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BOY'S DEATH SPURS OREGON TO ACT

Date: 1997-04-03

PEOPLE IN CHILD'S CIRCLE OF CARE MUST BE TOLD ABOUT DRUGS

April 3, 1997
Steven Goldsmith

When God speaks to Mary Jackson, she hears the voice of her son Bobby.

It's a voice frozen in a 7-year-old's chirp, the voice of Bobby four years ago, when he died.

Bobby had been in a foster home with seven other children for nearly a year. The longer he was there, the worse he behaved. A psychiatrist came every six weeks and gave Bobby stronger and stronger doses of the anti-depressant imipramine.

Lethal doses, the coroner said, which made Bobby collapse and stop breathing after running three blocks home from school.

Six months later, Jackson, a woman of limited education and years lost to heroin, entered the state Capitol in Salem. Her shaky voice persuaded Oregon lawmakers to pass the Bobby Jackson Law, which requires government workers to notify a foster child's parents, advocates and lawyers when the child is given psychotropic drugs.

Legislators passed it unanimously, despite resistance from the Children's Services brass and the Oregon Psychiatric Association.

DRUGS AND DOUBT IN WENATCHEE

Date: 1997-04-02

MEDICATIONS CLOUD INVESTIGATION OF SEX CASES

April 2, 1997
Steven Goldsmith

More than a third of the alleged victims of Wenatchee's child sex ring were placed on psychotropic drugs paid for by the state once they entered foster care.

Use of the drugs may have affected the children's testimony in the highly charged sex cases. At the very least, it created the appearance of a conflict of interest for the state that continues today, a Post-Intelligencer investigation found.

Exonerated defendants claim memories of sexual abuse were planted by investigators after the children became wards of the state.

Psychotropic drugs were part of the "recovered memory" techniques used to convince children they had been victims of sex crimes, said Kathryn Lyon, an Olympia attorney whose upcoming book dissects the Wenatchee investigations.

DRUGGING FOSTER KIDS IS CHEAPER THAN THERAPY

Date: 1997-04-02

STEVEN GOLDSMITH

Lawrence coos and gurgles, patiently trying to coax his foster mother's yellow-headed parrot to let down its guard.

Many people are trying to get Lawrence, a 9-year-old cast aside by an abusive father and drug-addicted mother, to do the same.

But intensive therapy for Lawrence and children like him has gotten scarcer, while money for behavioral drugs continues to flow, infuriating health professionals who believe drugs alone aren't the answer.

"This kid's life is not going to get fixed up by medications," said Barbara Kleine, supervisor of a program at Children's Hospital that for a time provided Lawrence with daily counseling. "It's just a long haul of people being there."

Providing the people and programs to help troubled children is getting harder. In the past two years, King County has chopped in half the money available for mental health services for severely disturbed children, many of whom are in foster care.

6-YEAR-OLD DIED WHILE IN STATE'S HANDS

Date: 1997-04-01

Steven Goldsmith

Domico Presnell never chose his drugs - not the cocaine that quickened his newborn heart, nor the prescription pills that stopped it six years later.

Yet, though he grew just 3 feet, 8 inches tall, Domico left an imprint on Washington's $154 million-a-year child welfare system.

His death last April at age 6 in a Seattle foster home may prompt state officials, for the first time, to monitor the flow of potent prescription mood medications to foster children.

Domico's mother - homeless and addicted to crack cocaine - thought when she surrendered her son and his sister to the state in 1994 that the foster care system would protect them.

"I thought foster care was in their best interests," said Carolyn Presnell, who gave birth to Domico on Valentine's Day 1990. "I couldn't take care of them."

Under the state of Washington's care, Domico's rotted teeth and inflamed skin went untreated. But taxpayers supplied him with four different prescription drugs - all to control his behavior.

ONCE CHILDREN ARE PLACED INTO FOSTER CARE, FAMILIES LOSE THEIR SAY ABOUT DRUGS

Date: 1997-04-01

STEVEN GOLDSMITH

The little boy was so out of control with manic depression and attention disorders that he had been through three hospital programs by the age of 12.

The day his parents brought him to a child neurologist named Dr. Daniel Stowens, he hid under a table in the waiting room.

Anti-depressant drugs prescribed by Stowens have helped reunite the family from Kent.

"Dr. Stowens provided light when there was no light," said the boy's father. "He's getting better."

Similar medicine, prescribed by the same doctor, killed Domico Presnell.

Domico was a foster child. Youngsters like him are wards of the state - in a sense, everybody's children.

Everybody, that is, but the people who know them best. Washington doesn't give biological parents or grandparents a formal voice in decisions on medicating children in foster care. As a result, knowledge of a child's medical background gets lost, and dangerous side effects can be overlooked.

MEDICATING FOSTER CARE

Date: 1997-03-31

PRESCRIPTIONS GIVEN TO CHILDREN ARE SOARING OUT OF STATE CONTROL

March 31, 1997
Steven Goldsmith

One out of every five children in Washington state's foster care system is on potent mood-altering medications. Yet the state has no safeguards to protect the children who swallow these sometimes toxic pills.

As a result, foster children have suffered hallucinations, loss of bowel control, abnormal heartbeats - even death.

The state does not chronicle the problems children experience with these drugs. Officials aren't even sure how many of their troubled wards take behavioral medications, a six-month investigation by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer found.

Foster parents are given virtually no special training for handling the drugs. And there is no requirement that a child's biological parents or family members be told about the medications.

ABOUT THIS REPORT

Date: 1997-03-31

Steven Goldsmith

After Domico Presnell died in foster care April 21, 1996, the Post-Intelligencer requested state records of common psychotropic prescriptions given to foster children.

That was possible because virtually all the state's foster children are covered by Medicaid. The checks are written by the state Medical Assistance Administration, an arm of the Department of Social and Health Services.

The statistics, however, had to be gleaned from archived computer records that had not been set up for that purpose. The Post-Intelligencer loaded a database program with National Drug Code numbers for hundreds of generic and name-brand drugs, which were cross-referenced with Medicaid billings stored on computer tapes in Olympia.

The Post-Intelligencer then used computers to classify tens of thousands of billing records into types of drugs and recipients.

Medications given to foster children were compared with those given to children in the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program, the other major group of Medicaid recipients.

MILLIONS OF KIDS GET MOOD MEDICATION

Date: 1997-03-31

STEVEN GOLDSMITH
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Foster children may be leading the psychotropic bandwagon, but they're right in tune with their pill-popping generation.

Medicine treats growing millions of American children for depression and hyperactivity, despite public confusion over whether that heralds new hope or a stunted future.

National consumption of methylphenidate - better known as Ritalin - has risen 600 percent in the past six years. The stimulant, used to treat hyperactivity and attention disorders, flows through the bloodstreams of more than 2.4 million children, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Another million-plus children are taking various drugs for depression.

What drives this rise in medications, said University of Pennsylvania psychiatry professor Elizabeth Weller, is that they work. Weller said she often prescribes drugs that almost instantly help children who never seem to get any better from being dragged to one counseling session after another.

``I feel like years ago this kid should have been getting medication, along with counseling,'' she said.

WOMAN HELD IN KILLING OF CHILD IN JAPAN

Date: 1997-03-29

FIRST USE OF 1994 LAW TARGETS WIFE OF AIRMAN NOW AT TRAVIS

Denny Walsh
The Sacramento Bee

A 22-year-old Travis Air Force Base housewife was arrested early Friday on a charge that she murdered her 2-year-old half brother - who was also her adopted son - more than eight months ago in Okinawa, Japan.

Sharonda Renita White is the first person ever charged under a 1994 law that makes murder of a U.S. national in a foreign country a crime in this country.

She is accused in a cryptic, one-sentence indictment returned Thursday by a federal grand jury in Sacramento - and unsealed Friday after her arrest - of killing "with malice aforethought . . . a two-year-old child" on July 16.

With her husband, Airman Roshied White, looking on from the audience, Sharonda White made a brief appearance Friday before U.S. Magistrate Peter A. Nowinski. A plea and the question of bail were deferred to Tuesday. The magistrate ordered her held until then.

Psychological Warfare

Date: 1997-03-27

Psychological Warfare

The defense loses a key battle over attachment disorder for the upcoming Polreis toddler-death trial.

By Karen Bowers
Published: March 27, 1997

Accused child abuser Renee Polreis appeared to smirk at prosecutors who were attempting to waylay her defense strategy at a pretrial hearing last week. It may be the district attorney, however, who has the last laugh.

Polreis--who is charged in the death of her two-year-old adopted son, David--had been poised to offer a unique defense, namely, that the tot, who reportedly suffered from an attachment disorder, essentially beat himself to death ("Terrible Two," October 10, 1996, and "A Deep Attachment," March 13). But a ruling by Weld County District Judge Roger Klein earlier this week will make it more difficult for Polreis's attorneys to introduce psychological theory into the case. The trial is scheduled to start March 31.

N.Y. SUSPENDS ADOPTION AGENCY

Date: 1997-03-20

The Record (New Jersey)

FIRM OPERATES IN FORT LEE

Author: By SAMUEL MAULL, The Associated Press; Wire services
Dateline: NEW YORK

A Manhattan judge Wednesday suspended most of the operations of an adoption agency that the state Attorney General's Office accused of cheating hopeful, and sometimes desperate, would-be parents.

State Supreme Court Justice Carol Arber curtailed Today's Adoption Agency pending the outcome of a trial on the state's charges. Arber said the agency may not solicit new business or collect more fees from current clients.

Attorney General Dennis Vacco's suit said the agency collected up to $30,000 from families for a child, usually foreign-born, but often never provided one. In many cases, the promised child did not exist.

Arber said a hearing in October showed the emotional toll and irreparable harm suffered by the families involved in failed adoptions. The judge said TAA may process only cases already in the "pipeline."

ADOPTION AGENCY CLOSED BY COURT

Date: 1997-03-20

New York Daily News (NY)
Author: SALVATORE ARENA

An adoption agency that allegedly bilked dozens of families who hoped to adopt babies was shut down yesterday by a Manhattan judge.

Today's Adoption Agency was slapped with a preliminary injunction by Acting Supreme Court Justice Carole Arber after she found evidence the firm engaged in "fraudulent and illegal adoption practices."

Arber barred the agency from doing business pending a trial that will resolve charges of civil wrongdoing brought by the state.

Pennsylvania-based Today's Adoption specialized in securing orphans from South America for childless couples in the U.S., including hundreds of clients in the metropolitan area.

It has been operating under state supervision since September, when State Attorney General Dennis Vacco sued its owners on behalf of a dozen couples who charged the agency had ripped them off.

Vacco accused the agency of leaving the prospective parents childless and defrauding them of as much as $30,000 in placement fees.

ADOPTIVE FATHER OF 19 AWAITS WELFARE CHECKS

Date: 1997-03-13

Post-Tribune (IN)

Author: The Associated Press
Dateline: SHELBYVILLE

The adoptive father of 19 Haitian children says he doesn't even have enough money for gas.

Dan Blackburn, who was awarded custody of the children in a divorce battle, has been ordered by a judge to quit work, apply for welfare and stay home to raise the kids.

But the welfare payments haven't started, and Blackburn, a former missionary, says he's broke.

"I'm out of money and out of gas, and grounded until somebody brings me out some," he said.

Blackburn, who was working up to 70 hours a week at two jobs paying $7 an hour, said he was assured welfare benefits would start within days after Judge Charles O'Connor issued his order.

But 10 days and reams of paperwork later, Blackburn says he still hasn't seen a dime from county welfare officials.

"At this rate, I don't think they could organize a dog fight if I gave them the dogs," Blackburn said. "Next time they tell somebody to quit his job, maybe they better plan to have something available within the next day or two."

MOTHER OF BOY WHO DIED IN FOSTER HOME FILES SUIT

Date: 1997-03-13

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

The mother of a 6-year-old boy who died at a Seattle foster home filed a negligence lawsuit yesterday against the boy's social worker, foster mom and doctor.

The suit, filed in King County Superior Court, seeks punitive damages in the death of Domico Presnell, who was found by the medical examiner to have toxic levels of the anti-depressant drug amitriptyline in his bloodstream.

"They neglected this boy to death," said Sim Osborn, attorney for the boy's biological mother, Carolyn Presnell. "This was a senseless tragedy."

The suit also names the state of Washington and the Department of Social and Health Services, which licenses foster homes.

But Doug Brown, an assistant attorney general, said the state Supreme Court ruled last year that a foster parent is not an agent or employee of the state.

"It's certainly an unfortunate occurrence," Brown said of the boy's death, "one that I know everyone wishes hadn't happened."

A Deep Attachment

Date: 1997-03-13

A Deep Attachment

A New Mexico couple grieves for David Polreis, the prospective son they never got to meet.

By Karen Bowers 
Published: March 13, 1997

Jim and Jamie Nesmith are grieving over the death of David Polreis, a little boy they never met but who, under different circumstances, could have become their son. They had hoped to adopt the two-year-old Russian orphan when the woman who'd brought him to this country decided, after just seven months, that she wanted to relinquish custody. They were told there was a "big problem" between the mother and child. The Nesmiths were well into the process of orientation, home visitation and background checks that would have enabled them to adopt the boy when they were told that David's adoptive mother had changed her mind.

Two weeks later David was dead, and his adoptive mother, Renee Polreis, was being booked into the Weld County jail, charged with beating him to death with a wooden spoon ("Whipping Boy," October 10, 1996).

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