Fontana couple suspected of burning foster child with aerosol spray



By Melissa Pinion-Whitt

FONTANA -- Police arrested a Fontana couple this week after their 3-year-old foster child was found suffering from second-degree aerosol burns.
Robert Ismael, 35, and Emily Ismael, 29, were booked into West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga. Robert Ismael was held on suspicion of child abuse and his wife is suspected of child endangerment, police said.
Officers came to Loma Linda University Medical Center on Monday due to a Children and Family Services child abuse investigation. Doctors found aerosol burns across the child’s body. The burns were not self-inflicted.

The Ismaels, who live in the 7500 block of West Heritage Parkway, were taken into custody and admitted to the crime.

Goodyear man accused of abusing foster child pleads guilty


PHOENIX (AP) -- A Goodyear man accused of injuring his 1-year-old foster daughter for throwing her sippy cup and spilling its contents has pleaded guilty.
 A Maricopa County Superior Court spokeswoman say Pedro Manzo entered his plea to two counts of child abuse on Thursday and will be sentenced April 2.
 According to Goodyear police, Manzo returned home Oct. 28 with his two biological children and two foster children.
 He told authorities that he later found his foster daughter slumped on the floor and not breathing.
 However, doctors at a hospital noticed the child had bruises on her head and shoulder.
 Police say Manzo admitted that he shook the girl and caused her to pass out.



Former Bethel foster father Peter Tony pleads guilty to child sex abuse charges



By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS

Former Bethel foster parent Peter Tony pleaded guilty in court Monday to charges that he sexually abused two children.
To the people of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region, the plea agreement means "that someone who molested their children is going to be held responsible," said Bethel district attorney June Stein.
Tony, 70, was facing seven counts of second-degree sexual assault of a minor.
Under the terms of his deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to two consolidated counts of sexual abuse of a minor, charges stemming from conduct that happened in 2012, when he repeatedly molested a 4-year-old girl his wife was baby-sitting. In that incident, the abuse was reported to police after the girl asked her mom why "Baba" was touching her, then mimicked the molestation. Tony could be sentenced to anywhere from five to 99 years on each of the two charges.
In the other case, Tony pleaded guilty to one consolidated count of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor relating to the 1998 molestation of a 12-year-old girl, who told a police investigator that she would wake up to find him touching her. He faces a sentence of one to 10 years on that charge because the case predates a new, legislatively set sentencing scheme.
Tony also admitted to two aggravating factors that could result in a longer sentence: being more than 10 years older than his victims and abusing them repeatedly.
He will be sentenced in June.
Authorities have said they believe Tony has more victims, including some linked to the years that he and his late wife, Marilyn Tony, operated a state-licensed foster care home.
Tony admitted to sexually assaulting foster children in the course of an interview with Bethel police in 2013, according to an officer's statement. He said he couldn't remember his victims' names or how many there were.
His former stepdaughter Kimberley Bruesch has said that Tony molested her and her two sisters. Both sisters committed suicide.
Bruesch now lives in Ketchikan.
"I am glad he can no longer harm children and hope that others can learn from this case and speak up about abuse that happened to them decades ago," she wrote in an email Monday.
Prosecutors filed charges in the two cases where evidence existed to let them proceed, Stein said.
"There were no other victims who came forward about whom we could prove charges," Stein said.
Stein said the victims and their families were satisfied with the plea agreement, which will prevent a trial.
The parents of the 4-year-old victim in the 2012 case were present at every hearing, she said. The victim of the 1998 abuse found it too difficult to attend.
Tony's case has attracted widespread attention in part because of his history as a foster parent.
But in a region that has among the worst rates of child sexual abuse in the nation, it is far from unique: Stein said her office prosecutes 200 or more cases of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor in and around Bethel every year.





Foster mother who fatally beat 2-year-old gets 25 to life


By Matt Stevens and Garrett Therolf

A foster mother convicted of second-degree murder in the beating death of a 2-year-old girl was sentenced Friday to 25-years-to-life in state prison.
Kiana Barker, 34, who had been trying to adopt Viola Vanclief in 2010, severely beat the toddler and later called 911 to report that the girl had stopped breathing, prosecutors allege.
In October, a jury found Barker guilty of second-degree murder, assault on a child causing death and child abuse.
The case was the latest in a years-long series of problems for United Care, a nonprofit foster agency that contracted with Los Angeles County at the time of Viola’s death, and had placed the girl with Barker.
After the child's death, the county terminated its contract with United Care.
Witnesses said that Baker burst into Viola's room after hours of heavy drinking and beat her. When Barker was pulled away, the little girl was on the floor, struggling to breathe, the witness said.
 Though doctors at a hospital attempted to revive the girl, prosecutors said the child was "dead on arrival."
The girl had suffered “extensive blunt-force trauma,” the district attorney's office said in a statement.
A motion filed with the court at sentencing said the trauma was caused by “multiple repeated blows by an adult, exerting maximum force."
Ultimately, it was determined that the child -- who was placed in child care because her biological mother was a crack addict and prostitute -- had died from massive bleeding in her chest cavity, prosecutors said.
Authorities said that Barker eventually told investigators that Viola had become jammed in a bed frame and that she might have accidentally hit the girl with a hammer as she tried to free her.
The child’s death focused attention on the Department of Children and Family Services, whose officials could not initially explain how the child came into the care of Barker, and her then-boyfriend, James Dewitt Julian.
Shortly after Viola’s death, The Times reported that Barker had been the subject of five previous child-abuse complaints, including one substantiated allegation that she had severely neglected her own biological child in 2002.
Julian had been convicted in 1992 of armed robbery -- a fact that should have disqualified him from living in a home certified for foster care.
Los Angeles County supervisors later voted to develop an investigations unit and subsequently terminated their relationship with United Care.
In December, The Times also reported that at least four children in Los Angeles County had died as a result of abuse or neglect over the past five years in homes overseen by private agencies, such as United Care.
Responding to the report, Los Angeles County officials launched a review of the criminal clearance process for foster parents selected by private agencies.
Viola’s remains have been buried in an unmarked grave in Carson.



Infants with broken bones, bruises removed from Austin foster home


By Andrea Ball

American-Statesman Staff

Twin infants were removed from their Austin foster home last week after the six-week-old babies were found to have broken bones and bruises.
The foster care agency that oversees the home, Arrow Child and Family Ministries, has halted admissions to its Austin-area program until officials figure out exactly what happened, said Arrow CEO Scott Lundy. It is unclear whether the babies were in the foster home when they were injured. The agency is conducting an internal investigation, he said.
“You have 6-week-old babies that are hurt,” he said. “That’s a big incident. We want to make sure there wasn’t something that got overlooked.”
The twins arrived at an Arrow foster home several weeks ago and were being cared for by an experienced family with no history of problems, Lundy said. Then on Feb. 11, the children were on a visit with Child Protective Services when someone noticed one of the babies wheezing, Lundy said. The infants were taken to the hospital, where both were diagnosed with broken bones and bruises.
Authorities are also investigating.
Child Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins said the babies were briefly hospitalized and are expected to recover fully. They are no longer under Arrow’s care and are living with foster parents overseen by another child placing agency, he said.
Arrow is a child placing agency with 12 locations in Texas and serves about 60 foster children in the Austin area on any given day, Lundy said. The organization also has offices in Pennsylvania, California and Maryland.



Minnesota faces penalties for failed placements of foster children


 CHRIS SERRES , Star Tribune 

Minnesota, which cut the number of kids in foster care, may face a fine for the number who bounce back.
For years, Minnesota officials have boasted of their success at reducing the population of children living in government-funded foster care; among states, Minnesota ranks No. 1 for the share of foster children returned to their biological parents within a year.
But some child advocates warn that Minnesota’s aggressive focus on family unification sometimes puts children in harm’s way by returning them to parents with histories of abuse or neglect. Federal authorities may agree: The state is facing the possibility of a federal fine of up to $570,000 because of its failure to reduce the number of children who bounce back into foster care after being returned to their parents.
While Minnesota earns high marks for family preservation, it also has the nation’s highest rate of failed foster care placements. Statewide, 26 percent of foster care children in Minnesota are returned to care within a year after being reunited with their families — far higher than the federal benchmark of 9.9 percent.
The result is that many children, like Stone, end up shuffling back and forth from their natural families to foster care, in an emotional tug-of-war that can leave deep and lasting emotional scars.
“It’s pretty outrageous,” Traci La Liberte, executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, said of the state’s high re-entry rate. “Kids who keep coming through [foster care] like a turnstile are experiencing multiple incidents of trauma.”
New strategies
Though Minnesota outperforms the nation in virtually all other measures of well-being for children in foster care, the possibility of a federally imposed sanction has stirred state and county child care administrators into action. Counties are accelerating efforts to improve permanency and stability for children once they return to their biological parents, by providing families with more counseling and support services.
To some extent, Minnesota’s high rate of failed placements is a byproduct of the state’s success at shrinking its foster care population. Statewide, the number of children in out-of-home foster care decreased 38 percent from 2000 to 2012. Many of the children successfully moved out of foster care, however, are younger and more likely to be adopted by new families. That means the remaining children tend to be older and have more behavioral problems — making them more difficult to place in permanent homes, say state and county officials.
Child behavior is the largest reason for youth returning to foster care, accounting for more than half of the 1,035 re-entries in 2011.
To address the issue, the state is promoting a number of strategies to improve the chances for children returned to their parents. One allows children to go home for “trial visits” before permanently reunifying with their biological parents. Another, in use by more than a dozen Minnesota counties and tribes, builds so-called “safety networks” of family, friends and neighbors who can assist children and parents once they are reunited.
“It’s about stability in children’s lives,” said Erin Sullivan Sutton, assistant commissioner for children and family services for the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). “It’s traumatic being removed [from a home] in the first place, but bouncing back and forth creates additional trauma.”
Regular whippings
On a recent evening, Javon Turner of Fridley cracked jokes and laughed as he played a fantasy card game, “Magic: The Gathering,” with friends at a hobby shop in St. Louis Park. “I like your stuff, man,” he said, offering to trade cards with an opponent. “Problem is, the stuff I want others want to keep.”
Turner, a lanky 19-year-old with a soft voice and a big grin, discovered fantasy card games as a means of coping with the turmoil of his childhood. At age 4, he was removed from a foster care family and sent to live with his grandparents, whom he describes as “big believers in physical discipline.”
That discipline included regular belt whippings. Turner said his grandfather once whipped him across his bottom for accidentally wearing his underwear backward.
“I would just stand there and completely take it, and my grandpa would say, ‘That’s right, see how he took it like a man!’” Turner said.
Looking back, Turner said he does not understand why county social workers were so intent on keeping him with his family. At first, he was told he might return to his mother, who was addicted to drugs. But after she died in a house fire when he was 7, caseworkers focused on keeping him with his grandparents.
Minnesota’s stress on family reunification is “misguided,” Turner said.
“For one thing, it creates false hopes. You are led to believe that someday soon, maybe next week or next month, you’ll be returning to your loving natural family. But that almost never happens. And it makes you angry and upset and less likely to form an actual relationship with the foster parent you’re with.”
‘I am amazed’
Though most studies have found that foster care children do better with family than with strangers, children who are returned too quickly to parents with a history of abuse are at risk of being hurt again. This is particularly true in cases where families are not offered training and support services once the child returns to the home, say child advocates.
Last year, a citizens’ panel reviewed a sample of child protection cases in Hennepin County. They found a disturbing trend: In many cases, children were reunified with abusive parents multiple times, without verified changes in parental behavior.
In one case, two children were returned to a chemically addicted mother less than a week after she failed three urine tests; in another, three children were returned to a family who had 11 reports of neglect or abuse over 10 years.
“I am amazed at how many chances parents are given,” said Denise Graves, a guardian ad litem who serves on the volunteer panel. “It appears the system acts in the best interests of the parents rather than the best interests of the children.”
Three months ago, Thomas Stone finally read the lengthy case file chronicling his childhood. Kept in a binder the size of a large Bible, the file contained a series of unsettling revelations. Stone struggled to stay composed as he flipped through his file.
For the first time, he learned that he was born with cocaine in his blood.
For the first time, he learned that his father left him unattended, at age 2 or 3, on an unheated porch.
And for the first time, he learned the details of the police raid of his father’s house — the raid that finally got him moved to a loving foster-care family in Brooklyn Park. “I just don’t understand what took so long,” Stone said.
Some day soon, Stone said, he plans to burn the case file and throw the ashes over a cliff, in a symbolic break with his troubled childhood. “I want to burn it all up, all the pain and all the hurt I’ve been through,” he said. “And start life anew.”

Children in foster care more vulnerable to sex traffickers


by Tina Patel

SEATTLE — Nearly 60% of juveniles arrested for prostitution in Los Angeles in 2010 were in the foster care system. That’s why a local lawmaker is trying to strengthen foster care programs, in an effort to prevent child sex trafficking.
Mandy Urwiler was just 13, when classmates asked her to do the unthinkable.
“They approached me and said come turn a trick for us, you`ll make good money.”
She refused. But she says the boys at school were persistent.
“After class let out and I said no again, I was beaten. Had I not had support from friends and family, I probably would have said yes.”
Mandy knows she’s lucky, because most people in the foster care system don’t have support from anyone. That’s why so many are vulnerable and end up becoming victims of sex traffickers.
“It`s a critical, critical issue. It`s a matter of life and death,” says Congressman Dave Reichert, R-Wash.
He is trying to protect young people with a new bill that not only helps identify victims of sex trafficking, but also strengthens programs for those in foster care.
He says when he worked in law enforcement, he saw just how many young people selling themselves on the street had run away from foster homes. It didn’t seem like anyone cared about them.
“We found that in the Green River case, we had no missing report when we found these young ladies.”
He hopes this legislation will prevent more young people from becoming victims.
Mandy says it’s a good start. She says not enough people are willing to admit that there’s a problem with trafficking on our streets.
“I personally believe people close their eyes to it,” she says. “Because nobody wants to believe that a 13 year old is being made to be a prostitute. If they see it, they want to think that they`re choosing to do it of their own free will.”
But Reichert says he knows the truth, and he’ll do whatever he can to help.
“We are going to keep on this, we are going to be persistent, and we are not going to stop until we get every child off the street, until we protect every young girl, every young lady being taken advantage of by some pimp, some john or some trick.”


Former foster parent suspected of molesting 4th child

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. —
A former foster parent from Soquel who was arrested last year on suspicion of sexually abusing three juveniles is now suspected of molesting a fourth victim, according to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office.
Steven Weissman, 57, was arrested Friday in Soquel on suspicion of molesting a minor in June 2013, Santa Cruz County sheriff's Deputy Ryan Kennedy said.
The first report of abuse came in on Aug. 3, and authorities later came to believe that Weissman had molested three juveniles, sheriff's officials said. He was arrested and charged, but was released on bail as the court case proceeded, Kennedy said.
He was back in custody as of Tuesday, and was being held in county jail in Santa Cruz on $300,000 bail, according to Kennedy. He was scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday on the new charges.
Weissman had been a foster parent for 16 years, was involved in various community activities with youths, and had volunteered at local elementary schools, Kennedy said.
Sheriff's investigators believe that there may still be additional victims in the case, Kennedy said.

The office was asking anyone with information about the investigation to call (831) 454-231         

More than 125 Oklahoma DHS employees disciplined


OKLAHOMA CITY — Disciplinary records from the Oklahoma Department of Human Service show that more than 125 employees were fired, suspended or demoted during 2013 for various infractions, including one instance of an employee picking up the wrong baby from a day care.
The records show a child welfare specialist picked up a baby girl instead of a baby boy that the worker had picked up weekly for "at least 12 weeks," The Oklahoman (http://bit.ly/1g9CFly) reported Sunday. The employee was suspended for three days without pay.
"Before exiting the daycare parking lot, you contacted the foster mother asking if she had cut the child's hair and pierced his ears," the worker was told in a disciplinary letter. "The foster mother asked if you had the wrong child. You said, 'Yes,' and 'laughed' about it.
"The foster mother reported ... that you were very rude when you contacted her and appeared to be yelling while questioning her about the child's physical appearance," the letter said. "The foster mother further stated this was your normal behavior."
DHS Director Ed Lake told the newspaper that most agency workers are skilled, compassionate and trustworthy, but that like any company, the department has a few employees who are sometimes disciplined for various reasons.
The actions "demonstrate we do not tolerate these behaviors and we hold our employees to a very high standard," Lake said. "When employees violate our trust, intentionally disobey policy or are abusive to the people we serve, we will not hesitate to take appropriate disciplinary actions."
The records also showed instances in which children were endangered.
One child abuse hotline worker was fired for failing to immediately act on a report that a newborn was in imminent danger. A child welfare specialist was fired after a supervisor found falsified records regarding children's safety, and a child welfare supervisor was fired for failing to act and provide oversight that the report said "left children in danger and ultimately resulted in harm to children."
Last Monday, DHS said it would fire two employees for mishandling a case involving a 15-year-old boy who died of pneumonia after suffered alleged neglect and abuse at his father's home.
DHS is in the second year of a five-year "Pinnacle Plan" intended to improve child welfare operations, including the hiring of more child welfare workers, increasing their pay and trying to reduce their caseloads.

It also has involved recruiting more foster parents so that children in DHS care do not stay in overcrowded shelters.

Death of 2-year-old in Yarmouth under investigation



By Colleen Quinn and Michael Norton
State House News Service

Yarmouth and State Police are investigating the death of a 2-year-old boy who was previously placed in a foster home by the Department of Children and Families and then moved into the custody of relatives.
At approximately 8:20 a.m. Thursday, Yarmouth police and firefighters responded to a call for an unresponsive child at 320 Winslow Gray Road in West Yarmouth. Firefighters attempted CPR, and transported the boy to Cape Cod Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to Yarmouth Police Deputy Chief Steven Xiarhos.
Police said the death is still under investigation, and would not say who was in the home when the child was found.
The child had “briefly” been placed in a foster home by DCF officials, but was removed from that home by a judge last year, according to Alec Loftus, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
“DCF opposed removing the child from the foster home. The judge instead placed the child in the custody of relatives,” Loftus said in a statement. “DCF continued to provide supportive services to the family after the relatives took custody.”
State Child Advocate Gail Garinger, whose office oversees children involved with state agencies to ensure they are protected from harm and receive state services, said just before noon that her office just learned about the death a few minutes ago.
“My reaction is any child death is a tragedy. We obviously want to learn more about what happened,” she told the News Service.
The Department of Children and Families is under heavy scrutiny on Beacon Hill on the heels of its mishandling of the case of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy, Jeremiah Oliver, who is feared dead and subsequent reports of foster parents with criminal records, social workers who are not licensed, and the state’s poor ranking for child welfare.
Republican candidate for governor Charles Baker and several House Republican lawmakers have called for DCF Commissioner Olga Roche to resign. Gov. Deval Patrick, Roche’s boss, has stood by her work and efforts to improve the agency’s performance, citing the difficult and complex nature of many DCF cases. Patrick also defended DCF’s work with the family of a 9-year-old Mattapan boy accidentally shot and killed by his teen brother.
The House Post Audit and Oversight Committee is looking into DCF.
During a WBZ-AM interview Tuesday night, committee chairman Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick) said the panel has requested information on about 500 foster parents with criminal records to determine the nature of their crimes.
The Natick Democrat noted that his panel has been especially busy this session, with examinations of drug evidence tampering at a state crime lab, state oversight in the wake of deaths stemming from tainted steroid from a Framingham compounding pharmacy, and the panel’s current exploration of the children and families agency.
Linsky declined to call for Roche’s resignation, saying he wanted to focus on his committee’s investigation and emphasizing the House planned to eventually pass measures to help “fix” the department.
The House on Wednesday approved a spending bill that included $2.8 million for the Department of Children and Families as a down-payment to begin hiring 150 new social workers who will help reduce caseloads from 18 to 15 families per caseworker.
"Every single member has been deeply troubled by reports relative to the agency," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill) said.





Riverside County foster care director admits embezzling $450,000 intended for children


RIVERSIDE, California — Riverside County prosecutors say a woman has pleaded guilty to embezzling $450,000 intended for foster children at an agency where she was director.
The Riverside Press-Enterprise (http://bit.ly/1kFSWUY ) reports Thursday that 40-year-old Vivian Lieska Benn was ordered to repay the funds that according to court records she stole to pay for her mortgage, a cruise and trips to New York and Las Vegas.
District attorney's spokesman John Hall says Benn, who owned the Family Hope Foster Family Agency in Riverside, admitted to two counts of embezzlement by a public official and was sentenced to three years, four months in prison.
She'd been charged in August with six felony counts, but avoided more prison time with a plea agreement.
Benn's attorney Joel Renk says she intends to challenge the amount of restitution.