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Tag Archives: Child Protective Services

Dad angry CPS didn’t act before arrest

Mike Sakal, Tribune

June 17, 2009 – 7:39PM

A father is speaking out against state Child Protective Services after police said his son and another boy were left home alone by their mother and living in filthy conditions.

William Schiminski, 24, of Queen Creek, the father of a 3-year-old boy, said Wednesday that he had filed two complaints with the agency against Samantha Miller-Abernathy, his former girlfriend, claiming neglect of the children on her part in 2007 and 2008.

Police: Children resorted to eating dog food

Miller-Abernathy, 20, who works at a Phoenix strip club, was arrested at her apartment at 265 N. Gilbert Road in Mesa about 11 a.m. Sunday on suspicion of two felony counts of endangerment and two misdemeanor counts of neglect, according to a police report.

She is accused of leaving her two sons, ages 2 and 3, home alone for more than five hours with the door unlocked after she left the apartment at 2 a.m. to visit an ex-boyfriend, according to the report.

About 7:30 a.m. Sunday, neighbors saw the boys wandering around the complex along a busy road under construction. Police inside the apartment discovered feces and urine stains on the children’s bedroom floor. There was alcohol and very little food in the refrigerator, the report stated.

Miller-Abernathy did not return to the apartment until 10:45 a.m., but the father of each boy arrived at 10 a.m., according to the report.

Schiminski, who said he and Miller-Abernathy shared custody of the 3-year-old, said CPS awarded him temporary emergency custody of both of the boys pending the outcome of the investigation.

“This has been going on for two and a half years,” Schiminski said of his battle to acquire full custody of his son. “I don’t want to say that I’m mad at the system, but I’m frustrated that it took something like this to happen to get full custody. How many times has this happened in the past? I’m very upset at the situation. Something like this shouldn’t have happened. I’m grateful for the person who found them, to the Mesa police and to CPS (for giving him temporary emergency custody).”

Despite the stern words about the agency, Schiminski said he is worried that he could lose custody of them for speaking out.

“This isn’t about me, or the father of the other boy, it’s about the safety of the boys,” Schiminski said. “They’re safe with me.”

Schiminski said he was never married to Miller-Abernathy, but she is married to the father of the 2-year-old and they are separated.

Schiminski said both claims of neglect and bad living conditions for the children he filed in 2007 and 2008 were determined by CPS to lack sufficient evidence and were unfounded.

The agency confirmed that it had one prior report on Miller-Abernathy, which after an investigation was found to be unsubstantiated, CPS spokesperson Kevan Kaighn wrote in an e-mail.

Miller-Abernathy remained incarcerated in a Maricopa County jail and is scheduled to appear in Maricopa County Superior Court on Monday in connection to the offenses.

There are conflicting reports on whether one of the children ate dog food after police found them.

According to a court document, one of the children “went right to the pantry and started eating dog food.”

The document, known as a Form Four, is filled out by the officer who makes an arrest and it is used by the judge in setting bail.

Sgt. Ed Wessing, Mesa police spokesman, said the police report he read states that the child went to the pantry and it appeared he was going to eat the dog food, but the officer on scene stopped him from eating it, upsetting the child.

“He did not actually eat the dog food,” Wessing said.

Wessing said the officers bought the children food, and they devoured it.

Miller-Abernathy, who is in jail in lieu of $2,700 bail, declined an interview request, according to a spokesman with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.


Police: Children resorted to eating dog food


Hawthorne-area boy’s death shows failings of system

By Denise Nix Staff Writer

Posted: 06/16/2009 08:32:01 PM PDT

Years before 19-month-old Kobe Brown died, allegedly at the hands of his stepfather, his Hawthorne-area family was already known to social workers.

Kobe’s mother, Britney Portis, has a history of abuse and arrests, according to court documents related to the custody of Kobe’s older half-brother, identified only as Jayden.

Even so, those who work in the dependent court system say it is difficult – if not impossible – to know when they should intervene. Many families are troubled, they say, but very few experience such tragedy.

Although judges, social workers, attorneys and the like are constantly trying to make decisions that benefit children, there is no way to know the future.

“We try to figure out which families need which level of intervention, disruption, services or support,” said Leslie Heimov, executive director of the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles, which represents children in dependency court proceedings.

“It’s a complicated balance and, unfortunately, there is no perfect formula,” Heimov added.

Kobe was one of 14 children who died of abuse or neglect in Los Angeles County last year, despite the fact that his family was already under scrutiny by child welfare officials, according to an April 21 Los Angeles Times article.

The report, based on normally confidential documents obtained by the newspaper, shocked county officials, who immediately called for reforms.

“Although each death and each child is completely important on its own, 14 out of 24,000 is less than a half percent,” Heimov said.

 She also noted that the Times article reported that an additional 18 Los Angeles County children who were not under DCFS scrutiny died during the same time from abuse or neglect.

That wasn’t the case, however, in Britney Portis’ household.

Portis was arrested in July 2004 for making terrorist threats after an anonymous caller to the child protection hotline reported domestic violence between Portis and Jayden’s father.

Then, in January 2006, Portis assaulted a boyfriend’s grandmother, pulling the woman’s hair from her scalp. She was arrested for battery.

Portis was convicted in 2006 for misdemeanor domestic violence and a felony of assault likely to produce great bodily harm.

However, court records show Portis never complied with the probationary terms imposed on her for the convictions.

In addition, a social worker found that, from July 2004 to August 2007, there were six reports filed related to abuse and neglect of Portis’ children.

Only one was substantiated – and that was for emotional abuse of Jayden related to Portis’ assault on the grandmother, according to court documents.

Four reports were determined to be unfounded and one was inconclusive.

Kobe and Jayden, who is about 5, had different fathers. They also had a 1-year-old half-sister, whose father is Deshawnte Wade.

Wade, 27, returns to Torrance Superior Court today for a pretrial hearing in the murder and assault of Kobe, who died from blunt force head trauma consistent with shaking, a deputy medical examiner testified at Wade’s preliminary hearing in March.

Wade told a detective that Kobe choked on a penny while in his care at their Chadron Avenue home May 4, 2008, the detective testified.

Wade also said he used back and abdominal thrusts to dislodge the coin, but didn’t call for help.

Portis testified at that same hearing that she returned home from the hospital, where she had taken Jayden, to find Kobe lying lifeless on the couch.

She called 911. Kobe was taken to a hospital, where he died two days later.

While Portis did not say during the hearing why she was at the hospital with Jayden that day, court documents show she took the boy there for a dog bite on his lip that he received the day before.

At the time, he was in his biological father’s custody, but under the care of a babysitter who had a dog.

After Kobe’s death, Jayden and their sister were placed in social workers’ custody. Jayden was released to his father, identified only as Craig, but the Department of Children and Family Services filed papers seeking to have them declared dependents of the court.

Los Angeles Dependency Court Judge D. Zeke Zeidler decided in August that Jayden and the sister should remain dependents of the court, but allowed Craig to retain custody of Jayden.

Craig, however, appealed Zeidler’s finding that he knew or should have known that Portis had unresolved violent tendencies and had engaged in “violent altercations” in Jayden’s presence. By leaving Jayden with Portis, Craig failed to protect the boy from risk of physical or emotional harm, Zeidler found.

Craig also took issue with the judge’s order that he attend parenting classes and keep all of Jayden’s medical and therapy appointments.

The 2nd District Appellate Court, in an opinion issued April 16, rejected Craig’s arguments, citing evidence that Craig could benefit from parenting classes and that he had a history of not getting Jayden proper care – like not seeking medical attention after the dog bite.

Craig said he left Jayden with Portis only because he had to work, but added that she “assaulted (Craig) so many times he could not recall all of them,” the opinion states.

Many of those incidents occurred around Jayden, he told a social worker.

In upholding Zeidler’s findings, the appellate court noted that Jayden could have easily suffered physical or emotional harm during the domestic violence incidents he witnessed.

DCF officials discuss suicide of 7-year-old Margate boy

Gabriel Myers: picture from Florida DCF webpage

Gabriel Myers: picture from Florida DCF webpage


A group of officials from the Department of Children & Families and other child advocates are holding a daylong public meeting Thursday in the aftermath of the hanging death of a child in foster care. The work group will listen to the experiences of two young adults who spent time in the foster care system.

A medical director at a school in Massachusetts is also expected to speak at the meeting in Fort Lauderdale. He will discuss the best practices for mental health in child welfare. DCF secretary George Sheldon formed the work group as part of the investigation into Gabriel Myers’ death and the practices of prescribing powerful drugs to foster children.

Gabriel, 7, hung himself in the bathroom of his Margate foster home in April. He had been prescribed several psychiatric drugs during his nine-month stay in foster care.

A Miami Herald article that showed Gabriel had been on several drugs, including anti-depressants associated with suicide risk, prompted DCF to investigate the practices of prescribing such drugs to children.

A recent state review of more than 100 foster care children receiving psychiatric drugs revealed that child welfare administrators are ignoring rules designed to protect the children. For example, caseworkers have failed to seek a second opinion from a psychiatrist before administering mental-health drugs to children younger than 6.

Four years ago legislators passed a law to reduce the amount of psychiatric drugs prescribed to children in state care. That law requires consent from a parent or judge, among other rules.

The work group will next meet July 6 in Tallahassee.

I would like my readers to pay attention to the differences in the Virgina News Report about this crime and the North Carolina News.

Carly Sawyer used to live in Onslow County North Carolina, where allegedly, there were roughly 25 reports made on her father to Onslow County DSS.  Most of my readers will remember that Onslow County North Carolina DSS is the same department that failed to protect Kayla Allen.

 The Virgina News report mentions previous reports and investigations for abuse, but the North Carolina News Report does not.  Can anyone tell me why North Carolina does not mention these reports AT ALL?

It has long been my opinion that DSS corruption is kept out of the news, this is a practice that has to change. I expect the news to report the whole story, not just part of it and the American people have the right to know if DSS was involved with a family before a child was killed.  I feel that North Carolina hides DSS involvement in children’s’ deaths.




 Girl had been subject of custody fight, relative says


Carly Sawyer

Carly Sawyer

By Patrick Wilson

The Virginian-Pilot

© June 14, 2009


The grandfather of the 5-year-old girl killed in a case in which her father and stepmother were charged remembered her Saturday as a happy child with long, curly hair.

“She was just a beautiful little loving, fun child,” said Robert Kimery of Zachary, La., the grandfather of Carly Sawyer. “Loved to laugh. Loved to play.”

Revolving around Carly, however, was a custody battle between two families, said Kimery, whose daughter Jennifer is Carly’s mother.

Carly died Thursday at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk. A medical examiner determined that the cause was blunt-force trauma. Contributing factors included starvation, ligature restraint and medical neglect, police said.

Paramedics were called to her family’s house in the 1400 block of Oliver Ave. in Chesapeake about 5 p.m. Wednesday for a report of an unresponsive child. On Friday evening, detectives arrested Carly’s father, Joshua Sawyer, 24, and his wife, Brandy Sawyer, 21.

Joshua Sawyer was charged with second-degree murder and felony child neglect. Brandy Sawyer was charged with first-degree murder and felony child neglect.

Kimery said he and his daughter had little contact with Carly in the past 2-1/2 years after a court in Jacksonville, N.C., granted Joshua Sawyer custody of her.

Jennifer and Joshua Sawyer met and married in California when she was in the Air Force and he was in the Marines. They separated about three years ago and divorced after she was stationed in South Carolina and he was stationed in Jacksonville, with Carly, Kimery said.

Jennifer Kimery and a friend, on a visit to see Carly, took her back to Georgia where Jennifer was living. That upset Sawyer, Robert Kimery said.

She also filed a complaint of abuse against her ex-husband with Child Protective Services in North Carolina, he said.

Kimery said he and his wife were raising Carly in Louisiana to keep her away from Joshua Sawyer, until Sawyer got an order granting him temporary custody.

“They had a court order for me to return her,” Kimery said. “We took her back and he stated that we would never see her again.”

Kimery said he did not know Joshua and Brandy Sawyer had moved from North Carolina to Hampton Roads until his family learned Carly was in the hospital.

Three neighbors of the Sawyers on Saturday said they rarely saw them. In addition to Carly, the couple has a younger daughter and also lived with a young daughter of Brandy Sawyer’s.

The Sawyers are being held without bond at the Chesapeake jail, a jail spokeswoman said.

On her Facebook page, Brandy Sawyer complained recently of being depressed and stressed. In April, she wrote that she was 10 weeks pregnant and in another post said she “just wants to run away from life.”

In May, she wrote that she was feeling “really down and depressed.”

She also wrote on Facebook and in a comment on the Web site of the Jacksonville Daily News about a criminal case involving her sister, Dana Leigh Browning. (story at bottom of page)

Browning, 19, was arrested in November in Onslow County, N.C., on charges of concealing the birth of a child, failure to report a death and obstruction of justice. She is accused of putting her dead newborn girl in a plastic bag, then putting the body in the garbage and not notifying anyone, the Jacksonville Daily News reported. A court hearing is scheduled for June 30.

Sawyer also joined a Facebook cause called Stop Child Abuse.

In her most recent post, at 12:10 a.m. Friday, she wrote: “Carly passed away. We need prayers, holding onto nothing I feel like.”

A man who answered the phone at her mother’s house in North Carolina on Saturday said her mother was not home and asked that a reporter not call back.

Joshua Sawyer’s father, David K. Sawyer of New York, declined to comment when reached Saturday.

Patrick Wilson, (757) 446-2957,


Chesapeake girl kept in box, denied food, warrants say


Carly Sawyer

Carly Sawyer

By Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer

The Virginian-Pilot

© June 17, 2009


In the last months of her life, Carly Sawyer was put into a cardboard box as punishment.

Sometimes she was tied up with mesh netting. Other times, her father, Joshua Sawyer, and stepmother, Brandy Sawyer, withheld food, or spanked her with a belt.

Chesapeake police filed search warrants Tuesday that provided new details about the murder cases against Carly’s father and stepmother. The affidavit for the warrant – which police use to convince a magistrate that they have probable cause to search private property – notes that Joshua gave a statement to police.

In the last days of her life, Carly arrived at a hospital with cuts, bruises and burns on her body and ligature marks on her wrists.

She was unconscious, and further examination revealed she had no brain activity, police have said.

The 5-year-old died Thursday. A day later, police charged Joshua Sawyer, 24, with second-degree murder and felony child neglect. Brandy Sawyer, 21, is charged with first-degree murder and felony child neglect.

Joshua Sawyer is scheduled to have a bond hearing this morning, a bond hearing for his wife is scheduled for Friday.

According to police, last Wednesday, one of the Sawyers called 911 after Carly became unconscious. It’s not clear who called – there are two search warrants, and one says it was Brandy. The other says it was Joshua.

When medics arrived, they thought Carly’s cuts and bruises looked suspicious and requested that police investigate, the warrants show.

The Sawyers told police that Brandy Sawyer had spanked Carly, and the girl had thrown herself to the floor. Later, Joshua Sawyer admitted to “using netting material as restraints, restricting the child to a cardboard box as a form of discipline, withholding food and spankings,” according to the warrant.

Handwritten, a detective added “with a belt” with his signature next to it.

“We knew that it was something to this effect,” said Carly’s grandfather, Robert Kimery, whose daughter Jennifer is Carly’s biological mother. “We just didn’t know to the extent.”

The medical examiner who looked at Carly determined the cause of her death was blunt-force trauma, although contributing factors included starvation, ligature restraint and medical neglect.

“Starvation doesn’t just come in a matter of a week or more,” Kimery said. “They’ve both done something to do this to her. It’s not just a one-time incident.”

Police seized two cardboard boxes, one bloody paper towel, a roll of blue mesh, a digital video camera, two insurance documents for Carly, nine photos of the girl, and a black leather belt from the two-story home that the Sawyers were leasing on Oliver Avenue, according to the warrant.

Police also searched for computers and computer equipment, although none are listed among the items seized.

According to the warrant, police found Brandy Sawyer’s page on the social-networking site Facebook, on which she refers to an e-mail account she used to send messages to her friends “about how stressed she was over the children.”

On her Facebook page, Brandy Sawyer wrote multiple times about being depressed.

Feeling “really down and depressed,” she wrote May 14. On April 24, she wrote “I give up omg I just give up.”

The page also includes multiple photo albums with pictures of her children – Carly and two other girls. There are pictures of Carly picking flowers, riding a bike and holding her baby sister. One is from Halloween, another from Christmas. One is titled “Pics of my angels.”

Child Protective Services is caring for the couple’s other two children, police said Monday.

Joshua Sawyer’s lawyer said he could not comment Tuesday. Brandy Sawyer’s lawyer did not return a phone call.

Alicia Wittmeyer, (757) 222-5216,




Child dead in Norfolk, custody battle began in Jacksonville


June 14, 2009 – 7:11 PM

A 5-year-old girl that was subject of a custody fight died Thursday in Norfolk, Va..

Carly Sawyer, whose father Joshua Sawyer was granted custody of her by a Jacksonville court, died of blunt-force trauma, a medical examiner told the Virginia Pilot.

Contributing factors were starvation, ligature restraint and medical neglect.

Paramedics were called to her family’s house in Chesapeake about 5 p.m. Wednesday for a report of an unresponsive child.

Joshua Sawyer, and his wife Brandy Sawyer, were arrested Friday evening and are being held without bond at the Chesapeake jail in Virginia, according to the Pilot.

Brandy Sawyer’s sister, Dana Leigh Browning, was arrested in November by the Onslow County Sheriff’s Department for conceling the birth of a child, failure to report a death and obstruction of justice after allegedly putting her dead newborn girl in a plastic bag, then putting the body in the garbage and not notifying anyone.

Browning is scheduled to appear in court June 30.


Brandy Sawyer’s sister, Dana Leigh Browning


Woman arrested on charges related to dead newborn left in garbage can


November 6, 2008 – 2:40 PM

The alleged mother of a dead newborn girl found in a Hubert area garbage truck has been arrested by the Onslow County Sheriff’s Department.

Dana Leigh Browning, 19, of Freedom Way in Hubert, was charged today with concealing the birth of child, failure to report a death and obstruction of justice. Her bond was set at $9,000.

Sheriff Ed Brown said his detectives have developed information that others may have been involved with the child’s birth.

“When initially questioned, Mrs. Browning lied to investigators,” Brown said in a news release Thursday. “The mother has continued to be uncooperative throughout the investigation.”

Evidence obtained during the investigation positively identified Browning as the mother of the baby, authorities said.

Browning is accused of placing the baby in a plastic bag and putting the bag in the garbage without notifying anyone else, according to warrants.

An autopsy of the remains was conducted by the Onslow County Medical Examiner’s Office and reviewed by the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Chapel Hill. The examiners determined that the baby’s body was that of a full-term newborn, but were unable to determine whether the baby was born alive due to the state of decomposition of the remains.

An employee with MWM Hauling found the body in the back of his garbage truck Oct. 27 while at Sandy Oaks Apartments on Crystal Lane just off N.C. 172.

He told The Daily News that originally he thought the baby was some type of animal because he is used to seeing carcasses in the trash. But a closer look revealed the body to be dead baby. The baby was not clothed, a medical examiner said last week. Emergency workers responded and took the body to the morgue at Onslow Memorial Hospital.

Crime Stoppers of Onslow County is offering a reward of up to $2,500 for information leading to additional arrests in the case.

Anyone with information concerning this incident can contact Maj. Frank Terwilliger or Sgt. T. J. Cavanagh with the Onslow County Sheriff’s Department at 910-455-3113 or Onslow Crime Stoppers at 910-938-3273. Callers do not have to reveal their identities.

Contact crime reporter Lindell Kay at 910-219-8456. Read Lindell’s blog at

Cops question mom with history of abuse accusations in baby’s death

BY Simone Weichselbaum


Monday, June 15th 2009, 4:00 AM

Cops were questioning a Brooklyn mother Sunday night after the death of her 2-month-old baby, police said.

Investigators grilled the unidentified Crown Heights mom, who has faced child abuse accusations before, after little Tuquan Bennett-Shuler was taken to Kings County Hospital.

Police reached the Brooklyn Ave. building about 4 p.m. after Tuquan’s panicked father tried to get neighbor John Mercano to help revive the infant.

The neighbor, whose wife is a nurse, dialed 911 when he realized the newborn was near death. “I tried to help,” said Mercano, 62, who lives down the hall from the family. “I tried to be a good Samaritan.”

Police said the they were investigating whether the mother was drunk or high. The baby had no outward signs of trauma.

Police sources said the mother had four previous incidents involving the Administration for Children’s Services. ACS officials said they are investigating the death, but would not comment on any previous trouble.

Dad Kenneth Shuler was also being quizzed at the 71st Precinct stationhouse.

“[The father] was saying the mother smothered the baby because the baby was crying too much,” Mercano said.

Read more:



As L.A. County spun its wheels, children died,0,7157276.story?page=1





Sarah Chavez was returned to the home of her great-aunt and great-uncle in Alhambra despite having shown signs of abuse. She later died, primarily from a severed lower intestine, caused by a blow to her abdomen, the coroner found. She had just turned 2. The uncle was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child abuse. The aunt pleaded no contest to being an accessory.

Sarah Chavez was returned to the home of her great-aunt and great-uncle in Alhambra despite having shown signs of abuse. She later died, primarily from a severed lower intestine, caused by a blow to her abdomen, the coroner found. She had just turned 2. The uncle was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child abuse. The aunt pleaded no contest to being an accessory.



Sarah Chavez was returned to the home of her great-aunt and great-uncle in Alhambra despite having shown signs of abuse. She later died, primarily from a severed lower intestine, caused by a blow to her abdomen, the coroner found. She had just turned 2. The uncle was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child abuse.

The aunt pleaded no contest to being an accessory.

Agencies have long failed to share information that could save lives. Repeatedly, ghastly cases shock officials, who call for action, which eventually fizzles. An effective database remains elusive.

By Garrett Therolf

June 14, 2009

By the time he was rescued last year, the 5-year-old South Los Angeles boy was so malnourished his kidneys were failing. His hands were so badly burned he could barely open them.

Child welfare officials traced his history, trying to make sense of what had happened. According to documents obtained by The Times, they learned that eight separate agencies in Los Angeles County had pieces of information on the household:

One had evidence that the mother and her girlfriend were abused and neglected as children. Others knew both had committed violent crimes. Still others were aware that both women had been ordered into mental health treatment and that the sickly boy had missed appointments with county doctors.

Over the years, these agencies had come into contact with the boy or his caregivers 108 times — yet no one had pieced together how much danger the child was in. Indeed, county social workers had closed a 2005 child abuse investigation because the evidence was “inconclusive.” They might never have stepped in but for a concerned stranger who delivered the child into their hands.

It was a lesson in how poor communication had put a child’s life at risk — but it was hardly the first. For at least 18 years, Los Angeles County has repeatedly received urgent and sometimes gruesome reminders that its agencies don’t share vital information about potentially abused or neglected children, according to a Times investigation.

There have been numerous calls for reform — but little action. In the passing years, an unknown number of children have been harmed or killed.

At least a dozen reports have landed on county leaders’ desks since the early 1990s saying agencies that work with troubled families must improve their ability to talk to each other. County supervisors have freely admitted that the system is broken, and even have voted several times to establish computer systems to open communication channels.

Solutions have been doomed by bureaucratic infighting, turf wars, privacy concerns and limited political attention spans. When horrific deaths or abuse drop out of the news, the board and department heads often focus elsewhere, leading to long stretches of inaction — until another case gives them a terrible jolt.

“I couldn’t believe it,” former Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke said last year, upon learning of the 5-year-old’s ordeal. “Our system has to be just tighter. . . . This is a time when we really have to be vigilant.”

She joined her four colleagues in once again ordering county workers to draft a plan to improve information sharing. The plan has yet to materialize.

Meanwhile, county officials recently acknowledged that at least 32 children in L.A. County died from abuse or neglect in 2008. That set off another round of questions about what was needed to make kids safer.

“If we had a computer system that allowed us to the see the domestic violence, medical or mental health history in some of these families, some of these children might have been saved,” said Trish Ploehn, director of the county Department of Children and Family Services.

To those who have followed the issue over the years, these words are sadly familiar.

Baby boy starves

The evidence was there for all to see in 1991.

A baby boy, Travon S., had starved to death. On sheets of paper stretching across two walls, then-Sheriff’s Det. Ron Waltman diagramed in rich detail how Los Angeles County had repeatedly failed the child.

His audience included dozens of people — officials from the coroner’s office and Family Services, supervisors’ appointees, health authorities and others. Police had known about violence between the parents and drunken brawls with neighbors. County doctors had treated the child, even dispatching health workers to find him after missed appointments. Family Services workers had investigated allegations of child abuse.

Ten agencies in all had connected with the family 52 times over the years, starting before Travon was born — but, as Waltman made abundantly clear, none were talking to the others.

“People just snapped to attention,” Deanne Tilton Durfee, the longtime director of the county’s child abuse task force, recalled in 1995. “It was beautiful to see how dumb we really were.”

County supervisors tapped Tilton Durfee to push for changes in Sacramento. The next year, legislation was passed intended to make it easier for mental health, medical, educational, criminal and family services agencies to share records. For Los Angeles County, such a computerized system would cost little to operate — about $600,000 a year.

 But the effort quickly lost steam.

For nine years — from 1992 to 2001 — the system was stalled as L.A. County agencies squabbled over who should pay what for the system and which staffers should be allowed to use it, said Tilton Durfee.

Four more years went by as the union representing social workers argued that the system would unreasonably increase workloads, Ploehn said. The union did not respond to a request for comment.

Finally, in 2005, the Family and Children’s Index was ready for use. But it proved an enormous disappointment — even to those who built it.

In response to privacy concerns among supervisors and lawmakers, it provided a minimal amount of information. And even that was cumbersome to retrieve.

For instance, Family Services could get records from the Department of Mental Health only if the two agencies were already working together on a case. Then they had to form a three-person committee to investigate. Then investigators had to contact mental health workers for details because information in the computer was so limited.

Individual agencies were free to decide which cases to enter into the index. They were not guided by the factors that Family Services investigators used to compute risk.

“It was junk in, junk out,” said Waltman, who has left to work for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department.

Many agencies — including schools, the county coroner, probation and the Los Angeles Police Department — provided no information at all.

That proved a problem as investigations increasingly were carried out by less experienced social workers, many of whom lacked personal contacts in other agencies.

Today, just 11% of caseworkers for the Department of Children and Family Services use the index, according to department statistics.

A child’s suicide

In 1998, a 12-year-old boy killed himself at an emergency shelter for foster kids, the MacLaren Children’s Center in El Monte. Jason Pokrzywinski had been under the watch of an aide when he slipped away and inhaled propellant from a can of hairstyling foam.

Though the death may not have been preventable, investigators found that mental health professionals, physicians and social workers at the facility were not sharing information even as they worked side by side.

Children’s advocates mobilized. Members of the county’s Commission on Children and Families — a volunteer panel appointed by county supervisors — enlisted the board’s support in developing a new system to link various agencies to prevent neglect and abuse.

Then turf battles erupted. The commission and Tilton Durfee’s task force, which have a long-standing rivalry, did not work together.

Federal authorities balked, saying the new system would compete with an existing network they had paid for that allowed child welfare authorities across the state to share information. They threatened to pull their money.

The county could have forgone federal funding or tried to incorporate its new system into the federally sponsored one. Instead, supervisors abandoned the commission’s idea altogether, according to commission members.

Every year since then — and twice in 2001 — the commission has recommended creating a better communication system, dressing the same idea in different phrasing. In 1999, they called it an “Internet Passport;” in 2003, “Health and Information Education Local Information Exchange,” or HELIX.

Last fall, after the rescue of the 5-year-old from South Los Angeles, county officials seemed to be taking the idea seriously once again. About a dozen officials — including supervisors’ aides — took a foundation-sponsored field trip to study a successful system in Allegheny County, Pa., home of Pittsburgh. The system is known as Data Warehouse and connects 80 separate computer systems with one central database.

By whatever name, the idea never got off the ground in L.A. County

Injuries, then death

On Oct. 10, 2005, a toddler with a severely broken arm was taken to Garfield Medical Center in Monterey Park by her great-aunt.

Severely dehydrated, Sarah Chavez stared blankly and did not respond to pain. After rebuffing doctors’ requests to do a CT scan and other tests, the aunt took the girl home.

The next day, Sarah was dead. She had just turned 2.

The primary cause was a severed lower intestine, caused by a blow to her abdomen, the coroner found.

A month later, the partly decomposed body of an infant boy, Mikeal Wah-hab III, was found on the bed of an empty room in a cheap Monterey Park motel, covered with a beige blanket. The coroner said he died of a head injury.

Michael J. Gennaco, a special counsel hired by the supervisors, reviewed both deaths for the county, finding — yet again — that no one was piecing together information across agencies. His findings were detailed in two confidential reports addressed to the supervisors and reviewed by The Times.

According to Gennaco, Sarah Chavez had come to the attention of police and social workers on Jan. 1, when her mother gave birth to a stillborn infant into a toilet.

Police learned that the toddler was living with her great-aunt and great-uncle in Alhambra. After visiting the home, officers noted in their report that the girl showed signs of abuse, taking pictures of bruises under each eye and a cut on her nose. She was placed in foster care.

When it came time to present the evidence of abuse to a court, however, a new social worker was handling the case. Without ready access to the police report and photos, she did not cite or produce them.

The court referee ordered Sarah reunited with the great-aunt and great-uncle.

The uncle was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child abuse. The aunt pleaded no contest to being an accessory.

“It appears that various DCFS personnel were unaware of vital information concerning Sarah,” Gennaco wrote. “It is also apparent that various [other] agencies . . . may have been unaware of basic information concerning Sarah, either because information is not routinely shared, or because it is not easily accessible or obtainable.

“Whatever the reason, the failure to access or communicate important child welfare information — either within DCFS or between agencies in the child welfare system — is a fundamental flaw that placed children in the system at risk.”

Gennaco noted similar failings in the death of the infant found in the motel.

Weeks before, the baby had been judged healthy by Family Services investigators who examine children living on skid row.

What the investigators did not know was that the family had had contact with at least four agencies in the prior two months — housing, social services and mental health agencies as well as a nonprofit that processes mental health benefits.

An employee at the nonprofit told his boss that he was concerned about the father’s ability to care for the child.

Family Services investigators knew nothing about what these agencies had observed.

Seeing no obvious signs of abuse and finding no records of a hotline call alleging abuse, the investigators found no cause to check further even into the records of Family Services own database. Had they done so, they would have learned that an older sibling had been removed from the family three years earlier after testing positive for cocaine exposure.

The boy’s father, charged with assault on a child, pleaded not guilty. A pretrial conference is set for next month.

Supervisor Gloria Molina took a deep personal interest in the infant’s case, launching a system in which county departments began to effectively share information about children on skid row. But she was unable to expand the program, in part for lack of money.

Gennaco’s final report was delivered May 19, 2006. Instead of acting on his broader concerns, the board quietly ended his assignment reviewing child deaths.

He had been doing the work for free.

Evidence of torture

In the end, the evidence was etched on the South Los Angeles boy’s emaciated body: cigarette burns on his genitals, whip marks, scars on his hands from a hot stove.

Strangers stepped in before the county did. Within days of one another, one called after hearing the 5-year-old complain about his burns in a Metro Rail station, and another called from a college admissions office where the mother had applied, saying the boy appeared hurt. A third person plucked him off the street and delivered him to authorities.

Until he was rescued, the sum total of what social workers were able to glean from fellow agencies was that the mother had gone to prison in 2005 and the boy had received all necessary vaccinations. Family Services should also have known from its own records that the mother and girlfriend were abused as children — a risk factor for becoming an abuser.

“I was angry and hurt because we had spent nearly 20 years trying to avoid this very situation,” Tilton Durfee said. “It was so clear that this case was preventable.”

In a way, the 5-year-old was lucky. He lived.

At least three other children died in 2008 who might have been saved by a better computer system, according to Family Services Director Ploehn.

They included a 2-year-old Pomona girl who died of malnourishment, a 2-year-old Los Angeles boy whose mentally retarded mother left him with a violent stranger and a 6-month-old Carsonboy who suffocated when his mother put a sock in his mouth.

In each case, social workers lacked vital information possessed by other agencies that probably would have led them to remove the child from the home.

At a recent meeting during which the latest deaths were discussed, county supervisors expressed shock at the recurrent tragedies.

“Who let these children fall through the cracks?” asked Supervisor Mike Antonovich.


Out of the Loop



County supervisors’ stances,0,5525428.story

June 14, 2009


Where they stand


No specific plan to improve information-sharing during child abuse investigations has the support of a majority of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors:

Mike Antonovich and Gloria Molina: Working on a proposal modeled on a system in Allegheny County, Pa., that allows child abuse investigators full access to detailed case histories. The plan is still in draft form.

Don Knabe: Declined to comment and asked his staff to refrain from comment.

Mark Ridley-Thomas: Still studying the issue and has not committed to a specific plan but said he believes a child’s safety should have priority over privacy concerns.

Zev Yaroslavsky: Citing privacy concerns, he opposes efforts to provide child abuse investigators with electronic access to a person’s full case history with the county.

Where they stand



Files detail deaths of 14 children,0,2767521.story

The abuse cases came from families that had been under scrutiny by L.A. County child welfare officials.

State: county’s response to abuse reports not adequate in Hawes case


Wednesday, June 10, 2009 9:48 PM CDT

RACINE — Racine County did not respond adequately to allegations of abuse in a home where a boy later suffocated, according to a state report released Wednesday.

Brian Hawes, 2, died Sept. 22, after his mother’s boyfriend reportedly tied him up with a blanket to keep him in bed. Racine County’s Child Protective Services department had received several calls about treatment of Brian and his older brother, and had initiated investigation into the claims of abuse.

The mother has been sentenced to three years in prison; the boyfriend is due in court for a motion hearing June 30.

Brian’s death triggered an investigation into the county’s handling of the case. The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families supervises county agencies related to child welfare and provides oversight on child welfare issues.

The state found the county’s response inadequate in several respects. Notably, the state says that the county should have forwarded every call reporting abuse or maltreatment in the home to staff. The county only did so with one of the four calls made. Two calls were taken as information only; a police officer asked to make a welfare check on the children in the fourth call found the children were fine.

The state DCF communications director called Brian’s death “an absolute tragedy” in a statement released along with the report.

“It is an unfortunate necessity that the child welfare system exists to try to detect and prevent child abuse,” read the statement by Communications Director Erika Monroe-Kane. “Child welfare professionals deal with some of the most difficult issues in our counties.”

After Brian’s death, DCF reviewed the services provided to Brian and his family to evaluate the county’s practice in this particular case and to determine what could be done to “improve case practice and prevent such future tragedies.”

Monroe-Kane noted that while judgment calls must be made in “determining the appropriate steps to keep children safe” there are standard practices to aid staff.

“We find that the Racine County Human Services Department was not in full compliance with all applicable standards in this case,” Monroe-Kane wrote.

Prior to the release of this report the county made several changes to the way CPS functions in an effort to improve response and compliance. The contents of the report do not come as a surprise, said County Executive Chief of Staff Geoff Greiveldinger.

“This is what we were expecting,” Greiveldinger said. “It’s what we had discussed with the DCF when we visited with them in May. It reflects the kind of things we’ve already undertaken to help enhance the quality of our services.”

The DCF report recognizes the county’s work to make changes, including hiring more staff and training staff on policies and procedures, like taking information from callers.

The county must submit a plan to the state within 60 days, outlining how it will meet the requirements outlined in the report. The state will sign off on the plan, once it is determined to be sufficient, said DCF spokesman Ryan Reszel. Additionally, he said, the state will work with the county on implementing the changes.

The abuse allegations

– July 23: A source said the adults were “dealing weed” and a relative was called to bring food to the family because there was no food in the home. The source said Tisa Hawes, Brian’s mother, allegedly locked him in his room for three to four hours.

Action: CPS took the call as information only.

– Aug. 25: A person alleged that for punishment, the older child had been locked in his bedroom for the past month. The person said Tisa Hawes had admitted to the caller that she hit him with a belt. The caller said the boyfriend, Jessie Rodriguez, punched or slapped Brian in the mouth, resulting in swelling and a cut on his lip. The caller also described seeing marijuana and drug paraphernalia around the home, and said when Tisa Hawes used drugs she left the children upstairs or outside without supervision.

Action: CPS forwarded the call to staff.

– Sept. 6: A report alleged the children were locked in their room whenever they were home. The person said a neighbor was speaking to the children through an open window when Rodriguez reportedly pulled Brian away from the window, the neighbor heard hitting, and cardboard was subsequently placed over the windows. Tisa Hawes reportedly told a neighborhood teenager that “Brian needs to be slapped a few times to go to sleep every night,” according to the report.

Action: CPS contacted law enforcement to conduct a welfare check.

– Sept. 17: The children were reported to be locked in their rooms for long periods of time. The older child reportedly started a fire while confined to his room, and showed a visitor the belt Rodriguez allegedly used to beat the children.

Action: CPS took the call as information only.

Source: Wisconsin Department of Children and Families

State requirements of Racine County Child Protective Services

– Review initial assessments on a random sample of completed cases. The state will assist with the review and provide feedback about the findings. The agency must develop a plan to address issues identified in the Hawes review and issues that come up in the larger review of random cases. This is already in progress.

– Supervisors and workers must complete focused training on the purpose of initial assessments. The training should provide direction about gathering thorough information and how that information is used to inform case decisions and planning. Some training has been done; additional training is ongoing.

– CPS investigators must receive on-the-job support and oversight while conducting assessments and the county must develop and enforce practices that emphasize gathering and analyzing family information to make informed decisions about child safety. This has been done. The county has hired additional staff and changed the job title from “investigator” to “family assessment worker” to reflect the shift in focus.

– The county must develop follow-up training on safety standards to enhance workers’ knowledge and application of safety criteria. This will help workers analyze safety of children and impending threats. This is ongoing.

Could the death of Santa Maria 3-year-old in foster care have been prevented?

Posted: June 12, 2009 07:54 PM EDT

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reported by: Jimena Martinez

The Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury looks into whether the death of a local child could have been prevented.

3-year-old Gilbert Dominguez was found dead in an apartment in Santa Maria last June. His foster mother and her boyfriend currently face murder charges.

In a recent report, the grand jury found social workers who placed Gilbert in the home made some errors in judgement. It adds that communication between social workers was inadequate.

But the jury says Child Welfare Services did not provide details from its own investigation.

So the jury says it could not confirm that social workers followed all procedures.



Failing Kalab | Chapter 5 – Dealing with the fallout


Kalab Lay’s death has sparked dialogue, but is it enough?


Kalab Lay
Kalab Lay


By Kate Braser, Libby Keeling

Posted June 14, 2009 at 12:08 a.m.

EVANSVILLE — He was just a little boy, an innocent with no agenda, who inadvertently became a symbol of flaws within the system responsible for keeping children safe.

His parents’ choices and circumstances, with consequences both painful and enduring, marked Kalab Lay before he was born, an unheeded warning of the marks his 3-year-old body would take to the grave.

Addiction, crime, violence, poverty, neglect and harsh punishment were Kalab’s unfortunate inheritance, one for which he paid a dear and devastating price.

“I don’t think there’s been a child that’s died in our community that’s touched a nerve more than this child,” said Rep. Dennis Avery, D-Evansville, a longtime champion of children’s issues and transparency in the system designed to prevent maltreatment of the state’s youngest citizens.

Dysfunction simmering for decades in Kalab’s family finally erupted within a system that had numerous opportunities, but ultimately failed, to keep him safe from harm.

“Kalab opened many doors to possibilities so that children do not have to endure what he had to endure. The question is how many people are willing to walk through the doors that he has opened,” said Melanie Doty of the WE CARE (Wholeness, Empowerment, Community, Awareness, Recognition and Education) project that supported the victims’ rights bill, authored by Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville, and signed into law in May.

“It’s just a matter of when are people going to walk through those doors and do what needs to be done to protect our children,” said Doty.

Amanda Brooks, Kalab’s mother, was abused and neglected as a child. Kalab’s father, Terry Lay, was a juvenile delinquent who matured into a felon with a lengthy criminal history including episodes of violence.

The volatile combination of Brooks, 34, and Lay, 41, ultimately proved deadly. Three months into a court-ordered visit with his parents in the family’s home at Eastbrook Mobile Home Park, Kalab died of blunt-force trauma. Both he and his twin sister, Kayla, had been brutally beaten, reportedly by their parents, over a period of days.

“I think it is absolutely clear that the biggest problem was the judge ignored recommendations from the people close to the case,” Avery said.

Embracing the memory of a boy they never knew, outraged individuals in the community came together, crying out for justice, holding vigil, raising funds for Kalab’s headstone, promoting awareness of abuse and neglect and calling for legislative change.

“There were a number of incidences where children suffered unfortunate tragedies as a result of abuse and neglect,” said Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, who co-authored the bill known as Kalab’s Law with Riecken.

The bill was referred to but did not receive reading in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill calls for a registry of those convicted of child-selling, neglect of a dependent or battery upon a child.

Indiana has not released its 2008 data, but in 2007, 36 Hoosier children died as a result of maltreatment by caregivers. In Illinois fiscal year 2008, 88 children died as a result of abuse or neglect. The most recent data available from Kentucky is from 2005, when abuse or neglect took the lives of 41 children.

“It’s all the Kalab Lays throughout the state that cause legislation like this to be drafted …” Crouch said.

Although 14 months have passed since Kalab was killed, his legacy — including demand for transparency and accountability in child protective services — has endured even as new tragedies have moved into the headlines.

At best, Kalab’s story will promote successful outcomes within the system that failed in its duty to protect him and keep him safe.

“In my opinion, it brought to light to everyone, especially in this community, how important it is to report any child abuse and neglect,” said Suzanne Draper, executive director of Vanderburgh County CASA (the Court Appointed Special Advocate program).

The amount of information released about Kalab’s life and death has fueled the community’s passion, Doty said.

The Courier & Press obtained a copy of Kalab’s Indiana Department of Child Services death investigation file through legislation championed by Avery in 2004. The law requires disclosure of DCS investigations into the death or near-death of a child as a result of abuse, abandonment or neglect.

In the first three months of this year alone, three children ages 16 months and younger have died, reportedly as a result of action or inaction by parents or stepparents.

“I just don’t think it’s right using him as a poster child,” said Kalab’s uncle and Brooks’ brother, Patrick Lawrence. Ongoing media coverage and the community’s focus on Kalab have been difficult on Kalab’s surviving half brothers, who are in their teens, said Lawrence.

Still, it is Kalab who wears the mantle of child welfare reform.

Kalab was just a little boy who liked jelly beans and Spider-Man, according to his obituary; a little boy who enjoyed cartoons and playing with his twin, according to the Indiana DCS investigation; a little boy described as holding “big secrets” by former baby sitter Heidi Frazure; and a little boy who died of traumatic brain injuries from repeated blows to the head, according to Vanderburgh County Coroner Annie Groves.

He was a little boy who never had the chance to blow out candles on his fourth birthday cake or pick out school supplies for the first day of kindergarten.

He was just a little boy, beaten, neglected and allowed to die by the people who were supposed to love him most.

In December, Brooks pleaded guilty to neglect of a dependent resulting in death in connection with Kalab’s death and felony battery resulting in serious bodily injury to a person less than 14 years of age related to the physical abuse Kayla suffered.

The plea agreement includes a sentencing recommendation of 20 years on the battery count and 35 years on the count of neglect to be served concurrently in the Indiana Department of Correction.

It also stipulates Brooks must testify “completely and truthfully” against Lay if called upon to do so. Vanderburgh Superior Court Judge Robert Pigman is waiting to impose a sentence until Brooks has cooperated fully with law enforcement and testified against the man she filed for divorce from in February.

If the judge accepts the plea agreement, charges of murder, neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury and battery resulting in bodily injury will be dismissed.

Authorities believe Brooks and Lay physically abused the twins, but Lay is responsible for Kalab’s fatal injuries.

Lay is charged with murder, neglect of a dependent resulting in death and neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury and is scheduled to stand trial in September in Jeffersonville, Ind.

If convicted in Clark County Circuit Court, where the case was moved because of pretrial publicity, the jury also could deem Lay to be a habitual offender, which could add as many as 30 years to his sentence.

According to Brooks’ public defender, she was sexually, physically and mentally abused by men for more than 20 years. Speaking on the day of her plea, Evansville attorney Russ Woodson said evidence shows abuse continued after Brooks married Lay.

As a result of her background, Woodson said he did not think Brooks was capable of being a good mother. Avery concurs, saying child abuse is a learned behavior passed from one generation to the next.

That doesn’t sit well with everyone.

“Being a product of generational abuse is no excuse, because you are a grown-up,” Doty said. “You know you have choices and it is up to you to make the choices that are best for your child and yourself.”

Information in Kalab’s file indicating Brooks faced a 1997 charge of child neglect in Delaware County, Ind., is incorrect, Lawrence said. The Delaware County Clerk’s Office could not confirm the charge.

Lay, however, pleaded guilty in 1996 to felony charges of resisting law enforcement and neglect of a dependent after being accused of fleeing Evansville police while “driving at an excessively high rate of speed, running stop signs and weaving in and out of traffic” with his 2-year-old and a 3-year-old in the car, according to court records.

He was sentenced to three years in the Indiana Department of Correction. The children’s mother, Roselyn Stanton, was facing jail time on a separate matter and there reportedly was no one to care for the children, Lay told Illinois Department of Children and Family Services during a 2007 assessment. The couple relinquished their parental rights, and the boy and girl were adopted.

Lay has said there was “no doubt in his mind” Brooks caused Kalab’s injuries, and told investigators he had no knowledge of the injuries Kayla suffered.

Lawrence said his sister told him Lay delivered the fatal beating four days before Kalab’s hospitalization on March 31, 2008.

“My theory is that Amanda knew something had happened, OK? Something serious had happened. I think Amanda was scared. I think Amanda knew that once she took that baby to the hospital, here it goes all over again. They’re going to come yank up all the kids. Here we go all over again, domino effect,” Lawrence said.

“I believe Amanda was hoping everything was going to be all right and that (Kalab) would pull through. The worst-case scenario happened, you know what I mean? He died.”

Kalab was seen last by an Illinois caseworker March 18, when Reagan Nelson of Lutheran Social Services informed the family she would be out of the office until March 31.

On April 1, Brooks’ mother, Patricia Bivens, called Nelson at 8:45 a.m.: “(Bivens) was crying and screaming and telling (Nelson) how sorry she was. She did not know what was going on in the home,” according to the caseworker’s notes.

Bivens said Brooks had told her Kalab was brain dead, at which point Nelson became “speechless.”

Both Brooks and Lay already were incarcerated at the Vanderburgh County Jail as Kalab remained on life support in preparation for organ procurement April 2.

His heart went to a 23-month-old girl in Wisconsin; his liver to a 1-year-old girl in Ohio; and both kidneys to a 75-year-old Ohio woman, according to Rick Posson, Indiana Organ Procurement spokesman.

When Kalab was hospitalized, one of Brooks’ sons from her first marriage was living with the family at 2415 Long Point Drive. His father picked him up. Indiana DCS took custody of Kayla; Brooks’ nearly 2-year-old daughter, whom Lay had not fathered; and the couple’s 1-month-old son.

Bivens sought custody of the surviving Lay children: the older two, still in their Illinois foster home; Kayla, who was returned to her Illinois foster home; and the two younger children, who were placed in Vanderburgh County foster care.

Her effort was unsuccessful, turned down because of a “significant history” with child welfare services that began with allegations of abuse and neglect of her own children in the mid-1970s, according to an Indiana DCS report.

Lawrence said he believes Brooks has relinquished her parental rights to the five surviving children she had during her relationship with Lay. He does not know if Lay has relinquished his parental rights.

However, Lawrence said no one in Brooks’ family, including her two oldest sons, is being allowed to visit any of the children who are wards of Indiana or Illinois.

“I sit back and cry sometimes about that. I really do,” Lawrence said. “I loved them all.”

Illinois DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said when children are in the system, sibling visitation is a high priority. Maintaining sibling contact is of critical importance to children, he said, and DCFS operates under a mandate requiring good faith efforts to facilitate visitation for siblings and half siblings not placed together or not in the system.

“Once a child is adopted, the adoptive parents have sole legal authority to make decisions about who a child sees and when, just like any other legal parent,” Marlowe said.

In Indiana, sibling visitation occurs at the discretion of the presiding juvenile judge, said Indiana DCS spokeswoman Ann Houseworth.

The last official word on the status of the three children in Illinois came from Saline County (Ill.) State’s Attorney Mike Henshaw, who said the process for termination of parental rights is on hold.

Although Saline County Circuit Court Judge Todd Lambert was voted out of office by a narrow margin in November, he was appointed in January to serve as an associate judge. Henshaw said Lambert has recused himself from the Lay children’s proceedings.

In the weeks after Kalab’s death, Vanderburgh Juvenile Court Judge Brett Niemeier attempted to provide insight into the workings of the court and DCS by granting media access to the proceedings of the two youngest children in the Brooks-Lay case, who were — and still may be — in local foster care.

Niemeier also cited specific Indiana Code stating a juvenile judge may grant “any person having a legitimate interest in the work of the court or in a particular case access to the court’s legal records.”

In June 2008, the Indiana Court of Appeals granted a motion for a temporary stay filed by Brooks’ attorney, effectively barring the media from attending the custody proceedings. The court later ruled Niemeier erred in releasing CHINS (children-in-need of services) records related to Kalab’s siblings.

“Openness and transparency better serve children,” said Amy Harfeld, executive director of First Star, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that focuses on improving the lives of children victimized by abuse and neglect.

Both Harfeld and Avery said Indiana law gives juvenile court judges the authority to open or close proceedings.

“More often than not, when decisions are made to try to keep proceedings a secret, the state is more interested in protecting the identity of their employees who may have erred than they are other children that may be at risk after a fatality like this,” Harfeld said.

In April 2008, First Star and the University of San Diego School of Law’s Children’s Advocacy Institute released a report showing only a handful of states were in compliance with federal requirements for public disclosure of the deaths and near-deaths of abused and neglected children.

According to the report, a majority of states have policies giving confidentiality priority over children’s welfare while preventing scrutiny that could lead to systemic reform.

The report also issued each state a letter grade based on its laws and policies related to disclosure of child death and near-death information. Only two states, Nevada and New Hampshire, earned an “A.” Indiana was among four states to receive an “A-” grade.

Twenty-eight states got a “C+” or lower, and 10 flunked. Illinois earned a “B+” and Kentucky a “C-” grade.

In this year’s general assembly, Avery said he worked to clarify Indiana’s disclosure laws to advance the state’s grade to an “A.” The bill, which passed, provides more specificity in terms of what information should be released.

According to Kalab’s file, the Lay twins and their two older siblings all had developmental delays, and the two living with foster parent Pam Sullens were described as having behaviors that pointed toward abuse. Kalab and Kayla were exposed to methamphetamine, alcohol and cigarette smoke while in the womb.

After Kalab was pronounced brain dead, the twins’ LSSI caseworker arrived in Evansville to return Kayla to Illinois, according to notes written by Nelson and included in Kalab’s file. During the drive, Nelson tried to reassure Kayla that nothing that had happened was her fault.

Standing in a McDonald’s parking lot at 8 p.m., Kayla began crying. She did not want to go with the new foster parent and did not want Nelson to leave her side.

In an effort to comfort her, Nelson gave her a stuffed hippo to keep her company, a kiss and a promise to see her the next day.

Eventually, Kayla was returned to foster parents Michele and Gerald Mitchell, who had cared for Kalab and Kayla since they were removed from their parents’ care at 2 months of age.

The transition from the Brooks-Lay home also proved difficult for the twins’ younger sister, who was placed with the same foster parent as their 1-month-old brother.

“She still wakes up at night screaming and has to be reassured and put back to bed,” the foster mother told Indiana DCS family case manager Amy Brandsasse about one week after the children arrived in her home. “(She) follows her from room to room, and they have to be in the same room.”

As Indiana repeatedly denied Illinois’ request to place the children across the state line in Illinois, Avery said the welfare of the younger children should have been given greater consideration.

“I wonder if those smaller children were abused …” he said. “If those 3-year-olds were at risk, I believe those younger children were at risk.”

Houseworth said statutory requirements for the interstate compact are more rigorous than those of an investigation stemming from a report of abuse or neglect.

The compact, for example, requires an FBI criminal background check while a reported allegation does not.

While the twins still were in Illinois foster care, LSSI called the Indiana child abuse hot line to report that Brooks repeatedly had lied about being pregnant. After her daughter was born in April 2006, Brooks told LSSI the child was her sister-in-law’s and refused to provide access to records regarding the pregnancy and the baby’s medical care.

“LSSI believes it is vital to assess her safety and well-being considering Amanda’s past history,” according to an Illinois DCFS report signed by LSSI caseworker Angela Nalley.

In the hot line call, Nalley reported Brooks, a prior meth user, had four children in Illinois foster care, all of whom were malnourished and in poor physical condition when they entered the system.

When Vanderburgh County DCS investigator Matt Murphy checked on Brooks, she admitted the child was hers. She said she had planned to put the baby up for adoption but changed her mind.

Murphy informed Nalley he was not concerned about the child’s health because Brooks and the baby were living with Brooks’ mother and had appropriate food, according to Illinois DCFS records.

In August 2006, Nalley saw Brooks and Lay after a court date they missed by arriving 30 minutes late. Nalley told the couple the case had passed legal screening, a first step in the adoption process, and Illinois DCFS would be preparing a petition to terminate their parental rights to the four children in state foster care.

One of the primary reasons for Indiana’s repeated denial of interstate compact requests for the twins’ placement was Lay’s extensive criminal history.

“That’s something we should look into. That might be something that would be valuable information for the (Indiana) DCS caseworker that’s doing the investigation,” Avery said. “It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have that information.”

While Kalab and Kayla were in Illinois foster care, three LSSI child welfare specialists working on behalf of Illinois DCFS recommended the court change its goal from returning them home to substitute care pending termination of parental rights.

The foster parents the four Lay children were placed with had indicated interest in adoption. Eight records from Kalab’s file show from July 2005 to November 2007 LSSI/DCFS recommendations to the court almost were split equally among returning the children to their biological parents, terminating parental rights and preparing the case for legal screening, a step in the adoption process.

“The whole system in itself is very complex and there’s a lot that goes into these types of cases and the end result is horrific …” said Draper, executive director of Vanderburgh County’s CASA. “It’s a more complex issue with two states involved.”

The Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children has been in place for decades, said Anita Light, director of Children and Family Services at the American Public Human Services Association in Washington, D.C. The Association of Administrators of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children is an affiliate of that association.

Under the ICPC, the association of administrators has the authority to advance regulations related to more effective application of the compact’s terms as well as to mediate disputes potentially arising between states.

When 35 states have ratified a new version of the ICPC, it will take effect. So far, nine states — including Indiana — have ratified. ICPC program manager in the Children and Family Services Department Carla Fults said Kentucky has introduced the legislation, and Illinois has attempted to move toward ratification but the legislation has not passed.

Both Light and Fults declined to discuss the specifics of the Brooks-Lay case. However, Fults did say the existing ICPC includes language outlining violations, but the determination of whether a violation of the compact has occurred is left to individual states.

Enforcement authority, data collection, electronic usage, constitutionality, judicial authority and private versus independent adoption were among the issues evaluated in preparing the new ICPC, Fults said.

Providing more guidance to help states better understand what’s expected and what can be resolved from one state to another are among the reasons for the development of the new ICPC, Light said.

The new compact would provide greater uniformity in application but not complete uniformity.

“States are very much in the business of accountability and examining what it is they’re doing, where improvements need to be made and a real objective analysis of the kinds of resources that are needed to provide those services to children and families,” Light said.

Indiana denied Illinois’ third request for an interstate compact in March 2008 after the twins were placed with their parents.

“The interstate compact as currently written requires cooperation between states toward the protection of children and has achieved that goal in thousands of cases over the years,” Marlowe said.

“The compact only succeeds … when agencies, courts and attorneys fully understand and implement its requirements.”

Illinois and Indiana authorities began exploring another agreement in support of the compact and to better coordinate the work of agencies, courts and attorneys in both states after Kalab’s death, Marlowe said.

“In our day-to-day practice, we have increased scrutiny and follow-up on cases that were denied under the compact to ensure that they are handled properly,” Marlowe said.

In addition to Lay’s criminal history, an interstate compact was denied because of both parents’ convictions on methamphetamine-related charges and lack of bonding between the twins and their parents.

Vanderburgh County DCS informed Illinois DCFS the twins should be removed from the Evansville home in a letter dated March 14, 2008 — 18 days before Kalab died.

“Due to the fact it was a judicial order that sent the children here, we were unable to take any action,” Houseworth said.

If the same situation were to arise today, with a “sending” state ignoring denial by Indiana as the “receiving” state, Avery said changes in state law would allow Indiana to take the sending state to court.

Indiana DCS officials have said they still were waiting for Illinois to remove the children from the home when Kalab died.

If Indiana can be faulted for anything in the case, Avery said, it would be an unwillingness to get involved.

“Our unwillingness was based on sound reasoning,” he said. “The children shouldn’t have been in that family. … This judge pretty much ignored the law.”

Initially, Brooks and Lay indicated they would like the surviving children to be placed with Brooks’ mother. However, in the divorce documents Brooks filed, she declined the opportunity to recommend someone to assume custody of the children.

Susan Tielking, former Indiana DCS spokeswoman, said the case caused state officials to reconsider policies for supervision of children who are placed in a home where an interstate compact was denied.

“Every year it seems like we do a little bit more but the only way we can know about those problems is if someone brings them to our attention,” Avery said. “It seems like children keep dying and it should be of concern to us all. Is there something else we could be doing?”



Failing Kalab | Reunification

By Libby Keeling

Posted June 14, 2009 at 11:24 p.m.

June 2005

Brooks released from Lincoln Correctional Facility, where she had completed a parenting program and drug counseling through the Gateway program.

November 2005

Brooks completed a Southwestern Indiana Mental Health Center mental health assessment. No recommendation for counseling.

January 2006

Brooks completed 10 relapse-prevention groups.

Brooks completed substance abuse evaluation; recommended completion of 10 relapse-prevention groups.

February 2006

Brooks completed a Southwestern Indiana Mental Health Center substance abuse treatment program.

July 2006

Lay released from Jacksonville Correctional Facility, where he completed Gateway substance abuse treatment.

September 2006

Lay received mental health assessment; recommendation to continue random drug testing and follow up with parole officer.

Lay completed substance abuse assessment at Deaconess Cross Pointe with recommendation for continued urine screening.

November 2006

Brooks attended appointment with psychologist Michael Althoff in Carbondale, Ill.; second session scheduled.

December 2006

Brooks, because of illness, canceled second appointment with psychologist Michael Althoff in Carbondale, Ill.

January 2007

Lay was scheduled to begin parenting classes at Lampion Center.

February 2007

Brooks completed psychological evaluation by psychologist Michael Althoff in Carbondale, Ill.

March 2007

Lay completed parenting and behavior management programs.

July 2007

Lay missed an appointment for evaluation with psychologist Michael Althoff in Carbondale, Ill.

October 2007

Lay attended appointment for evaluation with psychologist Michael Althoff in Carbondale, Ill.

Lay completed psychological evaluation by psychologist Marilyn Marks-Frey at Paris Community Hospital in Paris, Ill.

January 2008

Brooks appointment for family counseling at the Lampion Center rescheduled because of weather.

Sources: Indiana Department of Child Services investigation of Kalab Lay’s death, court documents, court proceedings, law enforcement records




Failing Kalab | Family history


By Libby Keeling

Posted June 14, 2009 at 11:22 p.m.


Failing Kalab | Court proceedings


By Libby Keeling

Posted June 14, 2009 at 11:19 p.m.












Joshua William Smith
Joshua William Smith


War Between Texas and North Carolina


For THREE years North Carolina refuses to Obey the State and Federal Codes of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), and ignores Orders from Texas Judges to Return Joshua William Smith, a Texas resident. Texas District Court Granted a Writ of Habeas Corpus, to be enforced by law enforcement in retrieving Joshua William Smith from NC and returning him to Texas. The Second Court of Appeals in North Carolina has ruled, “North Carolina does not have subject matter jurisdiction.”
 As of May 2009, Joshua Smith remains in the (UNLAWFUL) Temporary custody of NC Social Services, for over THREE years, in violation of Federal UCCJEA and the state laws of NC and TX, cited throughout the linked court documents below. If you read the most recent Appellate court ruling, you will know the NC court’s opinion, based on cited case law, in determining that North Carolina does not have jurisdiction over the custody and care of Joshua William Smith.
North Carolina’s Second Court of Appeals ruled that NC does not have Jurisdiction, WHY is NC allowed to illegally detain Joshua Smith? (The above portions, documents and pictures provided by

Joshua William Smith, School Picture

Joshua William Smith, School Picture


To see the rest of the hope4kidz story on Joshua visit:


Before CPS Custody

Before CPS Custody






I was contacted by hope4kidz because they thought I might want to look at the documentation in this case and post this story on my blog, since I live in North Carolina and receive a lot of North Carolina visitors.  After viewing the documentation in this case I must say that I am absolutely shocked that the Carteret County Department of Social Services and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has been allowed to get away with the Federal Kidnapping of Joshua!

 I include the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services as a responsible party in this case because they have an Principal/agent relationship with county offices.  With the court action that has occurred in this case, North Carolina DSS surely knows what is occurring in their own state and has the power to order Carteret County to relinquish their illegal custody of Joshua.  The courts here in North Carolina have found and held the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services responsible for the actions of county offices, their agents.

 Upon reviewing the documents in this case it is crystal clear that this child in being illegally detained by the State of North Carolina in violation of a Texas Court Order, state and federal laws. 








Before CPS Custody

Before CPS Custody





Here are the documents that I reviewed in order by the dates they were filed the links to the full pdf documents are in yellow:

Smith Javan – GAL Report from 5_16_08

Amazingly in this document the GAL admits that Joshua’s environment is not stable….well North Carolina has had illegal custody of him for the last 2 years and 25 days at the time of her report, (over 3 years now)  and according to the North Carolina Court of appeals Joshua has been in numerous placements since North Carolina illegally removed this child from his fathers care based on unproven and false allegations. So I would state that North Carolina DSS is responsible for the instability in this child’s life, as well as Joshua’s lack of an education…Click on the link for the GAL report above to see the full report.  I hope everyone of you can realize how ridiculous this report is…everything that the GAL states in here as issues have been caused by the actions of North Carolina CPS.


At the time of this GAL report Josh had been out of the home 2years 25 days. At the time of this GAL report Josh had been out of the home 2years 25 days.


 The GAL also states in this report that Joshua has only been in one placement, yet later states that he was in a foster home…


GAL Issues For The Court GAL Issues For The Court


This Report is Full of Contridictions!!!! This Report is Full of Contradictions!!!!


The GAL’s report is full of contradictions, they say Joshua won’t cooperate at school that is why his educational needs are not being met, yet further down the tutor states that Joshua’s behavior is not an issue….that the issue is that Joshua’s sessions are space too far apart to be effective for Joshua. 


The County Cannot Meet Joshua's Needs!!! The County Cannot Meet Joshua’s Needs!!!


Right here proves that North Carolina’s Continuing “illegal” custody is not in Joshua’s best interested…they are illegally holding a child and damaging this child beyond repair.  And the worse part about this, is that they know they are harming Joshua in this manner.  They even admit it with this sentence.


Illegal Adoption Recommendation Illegal Adoption Recommendation


When you do not have legal custody of a child, can you put them up for adoption?  Is that what has happened to Joshua?  To the adoptive parents, if there are any, “If you have adopted Joshua, please know that this is a illegal adoption and that Joshua needs to be returned to his family.”  If you are the family who has adopted Joshua please visit the website and call their toll-free number.”  Return Joshua to his rightful place!

All of the Paper Worker The GAL filled out...All the Time She Took, But Notice She Did Not Circle and Answer Here!

Unanswered ASFA question

It is my opinion the GAL did not take the .01 second to answer this question because she knows that the holding of Joshua by North Carolina is illegal…Funny how she didn’t answer such a simple question…








Mother defaulted Custody, and NY case had been dismissed a long time ago Mother defaulted Custody



Jurisdiction of New York Became Null and Void When Mother dismissed New York Case Jurisdiction of New York Became Null and Void When Mother dismissed New York Case

  The New York case had been dismissed, therefore Texas is the state with jurisdiction in this case, the father filed for and received sole, legal and physical custody of Joshua.  In the above and below orders, the state of Texas issued orders to North Carolina to relinquish this child.  Which to this date the State of North Carolina and  Carteret County Department of Social Services has refused to do.






texas habeas corpus order_final


Texas Find North Carolina Guilty of Neglect and Abuse
Texas Finds North Carolina Guilty of Neglect and Abuse


 Texas has found that Carteret County North Carolina is abusing and neglecting Joshua and that they are putting this child’s safety and well-being at risk.  I wonder if there is a central registry for them?  I have to wonder exactly where Joshua is, the Texas court found that Carteret County was purposely hiding Joshua from his father.  At one point they had even sent him out of State to Virginia, so I have to ask, where is Joshua now?  Is he in North Carolina or have they again sent him unlawfully out of state to further deny his father’s custody?  Is Joshua even alive???  Where is this child and how long will it take before the FBI or the federal Government intervenes in this case and makes Carteret County give Joshua back and arrest the key players for their role in this federal crime.




This review proves that North Carolina was aware of the Texas Courts findings and orders in this matter…they have chosen to ignore the Writ of Habeas Corpus.
Reason For Review

Reason For Review



The Court of Appeals found that Joshua had been in numerous placements over the years.  Joshua is autistic and requires stability in order to thrive.  In their desperate attempt to hide this child from his father, Carteret County DSS has caused severe emotional harm to this child.  I honestly have to wonder if Joshua is returned home if he will ever be able to overcome the damage that North Carolina has caused him.    


North Carolina Court of Appeals Found that Joshua Had Been in Numerous Placements
North Carolina Court of Appeals Found that Joshua Had Been in Numerous Placements


 The North Carolina Court of Appeals has found that North Carolina DID NOT HAVE JURISDICTION!!! 

Court Lacked Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Court Lacked Subject Matter Jurisdiction

 The Decision of the trial court was Reversed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals…Note that it could not be remanded for additional findings or a new decision because North Carolina does not have Jurisdiction over the child.  Even with a finding by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, North Carolina Department of Social Services continues to illegally detain Joshua. 

Court Did Not Have Jurisdiction Of Joshua
Court Did Not Have Jurisdiction Of Joshua

North Carolina does not have the jurisdiction to continue to hold Joshua and keep him from his father, furthermore, since North Carolina lacks Jurisdiction over Joshua they cannot find him a abused or neglected child and place him into foster care.  As it stands in this case, North Carolina DOES NOT HAVE CUSTODY OF JOSHUA WILLIAM SMITH and are, as a matter of law,  holding him illegally…this is called kidnapping!

If North Carolina does not have jurisdiction or custody of this child, are they also fraudulently receiving foster care funds, from the Federal Government for Joshua’s care as well as Joshua’s SSI for his disability. Because without jurisdiction and custody, North Carolina DSS and whatever county department who is now hiding Joshua from his father, are not entitled to any title IV funds or state funds for Joshua’s care, (this would also include medicaid and foster care subsidies, adoption subsidies and any other funds for his care) nor are they entitled to his SSI payments, if he receives SSI.  If they are collecting these payments and funding for Joshua’s care they are committing fraud.  I can almost assure you that they are receiving funding for Joshua’s care….

I repeat: Since North Carolina does not have legal custody of Joshua, as according to their own courts….they lack the subject matter jurisdiction to find Joshua abused or neglect, they also lack the subject matter jurisdiction to place his custody with DSS, adopt him out, place him out of state, place him in a group home, place him in foster care, or any other type of placement.  To do so is illegal.  The only legal avenue that North Carolina has is to obey the Texas Court and return this child to his fathers rightful custody and face the charges that should be brought against them for their federal kidnapping of this child.

green cherry transcript

This is the transcript of a phone call between the registered nurse that Javan Smith had caring for Joshua and one of the DSS workers who came to the house at 3am to remove Joshua, based on allegations that his father had abandoned him.  In this phone call the DSS worker admits that she did not see a reason to remove Joshua and tried to tell the other county that but they told her to pick up the child anyway.

Green and Cherry

Joshua William Smith what is on his arm
After CPS illegal Custody

 This is one of the last pictures that Joshua’s father has received of him.  In this picture Joshua looks visibly upset and has what appears to be numerous, huge bruises on his right elbow and upper arm.  I would say these bruises required medical attention, yet instead of taking Joshua to a doctor…they decided they would take his picture instead. 

If you will remember in the GAL report, it states that during the GAL’s visit Joshua had collided with another child and was crying.  Joshua was told by “the care giver” at that time “that these types of things happen in life and there was no reason to cry.”  I have to wonder if on the date that this picture was taken, if he was also told the same thing.  Judging by the bruises that I see in Joshua’s arm in this picture not only did he need immediate medical attention…he had every right to cry, I would have and I am not an autistic child. 

These types of things happen

The neglect, abuse, and kidnapping of this child by the Carteret County Department of Social Services and the aiding and abetting of these crimes by the North Carolina Department of Human Service CANNOT be allowed to continue another day.  Return this child to his father, so that he may begin the process of healing from the abuse he has suffered at the State of  North Carolina’s hands!

I am asking everyone who reads this post to contact the national media about this case…direct them to my blog, have them contact me at my email address I will make sure that they see the evidence that proves Javan Smith’s case.  We need to speak out about this now…if they are allowed to get away with this blatant disregard for the laws of this country, they will continue to break the law.  One day it may even be your child kidnapped by this corrupt DSS.  











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