to ensure non-profit agencies are reliable stewards of state money, we don’t agree with the auditor’s findings regarding our agency," agency spokesman Stephan Jackman said in an e-mail.
Babyland Family Services of Newark awarded a $17,000 roof repair contract to a relative of the finance director, who was ultimately paid $44,000. Babyland officials did not return a call for comment.
Children’s Aid and Family Services in Paramus spent $1,800 on gym memberships, according to the audit. Executive vice president Liz Mason didn’t deny the perk, but thinks the auditor over-estimated how much was spent. "It had been our belief that gym reimbursement, which is part of our health benefits, was an allowable expense," Mason said. The practice ended last year when the department informed the agency it would not cover those expenses, she added.
Independence: A Family of Services in Essex County paid a company $16,500 to produce fundraising workshops. "DCF policy disallows fundraising costs to be charged to state contracts," according to the audit. CEO Margaret Woods said the agency’s former CFO made the bookkeeping error, and no state money was used for fundraising.
The audit cited three agencies — Twin Oaks Community Services of Mount Holly, AtlantiCare, and Catholic Charities in Paterson — for paying a total of $20,000 in bonuses, ranging from $100 to $1,000 each, to foster families so they keep taking in kids. Foster families recruited and supervised by the state do not receive any money beyond monthly stipends, according to the audit.
AtlantiCare officials said the department knew and approved its policy to award bonuses, and Drew, the executive director, said it has been an "effective strategy" to retain foster families. Pamela Collins, Twin Oaks’ chief development officer, said the agency would "fully cooperate with the state to resolve the issue."
Children’s Home Society in Trenton was cited for not turning in a complete budget. President and CEO Donna Pressma disagreed. "We always supply the Department of Children and Families with a full written agency budget every year," she wrote in an e-mail. "However, the auditors wanted it in another format. While the auditors were here, we supplied them with full written documentation of all of our general and administrative expenses."
Children and Families officials were also criticized in the audit.
Through a combination of human error and the limitation of its computer system, the department overpaid its contractors $630,000 from July 2008 to April 2012. Blake, in a written response to the state auditor, said her staff is working to correct the problem

Other view: Foster care allegations troubling

Few things are more discouraging or disconcerting than when people entrusted to take care of our most vulnerable citizens — in this case, foster children — are accused of systematic wrongdoing and blatant abuse of their caretaking role.
The recent accusations from the state Department of Children and Families against Community Care Resources, a foster care placement service based in Middleton, are nothing short of startling, and give us pause for a number of reasons.
The state is seeking to revoke CCR’s license to operate, which would shut down the agency led by Dan Simon and his wife, Mary. The department alleges CCR has billed the state for $6.1 million more than they should have, and used the fraudulent funds on things such as sprawling homes, boats, cars and vacations.
The couple has vigorously denied the allegations, and has appealed the state’s move to yank their license. Though he has not responded to State Journal requests for interviews, Don Simon told the state he and his wife have been underpaid and that the expenses involved are all legitimate.
Adding to the head-scratching nature of the case is that some foster families who have worked with CCR for many years insist the Simons are nothing short of virtuous and have only the best interest of the children in mind, while other foster parents say they’re not at all surprised by the accusations and have wondered about the Simons’ apparent lavish lifestyle for a long time.
Community Care Resources continues to operate during the appeal process, which is a good thing for the 120 foster kids placed in homes around the state through the agency. Whether it’s a good thing for taxpayers, who ultimately pay for such care throughout Wisconsin, remains to be seen.
We don’t presume to know if the state has a solid case against CCR. But we do know this: The foster care network fills a critical need in Wisconsin, and the lives of many hurting kids are at stake.
We need more foster families, not fewer, and we hope that this messy episode doesn’t diminish the wonderful work being done in foster homes around the state.
— Wisconsin State Journal

Milwaukee foster care agency surrenders license after state raised questions

A Milwaukee foster care company surrendered its license late last year — at least the fourth foster care provider to face closure amid heightened scrutiny by the state Department of Children and Families.
In its March revocation letter, the state alleged that Brighter Destinies Inc. had a "history of being out of compliance" with numerous regulations, including personnel and financial record-keeping, background checks, hiring qualified staff and other issues.
The company was given eight months to transfer the licenses of its foster families to other agencies. Brighter Destinies surrendered its license to provide foster care services on Nov. 15, according to DCF spokeswoman Sara Buschman. Between 12 and 14 foster children were being served by Brighter Destinies at the time of its license revocation, she said.
The state has begun to scrutinize the finances of such child-placing agencies, which contract with counties and other agencies to recruit, train and license foster parents and place children in foster homes.
Last week, the state Department of Children and Families revoked the license of Middleton-based Community Care Resources Inc., alleging its owner had overcharged the foster-care program by $6.1 million between 2009 and 2011. Owner Dan Simon has appealed the revocation, and the company continues to operate during the appeal. It serves about 120 children.
The state Senate Committee on Health and Human Services will be briefed about the CCR allegations by officials from the Department of Children and Families Thursday.
In its revocation letter, the state alleged that Brighter Destinies had overdrawn accounts and failed to timely reimburse a foster parent $3,750 in fees. The previous year, the company had avoided closure by agreeing that president and CEO Eric Folds would no longer be involved in "any shape or manner" in the business.
In an interview, Folds insisted there was no misappropriation of funds, but he declined to comment on specifics.

Fla. woman gets 55-year sentence in 2000 disappearance of foster child Rilya Wilson

MIAMI — A woman who once cared for missing foster child Rilya Wilson was sentenced Tuesday to 55 years in prison for kidnapping and child-abuse convictions, closing a case that spanned more than a decade and triggered changes in Florida’s child-welfare system.
Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez imposed the sentence on Geralyn Graham, 67, who was convicted last month following an eight-week trial. With a lone holdout, jurors were unable to agree on her guilt or innocence on a first-degree murder charge, and prosecutors are unlikely to retry Graham on that count.
Tinkler Mendez said the evidence showed that 4-year-old Rilya was subjected to “senseless, cruel and inhumane acts” at the hands of Graham.
“One can only be inherently evil to inflict that type of pain and torment on an innocent child,” the judge said.
Assistant State Attorney Sally Weintraub said Rilya went from an initial loving foster home to an “abyss” with Graham that kept the child in terror during the final months of her short life.
“We trust that with this sentencing there will be some measure of satisfaction to those people who loved Rilya and cared about her,” Weintraub said.
The judge sentenced Graham to 30 years for kidnapping plus 25 years for aggravated child abuse. Two other abuse sentences — 25 years and five years, respectively — will be served concurrently for a total of 55 years behind bars. Prosecutors had sought the maximum of life plus 65 years.
Rilya vanished in December 2000 from the Miami-area home shared by Graham and her lover, Pamela Graham. Her disappearance wasn’t noticed for 15 months, largely because a Department of Children and Families caseworker neglected to check on the girl in person as required.
The case led to the resignation of then-DCF director Kathleen Kearney and the passage of several reform laws, including a new missing-child-tracking system and the contracting out of foster child casework to private organizations. Lawmakers also made it illegal to falsify records of visits between caseworkers and foster children.
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat who sponsored some of those reforms in the state Legislature, said Graham’s sentence was just. She is not related to Rilya Wilson.
“She’s not getting life, but she will be in prison for the rest of her life,” Wilson said of Graham after the sentencing.
Rilya, whose name is an acronym for “remember I love you always,” was the daughter of a crack-addicted woman. Rilya and two sisters were all put up for adoption, with the younger sibling also being cared for by the Grahams when Rilya disappeared.
By the time investigators got the case, any physical evidence that might have existed was long gone. Rilya’s body has never been found, leading Graham’s defense lawyers to suggest during the trial that the girl might have been sold and could still be alive. Prosecutors also had no eyewitnesses to any crime.
Graham insisted she was innocent and in brief remarks Tuesday she said eventually “the truth will come out.”
“It hurt me to the depths of my soul for anyone to think I would do that to any child. I only tried to help her,” Graham said. “I loved her too much to have ever done anything to her. Things have been greatly exaggerated.”
Defense attorney Michael Matters said there will be appeals of the convictions and sentence. He praised the judge, nevertheless, for restraint in the sentence.
“My client was not convicted of murder, though the state would like the court to sentence my client and punish her as if she were,” Matters said.
During the trial there was evidence of abuse, including a dog cage witnesses said Graham obtained to punish Rilya and testimony about the girl’s lengthy confinement in a small laundry room. Pamela Graham testified that Geralyn Graham regularly tied Rilya to her bed using plastic restraints so she would not get up during the night.
The murder case hinged on testimony by three jailhouse snitches. The state’s star witness, career criminal Robin Lunceford, said Graham told her behind bars that she smothered Rilya with a pillow and buried the body near water. Lunceford said Graham believed Rilya was evil and had to be put out of her misery.
A last straw was Rilya’s insistence on wearing a Cleopatra mask instead of an angel costume for Halloween, according to Lunceford.
Graham consistently denied harming the girl, telling investigators and even national television shows that Rilya had been taken away by a DCF worker for mental tests and never returned. No evidence ever surfaced to back up that claim. Graham also told other stories to friends about Rilya’s whereabouts, including purported trips to Disney World, New York and New Jersey.
Lunceford made a deal with prosecutors cutting her life sentence to 10 years in exchange for her testimony. She is currently scheduled for release in March 2014.
Pamela Graham was charged with child neglect but also will likely get no jail time in exchange for her testimony. Pamela Graham insisted she does not know what happened to Rilya, but she didn’t admit to investigators until 2004 that there were numerous lies surrounding the girl’s disappearance.

Foster child agency under scrutiny defends itself

Foster child agency under scrutiny defends itself

A newly released audit found multiple weaknesses in the bookkeeping and financial controls of a troubled Milwaukee foster child agency forced to surrender its license by the state.

In an interview, James Pekrul, the head of Foster Care Youth Independence Center of Wisconsin, said that shoddy accounting and record keeping is to blame for the state believing he improperly took thousands of dollars for his personal use.

Pekrul shared a copy of an independent 2010 audit of the relatively small agency that found its financial viability to be uncertain and its financial controls to be inadequate. Pekrul also spoke for the first time about a separate state audit that alleged he had used an agency debit care to make car payments and buy clothing, cable service, music downloads and health club dues for himself and a family member.

Pekrul denied any theft and called it a misunderstanding born of his practice of mingling his agency’s shaky finances with his personal ones.

“At the time when the state came, everything wasn’t in order. I’ll be honest,” Pekrul said.

Pekrul also failed to file and pay taxes on time and document his center's spending, the state audit found.

In the interview, Pekrul said his agency sometimes wasn’t able to pay his salary because of its finances. In those cases, he said sometimes he paid for personal items with the shared agency credit card and deducted that from what he was owed.

Pekrul said he couldn’t simply put his salary in his own checking account because at the time he didn’t have one.

He said the agency made some payments for a car with a title in his name that was used as a vehicle for the agency and the transporting of foster children.

“I did have to have a vehicle,” he said.

Pekrul said he was a former foster child himself. He acknowledged being poor with record-keeping and said that he had employed a bookkeeper who had also done a poor job.

He said he surrendered the agency's foster children license but continues to do work for the Milwaukee Bureau of Child Welfare and Milwaukee County.


Woman gets prison for death of 3-year-old foster child

COLUMBUS — A Hardin woman who admitted to a charge of negligent homicide for the death of a 3-year-old foster child was sentenced Friday.

Lavonna Bird, 51, was ordered to serve 20 years at Montana Women's Prison, with five years suspended, for the Aug. 17, 2011, death of Jaren Wayne Blacksmith, who died after he was left for several hours inside a locked car.

Authorities said the Blacksmith child, who was one of several children placed in Bird's foster care, died of hyperthermia, or elevated body temperature.

Prosecutors said outside temperatures reached 93 degrees on the day the boy died.

Bird initially told authorities that she left the boy in the car parked outside her house in Hardin because he was sleeping and he was a fussy child when he woke up. Prosecutors said Bird gave different accounts of how long the boy was left alone in the locked car.

Bird also said that she left the windows of the car down, but investigators determined the windows were up while the child was inside. There was also evidence that the boy tried unsuccessfully to escape.

The sentencing before Judge Blair Jones was held in Columbus, where Jones has his main office.

The judge rejected a request from Bird's court-appointed attorney for a 20-year suspended sentence. He described the boy's death as "unthinkable."

"We all know that you don't leave children in a car on a hot day," the judge said. "Is there anybody that doesn't understand that?"

Bird spoke briefly to apologize before she was sentenced.

"I'm really sorry for what happened to Jaren," she said. "I loved him very much and wanted to adopt him."

Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Streano called probation officer Darren Zent to testify at the hearing. Zent made the same recommendation of 20 years in prison, with five years suspended, as Chief Deputy County Attorney David Sibley.

Zent agreed with Streano when she said Bird has no prior criminal history, but the probation officer said he noted "significant allegations of child abuse" in Bird's past that were reviewed by state authorities but did not result in charges.

Bird previously operated a day care out of her home. She had two other foster children at the time of the Blacksmith child's death.

Streano also said that evidence showed that there was a gas leak inside Bird's residence that may have caused her to get ill. Bird left the child in the car with the intent to return shortly, but became ill inside and fell asleep, she said.

Jones called the child's death a "tragedy of unspeakable proportions" that "should never have happened."

The judge said he imposed the lengthy sentence hoping that it would send a message to society about the need to protect its most vulnerable members.

"The challenge for all of us is to be more protective of those who can't protect themselves," he said.

Foster parent found not guilty of criminal negligence

Foster parent found not guilty of criminal negligence

Eunice Wudrich, a former foster parent accused of criminal negligence in the bathtub downing of a toddler placed in her care by Social Services, was found not guilty in Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench Friday.

Eunice Wudrich, a former foster parent accused of criminal negligence in the bathtub downing of a toddler placed in her care by Social Services, was found not guilty in Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench Friday.

"It is to be hoped that the tragic series of events which gave rise to Evander's death will send a message to all parents, foster parents and childcare providers that incidents like this can and do happen, and one has to be eternally vigilant to ensure that harm or death is not caused to our children, who are the most vulnerable members of our society," said Justice Neil Gabrielson.

Wudrich was charged in 2010 after 22-month-old Evander Daniels drowned in a bathtub at the foster home she operated with her husband Dennis near the town of Aberdeen.

The couple was caring for five foster children — all of them toddlers under four years of age — as well as their adopted nine-year-old daughter. Their rural acreage was also home to more than 20 horses and other farm animals, as well as more than two dozen dogs. Dennis Wudrich worked outside the home on weekdays, leaving Eunice with sole responsibility for the children and animals.

On the afternoon of June 8, 2010, she left Evander alone in the tub with about two inches of water and became distracted for an unknown number of minutes.

Shortly after Dennis arrived home from work, their daughter told the couple she could hear water running in the bathroom. Dennis rushed in to find Evander face-down and motionless in the tub, with hot water running from the faucet. His body was covered in scalding burns. Efforts to revive him were not successful. A subsequent autopsy found the cause of his death to be drowning.

During final arguments at the conclusion of Wudrich’s trial in Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench last month, Crown prosecutor Paul Goldstein argued the 48-year-old foster mother was criminally negligent when she left Evander alone in the bath.

Defence lawyer Mark Brayford argued Wudrich had a “divided responsibility” and could not be expected to provide one-on-one supervision to all five toddlers at all times. He argued Evander’s death was the accidental result of a tragic mistake, not a crime.

Milwaukie foster parent sentenced in rape of underage girl

Milwaukie foster parent sentenced in rape of underage girl

A Milwaukie man who was a foster father to 29 children was sentenced to 25 years in prison Friday for having sex with an underage girl.

A Clackamas County jury convicted Keith Allen McMullin, 45, this week on 10 counts of first-degree rape, 10 counts of first-degree sexual abuse and two counts of first-degree sodomy.

The abuse began in 2004, when the girl was 5 years old and continued until 2011 when she reported it to a friend.

McMullin, who had no prior criminal record, was sentenced under Measure 73, which went into effect in December 2010. The law requires a 25-year prison term for repeat felony sex offenders. Even though McMullin was convicted of all the crimes at the same time, the law classifies him as a repeat offender.

Prosecutor Stacey Borgman asked for a 50-year sentence -- 25 years each for two rapes that occurred after Measure 73 became law. Borgman said the magnitude and time span of the crimes merited 50 years behind bars.

Clackamas County Circuit Judge Jeffrey S. Jones said the law was clear. "The court has no discretion to impose anything other than 25 years." He ordered a second 25-year to be served concurrently.

McMullin declined to make a statement during the sentencing, which was attended by about 35 of his supporters, many from his church.

McMullin once operated copy centers in Milwaukie, Oregon City and West Linn. He and his wife were unable to have biological children. They became active foster parents and adopted four children.

Florida refuses aid to molested foster child, judge says

Florida refuses aid to molested foster child, judge says


The 16-year-old girl is being raised by the state because she was repeatedly molested, first by her father and, later, by her grandfather. She has endured so much anguish that she has been diagnosed with the same illness as many combat veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Her therapists say she desperately needs residential psychiatric care. State healthcare administrators refuse to pay for it — saying she is a drug addict, not a child in need of mental healthcare.

In the latest clash between Florida’s embattled healthcare agency and children’s advocates, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman is accusing the Agency for Health Care Administration of concocting misleading mental health evaluations to avoid providing basic and necessary services for children in state care.

“This court has been increasingly concerned that dependent children are being denied much-needed treatment for mental health disorders — contrary to the first stated purpose of [child welfare law], which is to provide for the care, safety and protection of children,” Hanzman wrote.

The three children in Hanzman’s 38-page, Feb. 1 order are among about 19,000 in state care.

AHCA already has drawn harsh criticism in recent months over claims it is cutting in-home care to severely disabled children so deeply that many parents have no choice but to warehouse their children in geriatric nursing homes.

In that case, as in Hanzman’s order, advocates claim the healthcare agency is paying a private company to justify sometimes deep cuts in services to the most needy.

In both cases, the agency has been accused of employing arbitrary criteria to produce the result it desires: spending fewer dollars to provide care.

Late last month, Hanzman held a fact-finding hearing to determine whether Magellan Health Services, AHCA’s contractor, was producing erroneous psychiatric evaluations of foster children as a “pretext” for denying costly psychological care. He concluded that, indeed, they were.

Here, according to Hanzman, is how the system works: Often the victims of horrific abuse, many foster children suffer from severe mental illnesses, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Many of the youngsters also use drugs and alcohol as a way to self medicate. If a child has a serious psychiatric diagnosis, such as depression, but also abuses drugs, psychologists at Magellan will conclude that the child’s “primary” diagnosis is drug addiction, the judge said.

Why? Because, while the state has beds available for psychiatric care for children, it has virtually none for residential drug-treatment. If the beds aren’t available — or if the state does not have the dollars to pay for them — health administrators can’t be forced to provide the treatment, Hanzman wrote.

What’s more, Hanzman wrote, Magellan psychologists who evaluate foster kids are writing in their reports that children with mental illness will not “benefit” from drug treatment — not because it won’t help them, but because it’s unavailable.

“Acceptance of this ‘reasoning’ results in a bewildering circularity: a child with the mental health disorder of substance abuse will not benefit from residential treatment because the state does not provide it,” the judge wrote. “The court rejects this puzzling logic.”

Executives at Magellan, which helps administer the Medicaid programs for 25 states and the District of Columbia, declined to discuss Hanzman’s order.

A spokeswoman for AHCA, Michelle Dahnke, declined to discuss the order, as well, saying the agency was not a party to the proceedings Hanzman described, though his order said both AHCA and Magellan appeared at the hearing.Daniel Armstrong, a psychologist who is associate chair of pediatrics at the University of Miami, said states often “ration” health and psychological care in an effort to control costs.

But, he added, “Florida’s children in foster care are among our most vulnerable. They are in the care of the state because their parents have been unable to keep them safe and well” — sometimes inflicting dreadful abuse and neglect on them.

“As a consequence,” Armstrong said, “mental health, behavioral, and emotional disturbance should be expected, and not something that comes as a surprise.”

Much of the order concerns the plight of a 16-year-old girl, who is not being named by The Miami Herald to protect her privacy. Child protection investigators took custody of the girl from her parents after she disclosed that her birth father had been both molesting her and doing drugs near her.

But what should have been the end of the story became just another ugly chapter: The girl was adopted by her paternal grandfather, who abused her as well.

Around May 2009, the judge wrote, the Department of Children & Families’ abuse hotline received a report that the grandfather was making the girl watch pornographic movies before going into her bedroom and forcing himself on her.

Two months later, DCF took her from the grandfather and sent her to live with a family friend under a permanent guardianship. That arrangement did not last long either; the family refused to accept the girl back after she ran away, plagued by drug abuse and difficult behavior.

For much of the past two years, the girl remained missing.

In April 2011, she told authorities she hated foster care so much that she wanted to return to the grandfather who molested her. While living on the streets, records show, she remained under the sway of pimps who sold her for money.

By November, Hanzman and child welfare authorities were searching for some way to help the girl, who is diagnosed with PTSD, depression and a severe drug addiction. Therapists said she needed residential psychiatric treatment.

A psychologist with Magellan, Charles Winick, spent “only approximately 20 minutes” with the girl, and “failed to review most of her case file,” Hanzman wrote, and arrived at a different conclusion: The girl did not meet “suitability criteria” for a mental health treatment center because her real diagnosis was drug abuse.

With no other options, the girl was sent to live with another relative — and promptly ran away again — most likely, authorities believe, to her pimp. She has not been seen since.