Posts Tagged ‘death’

Review time for DCS

August 8, 2008

The Washington Times-Herald (Washington, IN) reported on July 31, 2008 about the death of Jalen Blake, 2.  Jalen had tested positive for methamphetamine in early June, and died from blunt force trauma to the head on June 28, 2008.  His alleged killer, Jeffery Truelove, committed suicide.

While the death of a child under such circumstances is extremely troubling, what is more troubling is the fact that the Daviess County’s Child Protective Services knew of the positive drug test, and did not remove the child. The case manager in the case, John Potts, has resigned.  Potts was one of the 800 new case managers hired in an attempt to correct the problems at DCS.

The Indianapolis Star reports that DCS is standing behind confidentiality laws regarding comments on the case, and that the Daviss County prosecutor, Byron Overton, is not asking for an investigation of DCS and their handling of the case due to DCS doing its own internal investigation.

DCS investigating itself is like the proverbial fox watching the hen house.  While the majority of DCS case managers are dedicated to the safety of children, all too often in the smaller counties, personal associations, friendships and family relationships trump the safety of children.

There needs to be an independent investigator.  Honk For Kids, an organization that describes itself on its website as, “[A]n Indiana-based, statewide Parents’/Children’s Rights advocacy group, whose primary purpose is attempting to stop the rampant abuses of power and position by the Indiana Child “Protective” Service (“CPS”)/Department of Child “Services” (“DCS”), when dealing with families in Indiana” has called for an ombudsman to be established to review DCS cases.

We would go one further.  While an ombudsman is needed to handle reviewing of cases, there needs to be something within the confines of DCS.  We suggest an Office of Professional Review.  As things have stood over the years in DCS/CPS, whenever there has been a situation regarding an employee’s fitness or judgment, the matter was reviewed by a County Director, and any disciplinary action was at the discretion of the Director.  To avoid the appearance of impropriety, a Director from an adjacent county could be brought in to handle any kind of hearing.  This, unfortunately, allows a “good ol’ boy” system to continue.

The investigation of professional misconduct should not and cannot be left to individuals that are in direct supervisory control.  This allows too many friends to get by with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, or conversely, allows for the abuse of qualified staff that may just rub a Director the wrong way.

Any and all questions regarding possible misconduct, whether it be in the handling of a case, mileage logs, reports, etc., should be referred to an outside investigator.  DCS could easily establish an OPR based in Indianapolis with a team of 4-5 investigators who’s only function would be to handle all investigations and allegations against staff.  We recommend an Indianapolis office to eliminate the problems of investigators becoming to intimate with local staff, thereby maintaining objectivity.

In light of all that has been happening at DCS, it is time for Jim Payne to show some leadership and establish a way to bring back confidence in his agency.  An ombudsman and an OPR would be great starts.

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Communication and DCS

July 29, 2008

On Sunday, July 27, 2008, the Indianapolis Star reported on the death of a child placed in foster care.

There are those in the general public who would vilify any and all foster parents, saying that FPs are only after the money, and don’t care about the children they are charged with keeping safe.  While there maybe some foster parents who only look at fostering as a cash cow, the majority are truly dedicated to helping children through difficult, sometimes horrific times.

One point brought out in the article was the lack of communication that exists in the Department of Child Services.  DCS had been warned by Penny Guthrie of Child Advocates Inc. that she had concerns for the safety of other children placed in the foster home.  Those concerns went unaddressed, with Guthrie stating in a report that the DCS case manager refused to call her back regarding the concerns.

One of the chief complaints we have heard over the years is that case managers regularly fail to return calls in a timely manner.  An issue arises with a child, and you may have to wait several days for the child’s casemanager to respond.  We will grant that nearly every case manager we have had contact with is stretched to near breaking with their case loads, court appearances, reports and all the other details required to keep things running.  However, there needs to be a way to triage calls and concerns.

Perhaps one suggestion would be to have more than an office phone number to contact the case manager.  The state provides cell phones and e-mail addresses, so why not give these contact points to foster parents?  When you are dealing with the lives of the most defenseless among us, the cost of a phone call to a cell phone would be well worth the investment.