Failure to Protect:
The Caseworker Files
ANNOUNCER: Last week on FRONTLINE, the story of
the death of a little girl while in the custody of the state of Maine.
Five-year old Logan was killed after her foster mother allegedly tied
her to a high chair and put duct tape over her nose and mouth.
ANNOUNCER: The death of Logan Marr focused outrage
on a normally secretive child protective system.
ANNOUNCER: Why was Logan removed from a mother who
had never abused her and given to a foster mother who killed her?
ANNOUNCER: Who should have kept her safe?
CONCANNON, Commissioner of Maine Department of Human Services:
The Department of Human Services did not kill this child.
ANNOUNCER: For many in Maine, it was an abuse of
HEARING: No way! No way should any court in this country of ours ever take a
child from a parent based on
"possible," "probable" or "maybe"!
ANNOUNCER: What is the proper balance between
saving a child and destroying a family?
CASEWORKER: He is a real threat to this child, with
the substance abuse and the battering.
ANNOUNCER: When should parents lose the right to
raise their own children?
They're supposed to try to keep families together, not pull them apart.
ANNOUNCER: And who gets to decide?
Matthew's Father: I want to see my son, and my son wants
to see me!
GREELEY, Caseworker: That doesn't mean it's going to happen.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight FRONTLINE goes inside one state's
child protective system.
HOCKENBERRY, FRONTLINE: Tonight, Parts
2 and 3 of FRONTLINE's special series on the nation's child welfare
system. We begin in Maine, where,
in the wake of Logan Marr's death, state officials made a remarkable decision
to allow FRONTLINE's cameras into their child protective system. Tonight you will see how a small group
of caseworkers--no different than tens of thousands of others across the country--must
decide the fate of children whose parents have been accused of abuse or
immediately following this program, we bring together a group of national
experts here at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. We will confront them with a
hypothetical case to see how they would make these difficult and often searing
first, Part 2, The Caseworker Files.
NARRATOR: Every year, some 200,000 children are
removed from their homes after allegations of abuse or neglect.
CASEWORKER: [on the phone]
Yes, we are still asking for custody.
NARRATOR: The decision begins with caseworkers in
each state's child protective system and is usually made in confidence.
CASEWORKER: [on the phone]
That's why when you asked me if you could visit with Mom again, I said
no, because Mom, you know, isn't going to be a part of your life anymore.
NARRATOR: In 2001, the state of Maine agreed to
allow FRONTLINE's cameras unrestricted access to this office in Bangor, where
we followed a group of caseworkers.
Some were veterans.
WHITNEY, Caseworker: [on the phone]
But we have gone in and fixed things so that the neglect is better, but
the minute we step out, the neglect is worse.
NARRATOR: Others brand-new.
ANTHONY, Caseworker: The baby fell out of the bed, and I
didn't know whether that would be "inadequate care and supervision" or "threat
of physical abuse."
NARRATOR: During the course of our filming, each
had to reckon with the decision to take a child from his parents.
GREELEY, Caseworker: [on the phone]
Hi, Joyce. My name's David
NARRATOR: David Greeley, who's raised three
children of his own, is one of the more experienced caseworkers in the office.
GREELEY: There are times when everybody feels as
if somebody should be doing something--stepping in, taking those kids--and that's
what we do. But it's true that
even these kids that are horrendously abused by their parents, they still love
their parents and the parents still love them. And that's--you know that's, compelling.
NARRATOR: One night, after a report of abuse, a
10-year-old boy named Matthew is brought to DHS.
NARRATOR: The boy is so upset that he must be
taken to a hospital for evaluation.
OFFICER: This way, Matthew.
NARRATOR: David, Matthew's caseworker, has long
suspected that the boy has been physically abused by his father.
GREELEY: The boy would never talk to these
things--about these things to me.
He had a couple of shiners at school. He had a number of other things that we had concerns
about. But the boy absolutely
would not disclose anything, and his father denied it, so we didn't really have
anything to go on. On the basis of
what happened this weekend, we felt we needed to take him into custody.
POST, David Greeley's Supervisor: We
got a report that his father had physically abused him. He had punched him and pulled him down
a flight of steps. And it was
witnessed by the people in whose house they were staying for the weekend. The woman saw the father picking the child
up by one leg and smashing him against the wall. And then he picked him up and dropped him on the floor and
used his--the child's shirt to choke him.
And so there are marks on the neck. The father was intoxicated.
NARRATOR: At the hospital, eight hours after
being removed from his home, Matthew is inconsolable.
GREELEY: He feels a lot of responsibility about
his father, who has--he's talked about his father being at home, crying and
maybe killing himself. The boy
himself has talked about killing himself, that he now--he doesn't have anything
to live for.
POST: He said--he said while he was being
driven down to the department, "You think if you get me there, you'll unlock my
mouth." He has all these secrets
GREELEY: That's the heartbreak, is this boy is
in there, you know, with a broken heart, crying for his dad. And it's not his fault, you know? He just--his father--for, primarily, I
think, reasons of substance abuse, is not able to be consistent.
not a smooth system, and it does traumatize everybody, but--I mean, you can hear
him in there, can't you? He's been
like that all day.
[on the phone] Hey, Marisa. This is Angel over at DHS. How are you? [sighs]
I've had many better days.
NARRATOR: When FRONTLINE arrived in Bangor, the
office was still haunted by the death in foster care of 5-year old Logan
Marr. Now it had happened
again. A child had died, this time
in the parents' home.
AMES, Unit Supervisor: I'm not sure if you guys all were aware
or not, but we had a child death on Sunday night.
NARRATOR: We were not allowed to follow this
case. When a child dies, the child
protective system is thrown into turmoil, and it is caseworkers who must bear
CASEWORKER: I'm having just seeing flashbacks,
where we just were painted--we were just slammed last year for having a kid in
custody that died. And now there's
not one that's in custody, we're going to get slammed, "Well, this kid should
have been in custody, and that's why the child died."
AMES: They're definitely going to be looking
at what we did in that process, and--
CASEWORKER: I mean, we can't win.
DUMONT, Caseworker: Every time we send a kid home, it's
very scary that maybe--maybe you didn't do enough. Maybe--you know, maybe things aren't as safe as they could be
because a kid could end up--you know, a kid that you say, "OK, this is safe for
you to go home"--I mean, we put our relationships with these kids on the line
and say, "OK, it's safe for you to go home now. You can go home to your--your parents."
then they get re-abused or--you know, the worst thing that could happen would be
they would get killed. And that
has happened before, where kids have gotten killed after we sent them
home. And then it's--it feels like
it's your responsibility that that happened to that child because you made a
decision and you said it was OK.
NARRATOR: It is the morning after caseworker
David Greeley took 10-year-old Matthew from his home. He is calling the boy's father, Keith, for the first time
GREELEY: [on the phone]
David Greeley calling. Here's
the way I'd like to have things happen this morning. And I know you've got questions and so forth, so let's try
to conduct some business here.
It's our position, Keith, that the child needs to remain away from the
home and you need to get involved in services. As far as contact with Matthew goes, we don't want to have
any contact until after court next week.
Is that OK? All right. I tell you--how about if we do
this? I think it would be
important to Matthew to hear your voice and to know that you're OK and for you
to be able to reassure him.
OK. OK. Well, what we don't want, Keith, is a
long conversation about the details of what's going on. OK.
NARRATOR: Matthew and his father, Keith, live
alone. His parents split up when
he was a baby, and his mother is no longer a part of his life.
Matthew's Father: I'd come home from work, she'd be
drinking. And we argued all the
time, so I--we split up. So I hired a lawyer and went to court, and
he came to live with me. And it's
been seven-and-a-half years now.
How are you, dear?
NARRATOR: Two days after his removal, Keith is
permitted to speak to Matthew by telephone. He recorded their conversation.
They tied me--absolutely tied me to a bed, face-down!
Oh, God! Dear! That's abuse. That's an abuse, and I know it is!
was so upset. Because he's upset,
they tie him to a bed. Let's be
things, OK, honey? Would you try
to think some good things?
You know, let me see. What
can we think of?
Coming home. OK, that's a
I love you so much. I want
to come home! Dad, I love you!
Oh, I love you, and you are coming home. You think about that, OK, honey? You think, "My daddy is coming after me, and I am coming
home." You think that, OK,
dear? Because that's what's going
to happen, OK? OK.
phone] Hello? Yeah, Dave.
NARRATOR: While we're there, caseworker David
[on the phone] He's just--his emotions, his feelings
have been played with to the point he doesn't know--he don't know what's
happening. He has no--the only
thing he's ever had--he's never had a mother. All of his life, he's never had a mother. Even when she had custody of him, she
wasn't there for him. And he's had
me, and I've put my life right aside for him. And--and he was removed from this home too quick. He shouldn't--you should have come and
talked to me. We could have worked
no. You--every time you talked to
me, Dave, there--you was always accusing or threatening there that you're taking
NARRATOR: In fact, David had been trying to get
Keith to change his behavior for months, before seeking the removal of Matthew.
GREELEY: I would have much preferred that his
father had been able to change his behaviors enough to keep the boy home with
him, and you know, we wouldn't be talking about this. But we had an open case with the dad for more than half a
year prior to removal. And I had
worked with the dad, trying to get him to do services--basically, to sober up
and to try to be an advocate in a positive way with his kid. And then we had an event occur that--where
he was physically abusive, and there were other adults there to report it. So we had to intervene, at that point,
WHITNEY, Caseworker: [on the phone]
This is Robin Whitney at from DHS in Bangor. I got a message.
A 14-year-old called the hotline.
Her mother kicked her out last night. She has no place to sleep tonight.
[on the phone] We got a report about a 6 or 7-year-old
girl that got struck by an ice-water bottle.
DUMONT, Caseworker: [on the phone]
Hello, this is Melissa--
NARRATOR: It begins with a phone call--a teacher,
a neighbor, a relative reporting abuse or neglect. Last year there were three million such reports across the
country, numbers that threatened to overwhelm the resources of every DHS
office, including this one in Bangor.
Statistics on abuse and neglect cases]
[on the phone] Then I found out about these forgeries
for the prescriptions. And she
apparently attempted suicide this morning.
NARRATOR: With so many cases, many child
protective workers burn out and leave.
In Maine, many caseworkers have less than two years experience.
ANTHONY, Caseworker: [on the phone]
Hi. Would Beth be
home? Oh, is she? This is Shaleigh from DHS.
NARRATOR: Twenty-three-year-old Shaleigh Anthony
is a new caseworker. She has a
bachelor's degree and five weeks of training.
ANTHONY: Right now, I'm most worried about
getting attached to kids or families.
We get totally emotionally involved, then it'll affect our job and how
we deal with the clients.
Everybody has values and everybody has their own personal experiences,
and you kind of have to forget those to deal with different types of people.
phone] Hi, Beth. How are you?
Good. How's everything
NARRATOR: Shaleigh has been assigned her first
case involving serious allegations of neglect. The mother of a 2-year-old boy is accused of keeping him in
a dangerous house with a relative Shaleigh thinks might be unsafe.
ANTHONY: [on the phone]
Well, what I called to tell you is that we are going to substantiate you
on threat of neglect and neglect to Mark.
We have found that you have neglected Mark. Huh? Because it
doesn't seem as though you're taking anything very seriously and that you've
allowed him to stay in this home, even after you knew of the safety concerns.
NARRATOR: Two-year-old Mark and his family live
in a run-down farmhouse in rural Maine.
There are several adults living in the house. Among them are Mark's mother, Beth, his grandmother, Leiann,
and his step-grandfather, Roy, who once pled guilty to assaulting a teenage
the department's most pressing concern is the condition of the house.
ANTHONY: The house that they were living in was
deplorable living conditions. I
brought the fire marshal out, and he said if there was one spark in the house,
the whole house is going up within a half hour.
Mark's Mother: The one with house--I could see that
one. I could see that--the house is
a little dangerous. I mean,
nothing--most houses are just a little dangerous. Maybe this one's a little bit more.
Mark's Grandmother: I mean, I explained time and time
again, we don't have the money. We
can do basic cleaning, but, I mean, until we know what repairs they want done,
we can't actually say, "Well, we need a loan for X amount of dollars, so that
we can do this, this and this."
But it's coming slowly.
ANTHONY: Sometimes I think that bothers me. Like, if you are below the poverty
line, I think you can still keep a house clean. But a lot of people just--from my experience, it seems like
some people give up. And it's hard
for me to say, "Why are you giving up?"
It's hard for me to understand why somebody would give up, so--
BETH: I think she shouldn't have got a case
until she knew what the hell she was doing. She has no idea what she's doing. I've had three caseworkers--well, two other than her. They at least knew--they at least gave
me a chance.
ANTHONY: [on the phone]
You sound very angry. So
you don't have any questions for me at all? OK. Well, I'll
be in touch with you then, Beth.
said, "You sound angry with me," and she said, "Yes, I'm every angry." And I tried to explain it to her, that
this has happened more than once and she just isn't taking things
seriously. And I asked her if she
had any questions for me, and she said no. But I'm expecting that her mother will call back within 10
minutes, probably, because her mother's very active in her life. And she'll probably call back and run
into me and yell at me and tell me I'm not doing the right thing, but--
INTERVIEWER: Are you doing the right thing?
ANTHONY: I think so. I really think so.
[on the phone] What I'm looking for is, I'm looking
for a foster home.
NARRATOR: Two decades ago, the child welfare
system was focused on preserving families first. Before losing custody of their children, parents were often
given years to turn their lives around.
But today the pendulum has swung.
Caseworkers place the safety of children above all other considerations,
including parents' rights.
POST, David Greeley's Supervisor: First of all, I want to thank you for
inviting me to come.
NARRATOR: The added vigilance has come largely as
a result of outside pressure, from media coverage of children killed by their
parents, and from so-called mandated reporters--teachers, doctors and counselors
who must report any suspicions of maltreatment of children.
TEACHER: I feel pretty confident in saying, in
terms of educators who are child-oriented, we don't ever think DHS can move too
fast. We think many times that we
wish they moved faster.
NARRATOR: Under this pressure, caseworkers are
now intervening in families earlier and more aggressively, taking on cases they
might once have passed over.
POST: Let me ask you, what is neglect? What do you think?
TEACHER: What about the child that just nobody
pays attention to? They don't
listen to the child. They don't
hear him. The child doesn't exist,
other than the fact that there's a picture on the mantle.
NARRATOR: Twice as many cases now involve neglect
rather than abuse, a definition that is often much more ambiguous.
POST: I agree. I personally feel that neglect is one of the most damaging
forms of abuse because it doesn't damage the body so much, unless you're
starved or something, but it damages the soul.
NARRATOR: A neglect case has come in. Supervisor Cindy Post and her caseworker,
Robin Whitney, are creating a narrative of the case on paper.
POST: [Reading form]
OK, "What are the compelling facts that required our continued
involvement?" Compelling facts--
NARRATOR: A woman is accused of failing to
recognize a danger posed to her children by an ex-boyfriend.
POST: And the fact is that Shirley Mitchell
continues to deny that her daughter was sexually abused, in spite of the fact
that her daughter has disclosed this to her. So that's a fact.
NARRATOR: Cindy has never met the client. Her name is Shirley Mitchell.
MITCHELL: Do you want a Nutty Buddy, a half a
donut, the Devil Dog or a brownie?
Excuse me! Could you put it
on the counter, please? Thank you.
NARRATOR: Shirley lives in a mobile home with her
MITCHELL: Patrick's, like, my Socrates. He likes to read books and play
computers. Last year, he was a 63
average, and this year he's come up to an 85.
Derek] Excuse me. We're not discussing Pat, we're discussing you.
my agitator. He's, like, a little
leprechaun, just picking [unintelligible] and bouncing around. And he thinks his smile and his big
eyes and his dimples gets him out of everything.
Derek] Why you so mad that you have to go to
bed at 7:00 o'clock, when you earned it?
Dustin, no, please!
is my mischief. He's like a
sponge, just yearning and stuff.
And his intellect is way beyond his age.
Dustin] Dustin, no, no! One. Sit. Excuse me. Wait a minute. Down, where you're safe. Thank you.
NARRATOR: Shirley has led a hard life. She's had two long-term relationships
with men, the first with her ex-husband, who battered both her and their son,
Patrick, the other with her boyfriend, Dan. That relationship ended when Shirley's 14-year-old daughter
accused Dan of molesting her and was taken into DHS custody.
Dan has always denied the accusation, Patrick has said that he saw Dan enter
his sister's room at night.
MITCHELL: [to Patrick]
So don't sit so close to the TV, OK?
NARRATOR: So far, Shirley has chosen to believe
Dan, the father of her youngest son, over the sometimes inconsistent stories of
MITCHELL: When my daughter was getting her own
way, it didn't happen. She told me
many times, "No, it didn't happen."
And then when she was angry with me, if I didn't let her boyfriend sleep
here, she couldn't go see her boyfriend, or she couldn't do something that she
wanted to do, it did happen.
thing is, "Well, you need to admit it."
You know, "You have to at least think about it" because I told them, "No,
I never seen it." And I'm
blunt. And if I even thought that,
you know, that had happened or was happening, he'd have been out the door,
number one. But their big thing is
trying to force me to admit that, "Yeah, maybe it did happen." How can you admit something you don't
know, something you never seen, something you never suspected?
WHITNEY, Caseworker: I see a big piece of this jeopardy to
these boys being the emotional abuse of the mom not believing when they told
about the abuse.
NARRATOR: Cindy and Robin have decided that if
Shirley does not acknowledge the alleged abuse, they will ask a judge to remove
her three boys.
WHITNEY: Even now, Mom's continuing not to
believe and to talk about--that what--the things the boys seen, she's telling
them they didn't see. And I think
that places those kids at emotional risk.
POST: Oh, absolutely.
WHITNEY: And I think--you know, that's basically
WHITNEY: Yeah, and that's jeopardy.
NARRATOR: Robin wants to meet with Shirley, Dan,
and Dan's attorney. Even though
Shirley does not believe the accusations against Dan, she has agreed to the
WHITNEY: Dan cannot have any contact with the
kids, come to the house or call you on the telephone when the kids are
there. But other than that, as far
as you having contact with Dan, that's up to you, OK? My point is this, Shirley, is that I'm looking to see that
you're going to protect your children, and I'm basing that on the fact that I
believe, based on what she said to me and what the other children have said to
me, that Dan is a threat to your children. So you need to make that decision, about whether you have
contact with Dan or not.
MITCHELL: And if I did, you'd hold that against
me. It would be I wouldn't be
protecting my kids.
NARRATOR: To satisfy the department, Shirley
decides she will cut off all contact with Dan.
Basically, we have no relationship.
MITCHELL: Because if I do, I'll lose kids.
NARRATOR: Today Shaleigh has to report to her
supervisor on the case of 2-year-old Mark.
Shaleigh's Supervisor: Not being able to recognize the threat
of the conditions of the home and not taking recommendations seriously. Beth does not believe that Roy Gray is
a threat to the safety of Mark.
She has allowed Mark to live in the same house as Roy.
NARRATOR: Though Shaleigh believes there is a
threat to Mark, she has so far seen no grounds to seek his removal. But her supervisor isn't so sure.
This just sounds really out of control for this child, and I think we
need to talk with our attorney about filing a petition in court.
NARRATOR: An assistant attorney general will
advise them about the seriousness of the situation.
Hopefully, he's there.
phone] Hi, Geoff. It's Melissa.
How are you? Yes. Yes. Can I go ahead and put you on speakerphone? OK. This is the situation.
The man in the home, who we knew--he's not a convicted sex offender
because he pled down--
GOODWIN, Assistant Attorney General: [on the phone]
To a straight assault, or something like that.
It was--it was beyond dirty.
And there was a lot of really unsafe things in the home, like with the
furnace, with--the house is so cluttered, there aren't any easy escapes out of
the home. There was dog feces, cat--what
ANTHONY: Yeah, there were three different stoves
being used. One was actually
enclosed underneath the stairs.
There was live wiring open, all throughout the house.
GOODWIN: And currently, this woman is--this is
where she lives, in this bad house, condemned house, or condemned-like house--
GOODWIN: Right. So straight to the department, and see how that flies. I don't think--I don't think you're
going to have a problem getting a preliminary protection order.
OK. All right, Geoff.
Yes, you have to. [laughter]
Yeah, we talked to the AG, so we're going to--what you should do is--
ANTHONY: Oh, my! So I need to do the PPO today?
FAQs on how the system works]
ANTHONY: I just didn't expect him to be-- "Go
get 'em." I didn't--I guess I didn't realize the severity of the
situation, from my own point of view, is that I had a gut feeling that things
weren't right, but I didn't realize it was this severe and was going to happen
this quick. I thought that I was
going to be waiting till next week to do something. Well, it's going to be done, I guess.
NARRATOR: Shaleigh must try to inform Beth of the
Well, that's our--we make an attempt to call her. We don't have to--you can go ahead. You can sit in my chair, if you want.
ANTHONY: [on the phone]
Hi. Would Beth be
home? This is Shaleigh Anthony
from DHS. Do you know where she's
at? OK. Well, can you ask her to call me when she gets in, and it's
important that I talk with her?
OK. Thank you, Leiann. Bye-bye.
NARRATOR: A few hours later, Shaleigh tries
phone] Hi. Is Beth home?
Could you just tell her that Shaleigh called? Yes, I need her--actually, could you get her to call me as
soon as possible? Yeah. Yeah, she does. OK. Thank you.
Melissa] Melissa, I just called and got Randall,
and I think Beth's there and she's just avoiding me. He's, like, "No.
Who's calling?" I said, "Shaleigh." And he said, "Well, I'm"--I said, "Can
you tell her to please"--he said, "Do you want me to ask her to call you
tomorrow?" And I said, "Well, can
you please tell her to call me immediately or as soon as she can?" And he said,
"Well, I don't know what time she's coming in. Can I get her to call you tomorrow?" So I didn't want to say, "The sheriff's
going to be serving her tonight," like--
Yeah, you shouldn't. That
would be--we really can't tell somebody else that, anyway. That would be breaking confidentiality,
so--she'll find out when they come to the home. When the Sheriff and the PD goes to her home and she's not
there, they'll know, but--it's just too bad it has to happen that way.
NARRATOR: That night, a sheriff came to the house
to inform Beth and her family that they would be losing Mark.
BETH: I was very pissed off, very depressed
about it, in the first place, because I was told this--it wasn't going to
happen. Then they went ahead and
did it anyways.
Mark's Grandmother: We told her we were willing to send
Markie to my mother's to live till Beth found an apartment. Roy was willing to do the
counseling. We're trying to do the
house. I mean, every one of them,
we had an answer to and--
Mark's Step-Grandfather: She didn't
want to hear it.
LEIANN: She didn't--yeah. I mean, she didn't even give us the
ROY: The damn bottom line is she could have
approached it a heck of a lot different.
You got to understand, we've talked to--dealt with a lot of
caseworkers. They did not come in
stuck up. They didn't come in
bull-headed. They come in and
talked, like we are, and they suggested different things. She--like I said, she come in with a
battering ram, basically.
NARRATOR: Despite the family's pleas, a judge
upheld DHS's decision to remove 2-year-old Mark from his mother, Beth, and
placed him in the custody of a relative.
Now Beth has to say good-bye.
MEMBER: Say, "Bye-bye, Mom."
BETH: I love you, baby!
ANTHONY: You're helping them. And even if they don't realize it, you
know, what you are doing is in their best interest and the children's best
MEMBER: I know. That's the courts for you, the state of Maine.
ANTHONY: A lot of times, I have to see it as my
job. I can't take what I do
personally because I know if somebody like myself come into my own life, I'd be
a wreck. So I have to keep
thinking that that's them, and I'm me, and that I'm doing the best I can and I'm
trying to make things safe for them.
Read Shaleigh's interview]
NARRATOR: It's been three weeks since David
Greeley took 10-year-old Matthew from his father, Keith, after a report of
physical abuse. Since then, the
child has been held in a hospital, still too despondent to be moved. Now David and the other principals in
the case will meet to see if they can resolve the situation.
GREELEY, Caseworker: Keith's attorney is going to maintain
the position that the removal is what's caused the trauma, and so forth. My position is there may have been some
trauma involved in his removal--certainly, there was--but you can't leave a kid
in a traumatic situation with his family that's been going on for years just
because taking him into custody would be traumatic for him. That--you know, that doesn't work.
GOODWIN, Assistant Attorney General: First of all, sir, I don't want you to
think that we're putting you on the spot.
And the only reason we brought you in here with your client before we go
in is we're supposed to make an effort to try to resolve these things before we
go in front of the judge. Then
once we get into court, if we can't resolve it, we either set it for a hearing,
or we tell the judge we've reached an agreement.
GOODWIN: Two things we're interested in. First of all, do you agree that there
is a history in your household and with you of alcoholism and violence in the
There is no violence in the home.
That's--with Matthew and I, there is no violence in the home.
GREELEY: Geoff isn't saying specifically in the
location of your home, but that there has been violence between you and
No, there hasn't. Matthew
and I get along good. We have had--we
have no history of violence in the home.
GREELEY: No history of violence, period.
No. With Matthew? Other than that scratch there, that
occurred when I went to restrain him and wanted him to sit down, calm down--I
wanted him to sit down, calm down, and he took off running--just defiant. When he went to take off, I reached to
grab for his shoulder, and he got scratched. And then all of a sudden, all this.
GOODWIN: So you could not agree to the court
entering an order that, A, you're an alcoholic, and, B--
I do agree upon that. And I
agree upon services, and I go to AA right steady.
GOODWIN: Well, what is it you can't you agree
to, then? Let's look at it that
The damage that's--is happening to my son. He's crying right steady. He's been tied face down in this place.
GOODWIN: Are you suggesting, then--
GOODWIN: Are you suggesting, then, that--
EDWARDS, Keith's Attorney: That is what he's asking for.
Why--why--why not? He can go
back to school and do--and do his--and we can do our treatments.
GOODWIN: All right. Fine. That's
obviously the deal-breaker, right here.
We have to have custody of the child.
Now, preliminarily, with regard to these matters, what do you view--and I'll
go around the horn--as the fundamental, rock-bottom issues that we're talking
about here, not in general terms, but as fact-specific as you can get?
EDWARDS: First, we would strongly dispute the
state's characterization of the incident that they are relying on as physical
abuse. Second, the client's
perception is that the child has been removed from a fairly stable environment
and placed into an environment in which the emotional characteristics of the
child has extremely deteriorated, to the point that he's been put in a hospital
situation and physically restrained.
We do not have a stable situation for him until we--until the child is
returned home, we don't believe that the child will be getting better, due to
the extreme close bond between the parent and the child.
NARRATOR: The judge set a hearing in one month to
decide if the state will keep Matthew.
If he rules for DHS, Keith will have 12 months to turn himself around or
lose custody of Matthew permanently.
After court, David warns Keith that he may not be able to communicate
with his son until the boy is calmer.
INTERVIEWER: Are you still going to do the visit
See, this is a game with you!
[crosstalk] This is a game! This should be-- [crosstalk]
EDWARDS: What David is saying now is that there's
going to be no visits, no contact.
He's trying to say there's no calls and now there's no visit, is what he's
saying. You know, this is--this is
totally--Matthew is--you are just destroying this little boy! And you think that's it's not going to
--back at you through him?
And now you're playing with his--you know, instead of just letting him go
back to his normal medicine, get back to school, and keeping a daily--being in
touch with me daily or being in touch with me weekly, whatever you wanted, just
to watch Matthew's action.
GREELEY: I get my information from people at the
hospital, Keith, and it's based on information that they're giving me about his
GREELEY: OK. That may be what you believe is the case and maybe what
Matthew thinks, but it doesn't change what I have to do in my conversations in
talking with those people at the hospital. And they're telling me that he--this contact, phone contact
with you, is not good.
I try to talk upbeat to him.
I try to, you know, get him to--you know, to--to--you know, "Matthew, just--dear,
do this best you can do." And he
says, "OK, Dad," but then he always cries. When he hangs up, of course, his heart's broke. But you can't understand that! He's a little--he's only a 10-year-old
boy that's never had another parent.
He hangs that phone up, it's like he's--you know, he's just letting go of
anything he--you know, that--anybody that's ever really cared about him.
Well, all right, here's the positive thing. I want to--I want to see my son, my son wants to see me, and--
GREELEY: Well, that doesn't mean it's going to
GREELEY: It's traumatic. You know, I mean, you can--I can talk
myself into thinking, you know, this is--this is what I do and I have to be
professional about it, you know, the way a doctor is when he opens up a stomach
or something, you know? You just
do it because it has to be done.
But you know, you--you're aware of--of the anguish that's going on.
NARRATOR: Shirley Mitchell has broken up with her
boyfriend, Dan, in order to show DHS that she can protect her children. But as she will soon learn, that will
not be enough. Her caseworker,
Robin, is continuing to warn that she will seek removal of Shirley's boys.
WHITNEY, Caseworker: The department's position is still that
we're asking for custody of the boys at this time, OK, but--
MITCHELL: So if the judge tells you, yes, you can
take them today, you'll take my boys.
NARRATOR: DHS wants Shirley to submit to
intensive therapy until she is able to acknowledge that Dan might have abused
WHITNEY: What we're hoping is that your individual
counseling, the non-offenders group, the children being in family counseling,
when that starts, that when we come to the hearing date, OK, that progress will
have been made, and the department's position will have changed to that we feel
the children are safe and our position will be that we they won't be--we won't
want them removed from the home.
MITCHELL: How are you going to check that
progress? You guys don't come to
the house, so how you going to know if there is progress, you know?
WHITNEY: The progress is, what's going to happen
is that I'm going to--Sharie Peacock, who's your therapist, is going to share
with me that you're making progress with her, OK? I don't need to know what you talk about in therapy,
OK? What I need to know is, is
that the issues that the department sees that--we feel make it unsafe for your
children--if Sharie can give me a yes, no or a maybe on whether that's something
that progress can get made on.
MITCHELL: What she told me was that if she did
get subpoenaed to court--the only way she can break my confidentiality is if she
did get subpoenaed. And you guys
want me to sit there and talk to her, and then tell me that it's going to be
used against me in court? But you
want to know if I'm going to make progress?
WHITNEY: I don't want to use it against you or
for you. What I want to know from
her is it's safe for the children to stay in your home. I want to know that when the children
come to you about something that's unsafe, that you believe them.
NARRATOR: Despite her misgivings, Shirley has
agreed to see the therapist that DHS has chosen for her.
PEACOCK, Therapist: Hi, Shirley.
WHITNEY: Hi, Shirley.
PEACOCK: Robin has recently sent me some
information, and I've read over it, and I think I have a pretty good grasp of
the case now, and what's going on.
So what I want to talk about with you--actually, I would like to first
have Robin tell us what it is that she wants us to do here, what she would like
for you to accomplish in therapy.
WHITNEY: Yeah, well, I think, for me, the
important thing is for Shirley to learn empathy for her children, for what the
children are going through. I'd
like for Shirley to be able to identify the needs of her children concerning
safety, the mental health needs, and to be able to address those needs.
PEACOCK: OK. Shirley, anything that you want to mention yet, or anything
you want to comment on?
MITCHELL: I'm being told that I'm not meeting
their mental health issues, but I keep fighting all the time for them. I feel totally screwed over. You guys give me no credit, make me
feel like I have done nothing for my kids! Work with me.
That's all I've asked for all along.
PEACOCK: That's what I want to do. That's exactly what I'd like to
do. Are you willing to work with
MITCHELL: But as long as I know I can trust you
and that everything I tell you is not going to go to her to be used against me.
MITCHELL: --you're in there, too, that you're
building--establishing a relationship with me, that you do have this phone
contact with her.
PEACOCK: Right. Well, Shirley, let's not let that get in the way of making
some progress here, OK?
PEACOCK: I understand. What I've done, Shirley, is I've written up a few things
here. I need to go down through
this with you, OK? And if you don't
agree with any of these things, you can say, "I'm not willing to look at this,"
"I'm not willing to do this" or "It's not true," whatever you need to say. OK, take a look at that. We'll just quickly go down through
this, OK? The first one is "Attend
therapy on a weekly basis."
PEACOCK: With me, OK?
PEACOCK: All right. Good. Number
two, "Address her past abuse issues and make progress in dealing with them."
PEACOCK: OK. All right.
Number three, "Understand and connect how her own past abuse effects how
she parents her children."
PEACOCK: OK, I think we need to look at it a
little more than what you have, though, from my point of view, OK?
MITCHELL: But if I disagree with anything you
say, I'll let you know.
PEACOCK: I appreciate that. OK, number 4, "Learn to parent in a
healthy and responsible way, keeping her children safe."
MITCHELL: I disagree with that for the simple
reason--I mean, I'll look at it, but do you know how I parent my children? Have you ever been in my home? Have they ever done a home study on how
I treat my kids? Do they know what
medications my children take?
PEACOCK: OK, we'll look at that, too.
PEACOCK: We'll talk about it, OK? I'm just listing the issues here that I
think they want us to look at. OK,
number 5, "Attend a non-offenders group at Behavioral Health Center to learn
and understand how sexual abuse has negatively impacted her daughter and her
PEACOCK: OK. Number six, "Not allow her boyfriend or anyone else who is
unsafe to have contact with her children.
In other words, be able to show good judgment in who she allows around
MITCHELL: All right. Number six. I
have never left that man alone with my children, Robin, and I have stated that
to you many times. So that's not
an issue with me. He's not around
my kids. He's never been left
alone around my kids like that since all this was brought out.
MITCHELL: Never. She went into court and said that Dan is still living in my
home. I had to sit there and
listen to these lies and not be able to defend myself.
WHITNEY: Shirley, wait. I want to backtrack. Jim Conklin said that Dan was still
living in your home.
MITCHELL: You did not correct it, did you not?
WHITNEY: Yes, Shirley. I said--I told Jim that that was incorrect.
WHITNEY: No. No, he didn't.
MITCHELL: So the court was led to believe that
this man that is accused of molesting my daughter is still living in my home. Is that not true?
WHITNEY: Well, I'm not going to speak for what--I
mean, it was set for a hearing, Shirley.
PEACOCK: What do you think we ought to do,
MITCHELL: I don't know right yet, but I think the
truth ought to be told.
PEACOCK: OK. Remember what my role is, here, OK? I'm a therapist, OK? My role with you is not to advocate for
you or to be your lawyer.
PEACOCK: OK. You've got your own lawyer. You have people working for you in that way. OK, let's make another appointment, all
National experts' views on these cases]
MITCHELL: Don't pick March 5th because--that's a
Tuesday, I believe. That is
in-home counseling. Wednesday
afternoons is Patrick's counseling.
PEACOCK: How about Thursday morning, 9:00 o'clock? Does that work for you? All right.
PEACOCK: OK. Good. If there's
a change in that or if there's a problem, give me a call. We'll re-schedule it, OK? Good. OK, you're all set.
[on the phone] What I'm wondering is if you can--if you
can give us someone, so that we can do this, make this work for these little
girls. We'd like to keep them
together. They're 1-and-a-half and
2-and-a-half And is there any way
you can loan us one of your homes?
NARRATOR: Maine, with too few foster homes, faces
a chronic problem of what to do with children once it removes them. In the case of these two little girls,
their mother brought them in voluntarily, seeking help.
WOOD, Placement Caseworker: The situation
is the mom doesn't have adequate housing, is placing the children with various
caregivers, and they need to have a safe place while she gets her act together
and can take care of them. So we're
going to help her get her act together by giving her help with housing and
trying to link her up with all the appropriate resources. But in the meantime, the kids need a
placement, and we'd like to keep them together. They are so little and adorable. And we have a shortage of foster homes.
NARRATOR: The number of children in DHS custody
has exploded. In Maine there are
twice as many foster children as there were 15 years ago. The state cannot keep up.
CASEWORKER: Yeah, but I can't reach her.
WOOD: I actually got this through Blane, but
he doesn't have anything, either.
CASEWORKER: No, they're doing respite for
care. No, they're doing respite
for CHCS. No, do not place! No, no, no! This family, issues with physical discipline, so no. This ones have adopted three. Can't do it. Then the Townsends--I have them right there--no.
CASEWORKER: [on the phone]
Hello. It's Jean Leonard
calling back. I wasn't able to
reach Carolyn on her cell phone, so if she calls back or gets home, could you
have her give me a call?
CASEWORKER: If she calls home or shows up at home,
they're going to have her call me, but-- [on the phone]
Hi, Carolyn! Hello? Hello?
phone. Well, I'll just keep trying
till I get a good connection.
HERSEY, Placement Caseworker:
Sometimes it feels like a crapshoot. And there's times I have delivered kids to foster homes and
am sick on the way home because I know it's not good, but I have no other place
for that child. There have been
times I've done that and said, "This child needed to stay with her parents"
because her parents at least loved them, knew them, cared for them on some
level. Even if there were
circumstances that made their--that house unsafe, at least it wouldn't be a
complete unknown for them. It's
NARRATOR: The two sisters have now been in DHS
for four hours, while caseworkers search for a temporary foster home.
CASEWORKER: [on the phone]
Hi, Carolyn. This is Jean
Leonard calling. I have placements
for you, if you're interested. We
have two little girls. They're 1
and--they're 1 and 2. Yes. Well, according to the computer, your
license is showing that you have two openings. OK. OK. Thanks, Carolyn. All right. Bye-bye.
said that she would stop here on her way back because she has to drive by here
to go home anyway--
CASEWORKER: She doesn't have a crib for tonight,
but she has a Pack 'N Play.
WOOD: Yeah. There are, like, three sitting up there. They're just waiting to be used.
HERSEY: OK, how many DHS caseworkers does it
take to get two ready to put in a van?
NARRATOR: It's taken four caseworkers all day to
find a temporary placement for the two little girls. But for now, they have a home. Ten-year-old Matthew still does not. Older
and with a history of problems, he will be a difficult placement, even when he
is stable enough to leave the hospital.
GREELEY: It's the luck of the draw, really. I mean, there's a lot of good foster
homes out there, and he might get one and he might do really well. It's going to take a long time. He's going to be a tough kid to deal
INTERVIEWER: Is there a foster family out there who
can handle this?
GREELEY: I don't know. I don't know. I'm
sure there is, but whether we've--whether they're--whether we make the hook-up--
INTERVIEWER: Has he been saved, so to speak?
GREELEY: Has he?
INTERVIEWER: This young boy, has he been saved?
GREELEY: No. No, I wouldn't say nothing's happened but, you know, this is
way early innings. There's been a--there's
going to be a change here, and I'm now his legal guardian, and that could go
for a week or that could go--or he could stay in the department until he ages
out at 18. Nobody knows that, at
this point. But it's--it's the--it's
the hope that although we've taken him from his father, who he loves--I mean,
most kids do love their father.
Whether he abuses them or whether they're wonderful, they still love
their fathers. We've taken him
from the caregiver that has, the father that he loves, because we felt that he
was unsafe. And now we have to
find a place for this boy that he can have a life.
POST: [reading from form]
"--have been told that DHS is trying to remove them and since DHS
involvement, Patrick's behavior has increased"--
NARRATOR: Shirley's in therapy, but until Cindy
and Robin are satisfied that she has progressed, they are still planning to
seek the removal of her boys. They're
especially concerned about Patrick's worsening behavior.
WHITNEY: Well, Patrick has some real severe
WHITNEY: --I mean, with aggression.
NARRATOR: Shirley has told them that Patrick's
problems stem from beatings he received from his biological father, but Cindy
and Robin have a different theory.
NARRATOR: They believe Patrick's problems are a
result of what they see as Shirley's stubborn refusal to believe him when he
told her of Dan's visits to his sister's room at night.
POST: He's been told, "What you see isn't
happening," so it has exacerbated his issues.
WHITNEY: You know, Patrick has had some severe
mental health issues and some acting-out issues, and I believe some of that
stems from the fact that there's sexual activity was going on in the
house. Patrick was trying to let
people know about this and wasn't believed.
MITCHELL: But you see [name deleted] was sitting there, saying that Pat was
lying, you know? So you got one
kid against another kid. Who do
WHITNEY: Yeah. And I understand that, not knowing who to believe. But I guess my point is, if you're not
sure who to believe, make sure the children are safe. That's why the services that I've put in place, Peter,
are like the non-offenders group at Behavioral Health Center.
BOS, Shirley's Attorney: And--well--I don't mean to interrupt
you. You have no problems doing
the services, is that right?
MITCHELL: And I've tried to set them up for my
family, way before they ever gotten involved. And I called them before for help with my children.
BOS: So if the services go well--and this won't
be set for a hearing probably for a month or so, would be my guess.
MITCHELL: But then all that time, I'm still
having it hanging over my head that they're going to take my children away from
BOS: It's always hanging over your
head. They could come in today or
tomorrow and take the other three kids if they felt there was an immediate risk
of serious harm, OK?
MITCHELL: How do they know that? They're never there. They don't come to my home to do a home
BOS: Well, they might get a report or
WHITNEY: So I think she is feeling a lot of
stress, so I think her current functioning is, you know, that she is
POST: Yeah, she's overwhelmed.
WHITNEY: She's overwhelmed with what's--you know,
what's happening, and she's overwhelmed with what she has to do.
POST: She's so defended against her own
feelings because if she gave in--if she recognized and allowed herself to feel
all those feelings, she may not be able to function. But if the children are removed, she can explore all of
MITCHELL: But it's, like, I've been paying--to get
to counseling, I have to hire people because my van's unreliable. I can't take it very often because of
the steering rack. And then I have
to pay gas for people to take the baby down Wednesdays to see his father, to be
supervised. So there's another
financial hardship. You get an
AFDC check of $116. You're trying
to put all the bills together and survive off your son's SSI and your son's SSA
because the counselors have told me I cannot go to work till my son is stable.
want to work. I want to know I
make and pay my own way. That's
something very important to me.
But because you have to meet these kids' needs, you can't work? It put me in the hole. I almost lost my home. How many times can you be refused [unintelligible] something simple? Middle of winter, just before
Christmas, my furnace breaks down.
No money. You're up all
night till 3:00 o'clock in the morning, re-setting it to keep the kids warm.
give you the emergency number to DHS.
You know what you get there?
"We don't fix furnaces in trailers that's living on a lot. They might get repo-ed." It's, like, "Lady, it's in the middle
of the winter." Where the hell am
I going to haul my trailer off with four kids! If I had the money to move my trailer, I'd have the money to
fix my furnace. Hello! So you're caught in the system.
then you worry every day about your kids being taken away from you.
NARRATOR: In the eight months since FRONTLINE
completed its filming, more than 400 new cases have come into this office. Some of the old cases have been
closed. Others are still
unresolved. The case of
10-year-old Matthew reached some resolution two months after he was taken from
GOODWIN, Assistant Attorney General: Your honor, I think we've reached an
agreement. And I want to thank the
parents, especially the father, who's taken some very positive steps to resolve
the issues here today.
NARRATOR: At a hearing to determine the boy's
fate, a deal was struck. DHS
dropped the accusation of physical abuse, in return for which Keith admitted to
being an alcoholic and stopped contesting his son's removal.
Well, I want to commend all the parties concerned, in terms of coming up
with an agreement which I think clearly is in the best interests of Matthew.
NARRATOR: Keith still had a chance to get Matthew
back if he could prove himself within a year. Matthew is in a foster home and sees his father once a
week. Both Matthew and Keith seem
to be doing better, and reunification is still possible.
NARRATOR: Two-year-old Mark continues to live with
a relative. His mother, Beth, was
given a year to convince the state to return him, but she is almost out of
little girls who were brought in voluntarily by their mother are now back home
months of waiting, a judge finally ruled on DHS's request to remove Shirley's
three sons. Shirley's lawyer left
a message with the decision.
MITCHELL: Feel like you're walking on
eggshells. [dialing into
voicemail messages] I know it's full!~ Let me at 'em!
BOS: [voicemail message]
Hi, Shirley. This is Peter
Bos calling Thursday about 4:30 or so.
We did get a decision. I
don't know whether you've seen it yet.
Just to summarize, the boys, Patrick and Dustin, are going to stay with
MITCHELL: The boys stay with me! [name deleted] going to stay in DHS custody as long as--as
long as residential treatment is required. Yes! Oh, my
God! Oh, my God! I beat it!
NARRATOR: The judge ruled against DHS's request
and ordered that Shirley's boys remain with her.
MITCHELL: I'm on top of the world right now. It don't matter, anything and everything
you went through!
screen: "After filming was completed, Shirley's ex-boyfriend, Dan, pled guilty
to molesting her daughter and is currently in prison. Shirley and her daughter are rebuilding their
relationship. Shirley's case has
not been closed.]
» FRONTLINE/Fred Friendly
Whose Failure to
HOCKENBERRY: Good evening. In this special follow-up, FRONTLINE, in cooperation with
the Fred Friendly Seminars, has brought together a group of national experts
and ordinary people here at Columbia University Graduate School of
Journalism. We want our panel to
help address some fundamental dilemmas posed by our nation's child welfare
system, but not in the abstract.
Instead, we've created a realistic hypothetical case, and we'll cast our
panelists in the roles they play in real life and prod them to make the tough
decisions, right here, every step of the way.
is the proper balance between saving a child and destroying a family? When should parents lose the right to
raise their own children? And who
gets to decide? Who, indeed? Welcome, everyone, to the state of
Centralia, the city of Metropolis.
Cynthia McFadden, you have decided to move into the low-income neighborhood
called Franklin Heights. It's a--kind
of a rundown place, but there's some great housing there, and you bought a
brownstone. And across the street,
there's a stoop that you watch a lot of the time. And on the stoop, you often see a couple of children, a
child who looks to be, say, 8, 9 years old, and a baby who looks to be maybe a
little over a year old. And you
notice that in the window, a woman who you presume is the mother, is sometimes
watching them, sometimes not watching them. Once you even saw that she came home and looked a little
like she might have been drunk, having left the children apparently
unsupervised, apparently alone.
do you think about it?
McFADDEN, ABC News: I think--I'm a mother, and I'm slow to
judge. I don't know what's going
on in that house. I would be more
than passingly interested.
HOCKENBERRY: You a couple of months ago reported a
story on child abuse, and you actually have the number of Metropolitan Child
Protection Services. So what do
you do? Do you make a phone call?
McFADDEN: Not yet.
HOCKENBERRY: Do you find out more about the
McFADDEN: Well, I think it might be neighborly to
go over and introduce myself.
HOCKENBERRY: Oh. So why don't you do that?
McFADDEN: Hi. I live across the street. I was just--
HOCKENBERRY: Yeah, I've seen you. What can I do for you?
McFADDEN: Well, I just thought I'd introduce
myself. I have a little boy, and I--I
wondered, you know, maybe we--the kids could play together some day or--
HOCKENBERRY: That--that'd be fine. Anything else?
McFADDEN: No. I just wondered if everything was all right, if there's
anything I can do to--
HOCKENBERRY: It's fine. My--my kids are fine.
I'm fine. Thank you.
as you're walking back across the street, what are you thinking?
McFADDEN: I'm thinking she's nervous. She's one of the ugliest women I ever
saw. [laughter] I'm worried about whether these kids
are OK. But I'm not sufficiently
worried to call someone else because I also respect the fact that this is a
family. And families have
different ways of operating. And
maybe it's not my way of operating, but I--I don't know enough.
HOCKENBERRY: What's it going to take for you to
call? What is the threshold? What's the trigger?
McFADDEN: You know, I guess a period of
time. I guess I would have to have
real reason to believe that these kids weren't being supervised by anyone.
HOCKENBERRY: Let's--let's say you come home one night
late, and it's evident to you that the children were all night alone. The older boy was outside. The little girl hasn't had a diaper
change. The mother comes home
early in the morning, clearly not at her best. What do you do then?
McFADDEN: I hate to start this process going, but
HOCKENBERRY: She dials. The call comes in.
It's referred to you, Trevor.
Suddenly, you have a case.
JOHN, Caseworker, New York City:
HOCKENBERRY: You've heard some information.
HOCKENBERRY: And that information is what's on your
mind as you go up to the door?
JOHN: Definitely. Definitely.
HOCKENBERRY: You knock at the door?
JOHN: Knock on the door. Mom responds, answers the door.
HOCKENBERRY: And of course, she has to let you in?
JOHN: She--if she knows her rights, no. [laughter]
HOCKENBERRY: No? So you inform her of her rights immediately, right?
JOHN: What I do is I identify who I am.
HOCKENBERRY: And how do you do that?
JOHN: Knock, knock, knock. Good afternoon, Miss So-And-So.
HOCKENBERRY: Janice Smith.
JOHN: Ms. Janice Smith. How're you doing, Ms. Smith? My name is Trevor John. I am a child protective service worker
for your local agency here. We are
led to believe that there is allegations of suspected abuse or maltreatment to
your two children.
HOCKENBERRY: If she doesn't want to talk to you,
what do you do?
JOHN: If she doesn't want to talk to me, I'm
going to be a little bit more persistent.
HOCKENBERRY: What's your strategy for being
JOHN: Well, you do the doorknob
treatment. I'm going to hold my
hand on the door and still try to talk to her and say, you know, "Before you
close the door, this is a matter that concerns us. I'm sure you're concerned about your children. Your neighbors are apparently
watching. We're out in the middle
of the community. Why don't we go
inside so we can discuss this a little bit further in the privacy of your own
HOCKENBERRY: So you sort of say to her, "You don't
want your neighbors knowing about this."
HOCKENBERRY: "Let's just go inside."
HOCKENBERRY: That gets you in the door?
HOCKENBERRY: So there you are inside the apartment.
HOCKENBERRY: What do you look for? Where--where are your eyes going, at
JOHN: My--my eyes are rolling around like--like
numbers during the big draw for the $50 million Lotto. [laughter] You know, you have the ability to see
and perceive everything. Depending
on the entrance, I've already identified what's in the hallway. I will have already seen that--you know,
that she has no drapes in her window, from the outside. I walk up to the stairs now, and I see
that the stairs are rickety and run-down.
I'm actually in the apartment now, and there might be toys scattered
around, clothes scattered around, not sufficient furniture.
she permits me to go so far, I will inform her about what, actually, we
have. You know, "Can you explain
you think is going on? What--what--what
is the problem? Do you"--
HOCKENBERRY: I lost my job. I lost my job. I'm trying to keep this house together. My kids are fine. I'm sorry it's a mess. I didn't realize you were coming right
JOHN: We have a report stating that your
children were left home unattended.
You know, if--are you in need of child--
HOCKENBERRY: I told you everything.
JOHN: I don't--
HOCKENBERRY: I'm looking for a job.
JOHN: You're looking for a job. OK, so--
HOCKENBERRY: So let's just say that Janice is
unresponsive. Your conversation is
short with her. You learn pretty
much what I've told you.
HOCKENBERRY: Let me tell you what you see. You see a glass coffee table,
broken. It's been taped together
with duct tape. It's still
rickety, sharp edges. In the
kitchen you find some beer, some hot dogs, some crackers. There's milk in the refrigerator, but
really not much else. You see on
the dresser a bag of something that looks like pot and a big half-gallon bottle
JOHN: I see something that looks like pot?
HOCKENBERRY: You see something that's pot--I mean,
you--you've done this before.
HOCKENBERRY: You run into the older boy. His name is Ben. And he says, "I take care of Mom. Everything's fine. I take care of Mom. I take care of my sister."
JOHN: Not leaving the home, I definitely want
to speak to that older boy, Ben. I'm
going to ask Mom for her permission, and based on what Ben tells me, is when I'm
going to now think about my next step.
HOCKENBERRY: All right, you think about that next
what does it feel like to have someone from this suddenly powerful agency
standing in your apartment, doing these things?
JIMENEZ, Advocate for Birth Parents:
Very frightening. You're--you're
scared. You don't want to disclose
because you know that you're at risk of losing your child and--
HOCKENBERRY: Would you let Trevor talk to your son,
JIMENEZ: I think that I--I don't have a choice
because I don't know my rights. So--authority
figure. More than likely, I'm not--I'm
going to let him talk to my child.
However, if I was in another neighborhood with more money, I would be on
the phone to my attorney the minute somebody knocked on my door to talk about
HOCKENBERRY: So Janice is not calling her attorney,
at least in your experience.
JIMENEZ: Janice doesn't have money to buy other
than franks and crackers, so I doubt it.
HOCKENBERRY: Why don't you just say, "Please get out
JIMENEZ: Because in my neighborhood, we're used
to that. We're used to that drill
of everybody from public assistance to the doctors to the social workers asking
us questions and us just disclosing.
It's just the norm in my neighborhood.
HOCKENBERRY: Let's back up for a moment. We've all met Trevor. He's the caseworker here. But Richard Gelles, who's likely to be
the caseworker in a case like this?
RICHARD GELLES, U. Penn. School of Social Work: Someone who has a college degree.
HOCKENBERRY: A degree in what?
RICHARD GELLES: Anything.
HOCKENBERRY: In anything?
RICHARD GELLES: Philosophy, history, art history.
HOCKENBERRY: Art history?
RICHARD GELLES: That's common. If we're in some states, it's someone
with four years of a high school education and two years of vocational training
and no professional training in social work, psychology.
HOCKENBERRY: Is this a career? Is this a job they've likely to had--to
have had for a while?
RICHARD GELLES: No. No.
RICHARD GELLES: This is a way-station. You'll do it sometimes two days,
sometimes two years, sometimes four years. But you don't age in this job.
HOCKENBERRY: How many cases does a typical
RICHARD GELLES: Trevor could have as few as eight
investigations to be doing. He
could have as many as 70 to 80 children that he has some level of
responsibility for. And at best,
he has five weeks of training, three of which taught him how to fill out forms.
HOCKENBERRY: So you're still in the apartment.
HOCKENBERRY: You're looking around. You've seen all the things. You've heard the responses from the
individuals. But right now,
standing in that apartment, do you take the kids?
JOHN: That's a tough question.
HOCKENBERRY: It's looking bad.
JOHN: It's looking really bad. It's looking really bad.
HOCKENBERRY: Barbara Alexander, you're Trevor's
supervisor. I'm assuming you're
going to have a discussion about the site visit that you've just had and this
case that, I'm assuming, is now open.
Have that discussion.
JOHN: I'm down the street from Mrs. Smith's
ALEXANDER, Fmr. Sup., Florida Dept. of Children and Families: OK.
JOHN: With a little bit of reluctance, she did
allow me to enter the home. What I'm
seeing is that the children are not tidy.
The house is not kept.
think there is weed in the house.
There is glass fragments of a table that is jagged. It's not really well-put-together. And my concern is that this 2-year-old
may fall into this table. What she
stated is that she's lost her job.
So I'm led to believe that she does leave the children alone,
unattended, to either look for a job or to supplement her income in some sort
of way. My gut feeling states that
there is a--there might be a problem leaving these children here.
ALEXANDER: OK. Well, we'll have to go back in. We'll have to go back in because you've told me there is an
immediate danger with this jagged glass edge, I mean, so that we're going to
have to go back in and take care of that situation. And I would approach her to see if she has family around
that could help her right now, immediately, while we get more information. We need to know what the--who lives in
the home. We need to know what the--if
there's any criminal history in the home.
And we need to know what the history of this family is.
JOHN: I don't think that Ms. Smith will allow
me to further this investigation.
I think that we're done talking, at this moment. And I need direction and--and as far as--well,
there's drugs. Should I call the
police? But then, what if she's
arrested? The children are still
ALEXANDER: Well, I'm not ready to go in and--and take
the police and--you know, I think at this point, we need to go back in, and we
need to make sure that she understands that this is a serious situation because
there are voluntary services that perhaps she would be open to, if she were in
a state of mind that she could listen to this.
HOCKENBERRY: So a serious discussion about a case
that looks, on the surface, to be serious, but not necessarily an immediate
reason to pull children out of a home.
as head of the agency here, this is a neglect case, correct?
ANDERSON, Fmr. Dir. CA Dept. of Social Services: Sounds like it.
HOCKENBERRY: What's the mission of your agency in a
case like this?
ANDERSON: Well, typically, we have two
missions. One is the safety of the
child, which is a police mission, and the other one is the welfare of the
child, which is sort of a social work mission. And often they collide.
HOCKENBERRY: Dorothy Roberts, can that work? In the same agency?
ROBERTS, Northwestern Univ. Law School: I
don't think it works very well. It
is a conflict, and families know it.
They perceive, usually, these agencies as being invading enemies, that
they wouldn't just be offered services, that there would be this threat of
removing children. And as long as
that threat is dangling over families, they will not really believe that the
agency is there to help them.
HOCKENBERRY: Let's just say that after the initial
visit and initial discussion, a case was opened. Services were begun to be offered. You go back for some other visits. And on one surprise visit, you're introduced to someone
named Kurt, who's in the apartment.
And you determine that this Kurt is Janice's boyfriend. And you also learn in the course of
your investigation that Janice has called the cops a couple of times to get him
out of the apartment because he's threatened or actually beaten her. You see the welt on her face. And finally, you discover that he was
convicted 10 years ago, when he was 24, of having sex with a 13-year-old.
what do you do with that information?
JOHN: Ms. Alexander, I saw Janice. She does have a bruise over her
eye. It's swollen. It's black and blue. Kurt, her alleged paramour, has a
history of sex abuse. He was
convicted, and he served some time for sexually abusing a minor.
ALEXANDER: And what is the mother's attitude about
JOHN: She said--she denounces the
situation. "Oh, that girl was
lying. It was in the past. Yes, he told me about it. I know that he did some time."
ALEXANDER: That 13-year-old girl--
JOHN: The 13-year-old.
HOCKENBERRY: That's a fairly significant revelation.
ALEXANDER: That's a fairly significant
revelation. And he can't be in the
HOCKENBERRY: He can't be in the home?
ALEXANDER: He can't be in the home. I can't tell Mom that she can't see
him, but I'm--you know--
HOCKENBERRY: How do you tell Janice that? What do you say?
ALEXANDER: Well, at this point, I'm still--you
know, I'm still willing for the children to remain with Mom. But at this point, there needs to be
more than just a service. There
needs to be more than just counseling or day care. There needs to be, you know, a way to bring services
together to the table, to have--
HOCKENBERRY: But you say services--this would be the
boyfriend removal service? [laughter]
ALEXANDER: No, no, no. That--no, that's not even an issue. That man can't live in the home.
HOCKENBERRY: But how--how do you get them--how do you
get them separated?
ALEXANDER: Well, I mean, that man just simply
cannot live in the home. And if
court--if it takes taking this case to court, then we will.
JOHN, Caseworker, New York City:
Then again, what's the presumption of innocence? If this guy has already served his debt
to society that he did something 10 years ago, he has now--he has this burden to
bear for the rest of his life, and--and every person that he may so get involved
with? He's 34, not 24, so it is
understandable that any woman that he may get involved with will have a
child. So now are we to prevent
every person that he comes into contact with that he--that they shouldn't have
ANDERSON: One of the things that is--that we need
to be concerned about is the child under 6 in the house who is not the child of
Kurt, and Kurt has been in prison.
Those are big flags for abuse of the child.
HOCKENBERRY: So you'd remove?
ANDERSON: No, I would be calling in community
services. And if he's on
probation, I'd be calling probation in to be working with him. If not, I'd be calling male groups in
to work with him. One of the
things that I want to make sure is that his behavior is not going to put the
child in danger. So I've got two
sets of issues that I'd be concerned about.
HOCKENBERRY: And if none of the services split up
Kurt and Janice, if none of the services work, if he doesn't want to do anger
management, if she wants him in the house no matter what, what do you do,
ALEXANDER, Fmr. Sup., Florida Dept. of Children and Families: Depends on the--what happens with
him. I mean, did the domestic
violence continue? Do we check,
and the police have been back out to the house Saturday night and break up yet
HOCKENBERRY: The police arrive on the scene one
night, and they observe a fight in action. And a wine bottle has been broken against the wall. The fight occurred in front of the
children, and the--
ALEXANDER: OK, that's it.
HOCKENBERRY: --police observed glass shards--glass
shards--well, no, this is just--
ALEXANDER: Yeah, that's it. Kids are coming out, at this point.
HOCKENBERRY: This just in--
ALEXANDER: I'm sorry, but the kids are now coming
out, and they're going to go, hopefully, if there's relatives around--I mean, if
this is going to continue and the children are there in front of the violence,
then Mom either has to take this situation seriously, or--or we will detain the
children. Even if you don't keep
the children out of the home for a great length of time, we will still get
court ordered--we're going--going to now move from voluntary to court-ordered
HOCKENBERRY: So we've gone from--
ALEXANDER: The violence can't continue.
HOCKENBERRY: We've gone from stories about violence
to police actually observe a fight where glass is broken--
ALEXANDER: In the home.
HOCKENBERRY: --in front of the kids.
ALEXANDER: Glass broken.
HOCKENBERRY: That's your trigger to remove the kids.
ALEXANDER: Yeah. If we've tried the counseling, we've tried the anger
management, and now there's broken wine bottles and police intervention, and
the kids are there in the home in the middle of all this, then nothing's
HOCKENBERRY: Grounds for removal, according to you
folks. What do you make of the
timing of the agency so far in its intervention?
RICHARD GELLES, U. Penn. School of Social Work: Terrible. Just awful. And
it's--this is child welfare at its absolute worst.
HOCKENBERRY: Why? I mean--
RICHARD GELLES: Because the incremental red flags are
building up, but you're waiting for some cataclysmic event, and then you
react. On the one hand, if the
risk factors are there, you don't need the broken glass to make the
decision. On the other hand, the
broken glass is not yet a significant enough indicator that the children are at
risk, that pulling them out, putting them in a temporary placement and starting
that whole process up is going to be to their advantage. And that's--
HOCKENBERRY: But you're saying they were too
early. They were too late?
RICHARD GELLES: Yeah--
HOCKENBERRY: They were both?
RICHARD GELLES: They did--yeah, they were too early and
they were too late. [laughter] That is exactly what I'm saying. If the risk factors tip the scale, you
don't need that cataclysmic event.
But if the risk factors don't tip the scale, the cataclysmic event isn't
HOCKENBERRY: But you think there were enough risk
factors and that--
RICHARD GELLES: Well--
HOCKENBERRY: --the kids should have been taken out
before the cataclysmic event.
RICHARD GELLES: I am beginning to see this case move
into the red zone. And I'm working
real hard with Mom to--
HOCKENBERRY: And the risk factors, as far as you're
concerned, were what?
RICHARD GELLES: First of all, the counseling and anger
management, the research community knows isn't going to work on this guy,
anyway. That's just a delaying
tactic. The alcohol, the neglect,
the occurrence of domestic violence mitigates the effectiveness of community
HOCKENBERRY: So those three things--
RICHARD GELLES: The services that might have worked on
her--or for her, or helped her--become very diminished and near useless, once
domestic violence enters into the picture.
HOCKENBERRY: So before the bottle, there was enough
information, in your view, to take the kids out.
consider what you set in motion here with your phone call.
McFADDEN, ABC News: I mean, I don't know
whether I did the right thing or not, I have to tell you. At this point, I don't know whether I
did the right thing. You know, I'm
terribly--I don't really care about Mom very much, I have to tell you. Janice is of very little interest to
me. But I am very interested in
these kids. And my guess is that,
you know, despite the fact that I might not think very much of Janice, these
children love her and want to be with her, and that the parade of horribles we're
about to embark on, by putting them in some sort of foster situation, is not
HOCKENBERRY: OK, Ron, the children are being
taken. Brittany and Ben are now
being removed from Janice's house.
What's that like?
RICHTER, Legal Aid Society of New York:
HOCKENBERRY: What's happening?
RICHTER: They are unsure about where they're
going. They are unsure about who
is in charge. They don't know
where their mother is. And so the
children are going to be experiencing trauma like they've never experienced
McFADDEN: You're saying they're less threatened
by the wine bottle than they are by the Department of Child Welfare, at this
RICHTER: Yeah, but remember, this is the
environment in which these children have grown up, ostensibly. So they are probably reasonably
comfortable with the situation that we've been talking about. And in all likelihood, they want to
HOCKENBERRY: Rose, you know what it's like for an 8
or 9-year-old to be taken from their home, right?
GARLAND, Former Foster Child:
Yeah, I know what it's like for a 3-year-old. And from all of the homes that I've been in, it's a very
HOCKENBERRY: So who comes? What do they look like? What do they say?
GARLAND: First of all, what happens is you get a
caseworker who you don't know. You
know, you--you know, you may have seen them--you may have seen them talking to
the adults. You know, you're just--you're
just a kid. You're not really the
important thing here, not that you can really tell. They--the point of taking you away is horrible because you
don't--you don't understand what's going on. You don't--you don't see that things are bad. You know, you really don't. You think, "Well, why is this
happening?" You blame
yourself. You know, I--if I had
taken better care of my mother, if I had taken better care of my brother--you
know, as a kid, you know, you think things like that.
HOCKENBERRY: What did the people who came to get you
tell you about what was happening?
GARLAND: They would--they would make it false
cheery, you know? "Oh, we're going
to take you to a new home. You're
just going to love it. We've got
the nicest people." You know, "You're
going to be able to go to a new school.
You're going to," you know, "have new friends."
it--but you sense this note of falseness that they are not telling you the
truth, you know, because the truth of it is that you're so hurt and so
destroyed on the inside that they're--they're almost a monster to you because
they don't--they're strangers to you, and they're--they're making up stories,
when you knew--at least, you thought you know that what you had before was just
fine with you.
HOCKENBERRY: And you're looking around your own
home, and you're seeing all the mess that everybody else sees, and the
disarray. And you're saying--
GARLAND: It's home, you know? It--it's home.
HOCKENBERRY: But the child is also being taken from
a place where there's a whole list of reasons why they might not be safe. Now the question is, where do they go?
this particular case, calls were made, foster care options are found. Marcia, what are they likely to be?
ROBINSON LOWRY, Children's Rights, Inc.:
Well, some of them are actually incredibly wonderful. There are some really saint-like people
providing foster care services.
Some of them are not, and foster homes nationally are very overcrowded. So the odds are that the child is--the
children are going to go into a foster home that has more kids than you would
be satisfied in a biological family home.
And these kids may be with kids who are violent. They may be with kids who've been in
the system longer. And these--these
two little kids who are just coming in, the 9 and the 1-year-old, are now in an
environment where they're in, in fact, some moderate danger from the other kids
in the home.
HOCKENBERRY: Are they likely allowed to be together? Quickly?
ROBINSON LOWRY: No.
HOCKENBERRY: Well let's talk about foster care for a
moment. Congressman, in your
district, this is--where all of this is taking place, what do you make of the
foster care resources in that district, and particularly the pricetag?
GEORGE MILLER (D), California:
Well, what I make of them is that they're obviously not adequate. There isn't an outcome that's been
discussed in this case, or in other cases in our home town here, where the
outcomes are very good. We've got
a half a million children somewhere in this system. We'll cut a lot of federal checks for the support and the
maintenance of those children. We
probably won't know where a good portion of them really and truly are or who
they're with or what kind of care they're getting.
as I talk to these people--because I know them, I'm interested in the system, we
talk all the time about how they're doing--every one of them exhales when they
think about taking a child away from the family. Every one of them knows what that means. And yet in this situation, they had to
make that decision.
HOCKENBERRY: All right. The toughest decision they make is to take kids, in your
view. Then what are the services
like for someone like Janice to be a better mom, to keep the system from having
to take the kids?
GEORGE MILLER: Well--
HOCKENBERRY: What are the those services like?
GEORGE MILLER: Well, in our town--in our town, we have
community services, but the question is whether or not Janice can access
those. I don't know if she has a
car. I don't know if they're in
her part of town. I don't know
whether she has the ability to leave her children in a safe place while she
tries to access those services.
isn't a neat little row of services where you go, or this isn't
one-stop-shopping. This isn't
necessarily available when you're available.
HOCKENBERRY: Are you spending as much on these
services as you do on, say, foster care?
GEORGE MILLER: No. No. We're spending
a lot more to maintain the children.
HOCKENBERRY: It's easier to take children and place
them in foster care than it is to get services to help a mom in trouble?
GEORGE MILLER: Yes. It's much easier--
GEORGE MILLER: --to go in to grab--
HOCKENBERRY: Look at all the nods!
GEORGE MILLER: --grab this kid or--her and her--the
brother and the sister, get them into placement, and then get federal dollars
flowing for the placement. And if
you can hold on to that placement, you've probably won. But the fact is, that placement will be
interrupted and you will move to another placement. And you will go through that trauma again of breaking that
bond or finding services. So you're
really talking about a system that's--
Justice KATHLEEN BLATZ, Minnesota Supreme Court: But I can get--
GEORGE MILLER: --that is--that is in constant chaos.
Justice KATHLEEN BLATZ: I just think
the bottom line is we've got other priorities in this country besides
children. We talk a good game
about protecting kids, but when it comes right down to protecting kids and
working with families in a meaningful way--not all services for all families,
because some families are simply not able. They can't take care of those kids. We've got to make decisions to get kids
into permanent homes, not foster care from 3 years of age to 18, get kids into
permanent homes. And that is not
just unified services. It's
getting them into foster care and getting them out of foster care.
say we have too many kids in dangerous situations, period, and too many kids
that aren't getting into permanency.
HOCKENBERRY: Let's talk about that for moment
because that's a very interesting term, "permanency." It turns out in our case, Janice, that the removal of her
children and their placement in foster care started a clock ticking. And it's a timeline that goes from the
removal of her children to the consideration of a far more awesome power of the
government, and that is taking her parental rights away. It's called the permanency hearing.
let's talk about what happens to those kids and that mom as we go down this
timeline. First Ben. Now, Ben, 8 years old, now 9, is
diagnosed to be clinically depressed.
His first foster care situation does not turn out well. The foster family says, "I can't--I can't
keep this kid." This foster home
wants Ben out.
first of all, how likely is that?
We're talking about a 9-year-old kid--
PANELISTS: Very likely. It's very likely.
HOCKENBERRY: Very likely. He's now facing the prospect of bouncing from foster home to
foster home. Rose, what's in Ben's
GARLAND, Former Foster Child:
OK. Now, I know that there
are good foster families out there, OK?
But I also know that every foster kid that I have ever talked to,
including myself, have been abused in foster homes. And I'm talking physically, emotionally and sexually. That may not be the case for every
child, but it was the case for me.
HOCKENBERRY: Marcia, is this realistic? I mean, that's about as bleak an
assessment as I've ever heard. Is
ROBINSON LOWRY, Children's Rights, Inc.: It
is--unfortunately, it is realistic.
And one of the tremendous ironies here is that we're spending $20
billion a year on a system that's producing this kind of a result. The system doesn't pay attention. The workers don't visit the kids. The kids go into a foster home, and if
the kid is really lucky, the kid has hit a wonderful foster parent, and
everything's great. If the kid's
in bad luck, then they haven't, and they're, in fact, in danger. But the workers don't know the
difference because they're not visiting the kids in the homes.
HOCKENBERRY: Well, Ron, as a child advocate, what do
you do to help someone like that?
RICHTER, Legal Aid Society of New York: I
think that we probably want to figure out how to avoid long-term care for
Ben. It sounded to me, based upon
what we discussed before, that, on some levels, his mother, Janice, seems quite
workable and that she did respond to certain services. Maybe we can go back and think about
putting together a realistic plan that might ensure what I think Ben probably
wants, which is to be reunited with his mother as quickly as possible--
HOCKENBERRY: So your mission would be to maintain
HOCKENBERRY: -- between the parent and the child,
regardless of the situation. And
while Ben may be having a bad situation--let me tell you about Brittany for a
moment. Brittany found a foster
care placement with a family who at first was given Brittany because the
original family didn't want a baby in the house. But this family, the Newhouses, wanted a baby and took in
Brittany and fell in love with her.
And they've actually expressed an interest in keeping Brittany for quite
a long time, Judge Blatz.
Justice KATHLEEN BLATZ: Why not try to
find a relative, if it's appropriate--that's what many states look for--or
another home that if it doesn't work out with Mom or Dad, that that kid can
then remain in that home. The old
way of thinking--and still what a lot of adults would like--is God forbid, don't
get attached to that child. Don't--don't
want to love that child, and child, don't love the parent. Let's just keep moving kids, so nobody's,
you know, attached to anybody. And
then parents who are found then to be abusive won't have to worry about the
parents are reunified with their kids.
But by God, if we're not going to do that for a kid, let's hope that
they're not going to be in all these disruptive placements. We ought to be looking for people who
would be willing to keep that child, if it fails.
HOCKENBERRY: Well, let's hope. Quickly, from Sandra. Janice. How's Janice feeling right now, months after the removal of
her kids? Ben is bouncing
around. Brittany has found
possibly a home that's very, very positive. What's the mom going through, at this point? What are you going through?
JIMENEZ, Advocate for Birth Parents:
Well, right now, hopefully, the right services are in place, and I'm
trying to--I'm saying, you know, these folks are going to, hopefully, give me a
chance and believe that I can change.
How do you know when it's that time that that person is going to change?
HOCKENBERRY: In your case, how long did it take?
JIMENEZ: It took me about a year-and-a-half--actually,
17 months, while I was in treatment to, you know, get my act together and learn
a new way of thinking. Counseling
helped me, people saying, "I'm so proud of you. You're doing great.
How can I help you?" I had
never heard that, as a child, you know, myself. How can you give, as a mother, what you've never received
HOCKENBERRY: Well, time is passing, and the
permanency hearing is about one month away. But we turn, suddenly, as much of the nation does, to
another child, a 3-year-old girl named Ashley, all of a sudden. Little Ashley was removed from her
mother in a situation that's quite similar to Janice's. And after two years of various
services, various classes, some of which you have just described, she was
returned to her mother. That was
the permanency in her case.
two weeks after she was returned, Ashley is found dead, brutally beaten. Reports say she was burned. One report says she was stuffed in a
box--her body--all by a boyfriend of Ashley's mother. An outraged neighbor tells a local TV reporter that she
warned Ashley's child protection caseworker about the boyfriend a week earlier
but was ignored.
Cynthia, you're the anchor of the "Metropolis Evening News." What do you do?
McFADDEN, ABC News: Well, it probably leads
our newscast that night. We want
to be all over this story. We want
to know who was responsible at the Department of Child Welfare. We want to know names. We want to know caseworkers. We want to know everything we can know
about the family itself. We want
pictures. It's a visual medium.
HOCKENBERRY: What about her neighbors?
McFADDEN: Our reporters will be instructed to
cover it like white on rice. Yeah.
HOCKENBERRY: And it sounded like the thing that was
most important to you--and correct me if I'm wrong--was getting to the child
welfare person--I think I'm quoting you--"who was responsible."
McFADDEN: Well, we--there's plenty of
responsibility to go around here--
HOCKENBERRY: Is that the title of your coverage, "Plenty
of responsibility to go around here"?
McFADDEN: "Who Killed Ashley?" is probably the
title of our piece that night. And
we will be flinging blame in many directions, and--and probably without--obviously,
without knowing the full set of facts.
But we will be--we'll be asking a lot of questions.
lawyers will make certain that we don't actually accuse anyone of
anything. We'll use a lot of "alleged"--you
know, "alleged" in our reporting to make sure that we don't get sued. But we--you'll certainly know at the end
of the broadcast, I would guess, that there are--you know, that heads may roll
at the department.
HOCKENBERRY: Who killed Ashley? Of course, we know it was the boyfriend
who killed Ashley, but we also know it was a caseworker who was warned by a
neighbor that the boyfriend wasn't a stellar individual and that possibly
Ashley was in danger. A lot of
rumor and information swirling around the coverage, suggesting that the
government didn't do what it supposed to do. Caseworker was warned, caseworker didn't take action.
a case like this breaks what's it like to do your job? What's it like to show up at a
door? What's it like to interview
people, to do what you do?
JOHN, Caseworker, New York City: It's
total turmoil. Everybody is
expecting more--to be more efficient than you probably had been already, on top
of the 30 cases that you probably have been dealing with now. Today you have to go see those 30
HOCKENBERRY: Cynthia McFadden said, "Heads will roll
in the department." Eloise, you're
running the department. Heads will
ANDERSON, Fmr. Dir. CA Dept. of Social Services: Probably, in this case, depending on
how I handle it, what--what really went on, why the decision to keep the child
there or return the child may be a firing decision, all the way from the bottom
to the top. But typically, what
people do in this position is that--all crap rolls downhill. Where it really gets dumped on is the
caseworker, which is where it shouldn't get dumped on because there's a lot of
people in this decision-making line that helped make that decision, and they're
HOCKENBERRY: So for the last hour or so, we've all
been agonizing over the little cogs and wheels in this system to try to protect
the kids and protect the mother and provide services. And all of a sudden, this case happens and a sledgehammer
comes down on the watch. And what
do we do now, Congressman?
GEORGE MILLER: Somebody will stand up in Congress and
say, "No children should be sent back to their homes."
HOCKENBERRY: Are you that person?
GEORGE MILLER: No. No.
HOCKENBERRY: You sure?
GEORGE MILLER: No, because I've listened to how this
decision's been made. I've been
working in this field for 25 years.
And I know that these people are going to be second-guessed, whether
they leave the child in the home or they don't leave the child home.
only people that don't know it are the politicians because they'll say it time
and again. And you know, the next
time when a child's taken out of the home, they'll say, "No child should be
taken away from the natural parents."
So everybody knows that this is just going to ricochet around the system
because we've been doing that now for the last 30 years.
system has always been driven by a scandal. The system has been driven by a tragedy. It hasn't been driven by analyzing the
decisions that all these people had to make and say, "How do you make this
really work?" because this system is--is trying to survive-- 70 caseloads? What's that? Two parents.
That's 140 people you got to talk to. Two kids. You
know, now we're up to 280 people you got to talk to. You want to talk to the grandmothers. You want to interview the
neighbors. You want to talk to
this person. What is this, God
JOHN, Caseworker, New York City:
ALEXANDER, Fmr. Sup., Florida Dept. of Children and Families: There are always going to be people
who, no matter what decision you make, whether to remove a child, keep a child,
return a child--no matter what decision you make, there will probably always be,
unfortunately, children who get harmed by sick adults. And then we have--
HOCKENBERRY: There will probably--
ALEXANDER: -- to accept that we are--
HOCKENBERRY: -- always be--
ALEXANDER: Caseworkers are not God. [crosstalk]
HOCKENBERRY: Everyone of you believes that? There will always be--
PANELIST: No, but you have to go see the
HOCKENBERRY: There will always be children who die
in the custody of the state in the system. [crosstalk] Is
that what you--you believe it? Is
anybody going to say that at a news conference? Anybody going to say that?
ALEXANDER: No, and there are caseworkers who make
bad decisions. [crosstalk]
HOCKENBERRY: Before we leave--Dorothy, I'm
interested. What is the effect of
a case like this on Janice? An
Ashley case, the coverage from Cynthia--what happens to a case like Janice, that's
sort of in the middle of things?
ROBERTS, Northwestern Univ. Law School:
Well, I think already, contrary to what some people have said, the
pressure is to move Janice's kids into a permanent--which increasingly means
adoptive--home. Now it's going to
be even a greater pressure to do that because caseworkers are going to be
terrified that if they return the children to Janice, she might do something or
Kurt might do something to harm the children. And then it's going to be their heads that are going to
roll. That doesn't make the news.
HOCKENBERRY: So the Ashley case works against
HOCKENBERRY: All right. Permanency. We
are there. Against this backdrop
of little Ashley's death, Janice Smith, Brittany Smith and Ben Smith have their
permanency hearing. But let's find
out why the hearing exists. It's
because of a federal law, the Adoption and Safe Families Act. All the timelines, all these hearings
are because of that act. You
helped write that act. What is the
mission here? What's the goal?
RICHARD GELLES, U. Penn. School of Social Work: The mission is to take down the
obstacles to children having permanency.
It attacks the system at one of its key vulnerabilities, and that is not
making decisions that turn into decisions made.
HOCKENBERRY: So you're saying obstacles to permanency
are kids bouncing around in foster care, remaining in limbo for an
indeterminate period of time.
RICHARD GELLES: No. Actually, I'm saying obstacles to permanency are making good
decisions in a child's sense of time, so you don't hold a child's development
hostage while you're waiting for change that may not happen. At the same time. you're balancing the
parent's constitutional rights to due process.
don't want to see what I saw last night and the day before and the day before,
and that is case plan after case plan that says, "Long-term foster care is the
HOCKENBERRY: That sounds like a good idea, Dorothy
ROBERTS: Well, it's a good idea except that the
way that ASFA came about was reaction to a case just like Ashley's. And many people interpret it as an
incentive toward permanency, meaning adoption. And for some kids who have a good relationship with their
parents, where there is hope for the family being reunited, it may take longer
than a year, unfortunately, in foster care to reunite the family. But that still should be the goal.
it's not always the case that children should be moved on to adoptive
homes. I think that that doesn't
give enough value to the birth family, where very often, the children were
moved away needlessly because there weren't services in place long before there
were problems that caused the removal.
HOCKENBERRY: Well, we're at the permanency
hearing. And let's catch you up on
some of the facts in Janice's case.
Janice has had a rocky time.
She went through a substance abuse program, failed out of it, was
drinking heavily, didn't attend the services that were offered. She was very traumatized over being
removed from her kids. There was a
point at which Brittany didn't even recognize her anymore, and that caused a
binge of drinking.
for the last six weeks, it appears that Janice is doing well in a substance
abuse program. She's still with
Kurt occasionally. There's beer in
the refrigerator, at least on one site visit. Ben is in a large institution, being treated for his
depression, unable to be placed in foster care. And the Newhouses have told the agency that they want to adopt
the child advocate here. Do you
represent both kids? And what are
their interests, and how do you resolve them?
RICHTER: Well, they may have somewhat separate
interests. The difficulty is that
Ben is probably going to be able to communicate to me pretty clearly what he
wants. And I'm pretty certain that
he doesn't want to be in an institution.
And so since it doesn't appear that the system has found him even the
beginnings of what could may one day be a permanent home, I can't see any
reason why we wouldn't be focusing our planning attention on working with
HOCKENBERRY: But Mrs. Newhouse is Mommy to Brittany.
RICHTER: Right. Now, that doesn't mean that as soon as a child gets placed
on a good home that may be pre-adoptive, the Newhouses can start planning a
family. I mean, we still have
Janice, and we still have a critical relationship. So on behalf of these two children, at this point in their
experience in the system, it is my obligation to focus the system's energy and
the court's attention on what we can do to be realistic about planning for the
reunification of Janice, Brittany and Ben.
HOCKENBERRY: That's your recommendation. Eloise, what's your recommendation?
ANDERSON, Fmr. Dir. CA Dept. of Social Services: My recommendation is to hold out
permanency for a while because Momma would--
HOCKENBERRY: Hold out for a while? How long?
ANDERSON: I'd probably be having a conversation
with her counselors to see where she is in her--
HOCKENBERRY: Six weeks. She's done all right.
ANDERSON: -- in her--well, you know, you take her
kids away from her, and you expect, in the taking, that there's no trauma to
her, that this didn't hurt.
HOCKENBERRY: I didn't say that.
ANDERSON: I mean, she's--well, she's already a
substance abuser, and we take her kids away. What do you think she's going to do? Go out and--
HOCKENBERRY: The kids have been taken for a
year. You took them for a
year. How long are they going to
stay in foster care?
ANDERSON: Hopefully, not very long, but I will be
trying to work on putting those kids back with Mom.
HOCKENBERRY: So reunification.
ANDERSON: That's with the resources I would be
HOCKENBERRY: What's your recommendation?
RICHARD GELLES, U. Penn. School of Social Work: I'm going to call my good friend,
Dorothy. [laughter] And I know what she's going to tell
me. I'm going to lay out my case
about the developmental needs of the children. And I'm going to be very concerned about Brittany's developmental
needs and Brittany's attachment.
And I do know what Dorothy's going to tell me. She is going to tell me, "You've got no chance of getting a
termination on this one."
Newhouses may be good parents, but this is not about having a good parent versus
a not-good parent. This is about
Janice being inadequate. And
despite the fact that it's going to give me a sleepless night, I'm quite sure
Dorothy's going to tell me, "You should get a six-month continuation. You should ask for compelling reasons,
under the terms of the law, because it would be in the child's best interest to
make sure that they can't be reunified, and extend this six-week period."
HOCKENBERRY: Barbara and Trevor, what's your
ROBERTS, Northwestern Univ. Law School:
Can I just make a correction?
Since he's telling what I'm going to say--
RICHARD GELLES: Right, that's a more appropriate--
HOCKENBERRY: If you guys say "my good friend" one
more time, I'm going to think you're enemies. [laughter]
ROBERTS: Well, he--yeah, but--
RICHARD GELLES: We don't agree on actually much.
ROBERTS: We don't agree on very much. That's why he's saying that. I would say that's what should
happen. There should not be
termination of parental rights in this case. But I'm not so sure, under the new pressures that the
federal law creates to speed up termination, the popularity of pushing these
children into adoptive homes, wouldn't lead a judge to terminate parental
rights in this case simply because time has gone on, not because Janice could
never be a good mother, not because there--the children were abused in any way,
to begin with, but just because too much time has elapsed.
so some judges will look at a list.
Did Janice do everything on the list? And if Janice failed to do something on the list, the judge
might say, "Sorry, your time is up.
I'm going to terminate parental rights."
McFADDEN, ABC News: So I have to tell you,
as an adopted person, I am really flipped out by listening to all of you. I mean, Brittany, it seems to me, is in
a vastly different position than Ben.
You say Brittany's family is this biological mother she couldn't
recognize on the street, probably, and this biological brother she probably has
no memory of. I mean, for
Brittany, her world is this family, the Newhouses, that she's lived with for
the past year. And I suspect it
won't have been a year! I suspect
it's going to be closer to two years or more years.
know, you talk about being on a child's clock. This child's clock, you know, isn't in the adult world,
where it's nice and reasonable and rational and Janice hasn't done anything
wrong and it all should be reunited.
I mean, on Brittany's clock, it may look very different than it does
with adult eyes, is all I'm suggesting.
RICHTER, Legal Aid Society of New York: It
definitely does. But I don't think
that that means that on behalf of Brittany, we say that we are going to, as a
system, based on what we have developed here as the facts, going to end the
relationship that Brittany has with her family.
HOCKENBERRY: Well, after this long road that began
with Cynthia's phone call and Trevor's original visit, we did get to a
permanency hearing. And the
decision was--and there was a lot of consensus--that reunification was the way to
go with Janice. But in the time
that this conversation has happened, more calls have come into the agency, more
reports of neglect, more reports of potential abuse, more cases to be opened. In the short time that we have, what's
the solution here? Congressman,
let's begin with you.
GEORGE MILLER: Time is money, and money is time. You got to give this system and the
people in this system time to look at these families, to look at the
alternatives, to knit together that plan.
This isn't something you can do on the run. You can't take a child of 1 year and scribble out on the
back of an envelope what you're going to do with that child for the next year,
what this placement's going to be.
But with the caseload that exists in most cities, in most states, it's
almost impossible because the fact of the matter is now, for 30 years this
system has replicated itself in these massive defaults, where children end up
by default in one place or another, at home or in long-term foster care, or
they end up severely injured.
then, we see them again. We see
them in special education. We see
them in the justice system. We see
them in the prison system. We see
them as parents, where now we're asking them about taking away their
children. So at some point, this
country has got to come to grips, where the rhetoric about our children and the
resources to carry out that rhetoric have got to be matched. And there is not so far demonstrated in
this country that the political will is there to do that. [applause]
HOCKENBERRY: Dorothy, what needs to be done?
ROBERTS: Well, I think the first thing we need
to do is acknowledge that the only reason that Janice got involved, that her
kids were taken away, is that she was poor. And we would never do this kind of interference in a family,
based on disapproving of a boyfriend or based on a broken table, or based on a
messy house, if she were a middle-class or a wealthy mother. The whole system is a way of dealing
with poverty, especially with poor minority families.
maybe if we admit it, we would be more willing to take those billions and
billions and billions of dollars spent on keeping children away from their
families, on providing support for children and families to begin with, so that
they wouldn't have to end up in a system like this.
HOCKENBERRY: Thank you very much. And to all of the panelists, thank you
very much. This wasn't about
answers. It was certainly about
questions, the ones you deal with every day and the ones we in our communities
have to deal with every day. Thank
you very much.
Two: Failure to Protect: The Caseworker Files
Sweeney and the staff
Child Protective Services: Bangor, ME office
» Part Three: Failure to Protect: A National Dialogue
Fred Friendly Seminars
AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
the Institute for Child and Family Policy
FRONTLINE Co-Production with Fred Friendly Seminars, Inc. and 10/20
Educational Foundation and Fred Friendly Seminars, Inc.
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