HHS Changes Procedures In Wake Of Belitz Death
Agency Says Calls Will Be Aggressively Checked
LINCOLN, Neb. — The state department of Health and Human Services acknowledged Friday that it could do a better job responding to incoming information about child abuse and neglect.
The acknowledgment followed concerns that the department didn’t respond aggressively enough before the death of 12-year-old Michael Belitz. Belitz was found dead in his mother’s house. The mother, Angela Manns, now faces murder charges.
HHS said Manns called the agency in March and left a message in which she sought information about foster care programs. The agency said a caseworker called back and left a message but didn’t hear back from Manns.
CEO Kerry Winterer said the agency will review its procedures to make sure they work as intended to respond to concerns about a child’s safety.
“We need to make sure that all appropriate calls get to the hot line,” Winterer said in a statement.
Winterer said the hot line received 29,269 calls in 2008. Just more than 24,000 were calls reporting possible child abuse. Winterer said trained staff found that 13,460, or 56 percent, were accepted for further investigation.
Winterer said the new process will ensure a better transfer from the hot line to trained workers who will assess the risk. The caseworker will stay on the line to make sure the transfer is complete, Winterer said.
If a caseworker receives a written or voice mail message, the information will be noted on an electronic form that will go directly to hot line staff, Winterer said.
If the state can’t contact the person by phone, Winterer said investigators will make certain that an in-person welfare check can be made, including getting help from police, if necessary.
•August 7, 2009: Mourners Attend Funeral For Slain 12-Year-Old
•July 27, 2009: Angela Manns Undergoes Psychiatric Evaluation
•July 17, 2009: Angela Manns Asked About Foster Care, Agency Says
•July 16, 2009: HHS: No Evidence Of Abuse During 2007 Check
Changes follow 12-year-old’s death
By Bob Glissmann
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Concerns about a child’s safety and well-being should receive more timely and skilled follow-up under a new process put in place by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
The change comes after a review of what happened in the case of Michael Belitz, the 12-year-old Omaha boy whose decomposed body was found July 12 in the bathtub of his mother’s house. Michael’s mother, Angela Manns, has been charged in his death.
On March 27, Manns left a voice mail message for a Health and Human Services caseworker, inquiring about placing Michael in foster care. HHS officials say the caseworker tried to return the call, but voice mail wasn’t available. Manns made a second call on April 8 and left another voice mail message. The worker called back and left a message instructing Manns to contact the HHS hot line.
Manns never called, and the caseworker never checked back.
Under HHS’ new process, if people call child welfare caseworkers with concerns, they will be transferred to the child abuse and neglect hot line to talk with specialized workers trained to ask questions and assess the child’s safety and risk, HHS announced Friday. The caseworker will stay on the line to make sure the transfer is complete.
If a caseworker receives a written or voice mail message stating concern, the information will be documented on an electronic “alert to hot line” form that is now part of the department’s e-mail system and will go directly to hot line staff.
The hot line’s specialized workers will contact the caller for additional information. If repeated telephone calls don’t result in contact, a department caseworker or law enforcement officer will be asked to do a child welfare check and make personal contact with the child and family.
“Our review showed we could do a better job of getting some kinds of information to the child abuse and neglect hot line,” said Kerry Winterer, the CEO of the department. “Our specialized intake workers are skilled in gathering information so a thorough assessment can be made, and that drives our response. We need to make sure that all appropriate calls get to the hot line.”
The child abuse and neglect hot line phone number is (800) 652-1999.