Posts Tagged child custody
By Attorney David Engler
Private placement agencies if not monitored well by Children Service Boards can end in tragedy. In Trumbull County, Ohio there have been at least 5 murders of children who were either directly through foster placement or indirectly through custody orders placed with the abuser.
In Fairfield County, Ohio a 5 year old boy was made to stand out in the rain and cold as a punishment. The boy was taken by ambulance to ER after going into cardiac arrest. He has permanent neurological damage. A private agency working under the County made the placement. The agency did not inquire as to why the foster parents had been denied a license in Hamilton County, Ohio.
The failure of Children Protective Service agencies is an epidemic.
The New York Times reported earlier this year reported about the wide spread abuse in the City. I am quoting it in its near entirety.
The New York Times –
“Lawyers for 10 disabled children who were fraudulently adopted by a Queens woman more than 15 years ago and subjected to years of abuse have proposed a $68 million settlement in a civil rights lawsuit filed on their clients’ behalf, according to a confidential court filing.”
Matthew Ratajczak/Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers,
“The proposal comes as a federal magistrate judge in Brooklyn appears to be trying to mediate a settlement to the suit, filed in 2009, which seeks damages from New York City and three contract adoption agencies that placed the children with the woman, Judith Leekin.
Serial Abuser for Foster Money
The case has been seen as one of the most disturbing child welfare fraud cases in the city in recent years. Ms. Leekin used four aliases to adopt the children, who had physical or developmental disabilities, including autism and retardation, and later moved them to Florida. The children were caged, restrained with plastic ties and handcuffs, beaten with sticks and hangers, and kept out of school, according to court papers. An 11th child disappeared while in Ms. Leekin’s care and is presumed dead.
The suit asks that the 10 plaintiffs, now mostly in their 20s, be compensated for their years of suffering as well as for the services and treatment they will need for the rest of their lives.
The letter was filed publicly in October, but was quickly sealed after the lawyer wrote that it “referred to confidential discussions between the parties.” The New York Times obtained the letter while it was publicly available.
Ms. Leekin, 66, was imprisoned after she was convicted of fraud in federal court in Manhattan and of abuse in a state court in Florida. Federal prosecutors have said that as part of her scheme, she collected $1.68 million in subsidies from the city that went to support a lavish lifestyle.
When the 10 children were removed from her care in 2007, none had completed elementary school; only three could read and only at a third-grade level; and about half were declared either “totally incapacitated” or “vulnerable adults,” according to a report by a former Columbia University social work professor retained by the plaintiffs to examine the cases.
The 10 have since lived in Florida in state programs or on their own, and at least one is homeless, according to court filings.
New York City and the three private agencies have denied liability in the case, claiming that Ms. Leekin was a sophisticated serial criminal whose scheme fooled various professionals and, given the capabilities and practices of the time, would not have been foreseen or detected.
The agencies are HeartShare Human Services of New York, SCO Family of Services and the now-closed St. Joseph Services for Children and Families.
The agencies’ lawyer, Robert S. Delmond, did not respond to messages seeking a comment on Thursday. Lawyers for the city and the plaintiffs declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
In the now-sealed letter to Judge Go, Mr. Delmond described the $68 million demand as “a significant sum, which requires much consideration, thought, planning and involvement of corporate officers before they can reach a decision.” The agencies’ insurance carrier was reviewing the matter, he noted, and was “not prepared to make a settlement offer at this time.”
He requested more time to allow for further consultations with the insurer and meetings to discuss “possible settlement offers.”
It is unclear how the city and the private agencies might apportion any payout if a settlement is reached.
Jonathan S. Abady, a lawyer whose firm, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, has handled suits against the city and private agencies in cases involving abused and neglected children, said “there does appear to be a uniform indemnification provision” in the contracts the city has with such agencies.
“But the city has the ultimate legal responsibility for the child,” said Mr. Abady, whose firm is not involved in the Leekin suit.
In August, Theodore Babbitt, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, asked Judge Go to move the case forward because of the “fragile, unstable and precarious” condition of the plaintiffs. “They are desperate for care that cannot be provided through the Florida state system,” he wrote.
He cited three of the male plaintiffs, who ranged in age from 19 to 24: one had been on a round-the-clock suicide watch after multiple attempts to take his own life. Another had fathered children out of wedlock and was homeless. A third had been arrested for domestic violence against his older brother. “He is angry and depressed and bottles it up inside until he violently explodes,” Mr. Babbitt wrote.”
ifference towards the sexual abuse of children by men in leadership positions does not seem to be isolated only in Happy Valley.
Attorney David Engler
Also published on Family Fault Lines Blog http://familyfaultlines.com/
Also published on eGuardianship Blog https://eguardianship.wordpress.com/
By Attorney David Engler
Another toddler was killed in a foster home, this time in Maryland.
The two year old girl was beaten to death by the 12 year old son of the foster parents.
Public child welfare agencies are the only ones who don’t see that our delivery system of child protection services is largely broken. They hide from scrutiny by cloaking themselves in rules of confidentiality.
Of the families I have represented the thread is common. They are usually poor, uneducated and unable to ask questions. Perhaps that is why their children end up in children services care.
But once government gets involved, then it becomes our business and the death of one child who was given to an agency that was meant to protect should cause an immediate and open review and call for changing the bureaucratically bloated child protection system.
Below is today’s editorial from the Washington Post. It could have been written in all but a handful of states like Virginia, Kansas and Florida that have overhauled children protective services.
WHEN WELFARE authorities remove a child from the home, it is supposed to be for the child’s safety. It is simply unthinkable that a 2-year-old girl in Prince George’s County who was taken from her mother’s custody was beaten to death while in the care of a foster family. Not only must there be a thorough review by county and state authorities, but it’s important that circumstances of the case — including a determination of whether the tragedy could have been prevented — be made public.
Aniyah Batchelor, who turned 2 in March, died Tuesday of “blunt force trauma,” according to Prince George’s police, who said she was beaten inside her foster parents’ home in Fort Washington. A 12-year-old boy, son of the unnamed foster parents, was charged with second-degree murder. Police allege that the boy had “beaten the child repeatedly’’ in a single attack; no weapon was used. It appears that the parents were away and their 15-year-old daughter was sleeping.
When a foster child is killed confidentiality is no excuse for concealing what happened and why.
The toddler had been in foster care since November. “Our hearts go out to the families involved. Both families and the staff that worked with them will need our support in the coming days,” read a statement issued by the Maryland Department of Human Resources, parent agency for the Prince George’s County Social Services Department, which handled the child’s placement. There is no doubting the need for sympathy, but officials also must provide a better explanation of the actions taken in this case.
Predictably, they have chosen to hide behind a supposed need for confidentiality and privacy even as state spokesman Pat Hines acknowledged that the state can discuss some details about a child in foster care if there is “an allegation of abuse and neglect” resulting in a death. Incredibly, state legal authorities concluded that that exemption doesn’t apply to Aniyah’s case.
Perhaps this was a tragedy that could not be foreseen; maybe it occurred despite best and correct efforts. But there are unanswered questions. Was the foster home properly screened? Were the parents trained? Had there been any signs of trouble? Were there alternatives that would have allowed Aniyah to avoid foster care? The public, the 6,859 Maryland families with children in foster care and, above all, this little girl’s mother need more than expressions of sorrow. They deserve answers.
Also published on Attorney David Engler’s Law Blog http://davidengler.wordpress.com
By Attorney David Engler
For the last 12 years I have been a school board member of a county board and a career and technical center. On the county board or Educational Service Center we provide the services to help local districts improve. We also run special schools including one for emotionally disturbed children with varying behavioral issues; a school run in conjunction with a great program started by the local Juvenile Court Judge Theresa Dellick. At the MCCTC almost a third of our students have an IEP. An IEP stands for Individual Education Plan. It is required by law and so many parents do not understand how important to ensure your child’s IEP is carefully constructed to specifically help your child no matter the cost or inconvenience to a district.
The worst thing I ever heard was from the lips of a fired teacher who told me how hard it was to chase after “tongue draggers” every day. My emotions were caught in between punching him and simply shaking my head. I am glad we fired him. Instead I will never forget those words and how insensitive some in education can be towards a child with a disability. And if that disability is one of a severe emotional problem or a slight shade of Autism or Asperger’s, then most of our teachers are ill-trained to help the child with the different wiring. There are many teachers who just get it. They are naturals at knowing how to reach the student with a disability that can be unnerving and tiring. They also understand the investment a parent has made in this child. The teacher may have the child 6 hours a week or maybe more if an elementary student.
And often indifference is the answer from an administration concerned about increased costs. So whether they admit it or not, every administrator knows that a diagnosis of a disability might bring years of extra costs for the district. In a famous case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, Forest Grove School District v. T.A. (2009) the court ruled that the district should have reimbursed the parents for the costs of private schooling since the District should have been aware of the disability and provide assistance to the family. The District claimed they had no idea there was a problem. Justice Stevens of the Supreme Court stated: “We conclude that IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act) authorizes reimbursement for the cost of special education services when a school district fails to provide a FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education) and the private-school placement is appropriate, regardless of whether the child previously received special education or related services through the public school.” The cost to the district was $65000 to reimburse the parents and potentially $500000 in legal fees.
Every school district is legally required to identify, locate, and evaluate children with disabilities (20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(3)). After the evaluation, the district may provide the child with specific programs and services to address special needs.
IDEA defines “children with disabilities” as individuals between the ages of three and 22 with one or more of the following conditions:
- Mental retardation
- Hearing impairment (including deafness)
- Speech or language impairment
- Visual impairment (including blindness)
- Serious emotional impairment
- Orthopedic impairment
- Traumatic brain injury
- Specific learning disability, or
- Other health impairment (20 U.S.C. §1401(3); 34 C.F.R. §300.8).
For your child to qualify for special education under IDEA, it is not enough to have one of these disabilities. There must also be evidence that the disability adversely affects your child’s educational performance.
Now each school district should be well aware of its responsibilities. But sadly not every administrator can see life from the eyes of a parent struggling to find help for their child. The schools seem relieved if they can cause the child to graduate and be done with the financial exposure. The former Director of Special Ed for Maryland, Dr. Linda Bluth gave me the best advice ever. “Our children do not fail…it is we who fail our children.” It is very difficult to cause a school culture to adopt this core belief. It makes us accountable. It denies us the ability to blame little to no achievement on a kid with a mental problem, a broken home, a history with children services, parents who think they know better(they almost always do) or some other societal bogeyman. No we have to own it. This means we will have failures. And they will sting.
But for the guardians and parents there is help for you. I have included some of the language in the federal IDEA statute above to help you know what to do. The regulations can be found at www.gov/about/offices/list/users. The country has 81 million students that fit this category. Ohio has about 3 million. We need more teachers and aides with special education training. We need to pay them more to encourage their numbers and recognize that their job makes teaching even tougher than it already is. You can also look at www.mdlclaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/pub-special-ed-handbook. This handbook gives you sample letters to ask for independent evaluations and how the legal process works. Or hire a lawyer.
Most importantly we need parents to step forward and be armed with the law as you demand the very best possible Free and Appropriate Public Education for your child. The key word to me is appropriate. These children are all so very different. Make sure the IEP has real goals that can be measured without someone guessing that your son or daughter has advanced with soft logic. Don’t give up and never be afraid to ask to talk directly to the Board of Education. Often the Board members are shielded from the other side of the story. Do not assume that they will side with the administrators standing in your way.
You have been given a child with special needs because you can handle it. I do not need to tell you your journey is tough. Not everyone is going to be understanding. But I can tell you that the law is on your side and many more people than you could possibly imagine.
By Attorney David Engler
The CSB worker that I agreed not to prosecute gave me the old no apology, apology. It’s where you tell the offended party that you are sorry if they were so stupid that you took their threatening words as a threat. That since you are so stupid, then I am sorry you took my warning to “stay out of Trumbull ” as something other than a nicety we people use around here. And I am so sorry if you or someone might have been alarmed that I used ugly language that would make my mother’s hair curl to tell you I would attempt to ruin your business…but if you should happen to have such thin skin then I’m sorry.
Try using one of these lines on your wife. Boom to the moon!
(Here is a link to an article that describes the pathology of the faux apology.
It is this total lack of remorse in their every ill-advised actions that make me pursue this agency, seeking justice for the murdered and abused children. If Trumbull County’s CSB openly recognized their mistakes, and were making a sincere effort to correct them, one could give them the benefit-of-the-doubt. But in fact, they are not sincerely trying to make good, they are simply scrambling to take any actions which will make the spotlight on their operations go away.
Let’s not allow them to do that, for the good of our region and the good of our children let’s keep the spotlight where it belongs, on the children Trumbull County CSB has had in their custody who have been abused and murdered.
By Attorney David Engler
In one way or the other for 25 years I have been involved as a government elected official. First as a councilman from a tough Youngstown City Ward, then a Commissioner of a large Ohio County and now as a Board Member of a County School System. So I admit to being part of the problem.
In each of these roles, part, or the entire mandate has been to provide for and to protect children. It’s a given that we as a State and Country believe that children should be offered a Free and Appropriate Public Education. Through our County and City governments we also believe that children should be protected from those that would abuse and neglect them like their parents or other predators that lurk in front of and behind the shadows.
Government lacks accountability from results from layering of bureaucracy year after year, tax dollar after tax dollar. Each year their mass gets greater.
Laws of physics apply. A body at rest stays at rest. To overcome inertia there must be a force that is equal to mass of the object times acceleration. Newton had it right. This is my theory: that F= MA applies equally to government agencies. The question is how to generate force extrinsic to the agency.
In Trumbull County, Ohio the Children Service Placement Agency funded with federal, state and local dollars has remained a body at rest despite the murders of four children over 10 years by foster parents approved by CSB or by others where CSB was involved in the placement. Just recently, it was discovered that a nine-month old infant was molested at the agency during a “supervised” visitation. The agency remarkably believes it shares no liability for allowing the atrocity to occur and be filmed at its own building. It says this even though it knew that the infant’s father had raped a three year old relative about 7 years earlier and was sent to DYS (Juvenile Jail) in Columbus.
In Mahoning County the Board I sit on operates a school for children with emotional disabilities. And there is no doubt that the overall mission is to serve this very difficult population on funding from the State of about $11,000 per year per student. It is hard to find a teacher with a certification in special education and the aides that work with the children have even less or no training in dealing with these kids. So each year there is a tremendous turnover in personnel because to work a day at this alternative school can feel like a lifetime. There is no football team to cheer, no children getting academic achievement awards and no school plays or recitals where the children are applauded. The gains are so much smaller. It might be a victory to get a child to come to school fed, bathed and properly dressed. It is a landmark to matriculate the student back to a home school. But the turnover in personnel means there is a lack of consistency in teaching methods and often a sense that the school is doing nothing more than holding the child as time passes. Nothing will change until an accident happens and the lack of progress is brought to light.
Force in a governmental setting is only applied by those elected or appointed to be the representatives of the public that deemed a public education or the protection of children goals worthy of the forced conscription of our personal wealth, i.e.,income tax, sales tax or real property tax. The other form of force beyond our elected representatives occurs through a ballot initiative or the rejection or adoption of a tax levy placed on the ballot It is at this point where the disconnect begins. Once the money leaves our paycheck or wallet; it makes it way to the institutions charged with creating the desired outcomes of a FAPE and protected children. These government agencies are often run by an appointed board that has little connection to the elected board that years ago had appointed them. There is no real connection or concern about their jobs since they are not being paid and the public rarely even knows they sit on a board that dispenses 15.5 million dollars a year in purchased services. At this point in time several board members are reading this and shouting at the computer screen “How in the world can Engler say I don’t care about kids. That is why I volunteer my time to sit on this Board.” Let me be clear I believe that nearly all Board members on schools boards and CSB boards do care about children getting a good education and being safe from perverts, but they lack the incentive of “Force” to make any significant change even in the face of overwhelming evidence that their system is broken. The Board member normally pales in the face of a multi-million dollar entity that has long ago learned that board members come and go and the occasional critic can be outlasted. That is the inertia of Mass. It is what happens when you spend 15.5 million dollars a year on salaries and services. The prosecutor in the town turns his head because he gets over $200,000 a year in contracted services. Everyone knows someone who has a job at the agency. Maybe a recommendation from a commissioner or Board member was helpful in securing that job. Health professionals make money. Foster parents make money. Pretty soon every potential critic has a gag in his/her mouth because there is money involved.
I remember being the youngest County Commissioner in Ohio at the time, being full of an overabundance of both piss and vinegar. An older colleague kindly told me: slow down, this 300 million dollar county is like moving the Titanic. YOU CANNOT DO IT. So you learn to accept small victories, but they are literally changing the deck chairs. I built a couple of jails, instituted 911, curb-side recycling and managed to finagle money from the federal government to create some jobs. But 12 years later I’m not sure much has changed.
The amount of force necessary to move a government from a place of inertia to forward movement is the threat that it’s budget will be consumed from outside attacks like lawsuits or that it can be replaced by a model that would be inherently more accountable since it would be judged purely on how many children you helped to educate or whether you were able to keep children from being murdered or reduce the number of children abused. If you fail to show progress than you lose your government contract after three years. The economic motivation would be so great to do the job that the contracted not for profit agency or not for profit school would every day make sure it was meeting its goals. Contrast the proposed model to the model at work now. Four children get murdered and another gets molested in your agency and the only change is more tax funds and higher salaries. Teachers are jumping ship from the school in increasing numbers every year and nothing happens. There must be a connection made between doing your job and getting paid. In government it is rare for someone to lose a job because a child under its watch was murdered or students simply survive a school system because they are so difficult to begin with. My belief is that children do not fail; we fail our children.
Governments have it wrong when they think they can run a children service agency or school for special needs students. We care but not enough to do anything until some outside entity finds that special place where F = MA. It is usually the death of a child, but not always as Trumbull County has shown. It might be the loss of a levy or the loss from a lawsuit or the mandate from a Governor. But it does not occur from within. The agencies are designed to disperse blame as efficiently as a bullet proof vest will deflect the force of a fired shot. No one in particular is accountable.
Governments are designed to tax people and provide some basic services like policing the streets and providing firefighting. When the mandate goes beyond these traditional services the best result government can get to protect and educate special need children is to create a contract with a well vetted not for profit who has to answer a basic question every two or three years: “what did you do to protect our children or take care of their special needs. If your answer is nothing then you are not needed.
A note to my friends: Thanks for your showing of support. I appreciate it. I have written another article for you and hope you will look at it and give me your feedback. I consider the writing part of my job fighting for people.
By Attorney David Engler
Nick Kerosky, the Director of Trumbull County Children Services expressed succinctly the attitude of most bureaucratic children service directors, “There’s no support that it [wrongdoing] ever happened. I don’t believe it ever happened,” Kerosky said.
“While the death of a child is always a tragedy, it is unfair and unethical to assume that a death means that there must be wrongdoing on the part of CSB.” Director Kerosky said in a press release, in response to allegations that the 2003 death of 3 year old Auntavia Diggs was in part due to CSB’s inaction
Kerosky believes that one, two or three children deaths in Trumbull County, Ohio during a 6 year period should not give rise to criticism of CSB. I suppose he is talking about me when he suggests it is unethical to assume a death means that there must be wrongdoing on the part of CSB.
I will not comment about my pending action on behalf of a dad who lost his only child, a daughter, (without being represented,) to a foster-parent who quickly murdered the little 22 month old, strangling the life out of her. CSB said she would be a good foster parent. She left the impression of her ring on the baby’s neck.
No I want to talk about poor Auntavia who was tortured, burned and then murdered by people CSB said were appropriate to watch children.
Relatives say Ethel Wilbert-Bethea who is serving 21 years for murder reached out to CSB three times to give the baby back. CSB’s records, which we learned from the State Audit are sometimes ‘adjusted after the fact’, reflect a Hogan’s Heroes Sargent Schultz mentality of “I’ve seen nothing. I’ve heard nothing.”
5 months earlier in 2003, little 4 year old Logan Guiton was murdered while in foster care by Michael Ledger. His head was cracked against a wall in the house where he was placed by CSB. Ledger is serving 15 years to life. The CSB director at that time said there were no records to suggest CSB had any culpability.
This is the point: when any child in their care dies, it should be assumed that children services erred. An agency should not be afraid to look at itself in every instance and find out how it could have prevented the tragedy.
Look at The CSB mission statement. …it is to protect children in Trumbull County from being abused in their schools, homes and to especially protect those children from the most likely abuser, a family member. The standard of care becomes even greater when the child falls into the care and custody of CSB. It would seem that a child being molested in CSB’s own building would be a clear case of a colossal CSB screwup when it was known or should have been known that the father was a voracious sexual predator who had his siblings removed from his home when he was released by department of Youth Services. While in Mahoning County lock up as a juvenile, he was a sexual predator. The grandmother complained to CSB about him being a sex offender. CSB does not keep notes, when it does not fit its story.
Trumbull County Children Services Bureau fails when a child gets sexually abused. Anywhere. Anytime.
It will happen again. And at every turn CSB should be asking itself what did we do wrong. This doesn’t mean CSB will be sued. It is a fundamental shift in philosophy from what Kerosky said about the murder of poor Auntavia, to a more principled belief, that when it comes to the safety of our children there is no margin of error. There can be no hesitancy to act. Each tragedy should be a moment to learn from mistakes and work harder to prevent the loss of a child in the future. CSB is protected from just about every form of liability except the one that springs forth from the expenditure of 15.5 million dollars of taxpayer money each year to affirmatively keep kids from dying. CSB is in a statistical tsunami of children’s deaths and abuse and its answer is to say bad things happen. The rate of children’s death by caregivers in Trumbull County is either a statistical anomaly or an indication that something is broken and needs fixed.
“Poor Joshua! Victim of repeated attacks by an irresponsible, bullying, cowardly, and intemperate father, and abandoned by respondents who placed him in a dangerous predicament and who knew or learned what was going on, and yet did essentially nothing except … dutifully recorded these incidents in [their] files.” It is a sad commentary upon American life, and constitutional principles – so full of late of patriotic fervor and proud proclamations about “liberty and justice for all” – that this child, Joshua DeShaney, now is assigned to live out the remainder of his life profoundly retarded. Joshua and his mother, as petitioners here, deserve – but now are denied by this Court – the opportunity to have the facts of their case considered in the light of the constitutional protection that 42 U.S.C. 1983 is meant to provide.”
This was the famous dissent given by Associate Justice Harry Blackmun in the DeShaney v. Winnebago County Children Services case that stands as law today. The mother of Joshua had sued the county CSB for allowing the child to go back to the care of his father despite a clear indication that the father was a child abusing bully. A child was abused by his father and CSB failed to act. The majority in the case stated that Joshua could not recover from Winnebago County because the federal laws are meant to protect violations of a state actor, not a private actor like Joshua’s father or in the case in Trumbull County, Wilbert-Bethea who murdered Auntavia. The Supreme Court did say that there might be state court remedies, but those are unlikely since governmental immunities protect CSB from all but the most egregious acts of indifference. They are not protected however when the offender who kills or molests is an agent of the State like a foster parent or the harm takes place on its own property.
It is unlikely that CSB will change from within and become the type of agency that understands that every death of a child is one too many and at each death or each incident of abuse CSB should ask itself what it did wrong.
Our victimized children do not fail us, we fail them.
CSB is given $15.5 million dollars a year to perform a job the rest of us believe is proper and right.
And this is not a condition that is found just in Trumbull County, Ohio. It has happened with three murders of children in Hamilton County this past year.
The State of Florida, after the sickening murder of a young boy and girl by their adoptive father, revamped its entire child protective service organization to allow not-for- profits and faith based groups a chance to be held more accountable than government agencies grown indifferent with time and attitudes of “it wasn’t me.”
Yes there should be no shame in each time a child is murdered, abused, or abandoned for the wealthy tax payer funded agency to say to itself, “what did we do wrong.” Not to take this attitude will only lead to more unspeakable horrors.
Published: Sun, December 18, 2011 @ 12:10 a.m.
ATTORNEY LOOKS INTO DEATHS OF 2 IN 2003
By Ed Runyan
An attorney who has applied pressure to Trumbull County Children Services for months says he’s uncovered evidence that the agency’s problems date back to 2003 — when two children died.
Atty. David Engler encouraged the criminal investigation of employees that is now taking place regarding the alleged videotaped molestation of a 9-month-old child in the agency’s custody in April.
He also sought to have Children Services employees placed on leave during the investigation, and he filed civil suits against the agency for allegedly failing to prevent the death of a child in its custody in 2009 and for allegedly not following the Open Meetings Act.
Now he’s researching the deaths of two children in 2003 that he says indicate the agency has failed for years in its mission to protect children.
Engler points to the deaths of Logan Guiton, 4, at the hands of Michael Ledger of Dickey Avenue in Warren, and Auntavia Atkins, 3, who died at the hands of Ethel Wilbert-Bethea on North Bank Street in Cortland.
Those deaths, combined with the death of Tiffany Banks Cross, 20 months, on April 2, 2009, total three for which Engler believes the agency is in some way responsible.
Engler says that’s a high number of deaths associated with a county children-services agency, which indicates a “dysfunctionality of Trumbull County Children Services.”
The agency denies accusations that an employee in one of the cases ignored warning signs.
The agency’s executive director, Nick Kerosky, was not working in Trumbull County when any of the deaths occurred, but he agrees that three “does seem like a lot.”
“No child should die. One is too many,” Kerosky said. “When a child dies, you have to look and see what could have been done differently.”
He added, “There’s a lot of danger out there for kids, and that’s why we have the agency we do.”
Michael Ledger of Dickey Avenue Northwest, now 49, called 911 at 4:20 a.m. Jan. 19, 2003, saying Logan Guiton, his son’s brother, was not breathing. Prosecutors said Ledger injured the boy’s head by hitting it on the drywall of a bedroom wall. The boy died two days later in a Cleveland hospital.
Ledger pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
Ledger was Logan’s legal guardian. The boy’s mother placed him and his 6-year-old brother in foster care, Warren police said. Ledger was the biological father of the 6-year-old, but he was not Logan’s biological father, according to Vindicator files.
Robert Kubiak, executive director of Children Services in 2003, said the agency had no reports of Logan’s having been abused at Ledger’s home.
“My review is that the agencies working on this case handled it appropriately,” Kubiak said.
Auntavia Atkins, 3, died Sept. 3, 2003, of a head injury after being taken to the hospital Aug. 29, 2003, from a home on North Bank Street in Cortland where she was living with Ethel Wilbert-Bethea, her husband and other children, according to Vindicator files.
Wilbert-Bethea, now 47, was sentenced to 21 years in prison after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter, felonious assault and four counts of child endangerment.
Auntavia was not in Children Services custody, nor was she part of the agency’s foster-care program, officials said. Auntavia’s mother, Angel Diggs, gave Auntavia to Wilbert-Bethea to watch for her while Diggs worked on getting a full-time job and a place to live, according to Vindicator files.
Cortland police were called to Wilbert-Bethea’s home, where emergency responders found Auntavia in serious condition and took her to a hospital.
The girl also had retinal hemorrhaging, chronic rectal bleeding, malnutrition, missing hair and burn marks on her body, police said.
Diggs told The Vindicator in 2003 that she repeatedly asked a Children Services caseworker to visit Auntavia, but nothing was done. Diggs said she told the agency that she’d been told Wilbert-Bethea was abusing Auntavia.
“I asked my caseworker to visit, but she didn’t. If she would have, she would have saw what was going on,” Diggs said.
Kubiak, the director at the time, said he could not respond to Diggs’ allegations.
Markita Parks of Warren, who along with her mother, Fannie Parks, served as foster parents for 11 years, said Diggs and a Children Services caseworker told her that Wilbert-Bethea had contacted the agency three times to tell it that Wilbert-Bethea wasn’t able to handle Auntavia.
Markia and Fannie Parks told The Vindicator last week that the caseworker asked Fannie Parks to take the child, and Fannie Parks agreed. Parks and her mother already had custody of Auntavia’s brother. Parks eventually adopted the boy, Markita said.
The request for Parks to take Auntavia came about three to four weeks before Auntavia died, Markita Parks said.
“The minute a foster parent says they can’t handle it, an emergency worker needs to get involved,” Markita Parks said.
Parks said the agency’s handling of the Auntavia case made her and her mother “furious” and caused them to get out of foster parenting in 2005.
Kerosky said last week he looked into the allegations made by Fannie and Markita Parks and checked with the caseworker.
“There’s no support that it ever happened. I don’t believe it ever happened,” Kerosky said.
When asked whether Children Services had any knowledge of Auntavia prior to her death, Kerosky said he would not comment.
Tiffany Banks Cross
Tiffany Banks Cross was 20 months old on April 2, 2009, when she died at the hands of her foster mother, Bonnie Pattinson.
Pattinson and her family were living in a duplex on Center Street West in Champion Township when emergency responders were called to the home because the girl was not breathing.
Pattinson, now 33, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to nine years in prison. The coroner ruled that Tiffany died of asphyxiation, and a county prosecutor said there were marks on the child’s neck consistent with the rings Pattinson was wearing.
Thomas Cross, Tiffany’s biological father, filed a lawsuit against Trumbull County Children Services, accusing the agency of failing to protect Tiffany despite what he says were warnings that the girl was being abused. Engler is the attorney for Cross.
In the suit, Cross said he warned the agency that the girl might be in danger, saying he noticed bruising on her and dog hair in her formula.
The Vindicator filed public-information requests with Children Services asking whether any disciplinary action was taken against any agency employee regarding the deaths of Guiton, Atkins or Banks Cross.
Kerosky, who became executive director Oct. 1, 2010, said no disciplinary action was taken in any of the cases.
“Those cases were all investigated and looked at by the state” Department of Job and Family Services, Kerosky said. He “had not read the reports” emanating from those investigations, Kerosky said, but Ohio JFS had found that Children Services had done nothing wrong, Kerosky said.
After asking the state agency for information on its investigations into the three deaths, the agency replied: “Regrettably, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services cannot comply with your request due to state law that makes such records confidential/nonpublic.”