Foster care child deaths rise in Ga., report says


Foster care child deaths rise in Ga., report says

Child deaths in the Georgia foster-care system increased by 20 percent in the first three months of this year compared to the same period in the previous year, according to a Division of Family and Children Services report released July 1.

Locally, three deaths were reported in the first quarter of the year in Region 3, which includes Polk, Harlason, Floyd, Cherokee, Bartow, Paulding and Douglas counties.

On Wednesday, state DFCS employee Ravae Graham said there was no information available regarding the specific county in which the deaths took place.

According to the report, the cause of death listed in those three cases included accidental hanging, non-accidental blunt force trauma and acute medical death.

The statewide death toll increased to 55 during January, February and March, up from 46 in the same months of 2012. Most died from either accidents or natural causes, as opposed to suicide, murder or unknown origins.

The number of deaths had been decreasing each quarter in 2012.

In the last quarter, which was from October through November, there were only 32.

“The overall increase is largely due to pre-existing health conditions and house fires, which claimed lives of seven children this year,” Susan Boatwright, the agency’s communications director.

According to Boatwright, the reports are based on children who were under direct agency
supervision or had been the subject of a public complaint of neglect or abuse in the previous five years.

“A lot of our foster-care parents care for fragile children. Because of the child’s health, we don’t expect the child to live, but it’s still reflected as a death in data,” said Carolyn Fjeran, deputy director at Georgia Association of Homes & Services for Children.

The quarterly report shows the majority of the children that died from accidental causes were under the age of four. According to DFCS 2012 calendar year report, approximately 13 children died every month.

The report proves the need for greater resources for younger children, according to Pat Willis, executive director of Voices for Georgia’s Children.

 “In some ways that age is not a big surprise because kids at that age tend to be too young to speak up,” she said. “We need to give more attention to families who have a hard time taking care of young children because of income and substance abuse. Especially the families that have had contact with children services. That gives us more opportunity to protect them.”

 The agency is trying to address the issue, Boatwright said. It is focused on decreasing natural and accidental deaths with their car seat safety, water safety and safe sleeping campaign for infants, who can be smothered from blankets and sleeping in the same bed with their parents. They are also increasing their interaction with medical experts through the internet with web cams.

 

 

DCF report card: Major problems linger


A foster child in state custody needed eyeglasses, but the agency didn’t make it happen.

An abused child needed counseling but faced delays in getting an appointment.

These children are not alone, reports the federal court monitor of the state's Department of Children and Families.

Of the 55 children in state custody whose cases were reviewed between January and March, the court monitor’s office found that DCF failed to provide 21of the children with the necessary education, medical and/or psychological care.

These shortfalls affected “the health, safety or well being of the children and families,” Raymond Mancuso, the court monitor, reported this week.

Gaps in serving the needs of the 4,700 children in DCF care on any given day has been a decades-long problem. The agency has been under federal court supervision for more than 20 years following the “Juan F” class-action lawsuit.

And Mancuso is not convinced that DCF is close to fixing these problems.

He writes that a host of issues -- including state budget cuts, too few foster homes and a drop in the number of social workers -- are causing the problems to linger. Over the last three fiscal years, the agency’s budget has been cut by 5 percent, to $825 million; and since July 2011, staff has been reduced by 7 percent.

“The state’s reduction in DCF front-line staffing… has negatively impacted the quality of service,” he writes.

DCF Commissioner Joette Katz's strategy to reform the agency includes keeping more children with their families and out of group homes and other institutions.

And while fewer children are living in large group settings, Mancuso writes that this effort can succeed only if the necessary medical, educational and psychological services are available in the community.

The children “must have timely access to a range of effective services to allow them to safely remain in family settings… The Department will be hard pressed to address these and other core needs adequately.”

Mancuso also reports that the lack of services mean that some children are lingering in inappropriate settings. Of the 40 cases reviewed by his office of children living in temporary, short-term housing, 12 children had lived there longer than six months.

Ira Lustbader, associate director of the national advocacy group Children's Rights, which represents the plaintiffs in the "Juan F" lawsuit, originally filed in 1989, called this latest report card “disappointing."

“The state must redouble its efforts to tackle major issues like getting children mental health treatment and taking steps to find them permanent, loving homes,” he said.

The agency succeeded in getting some of the state cuts restored for the fiscal year that began Monday. The budget that was passed includes $10.3 million in new money to pay for mental health and trauma services and support for foster parents.

Katz, the DCF commissioner, wrote in response to the report card that providing for the needs for children in her care “continues to challenge us and requires that we press forward on further improvements in how we engage families in our work… There are serious challenges that we must address.”

 

 

Foster father charged with possessing child porn


 

 

 

A 45-year-old Waukesha man was charged Friday with numerous counts of child pornography, admitting to police that he had downloaded hundreds of images and videos depicting children involved in sexual acts.

Daniel G. Lomeli was charged Friday, June 28 in Waukesha County Circuit Court with one count sexual exploitation of a child and 10 counts possession of child pornography.

He is being held on a $30,000 cash bail, with a condition of release being that Lomeli was not allowed to bring, "anymore foster children into his home," according to online court documents. It was not clear in the records how many children were fostered by Lomeli. Nobody was available for comment from either the District Attorney's Office or the Waukesha City Police Department.

According to the complaint, Waukesha City Police discovered during an undercover investigation that Lomeli had allegedly uploaded a child pornography video to a popular file sharing program.

The video depicts a child nude from the waist down being fondled by a an adult male, according to the complaint.

A search of Lomeli's home, located at 2025 Oaklawn Ave., revealed that Lomeli had at minimum 180 videos and several hundred images of child pornography stored on various electronics, the complaint reads. Several videos depicted men performing sexual acts on boys and girls identified as victims by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Lomeli told police that he was not attracted to children, but got involved out of curiosity, according to the complaint.

Lomeli could face 290 years in prison and $1.1 million in fines if convicted.

Lomeli's expected to appear again in court on July 8.

 

 

Sen. Murphy under investigation for alleged abuse of foster child



Arizona Sen. Rick Murphy is under investigation for two cases of alleged sexual abuse of foster children in his home, according to police reports.

Peoria police and Child Protective Services are investigating the alleged abuse, The Arizona Republic first reported Thursday. Police opened the most recent investigation on Saturday after an 18-year-old male in Murphy’s care came forward with reports that the Peoria Republican had been inappropriately touching the teen since January 2007, the report stated.

The teen also admitted to inappropriately touching a 12-year-old girl in Murphy’s care, the report said. The teen is listed as both a suspect and victim in the report, which lists Murphy as under investigation for molestation.

The most recent case allegations prompted officials to reopen a 2011 case investigating Murphy for molestation, which was closed after police found there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Murphy, according to the Republic. The case was first opened in February 2011, with the alleged abuse occurring between January and February that year, the report stated.

Murphy, who considers himself an outspoken advocate for child-welfare issues and has cared for several adopted and foster children, could not immediately be reached for comment.

 

Foster Parent Accused of Having Sex With Teen



A Spartanburg foster parent has been arrested and charged with Criminal Sexual Conduct with a Minor — Second Degree.

Jesse Lewis Smith Jr., 44, of Spartanburg is accused of having sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old girl placed in his care by the Department of Social Services.

According to Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office, once the victim disclosed the relationship that had been occurring between she and Smith, Smith's wife, notified the victim's DSS caseworker and asked the Smith to move out of their marital home.

DSS immediately removed the victim from suspect’s home and placed her with another foster family in another county while this investigation was conducted.

The Laurens County DSS office was assigned to look into the allegation to avoid any conflict of interest, and that office referred the case to the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office for further investigation.

Deputies said that Smith confessed to the incident while being interviewed by an investigator with the Special Victims Unit. Smith told investigator he sent the victim inappropriate text messages and that he also had sex with her.

Smith is being held at the Spartanburg County Detention Center on no bond.

 

 

 

 

Foster care deaths up 20% in Georgia


 

ATLANTA — Child deaths in the Georgia foster-care system increased by 20 percent in the first three months of this year compared to the same period in the previous year, according to a Division of Family and Children Services report released Monday.

Locally, the number of deaths reported in the first quarter of the year include three in the Athens area, which had six deaths in all of 2012; one in the Augusta area, which had nine in all of 2012; and five in the Savannah and Brunswick area, which had seven in all of 2012. Most of the deaths, according to the report, occurred in the Atlanta area.

The statewide death toll increased to 55 during January, February and March, up from 46 in the same months of 2012. Most died from either accidents or natural causes, as opposed to suicide, murder or unknown origins.

The number of deaths had been decreasing each quarter in 2012. In the last quarter, which was from October through November, there were only 32.

“The overall increase is largely due to pre-existing health conditions and house fires, which claimed lives of seven children this year,” said Susan Boatwright, the agency’s communications director.

According to Boatwright, the reports are based on children who were under direct agency supervision or had been the subject of a public complaint of neglect or abuse in the previous five years.

“A lot of our foster-care parents care for fragile children. Because of the child’s health, we don’t expect the child to live, but it’s still reflected as a death in data,” said Carolyn Fjeran, deputy director at Georgia Association of Homes & Services for Children.

The quarterly report shows the majority of the children that died from accidental causes were under the age of 4. According to DFCS 2012 calendar year report, about 13 children died every month.

The report proves the need for greater resources for younger children, according to Pat Willis, executive director of Voices for Georgia’s Children.

“In some ways that age is not a big surprise because kids at that age tend to be too young to speak up,” she said. “We need to give more attention to families who have a hard time taking care of young children because of income and substance abuse. Especially the families that have had contact with children services. That gives us more opportunity to protect them.”

The agency is trying to address the issue, Boatwright said. It is focused on decreasing natural and accidental deaths with their car seat safety, water safety and safe sleeping campaign for infants, who can be smothered from blankets and sleeping in the same bed with their parents. They are also increasing their interaction with medical experts through the Internet with webcams.

 

Oregon sued over foster abuse in Salem home


 

Lawyers for 11 young children who reportedly suffered sexual abuse at a Salem, Ore., foster home have filed nearly $23 million in lawsuits against the state's Department of Human Services.

The lawsuits represent one of the most sweeping cases brought against the state child-welfare agency over abuse by one foster parent, The Oregonian reported (http://is.gd/dibMku).

An agency spokesman referred questions to the Oregon Department of Justice, which declined comment Monday.

James Earl Mooney was sentenced last year to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to five counts of first-degree sodomy. His wife wasn't charged with any wrongdoing. The couple has divorced.

The newspaper says 50 babies and toddlers lived in the foster home from 2007 to 2011.

"The notion that these kind of crimes can occur serially in a home where the state pays to house children is a tragedy beyond measure," said David Paul, a Portland lawyer who filed suit on behalf of one child, now 5.

Lawyer Steve Rizzo filed two suits Friday in Multnomah County Circuit Court and U.S. District Court on behalf of 10 foster children.

In those lawsuits, Rizzo says Mooney and his wife were 22-year-old newlyweds and didn't have children when DHS approved them as foster parents. Their application, background checks, home study and training took less than two months, the lawsuits contend.

Rizzo's filings accuse agency employees of allegedly ignoring escalating signs of abuse from the children _ including complaints of pain, redness on their buttocks and unusual behavior, such as smearing feces on walls.

The molestations came to light in April 2011, the newspaper reports, after one of the foster children moved from the home and told a prospective adoptive parent that Mooney had sexually abused her in the shower.

DHS spokesman Gene Evans said he couldn't discuss specifics, but did talk about department policies that allowed Mooney and his wife to become foster parents.

People as young as 21 _ newlyweds, cohabitating couples or single people, regardless of whether they have children _ can apply to be foster parents of children who aren't relatives, Evans said.

In 2007, a supervisor would have been required to OK a screener's decision to approve the applicants, but not necessarily in writing. In 2010, the department began requiring supervisors to commit their signatures to paper. The agency also gave supervisors more training, Evans said.

The agency also does a better job of sharing information among caseworkers who supervise children in the same home, Evans said. Now anytime a report of abuse is made against a foster parent, all involved caseworkers are automatically alerted.