Many abused kids die while on govt. watch

December 22, 2008/Coshocton Tribune

COLUMBUS (AP) - One in three Ohio children killed by abuse or neglect were being assisted or monitored by government social workers on or near their deaths, a newspaper investigation has found.

The Columbus Dispatch reported Sunday that 87 of 234 children who died from 2002 to 2007 had contact with county children-services workers.

"As a general rule, the child-welfare system is broken," said Michael Fox, a former state representative who is now director of Butler County Children's Services. "And it has been broke for years."

The paper also found: 

  • The state failed to review nearly 30 percent of abuse and neglect deaths over a six-year period.   
  • Of the reviews that were done, the state faults county agencies for major flaws in their response to abuse reports, including placing children with unsuitable caregivers and then not checking their safety.   
  • Many of Ohio's children-services agencies, particularly in smaller, rural counties without local tax levies, are underfunded by the state.  
  • In addition, foster care placement agencies licensed by the state have failed to screen or run checks on foster parents, the investigation found.

"We accept that we have work to do," said Barbara Manuel, assistant deputy director at Ohio's Office for Children and Families.

The state is helping counties train caseworkers so the focus stays on child safety. Ohio is also creating a new "alternative-response" program to find ways to address a family's needs and reduce the danger of abuse.

County agencies received 70,752 reports of child abuse and neglect last year. About 4 percent of the complaints led to the removal of children from abusive homes and placement in foster care.

Eleven-month-old Nicholas Goodrich died Dec. 12, 2006, after his mother's boyfriend picked the baby up by the throat and threw him across the room.

The boyfriend was playing a "Madden NFL 06" video game and became angered by the baby's crying, the paper said. People concerned about the child's welfare made at least 12 calls to officials in Franklin and Delaware counties over four weeks to stop the abuse.

"It's like he was a punching bag for somebody," one caller complained. Another said the baby would end up dead if nothing was done.

The baby's mother is serving 13 years in prison for child endangering. The boyfriend is serving 15 years to life for murder.

"It was not our finest hour," said Eric Fenner, Franklin County Children Services executive director. "Any child harmed in our care is unacceptable. We can do better."

The director of an association representing children's services agencies defended caseworkers whom she described as overworked and subject to high rates of burnout.

"It's still a complex system. It's a very difficult job. You can never predict human behavior," said Crystal Ward Allen, executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio. "Hindsight is perfect."

The paper's survey was based on a review of all 88 county children services agencies, an examination of death certificates, child-fatality reports, other public records and media accounts.

Children who died while under govt. watch 

Some children identified in an investigation by The Columbus Dispatch who died while being assisted by government social workers on or near their deaths: 

  • Mia Jorris, 2, of Lima, died March 23, 2007 after being punched in the abdomen by her mother's boyfriend. Her 3-year-old brother was also severely injured. The siblings had been to the hospital three times but officials said they didn't have evidence needed to remove them from their home. 
  • Tyler McKee, 8 days, of Akron, died Dec. 5, 2003 after being beaten by Tyler's mother's boyfriend. The boyfriend had been forbidden to have unsupervised visits with his 13-month-old daughter but officials didn't prevent him from having contact with the baby. 
  • Reece Mushrush, 9, of Lake County, died Dec. 27, 2002 of internal injuries after being beaten to death over several days by his mother's boyfriend. Authorities had concerns about the boyfriend, who was required to sign a "family safety plan" with Reece's mother. 
  • Destiny Ross, 7 weeks, of Wooster, died Sept. 9, 2005 of a fractured skull. Destiny's mother had previously lost custody of her 2- and 4-year-old sons whom she was accused of abusing. A hung jury acquitted Destiny's mother of killing the baby. 
  • Daniel Mitchell, 15, of Columbus, died Oct. 23, 2002 of a gunshot to the head. After being removed from his father, Daniel asked Franklin County children-services officials to place him with a family friend. The friend, on felony probation for firing a shotgun at a group of teenagers, killed Daniel during a Russian-roulette-style game.


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