House Committee on Ways and Means TO EXAMINE RECENT FAILURE TO PROTECT CHILD SAFETY
TO EXAMINE RECENT FAILURE TO PROTECT CHILD SAFETY
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED EIGHTH CONGRESS
NOVEMBER 6, 2003
Printed for the use of the Committee on Ways and Means
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
E. CLAY SHAW, JR., Florida
NANCY L. JOHNSON, Connecticut
AMO HOUGHTON, New York
WALLY HERGER, California
JIM MCCRERY, Louisiana
DAVE CAMP, Michigan
JIM RAMSTAD, Minnesota
JIM NUSSLE, Iowa
SAM JOHNSON, Texas
JENNIFER DUNN, Washington
MAC COLLINS, Georgia
ROB PORTMAN, Ohio
PHIL ENGLISH, Pennsylvania
J.D. HAYWORTH, Arizona
JERRY WELLER, Illinois
KENNY C. HULSHOF, Missouri
SCOTT MCINNIS, Colorado
RON LEWIS, Kentucky
MARK FOLEY, Florida
KEVIN BRADY, Texas
PAUL RYAN, Wisconsin
ERIC CANTOR, Virginia
FORTNEY PETE STARK, California
ROBERT T. MATSUI, California
SANDER M. LEVIN, Michigan
BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, Maryland
JIM MCDERMOTT, Washington
GERALD D. KLECZKA, Wisconsin
JOHN LEWIS, Georgia
RICHARD E. NEAL, Massachusetts
MICHAEL R. MCNULTY, New York
WILLIAM J. JEFFERSON, Louisiana
JOHN S. TANNER, Tennessee
XAVIER BECERRA, California
LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
EARL POMEROY, North Dakota
MAX SANDLIN, Texas
STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES, Ohio
Allison H. Giles, Chief of Staff
Janice Mays, Minority Chief Counsel
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
WALLY HERGER, California, Chairman
SCOTT MCINNIS, Colorado
JIM MCCRERY, Louisiana
DAVE CAMP, Michigan
PHIL ENGLISH, Pennsylvania
RON LEWIS, Kentucky
ERIC CANTOR, Virginia
FORTNEY PETE STARK, California
SANDER M. LEVIN, Michigan
JIM MCDERMOTT, Washington
CHARLES B. RANGEL, New York
C O N T E N T S
SUBMISSIONS FOR THE RECORD
Atwood, Thomas C., National Council for Adoption, Alexandria, VA, letter
Cohen, Steven D., New Jersey Child Welfare Panel, Trenton, NJ, statement
Frenzel, Hon. Bill, Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care, statement
Pertman, Adam, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, New York, NY, letter and attachment
Reiniger, Douglas H., American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, New York, NY, statement
Smith, J. Michael, Home School Legal Defense Association, Purcellville, VA, statement
TO EXAMINE RECENT FAILURE TO PROTECT CHILD SAFETY
Thursday, November 6, 2003
U.S. House of Representatives,
Committee on Ways and Means,
Subcommittee on Human Resources,
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:05 a.m., in room 1100, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Wally Herger (Chairman of the Subcommittee) presiding.
[The advisory announcing the hearing follows:]
Chairman HERGER. This Subcommittee will come to order. Good morning, and I welcome all our guests here today. I am pleased to see that we have such an interested audience today. Please remember that you are our guests and interruptions will not be tolerated. Those who might disrupt this important hearing will be asked to leave. I hope this will not be a problem, but I want to make sure everyone understands the ground rules before we get under way.
Today's hearing covers a child welfare tragedy in which four boys suffered from apparent starvation while under the care of their adoptive parents. The oldest, at age 19 and just 45 pounds when found, was rooting through a neighbor's trash for food. The other boys, age 9, 10, and 14, weighed about a third of what is typical for their ages. This tragedy unfolded in the New Jersey town of Collingswood, a community in suburban Philadelphia, but it might have happened anywhere.
Unfortunately, these cases too often occur despite the best efforts of thousands of hard working caseworkers, caring foster and adoptive parents, and those of us here today who want the very best for these vulnerable children.
I believe I speak for us all when I say we are deeply concerned about the Jackson boys and any other children like them suffering abuse. Our hearts go out to them, and we hope and pray that they can overcome this tragedy.
Nearly every one of our States has witnessed high-profile tragedies in which vulnerable children have been horrifically abused, neglected, and even killed. Several features of this particular case demand a close review of whether Federal and State protections designed to prevent such tragedies are working. Based on what we have learned to this point, they were not working in the case of the four Jackson boys.
As representatives of Federal taxpayers, we oversee the billions of dollars provided to States for maintenance payments to foster and adoptive families. In this case, approximately $28,000 was paid last year alone to care for the children in this family.
Congress also oversees Federal funds used to administer child welfare programs in the States. Sadly, in this case, these funds were not put to the good purpose Congress intended. These taxpayer dollars were not used to better the lives of children in need of a good home. Instead, it appears these funds subsidized appalling neglect.
This case is about a lot more than Federal funds, so we have asked a panel of local experts and officials familiar with this specific case, as well as New Jersey's recent efforts to prevent such tragedies, to help us answer some very basic questions: what happened, what should have happened to prevent or at least detect such abuse, and how can we ensure other children do not suffer a fate similar to these four innocent boys?
Joining us today are individuals representing the adoptive parents, New Jersey's child welfare agency, and the caseworkers involved in this case as well as other local officials. We also will hear from experts monitoring New Jersey's efforts to reform its child welfare programs following the death of a child earlier this year. This pattern of tragedy and the fact that caseworkers entered the Jackson's home literally dozens of times in the past several years without taking action are key reasons for today's hearings.
I want to thank my Democrat colleague, Mr. Cardin, for his help in putting this hearing together. Mr. Cardin and I have worked together in recent weeks to pass legislation promoting adoption, continuing our record of cooperation in this important area for children. Today, there are no Democrat or Republican witnesses because our purpose is simply to get the facts. This is the only way we can make an informed judgment about whether changes are needed.
Subsequent hearings, including one a week from today, will probe more deeply into the policy implications of this case for the Nation. For example, we will review efforts in all States to monitor foster and adoptive children as well as ask broader questions related to how the Federal Government can help State and local officials across the country prevent such horrific cases of abuse.
As this suggests, our hearing today marks a continuation, not an end to our efforts to protect children. Based on just what we know so far about this tragic case, there is a lot of work ahead.
Without objection, each Member will have the opportunity to submit a written statement and have it included in the record at this point. Mr. Cardin, would you like to make an opening statement?
[The opening statement of Chairman Herger follows:]
Mr. CARDIN. Let me thank Chairman Herger for holding this very important hearing, and I thank you for your concern and working together, as you said, not as Democrats or Republicans but together to deal with America's most vulnerable children.
I also want to acknowledge our colleagues that are here. I note that Don Payne from New Jersey has joined us, Mr. Andrews, Bill Pascrell, and Mike Ferguson. We appreciate all your concerns on this issue and your participation in today's hearing.
Mr. Chairman, my staff has shown me a photograph of the Jackson family, and you are not going to be able to see it from here, but I think particularly the picture of Bruce will haunt me for some time. It should shock all of us what has happened to four children who were adopted to the same family in New Jersey: Bruce, Michael, Tyrone, and Keith. Their total weight was 134 pounds for the four children. They ranged in age from 9 to 19.
I know that we are all asking questions how this happened, but one thing we should be doing is asking how can we be motivated into action to make sure that we provide more help and greater tools to deal with children who are very, very vulnerable in our society today. The first question, of course, is how did these boys become so malnourished.
Now, the county prosecutor has charged the couple who adopted them with aggravated assault and child endangerment, saying they intentionally starved the children. The couple have indicated that the children had eating disorders, but that is hard to balance with the fact that once the children were removed from the family, they seemed to have gained weight. This indicates that something could have been done a lot earlier in regards to these children.
The next big question is how did the State agency charged with protecting the children fail to help these boys, even when a caseworker was routinely visiting the home? You would think that we would have picked up these issues earlier and been able to act on this case at an earlier time. Unfortunately, the boys' circumstances were not discovered until one of them was found looking for food in the neighbor's trash.
The final question this panel should be asking is what implications does the New Jersey case present for our Nation's child welfare system. For example, one issue raised by this case is how vulnerable certain children can be if they do not go to school or have regular medical checkups. If these boys would have interacted with a broader group of adults earlier, we may have been able to catch this matter at an earlier stage.
One of my major concerns is whether we are providing adequate support for our child welfare system. We know that turnover among caseworkers is very rapid. We are not able to maintain experienced caseworkers. We do not pay our caseworkers enough. Their caseload is way too high for them to effectively be able to monitor the families they are responsible for. All of that calls upon us as Federal policymakers to do something about our child welfare system. The U.S. General Accounting Office has told us that low salaries, high caseload, and insufficient training has led to some very high turnover rates for child welfare caseworkers throughout the Nation.
Now, Mr. Chairman, I know that the New Jersey case suggests that we have a problem, but it may not just be in New Jersey. In fact, I think it is systematic around the Nation that we have to be doing a better job in our work. We know that there may very well have been negligence involved in this case, but the environment in which caseworkers work in has a direct impact on how effective they can be in our child welfare system.
So, I hope that this hearing will help us in plotting a strategy to try to deal with the broader issue, not just one family's circumstance, but the broader issue throughout the entire system.
Today's hearing focuses on alleged abuse in the adoptive home, but we have also heard enough stories of abuse in birth families and in foster care to know that the whole system needs to be improved. I look forward to working with you as we sort through this circumstance to plot a strategy to help America's children. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The opening statement of Mr. Cardin follows:]
[The opening statement of Mr. Foley follows:]
Chairman HERGER. Thank you, Mr. Cardin. Before we move on to our testimony, I want to remind our witnesses to limit their oral statements to 5 minutes. However, without objection, all of the written testimony will be made a part of the permanent record. To begin our hearing, I would like to welcome three Members of Congress from the State of New Jersey, the Honorable Robert Andrews, the Honorable Bill Pascrell, and the Honorable Michael Ferguson. Congressman Andrews your testimony.
Mr. ANDREWS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning, Mr. Cardin, Members of the Committee. We deal with a lot of very important questions in the U.S. House of Representatives, and I know that the Members of this Committee in this room deal with very consequential matters all the time. I can't think of a more consequential or important subject that the Committee will take up ever than the issue that you are looking at today.
Thirty days ago, a young man and three little boys in southern New Jersey, in Collingswood, New Jersey, their names were not known beyond their own family, neighborhood, and friends. Today, their names are being reported in the national media, worldwide media, because of the horrific events surrounding their lack of care and what has happened to them.
I thank Mr. Cardin for mentioning in his very opening remarks the most important subject, which is the very good news that reports are that each of these four young men are making medical progress. We are thankful for that, and we hope that that continues.
This is a matter where there is one set of facts that is indisputable, there is another set of questions that is very much in dispute, and there is a third set of questions that I think we have a responsibility to take under our wing and answer. What is not in dispute is that a young man and three boys were in grave medical distress when they were discovered by the Collingswood, New Jersey Police a few days ago. As Mr. Cardin said, these four young men were shockingly underweight and in terrible, terrible condition. That is indisputable.
There is much dispute as to how they got there and whose responsibility that is. It is the responsibility of the county prosecutor, Mr. Sarubbi, in whom I have great confidence, and the court system, in which I have great confidence, to sort out the question of whose legal responsibility this terrible situation is. I am certain that the courts and the criminal justice system and the administrative law system will sort these questions out.
Frankly, it is important that the Committee know the facts, but it is even more important that the regular legal processes that deal with these children, their parents, and other people associated with this matter run its course and be dealt with properly. The Congress of the United States is not a place that decides innocence or guilt or liability or the lack thereof.
The third question is the one for which we have great responsibility, and that question is not simply how did these four young men find themselves in such desperate straits that day, but whether we know for sure whether there are other little boys or other little girls elsewhere in America that are in the same situation as we meet this morning.
The taxpayers of the United States in the last fiscal year spent $5.8 billion of Federal money to erect and maintain a system to look after the most vulnerable children in America. Now, I know that many people in that system are everyday heroes; moms and dads, foster moms and dads who go far beyond what is legally required of them and love those children with their whole heart and their whole soul.
It has been my experience that the vast majority of caseworkers and professionals in the child welfare system also go far beyond what is legally required of them. The clock may say they are supposed to punch out at 5 o'clock, but they do not stop caring about children at 5 o'clock. Many of them use their own time and their own money to do what needs to be done for the children under their care.
I am confident that throughout this system there are many, many good people who perform exceptionally good work every day, and I would hope that none of them would think that the purpose of this hearing is to impugn their performance or their integrity.
It is also, however, indisputable that, as these facts so sadly point out, not every child receives the benefit of such high quality care. The question that I think we need to focus on here is who is watching the watchers. Each State has a child welfare agency that is responsible for looking after children who are placed in foster care or who are under consideration for adoption, and that looking-after process involves home visitations and interviews with people who know the parents and others who were involved. It is the job of the child welfare agencies to make sure that the people entrusted with the every-day care of the children are doing their job.
It is our job to make sure that the State child welfare agencies who receive this $5.8 billion are doing the job that we have entrusted them to do with that money. We don't know the answer to that question. What I would hope the Committee would focus on would be ways that we could improve our own oversight so that an incident like this never happens again to any child anywhere in our country.
Now, let me also say, in concluding, that these tragedies are not new to New Jersey, I am saddened to say. As my friend and colleague, Mr. Payne, can tell you, we have been rocked with horrible stories in recent months throughout our State of children forgotten, abused, and killed. I would say that the State of New Jersey did not wake up the morning after the Jackson case became news and start trying to do something about it. In fact, there has been a consistent effort over the last number of months in particular, where Governor McGreevey and the administration in New Jersey has made a concerted effort to try to make things better.
I believe you are going to hear from Mr. Kevin Ryan this morning, who is the Child Advocate who has been appointed as a result of the settlement of a Federal lawsuit against the New Jersey Child Welfare System. I think New Jersey is in the lead in this category of bringing in an independent observer to try to make sure these things do not happen again.
I don't say these things by way of explanation for what we found in Collingswood, but I say them to say that you can be assured that in New Jersey the efforts to try to fix this reprehensible problem did not begin the day after the case of these young men became public.
Finally, let me say that I want to give some credit to the Collingswood, New Jersey Police Department here. It is the first public agency that took action when these grave facts became known. It is the very first agency that stepped forward and did something to help these boys. In our system, Mr. Chairman, that is not really the job of the police department, but the police officers who responded, responded as human beings, and they deserve our credit.
I hope, Mr. Chairman, that another hearing like this is never necessary again, but I commend you for calling it so we can collectively work together and do a much better job of supervising those to whom we are giving $5.8 billion and, more importantly, giving the high moral responsibility of guarding those who are least able to guard themselves.
Chairman HERGER. Thank you very much, Representative Andrews, for your testimony. Representative Pascrell to testify.
Mr. PASCRELL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Cardin, and Members of the Subcommittee, my brother Donald Payne from New Jersey, Michael Ferguson, and Rob Andrews here.
I think the main reason we come down here to Washington or come over to Washington or up to Washington is to protect the most vulnerable in our society; older people, our kids, those who are infirm, and those who are disabled. I think this is a priority. I think good can come of this painful experience if we hold a mirror to ourselves. I think that is critical to this issue, to be honest about this entire situation.
As a member of the State legislature, I thought I had seen the worst in the foster care system. In 1994, foster parents Marilyn and Bruce Wylie were given custody of Yasmin Taylor, better known as Pumpkin to all of us, a medically fragile child. Pursuant to a court order later that year, the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) took Yasmin from her foster parents and returned her to her biological maternal grandmother. The foster parents protested, argued that Yasmin was too sick and weak at the time. This was a child that needed immediate medical attention, Mr. Chairman. Ignoring the pleas and concerns, Yasmin was removed, and she died 2 days after she was released. It was a tragedy. It shook me, it shook my hometown of Paterson, New Jersey.
As a result of that incident, I started to really dig into what DYFS was all about. There are many good people, as Congressman Andrews just pointed out, who served there and still serve there from then. I introduced several bills, a bill that would have established an Office of Ombudsman. Who are the advocates for these children? Who advocates for them? Not just simply has oversight responsibility but who advocates for these kids? In fact, then State Senator Jim McGreevey introduced a companion measure in the State senate, I introduced it in the State assembly.
Our bill would have created an independent office for a child advocate outside the Department of Human Services or DYFS bureaucracies. If in existence, the Wylies could have used this ombudsman as a resource. After 7 years, that concept has finally been enacted this past September by Governor McGreevey establishing the Office of Child Advocate. Kevin Ryan, the newly appointed Child Advocate, you will hear from in a few moments.
This was among many recent changes prompted by the court-enforced settlement this past summer. The settlement required an immediate safety assessment for every child in the foster care system. Of the 14,000 children in the system, the report found only 87 children where their safety was a concern, of which 31 were removed from foster homes or the facility, which brings us here today. Unfortunately, as we know, the Jackson boys were not part of the 87; in fact, not even after the caseworker visited a foster child in the same household 38 times.
As Mr. Ryan has stated, the caseworker reported that those children were all safe, despite the fact that the utilities had been turned off for the last 6 months, the kitchen doors were locked shut, and the four boys were obviously starving, quote-unquote. Whatever the reasons, whatever those may be, why the system failed to identify the abuse of these boys, we need to recognize that the same problems keep on surfacing.
One issue I believe that can be better addressed is the issue of transparency. On the Federal level and on the State level there needs to be accessibility to records. We need to know which agencies are able to go to those records, protecting privacy of course at all times, accessibility to records by those proper agencies. As I said, 7 years ago confidentiality laws protected DYFS from public scrutiny but did not protect the children.
Requiring public knowledge of child abuse and neglect investigations, as I had proposed while serving in the State legislature, is key to holding any agency accountable. While DYFS should take the lead, all social and educational services can certainly be on the same page.
I am proud that New Jersey is having incredible success in placing foster care children into permanent homes. New Jersey placed over 5,000 children in permanent homes, earning a total of $4.5 million in adoption bonuses, which is the ninth highest nationwide over the past 4 years. I praise the Governor and his administration for taking the steps that should have been taken 7 years ago, 14 years ago, 20 years ago. I am confident these major system-wide improvements will be illustrated in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Family and Child Services review due early next year, I believe it is in March. That is for New Jersey.
You know this is not just a New Jersey problem, Mr. Chairman. I am concerned about the penalties issued after the secondary title IV-E Federal review processes. New Jersey is working through a case that is costing the State $6 million. While I understand that HHS wants to make sure that States comply with program requirements, I do not believe that imposing monetary penalties will necessarily help the States improve their system.
My friend Mr. Cardin has a proposal to help the States improve their foster care systems, including funds for training. As we see the number of children in the program increase, and the State has increased its commitment 50 percent over the past 5 years, that is a tremendous number, Mr. Chairman. We need the Federal Government to be a participant in paying its share.
Mr. Cardoza has legislation for a National Commission on Foster Care. We can and must find the best models nationwide and then create incentives to encourage States to implement these best practices.
In conclusion, I urge you, Mr. Chairman, to use this hearing as the first in a series to get to the heart of the problem. I urge you to continue to work on these issues, bringing in interested Members to help in this purpose. Let us not wait until another horrific incident happens. I compliment the Committee for its oversight. I can assure you there are too many children throughout this Nation with too many needs to allow us to rest. This is a first step. I commend you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Pascrell follows:]
Chairman HERGER. Thank you, very much, Representative Pascrell. Now Representative Ferguson to testify.
Mr. FERGUSON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank the Ranking Member as well for holding this important fact-finding hearing. I also want to thank my colleagues from New Jersey for their thoughtful and obviously heartfelt comments.
No one can absorb the tragedies that have befallen the children under the care and supervision of DYFS and be anything but horrified. The DYFS is perhaps the most important agency of our State government, for its duty is to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens. The DYFS has failed unimaginably in this duty.
My wife and I are parents of three young children. Like millions of parents across New Jersey, I have been both outraged at DYFS's failure to fulfill its duty and heartbroken for the children under its care.
In New Jersey just last month the DYFS program completed a review, and I want to read an article, just a very small passage from an article from the Newark Star-Ledger of an event which prompted this review which was just recently completed. This is from January 6th of this year. "The gruesome story began to unfold Saturday when a man who lives in the house searched the windowless basement for a pair of misplaced boots. When he kicked in a locked door, he discovered what he described as a 'head with hair on it,' beneath a bed and he called police. The police arrived to find the two children starved and dehydrated. Police said the children apparently had not eaten for 2 weeks. The children were not able to answer questions from detectives until yesterday. When they did, one of the two, a boy identified as Raheem Williams, 7 years old, told them, 'I have a brother I haven't seen in a while.' Police returned to the house with the Essex County Sheriff Department's cadaver dog and made the grizzly discovery in a separate room in the basement. They found the boy's brother and his mummified body."
This event prompted the review, which was recently concluded by DYFS. Numerous recommendations were made, policies were changed, people lost their jobs, but more, much more, needs to be done. While that review focused on the death of one boy under DYFS's care in Newark, a second tragedy struck one day after this report was issued. The DYFS caseworkers say they visited a home in Collingswood 38 times in the last 4 years, and one even reported that a "very supportive environment" was in place. The truth is that that environment was ghastly. Four boys, severely malnourished, and one, a 19-year-old, weighed, as you said, 45 pounds.
The DYFS is so dysfunctional, plagued by shocking lapses of judgment, poor to nonexistent supervision, and inexperienced caseworkers, one can fairly ask can DYFS be fixed? The agency has already failed two Federal audits. The HHS regular Child and Family Services review is scheduled to begin in March. The State already has forwarded data to HHS in preparation for this review.
In the face of what can only be described as incompetence on a grand scale, I have significant questions about the validity of this data. That is why today I will be sending a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. I will be requesting a meeting with him and our New Jersey congressional delegation to discuss the status of the data collection to date and to outline the steps HHS will be taking to ensure this Federal review is fair but thorough. I don't want a one-time meeting. I believe every member of our State's delegation must be briefed on an ongoing basis on the status of this review.
This week I have also requested meetings with the HHS Inspector General and with the U.S. General Accounting Office to discuss formal Federal investigations of DYFS. At the moment I am not calling for these investigations. Instead, I want to monitor the data collection from the State and the State's cooperation with HHS and HHS's regular review. Many of the leaders of my State, both Republicans and Democrats, have been working hard and in good faith to fundamentally reform DYFS and the manner in which it supervises its workers and oversees the children under its care. I want to allow that process to continue and I want it to be successful.
If, however, the State fails in its reforms and fails to fully cooperate in the HHS review, I will call on Federal authorities to investigate DYFS not only to ensure Federal tax dollars are spent wisely but for a far more important goal: that the horrors that our State's children live through while under this State's care never happen again.
In summary, I look forward to the testimony of the Subcommittee and to the conclusions it reaches and the recommendations you may make. No matter what State we represent, each of us has a duty to step in when an agency like DYFS fails to fulfill its duty. After all, Mr. Chairman, our children are our Nation's most precious resource. Can DYFS be fixed? It must be fixed, and it must be fixed now.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Ferguson follows:]
Chairman HERGER. Thank you, very much, for your testimony, Representative Ferguson. Are there any questions of the Members? If not, we ask the next panel --
Mr. CARDIN. Let me just thank all three of our colleagues for their passion on the subject. We need to develop broad coalitions within the Congress to work on these issues, and we very much thank you for your commitment in these areas.
Let me just comment, Mr. Andrews, I agree with you completely the system is going to have to hold accountable those responsible for the specific actions, whether it was the family or whether it is the people from the department who failed their responsibilities. Ultimately, we have responsibilities to work together to improve the system, to make it less vulnerable for what happened, and I want to thank all three of you for your testimony.
Chairman HERGER. Thank you, and I join in thanking you for taking the time this morning.
Mr. CARDIN. If I might, Mr. Chairman, if I could yield to Mr. Payne for one moment.
Chairman HERGER. Yes, without objection.
Mr. PAYNE. Thank you very much. Let me also commend the Subcommittee for calling this very important hearing, and you can see how important my colleagues from New Jersey feel that this is. I think the testimony from Congressman Andrews, Congressman Pascrell, and Congressman Ferguson really pinpointed some of the very serious problems we have in the system.
I take particular interest, being a former schoolteacher, a former social worker, and having dealt with issues of this many decades ago when I served in those capacities. I do believe that this is going to be an issue that we have to take a look at the total parameters. I don't think this is something to point fingers at. This is something to find out how we can improve the quality of life for the most vulnerable in our society, our young.
I think a Nation actually should be judged by how it treats its young and its elderly. So, issues of stability, of the system turnover rates, salaries, the whole question of training, I think these are issues that we really have to come to grips with. Home schooling. How do we ensure that home-schooled children are not in situations like this? There is a movement in New Jersey and around the country to take registered nurses out of public schools because it is felt it is too costly and that we should downgrade the registered nurse in public schools. Would that be something that should be done at this time?
I think there are a number of issues that we need to look at, and I just wanted to thank you all for calling this very important hearing. Thank you.
Mr. CARDIN. Let me thank my colleague, Mr. Payne. Mr. Chairman, I would ask unanimous consent that a statement from Mr. George Miller, Congressman from California, the Ranking Democrat on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, also be made part of our record.
[The statement of Mr. Miller follows:]
Good morning and thank you for affording me this opportunity to testify. I commend the Chairman for examining this horrendous failure to protect children.
Today you will hear about a State welfare system that allowed parents to starve their four adopted children-- children who were known to the welfare system, because they lived in a home that New Jersey State welfare workers had visited on 38 occasions over the past four years. We will also hear about another New Jersey tragedy that occurred earlier this year. In that case, a 7-year-old boy was found dead and his two brothers were found emaciated and locked in a basement filled with feces and rodents. Social workers had also paid multiple visits to that family investigating allegations of abuse and neglect.
New Jersey is not alone; these tragedies are symptomatic of a chronic failure of our nation’s child-welfare systems to properly care for children. There are more than 550,000 children in foster care nationally, taken by States out of dangerous homes and supposedly placed in safe, nurturing environments where they will receive the services they desperately require.
The reality is very different. In recent months, the national scope of the failures has become apparent. A recent Health and Human Services report assailed California’s system of care for abused and neglected children. Michigan officials recently admitted that they had lost track of 302 abused or neglected children. An audit of Maryland’s child welfare system revealed that the state had lost track of some foster care children for months, failed to ensure proper health care and, in at least one case, entrusted a foster child to a sex offender.
In Milwaukee, 48% of families investigated for abuse had prior involvement with the child welfare system; in the District of Columbia, 32% of such families had been previously reported to protected services; and in Florida, at least 37 children died of abuse or neglect over the past five years despite having been the subject of an abuse or maltreatment complaint. Of the estimated 1500 children annually who die of abuse and neglect, more than 40% were already known to the child welfare agencies.
Over 25 years ago, I launched an investigation into the failures of the nation’s child welfare system. For tens of thousands of children, foster care was a living horror where services were denied, placements were unsupervised, and legal rights routinely flaunted. I called it “state sponsored child abuse.” And those hearings and investigations led to the enactment of the Child Welfare and Adoption Assistance Act in 1980 that required states to improve the services and accountability in their foster care programs, and to promote adoptions for children unable to return home.
Yet here we are, twenty-three years after the 1980 law, and in spite of additional legislative action to further the goals of child safety and well being, far too little has changed. Today’s headlines are almost carbon copies of those written over two decades ago, filled with stories of States’ failures to provide services and protection to foster children.
In the past two years, 32 state child-welfare programs have been subjected to federal reviews, and every single one has failed to meet national standards.
Last November, I joined national child welfare experts and my colleagues Charles Rangel, Ben Cardin, and Pete Stark in sponsoring a Child Welfare Summit to discuss urgent problems facing child welfare services and to recommend improvements for federal and state accountability and oversight. Following last year’s Summit, I joined Representative Cardin in cosponsoring a bill that would strengthen Congress’ will and commitment to protect children.
The Child Protective Services Improvement Act will includes provisions designed to improve outcomes for children in foster care, address substance abuse problems, update eligibility standards, minimize multiple placements of children in foster care and move quickly to either return them to their families or find permanent adoptive homes. The bill is designed to enhance caseworker retention by providing grants to enhance social worker training, raise salaries and reduce caseloads.
Our legislation is drawn from the front line experience of those around the country most knowledgeable about foster care and about the kinds of reforms that are needed to achieve permanency, appropriate services, and accountability. Improved services, support for caseworkers, flexibility in foster placements, and a renewed commitment to permanent homes—these are urgent goals for children and families in the child welfare system.
The Federal Government spends $5 billion annually to protect abused children. Today’s hearing cannot merely examine the failure of New Jersey officials to protect abused children. It must raise serious questions about the adequacy of federal oversight of state child welfare programs. There are those who propose changes in the child welfare system that would diminish accountability and grant even greater latitude to the states in managing their federally financed foster care systems. With 32 state agencies failing to meet basic standards for their foster care programs, it would be foolhardy to award states a block grant in hopes they would run their programs more responsively than they do with the specific mandates in current law.
Instead, I urge my colleagues to consider the reforms proposed in The Child Protective Services Improvement Act. As I have said before, many of these children who are abused, and then reabused, could have been saved had there been an adequate social services safety net to catch them. Congress only lacks the will, not the ability, to help families in crisis.
Again, I thank you for this opportunity to testify today.
Chairman HERGER. Without objection, it will be made part of our record. Also without objection, Mr. Payne, who is not a Member of our Committee, has requested to sit with us for a time, and we will allow that. Again, thank you very much for being with us.
Today, in our second panel, we will be hearing from Colleen Maguire, Deputy Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services; Kevin Ryan, Child Advocate for the State of New Jersey; Vincent Sarubbi, Prosecutor from the Camden County Prosecutor's Office; the Reverend Harry Thomas, Come Alive New Testament Church; Carla Katz, President of the Communications Workers of America Local 1034; and Marcia Robinson Lowry, Executive Director of Children's Rights. Ms. Maguire to testify.
Ms. MAGUIRE. Thank you very much. Good morning, Chairman Herger, and Members of the Subcommittee. On behalf of Governor McGreevey and Commissioner Harris, we thank you for inviting the New Jersey Department of Human Services to be part of this hearing today and to share our outrage and concern regarding the conditions of the New Jersey child welfare system.
Sadly, the Jackson family is the latest in a series of tragedies that have caused all of us in New Jersey to express outrage at the depth of the problems that confront the child welfare system and our commitment to rebuilding the system so that all children are safe. Governor McGreevey has taken some very bold steps in acknowledging the serious need for reform in New Jersey and in fixing its child welfare system, a system that has experienced decades of neglect.
In June, Governor McGreevey ordered the settlement of a long-standing class action lawsuit against the State filed by Children's Rights, Inc. The settlement agreement provides New Jersey the assistance and oversight of a panel of national child welfare experts underwritten by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. He signed an executive order creating a Cabinet for Children, which includes cabinet-level officials from sister departments. He stabilized an Independent Office of the Child Advocate as a watchdog for New Jersey's child welfare system, and he committed in excess of $30 million, in these very difficult budget times, to hire more staff, buy more equipment, upgrade technology, and expand training for workers.
Governor McGreevey also became the first New Jersey Governor to commit State dollars to begin the development and implementation of the Federally-mandated Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System. New Jersey just completed an unprecedented effort in assessing the safety of 14,000 children in out-of-home placement.
Tragedies like the Jackson family are not unique to New Jersey. As you know, many States have experienced similar tragedies, and in a few minutes you will hear from Marcia Lowry, who has tirelessly championed the welfare of children by filing lawsuits. These lawsuits all too often highlight the failures in the child welfare system.
Some of the issues facing New Jersey's child welfare system and its failures include a fundamental lack of core principles and standards for practice, uneven case practice, excessive caseloads, inadequate training and supervision for the caseworker and supervisory staff, flawed decision-making, inadequate supports for foster and adoptive parents, and an overall lack of systemic accountability. Regrettably, the Jackson case has reinforced these all-too-familiar issues that have been unraveling for the past several months.
On October 10th, the starving 19-year-old boy named Bruce Jackson was discovered rummaging through the garbage in Collingswood, New Jersey, looking for food. Bruce is 4 feet tall, and at the time weighed less than 50 pounds. He and his three adopted brothers, who are 14, 10, and 9, had essentially grown up in New Jersey's foster care system. Our State child welfare agency has placed these boys in their adoptive home and provided financial subsidies to their parents for their care.
It appears that over the years these four boys had been systematically deprived and neglected by the adoptive parents, unlike the girls living in the home. Even more tragic, since 1999, as many of you have said today, DYFS staff had been in the home on 38 different occasions, and none of them apparently voiced any concern about the boys or took any action to follow up. They all believed the parents' explanation that the children had eating disorders.
Together, the boys weighed a total of 135 pounds, their teeth are rotted, and five of the seven children had head lice. I am happy to report, Mr. Chairman, that today the boys have gained a combined total of almost 50 pounds since October 10th. Bruce has gained 18.4 pounds, Keith 13.5 pounds, Tyrone 8 pounds, and Michael 9.5 pounds.
Because of our commitment to accountability, we are going to reassess 6,000 cases, because, quite frankly, the alternative would not be acceptable. In an effort to remake the child welfare system, Governor McGreevey, and those of us who are charged with leading the change, have accepted the fact that the system is so broken it cannot be fixed in a few weeks or a few months. We are working in concert with the Child Welfare Panel to complete a comprehensive public planning process which will result in a reform plan due in January 2004. We are also currently engaged in a self-assessment phase of the Child and Family Services review, and plan to integrate the performance improvement plan and our reform plan together.
Our ability to reform New Jersey's child welfare system requires strong and sustained political will over time both at the State and Federal levels, and, unfortunately, for long after the Jackson story is off the front page. It also requires sufficient resources and supports to our children and families, to our workforce, and to our community to prevent child abuse, protect children, and provide for permanency, all in an effort to meet the laudable goals of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (P.L. 105-89).
We invite you to partner with us and States across the Nation to provide for better outcomes for all children. We ask that you consider expansion of title IV-E entitlement funding for new services, including post-adoption assistance and community supports, in updating the 1996 Aid to Families with Dependent Children (P.L. 104-193) standards used in determining the title IV-E eligibility, and in allowing States to reinvest disallowances for title IV-E to improve child welfare services. We support and applaud Representative Camp's bill, which reauthorizes the adoption incentive payments program; Representative Cardin's bill, which seeks to improve the ability of child welfare systems to prevent and respond to child abuse and place children in safe, loving, and permanent homes; and Representative Stark's bill, which would provide grants to States to improve quality standards by authorizing training funds for child welfare workers.
We ask for your support of our current reform effort and your continued support of adoption subsidies, which has been essential in helping hard-to-place children become a permanent member of a family of their own. Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Maguire follows:]
Chairman HERGER. Thank you very much, Ms. Maguire, for your testimony. I do want to stress the 5-minute rule. We have been a bit generous to this point, but we would like to have you adhere to that. Mr. Ryan, for your testimony, please.
Mr. RYAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning. My name is Kevin Ryan. I am the Child Advocate for the State of New Jersey. I lead a new, independent agency, statutorily charged in our State with monitoring the public systems that serve children and youth at risk of abuse and neglect. Our jurisdiction includes the child welfare system, the juvenile justice system, schools, daycare centers, mental health facilities, and the public health system.
We are a new entity in New Jersey, as you have heard, and we have taken office just a month ago. We have two primary tasks. The first of these is to probe systemic and individual problems throughout State government with regard to the care and the support of children and youth at risk of abuse and neglect. Our second role involves problem solving. As we identify systemic deficiencies, my staff of investigators, public interest lawyers, and child welfare specialists must develop solutions to those problems and champion their implementation across and among government agencies.
The Office of the Child Advocate was born of tragedy and a desire to better serve our most vulnerable children. The deaths of children this past year in New Jersey due to abuse and neglect, some of them already known to various State and municipal agencies, has really captured the public imagination. New revelations of maltreatment in the child welfare system, which were brought to light by the Federal class action lawsuit championed by Children's Rights, Incorporated, led the Governor to return to an idea that he and now Congressman Pascrell had years ago as members of the State legislature, the creation of this independent ombudsman office for children in State government.
The Office of the Child Advocate is equipped with broad new powers, including the power to investigate government agencies, the power to subpoena, the power to sue State government, the power to demand corrective action, the power to hold public hearings, the power to disclose all of our findings publicly, and, most vitally, the power of our independence.
On October 24th, I learned from the State Department of Human Services that four children living in the Collingswood home of Raymond and Vanessa Jackson had been taken to the hospital for treatment of severe malnourishment. I also learned that the household included a foster child, visited numerous times by the State child protection agency during the past several years. The boys were severely underweight and, as all of us know by now, none of them weighed more than 45 pounds. One child weighed 38 pounds when adopted in October 1996, and 7 years later weighed just 40 pounds. In 7 years, the child had gained just 2 pounds, but has gained more than 15 pounds in the last 4 weeks.
The oldest child weighed 49 pounds in December 1995, around the time of his adoption, but weighed only 45 pounds when he was removed from the Jackson home last month. So, that is a net loss, obviously, of 4 pounds in all those years, and now weighs nearly 65 pounds.
The State child welfare agency had visited the Jackson home 38 times in the last 4 years. These visits included meetings with the foster child and Mrs. Jackson, licensing inspections, a child safety assessment, and in a few instances discussions with all of the Jackson children, including the malnourished boys.
We have opened an investigation and seek to answer this central question: how did the condition of all four boys endure for so long, despite the family's involvement with the child protection agency, other government agencies, their neighbors, family, and friends?
It did not take this tragedy to teach me or any of my fellow citizens in New Jersey that the child welfare system is badly broken. The playgrounds of heaven are too crowded with children we should have saved, and we are lucky that we count the Jackson boys among the saved and not among the lost, but that really is a matter of luck and good fortune in the case.
Our investigation is only 2 weeks old. We are cooperating with the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, which is running a concurrent investigation with criminal jurisdiction, and I anticipate a thorough investigation will take 3 months to complete. As we identify systemic deficiencies, we are committed to bringing them to light prior to the completion of our full investigation.
All of the malnourished children had been adopted through the State child protection agency, and the Jacksons received a subsidy from government to help meet the special needs of their children following the adoption. The adoption subsidy program is a success story in the United States, of which this Congress should be very proud. Changes to Federal adoption laws and innovative tools like the subsidy have enabled States to dramatically increase the number of adoptions in the United States over the last several years. New Jersey is near the head of that pack, receiving the second highest bonus payment this year for increasing adoptions. I want to unequivocally acknowledge that as a good thing.
As time is limited, I want to say that I do believe that as a recommendation to this Congress and to the States implementing child welfare reform, it would be a very good idea for all States to require documentation of an updated physical examination by a doctor when the adoption subsidy is annually renewed, and States need to be vigorous in continuing to offer services to special needs children following an adoption.
Respectfully, no matter how hard you try, government will never love a child the way his or her family must. When those families cannot or will not provide that love and attention, government has a fundamental moral obligation to protect children. We all have a long way to go before we are meeting that obligation satisfactorily. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Ryan follows:]
Chairman HERGER. Thank you, Mr. Ryan. Mr. Sarubbi to testify.
Mr. SARUBBI. Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee on Human Resources, I am pleased to have the privilege of appearing before this distinguished Subcommittee today to address serious and substantial issues relating to the health and welfare of our greatest and most important human resource: our children.
By way of background, I have been a practicing attorney in New Jersey since 1988. As you may know, in my home State, county prosecutors are not elected, rather they are appointed by the Governor for 5-year terms. I was nominated by Governor James E. McGreevey to be the prosecutor of Camden County for a 5-year term, and following my confirmation by the senate, I was sworn in and commenced my term in July 2002.
My office consists of more than 250 staff members. Included in this number are some 65 assistant prosecutors, more than 100 investigators, who have full police powers, as well as clerical and support staff members. The community we serve includes approximately 550,000 residents. The city of Camden, our county seat, lies directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Many of our residents work in the Philadelphia area. The Borough of Collingswood is a residential community of about 14,000 people, and it borders Camden City and is located about 5 miles from Philadelphia. Collingswood is a quiet and peaceful, proud municipality, which has recently experienced a renaissance of its downtown area.
In the early morning hours of October 10, 2003, a Collingswood resident heard and observed someone rooting through the trash outside their home. The resident approached and observed the boy he believed to be about 10 years old. The boy was emaciated in appearance. The Collingswood Police were summoned and responded to the scene. The boy was subsequently identified as Bruce Jackson, an adopted son of a local family. He stood just 4 feet tall and weighed just 45 pounds. The responding officers were shocked to learn that Bruce was 19 years old.
When the police entered Bruce's home, they observed three other adopted boys, aged 14, 10, and 9, small in stature and emaciated in appearance. Also living in the home were other adopted and biological children of parents Raymond and Vanessa Jackson. These other children of Mr. and Mrs. Jackson appeared to be in good health. The 14-year-old boy Keith weighed 40 pounds. Tyrone, aged 10, weighed 28, and 9-year-old Michael weighed just 23 pounds.
The New Jersey DYFS removed the four boys from the Jackson residence that day, and they were admitted to area hospitals. We learned that the four boys had been adopted through DYFS, and Mr. and Mrs. Jackson had been paid monthly stipends.
Members of this Committee, the investigation that I am engaged in currently is likely to be ongoing for several more months to come. Between October 10, 2003 when the boys were discovered and October 24, 2003, we enlisted medical experts to evaluate the boys' condition. We made an effort to take a responsible and objective view of the conditions of these children by looking into their medical history and their background. Our focus was to determine what caused them to be so dramatically underdeveloped. These medical experts determined that the boys had been deprived of adequate nutrition and medical care.
Based upon these medical assessments and other investigative information developed, I was satisfied that probable cause existed to support criminal charges of aggravated assault and child endangerment against Raymond and Vanessa Jackson, the adoptive parents. I therefore authorized officers to pursue these charges. On October 24, 2003, following review of the charges by a judicial officer, arrest warrants were executed and served upon the defendants. They were lodged in the Camden County Correctional Facility until November 1, 2003, when each posted bail of $100,000.
The medical review that we did in this case included a genetic review and also additional experts to rule out the possibility of any type of a Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA) defect or other type of genetic defect. We also ruled out thyroid problems and any other type of medical conditions that could have contributed to these boys' resulting weight and their health problems. Admittedly, our investigation revealed through the parents that these children had not seen medical attention for a period of 4 years. To this day Bruce remains in the hospital and has undergone two separate blood transfusions because of an iron deficiency that exists in his system.
It should be noted in this case that the Jacksons were in the process of attempting to adopt another foster child, a 10-year-old female. The DYFS workers visited the home on numerous occasions to evaluate the suitability for the adoptive girl. My office is investigating also DYFS's involvement with the family.
It is my understanding that in addition to this information, the Subcommittee wants to know the present condition of the children. In this regard I am pleased to tell you that they are doing well. As of November 3rd, Bruce had gained 18 pounds, weighed approximately 63 pounds; Keith gained 16.5 pounds, weighed 56.5 pounds; Tyrone had gained 11.6 pounds, weighing 39.6 pounds; and Michael had gained 9 pounds and weighed 32 pounds. It should be noted that the progress was achieved simply through a proper diet and vitamins with no growth medications administered or steroids of any type.
I want to emphasize that our investigation is in its preliminary stages. We have numerous documents to go over, many statements from witnesses to take. Our focus has moved from the Jacksons primarily to the DYFS aspect of this case. We also, as Mr. Ryan does, anticipate that our investigation should take somewhere in the area of 3 months. I will be happy to return to supplement this record should the Chairman or this Subcommittee determine that my testimony is relevant.
I also want to state that we have rules in the State of New Jersey which restrict my ability to indicate all investigative aspects and evidence with respect to this case. I want this Committee to know that we will give the Jacksons every legal right that they are entitled to. We firmly believe that they, like any defendants in the New Jersey criminal system, are entitled to a full and fair trial and the outcome to be determined by a jury.
I want to thank again the Committee for the opportunity to appear here today, and I commend you for your care and concern of these children. I welcome your questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Sarubbi follows:]
Chairman HERGER. Thank you very much, Mr. Sarubbi, for your testimony. Now the Revered Harry Thomas to testify.
Reverend THOMAS. Good morning. My name is Harry L. Thomas, Jr. I am Senior Pastor of the Come Alive New Testament Church located in Medford, New Jersey. Ray and Vanessa Jackson are long-time members of my congregation, and I want to thank this Committee for the invitation to appear here today.
In America a person is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. That is not what has happened to Ray and Vanessa Jackson. They have been charged, tried, and convicted in the media. It has been less than 2 weeks since their arrests, yet even in the language used by this Committee, there is an assumption of their guilt. Let me quote from the Committee's advisory: "This hearing seeks to expose how these children's abuse went unnoticed so that we can work to prevent other children from enduring such horrible abuse."
I respectfully would like to suggest the reason that no abuse was noticed was that there was no abuse going on. This Committee instead might want to consider the following questions: why would anyone want to be a social worker if they have been summarily dismissed? Why would anyone want to adopt fetal alcohol syndrome, crack, or sexually abused children and take significant legal risk of being accused of neglect?
My own experience with this family is much different than what has been portrayed. Ray and Vanessa Jackson have a real love for children. Their children were always clean, happy, and well dressed. Whenever I saw them, it was clear that Ray and Vanessa had made every attempt -- have made education a real priority to all the kids to read well.
Unlike what has been reported, Ray and Vanessa treated their adopted and foster children the same as their own children. For example, when they went to Disney World, they took along their foster kids. This trip included Bruce, the troubled 19-year-old, who has been -- who has made numerous false accusations.
The DYFS had a knack, in my opinion, of taking advantage of this family. The DYFS would contact the Jacksons and ask them to provide emergency housing for just a weekend. Invariably the children would have to stay much longer, and some of these children were eventually adopted by the Jacksons.
These children were also some of the most difficult kids in the system. It is my understanding that the three younger boys had fetal alcohol syndrome. The oldest, Bruce, had developed an eating disorder by the time he was 3 years old. He also had been hospitalized because of abuse at the hands of his birth father. On the first day he arrived in the Jackson's home, he proceeded to urinate on the floor. Apparently he had been living in the street, and this is what he was used to.
Bruce has a very unusual psychological eating disorder in that he voluntarily brings up his food back from his stomach to his mouth very much like a cow chewing its cud. Yesterday, as we were preparing for this hearing, we stumbled on a very interesting medical article about a disorder called rumination. This article was written by Dr. Cynthia R. Ellis, M.D., and was posted on the Internet at http://www.emedicine.com/ped/topic2652.htm. It certainly sounds like the condition that Bruce has.
Here are a few quotes from this paper. This article states that rumination is the voluntary or involuntary regurgitation and rechewing of partially digested food that is either reswallowed or expelled. This regurgitation appears effortless, may be preceded by a belching sensation, and typically does not involve retching or nausea. Rumination may cause the following: halitosis, malnutrition, weight loss, growth failure, electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, gastric disorders, upper respiratory distress, dental problems, aspiration, choking, pneumonia, or death. Rumination is more common in individuals with severe and profound mental retardation than in those with mild or moderate mental retardation. Prevalence rates of 6 to 10 percent have been reported among the institutionalized population of individuals with mental retardation. Rumination is estimated to be the primary cause of death in 5 to 10 percent of individuals who ruminate. Mortality rates of 12 to 50 percent have been reported for institutionalized infants and older individuals.
I am not a doctor, but I would like to suggest that perhaps Bruce is suffering from this condition. One question that I think needs to be answered is this: did DYFS know about this condition before placing the child in the Jackson home? If so, did it explain the serious nature of this illness and provide the necessary support structures and resources to cope with it? Should Bruce perhaps be institutionalized?
The family has numerous stories about Bruce's bizarre eating habits. For example, Bruce used to eat his lunch on the way to school and then tell his teachers that his home had not packed the lunch. The teacher and Vanessa came up with a system involving a notebook that had to be signed and returned home to ensure that he was, in fact, eating the lunch at the right time. Before Bruce even arrived at the Jackson's home, it was discovered he had gotten into a litter box and eaten cat feces.
Bruce, to say the very least, was a very difficult child for the Jacksons to handle. The Jackson family tried their very best to keep him from eating drywall. There was a spot near to the couch that he used to peel off and eat the drywall. The family had to repeatedly spackle that area. Bruce also got into the dog food in the basement and even hid a stash for later use.
Bruce apparently was kicked out of several schools. The Pennsauken school system could not cope with his behavior, so they kicked him out. At the Central School, he was caught stealing lunches, eating them and then throwing up in the kid's lunch bag. At Roosevelt School, he was there only 1 day when they asked him to leave because teachers could not handle it. At Carson School, there was more eating and throwing up. The final straw was when he stole food and then threw up upon the teacher.
This is the reason that the Jacksons started home schooling Bruce. The police theory is that they are using home schooling as a way to avoid detection of the abuse of their children. This is silly. All the boys have been taught to read and can even do addition and multiplication.
Ray Jackson was asked one time why in the world did he choose to adopt someone like Bruce after having him as a foster child for a number of years. Ray said that he and Vanessa had discussed it and decided that if they didn't adopt him, no one else would. How many of us in this room would have taken a project like Bruce? I don't know the exact number, but I think if you were to get $7,000 annually to feed, clothe, house, and educate him, the police theory is that this was a money-making scam. Ridiculous. In fact, when you convert from fostering a child to adopting a child, there is no guarantee that your benefits will continue. That is what happened to one of the Jackson kids. After adoption, they lost their income for this child.
As I was sitting down to write this statement, my office received a phone call from a person who is heavily involved with DYFS and does not want their identity known for fear of being fired. Here are some of her quotes: "DYFS is out of control. They think they are God. Every day I am faced with foster parents asking me how can I get rid of my kid when faced with difficult problems on health issues. Crack addict moms who put their babies in trash cans to rot will not be punished, but a very real effort will be made to reunite the baby with its mother. Then they will wrap support around the mother in order to keep the family together. Adopted foster parents just get thrown to the wind."
That is what we have with the Jackson family. Even though they have provided a loving, supportive family for some very difficult children, their only thanks is to be thrown in jail. In my judgment, this is a case of jumping to conclusions, a very rush to judgment. Thank you for hearing me.
[The prepared statement of Reverend Thomas follows:]
Chairman HERGER. Thank you, Reverend Thomas. Now Ms. Carla Katz, President of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 1034, to testify.
Ms. KATZ. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee. My name is Carla Katz. I am President of CWA Local 1034. Our local represents 16,000 public workers in New Jersey, including more than 700 Child Protective Service workers in South Jersey, and represents six of the nine workers who have been fired in connection with this case in Collingswood. I am speaking today on behalf of the CWA and specifically on behalf of the three locals, 1034, 1037, and 1039, that represent DYFS workers.
Before I begin to discuss the systemic problems that we believe contributed to this case, I want to say unequivocally that I do not believe that New Jersey is the only child protective system in crisis. From what we understand, child protective service is in trouble all over the country. There are many examples of the systems breaking down in Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, New York, and around the country. The agency that sued New Jersey has sued many other systems. In preparing this testimony, I did an Internet search for the last 30 days of news. I submitted the words "foster care" and "death" to find only those cases where a foster care situation could have resulted in a child death, and there were 321 hits. These tragedies are occurring in Utah, Missouri, Michigan, North Carolina, California, and Florida.
We believe that the problems that result in children being in foster care and sometimes in custody are complex, and we know that the solutions are expensive and difficult. As a society, we need to address and move to solve the horrific problems that lead to child death and child abuse because children are our most vulnerable citizens and our most precious. Having said that, I want to address some of the problems specific to New Jersey DYFS if we are to solve them.
It has taken nearly two decades for things to get this bad at DYFS in New Jersey. The agency has been consistently and grossly underfunded. It has suffered budget and staffing cuts despite the fact that caseloads were and are growing, and more children need our protection. Caseloads have increased by one-third over the past decade at the same time that the turnover rate for workers harbors around 9 percent. This is unacceptable, and it will only mean more tragedies.
Despite the reality that children suffer in every State in our great Nation, other States have made reforms that did not happen in New Jersey, and as a result, caseworkers are doing without the basic resources that need to do their jobs well.
What are some of the conditions in New Jersey? We have a computer system from the Stone Age, and millions of dollars that were allocated for a new system to serve the 50,000 DYFS families was turned over to purchase one for 1,200 families involved with the Children's Initiative, which was a special initiative by former Governor Christie Whitman designed for families with needs that have children with mental health problems.
New Jersey didn't give DYFS workers the safety tools and structured decision-making that they need. These tools were in place in other States for years. Some of them have been put in place in New Jersey over the last few months, but there was no vetting by the workforce, no significant input by the workers or the union. Many workers continue to criticize the tools they are being asked to use as not being appropriate or tested.
New Jersey didn't give workers the latest training, and they need it. The DYFS training involves 21 days of new worker training and very little else. There is very little in-service training. There are no incentives for workers to pursue graduate training on their own. Additionally the union believes that all workers should have some time in a district office learning protective services work before moving exclusively into foster care or adoption units.
New Jersey didn't recruit any significant number of additional new foster parents. Recruitment of foster families had been turned over to faith-based and private nonprofit groups during Governor Whitman's era of privatization. This program, considered a panacea, has failed to recruit any increase in foster homes, and our foster home experts say it has resulted in the recruitment of many inappropriate foster homes.
New Jersey didn't also cap caseloads. The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) says that caseworkers handling intake cases should have no more than 12 families on their caseloads. We have intake workers with as many as 100. The CWLA says that caseworkers handling adoption cases and that of home placement supervision should have no more than 15 children on their caseloads. The caseworker in the Collingswood case had more than double that.
The CWLA says that caseworkers supervising children in their homes should have no more than 25 children on their caseloads. The worker who repeatedly went out to see Faheem Williams, the little boy whose tragic death this past January made national news, but failed to do so, at one point had 106 children on her caseload.
In the Collingswood case and in the case of adoption, generally there are severe systemic issues that contributed to this tragedy. Let me be clear, the firing of nine workers will not solve any of those problems.
What keeps going wrong? Caseloads are too high. In this case, the inexperienced caseworker had more than double the number of cases she should have had.
There is not enough staff, and the turnover is too high. In 1999, the Child Death and Critical Incident Panel and the Governor's Review Panel both said, lack of staff is a major problem, end quote. If we think that it is hard to find and keep good DYFS workers now, just imagine what the impact of criminal prosecution on any DYFS worker will have on the ability of that agency to hire good, qualified staff.
Supervision is compromised. In this case in Collingswood, the caseworker's immediate supervisor was overseeing two units of workers who all had excessive caseloads.
There is a fractured system of communication. It is not clear that there was appropriate communication between all of the parties, and the basic DYFS policy on foster parents is that they are, quote, colleagues, end quote, and DYFS is not investigating them.
There is a lack of sufficient quality foster care homes. As a result, children are placed in homes like this one with many other children or homes that are compromised in some way. The DYFS is currently proposing limiting the number of foster children in the home to three, which we believe will make the problem of available placement much worse, not better. Our union made a proposal more than 3 months ago to recruit quality foster parents out of the ranks of organized labor, and instead of widespread interest throughout the New Jersey labor movement, the State of New Jersey has not even met with us on this proposal.
There is inadequate follow-up after adoption. There is no requirement for any DYFS contact with children of subsidized adoption once that adoption is final. There is no mandated schedule of medical care for children post-adoption.
Much has been said about what the workers saw or didn't see in the Jackson home in Collingswood, and we do not know the answer to that question because we, the union, has not seen a single document in this case. We do know that there was not one person that was sent into the home to see those boys. The DYFS caseworker was in that home to see the foster child named Breanna. She was the only child in that home under DYFS supervision. She was the only child with an open case, and it seems clear to us that DYFS should be following up on adoptions.
Since I am way over time, let me just conclude by saying reacting to a crisis such as this by firing people indiscriminately encourages the workforce to believe that there is no real accountability, there is merely retribution. I ask that you respect and honor the people who do the most difficult job. Our members knock on unknown doors in the most dangerous neighborhoods in New Jersey in places the police do not go without backup. They do it alone, and they ask the people behind those doors to "let me see your children." They spend their work lives with babies and children with bruises, burns, welts, broken bones, unimaginable sexual abuse, and some of the worst cases of neglect that can be imagined. These workers have been held hostage, choked, beaten, and threatened in the carrying out of their work.
There are real systemic solutions. Our union wants to participate in implementing them as quickly as possible and our members who engage in child protective services are by and large unsung heroes, and we at least in CWA honor them.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Katz follows:]
Chairman HERGER. Thank you, Ms. Katz. Now Ms. Marcia Robinson Lowry, Executive Director of Children's Rights, to testify.
Ms. LOWRY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Members of this Subcommittee, for holding this hearing, and particularly thank you for inviting me to testify. We really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about what is going on in New Jersey and also what is being reflected around the country.
My organization, Children's Rights, is a nonprofit organization based in New York that advocates on behalf of abused and neglected children around the country, both by bringing lawsuits and by having a very active policy department that issues reports on critical issues. We currently have seven States' child welfare systems under some form of court supervision and are actively litigating in one other.
We do not have for you the facts about this particular family. We do have the facts about this particular system. What the panel should be aware of is that the problems in New Jersey did not, as other speakers have said, begin overnight. In 1997, the system was bad enough that former Governor Whitman convened a blue ribbon task force which found basically that everything that could go wrong in the child welfare system was going wrong. In 1998, the Governor did not, in fact, respond to the findings in this report. In 1999, my organization brought a lawsuit against the State because we were convinced that the State was not going to take action to remedy these problems. In fact, Governor McGreevey, in settling the lawsuit, said that the reason the money was now going to become available and the reforms that we think will take place in New Jersey are going to take place is only because the lawsuit was filed. That is, in fact, how children are getting protected all too often in this country.
What we learned about the child welfare system as we were proceeding toward trial, which the public didn't know because the State wasn't maintaining the data, was that 1 in 10 foster children in that State was abused or neglected while in foster care, while in government custody. Twenty percent of the children who left foster care either to be returned to their own families or to be adopted reentered foster care because they were not in safe situations. Caseloads were over 80, and as you heard from Ms. Katz just a minute ago, there was no functional computer information system. That is why we brought the lawsuit.
The State defended this lawsuit vigorously until the death of Faheem Williams, the 7-year-old boy, in January of this year, maintaining that they had a good system, wasn't really that bad. They would have continued to do so had there not been an incredible media blitz based on the young boy's death and on the fact that we were providing to the media our expert reports about the failings of this system.
The lawsuit was settled and has both short-term and long-term provisions. In the short term, Governor McGreevey agreed to immediately make available $30 million additionally for additional workers and for supplies such as cell phones, access to cars, things like that, and $1.5 million in additional foster home recruitment funds. The reason that the additional foster home money was because the State was also required to do immediate safety assessments on all children in custody. We knew from the abuse rates in care that it was likely that there were other children in addition to Faheem Williams who were in serious danger. So, we wanted the State to immediately do safety assessments on all children. Unfortunately, the State did that, and the Jackson family actually passed the safety assessment, which is why you heard from Ms. Maguire that a large number of them are going to be redone, and redone with independent people. That is why we also required the State to come up with additional foster home recruitment because we anticipate that many more children are going to be taken out of their homes.
Over the long term, there is a 6-month planning process with a group of experts that a plan that emerges from that will be court-ordered and will be under the supervision of a Federal court, and there will be monitoring with enforcement powers in the Federal court.
Now, why is this necessary? Congress has passed a number of statutes, most recently in 1997, the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which was intended to address two really important situations: one, the fact that children lingered far too long in foster care without getting adopted; and two, it was unclear whether children's safety was really supposed to be paramount. That legislation made clear that that is what Congress intended. However, what has happened with regard to that statute, it is being honored in an extremely uneven way, and that is why what I am going to recommend to you today that you do something about it.
We were glad to have the opportunity to address this Subcommittee on what Congress could do about these awful situations. They are not unique to New Jersey, as I am sure you realize. Many of us remember the name of Rilya Wilson, the little girl who has disappeared from the Florida foster care system. We are actively litigating in another jurisdiction where only today the State has announced the takeover of four county offices because children are in danger in that system.
Now Congress, did, in fact, require that there be Federal reviews of these systems. Every State that has had a Federal review, and thus far there are 38 reported on, has not passed the Federal review. Now what difference does that make to the State? Almost nothing. We are taking depositions now in one of our cases which failed its Federal review, failed it badly, and has also its own State reports on how dangerous that particular system is, and it has a program improvement plan which is required by HHS. Nobody is paying any attention in that State to the program improvement plan, and the accountability measures and outcome measures in that State are declining, and nothing is happening.
One of the key people responsible for implementing that program improvement plan in that State testified in a deposition a week and a half ago that the State didn't have to pay any attention to the fact that they were failing on the program improvement plan and not meeting their own guidelines because nobody was going to do anything until a 2-year period had ended. In fact, nobody is doing anything to them, except that there is now a lawsuit against them, and we are going to document these problems and bring them to court.
What would I ask this important group to do? What can you do? There is something very real that you can do. You pass good legislation, presumably you want it enforced. Do you want it enforced the same way New Jersey is enforcing it? It is a good thing to increase the number of adoptions. Are we happy with what we know about the adoptive family that these four little boys and this fifth little girl were going to go into? I would guess not. If you want to do something about protecting children, instead of having States tote up higher numbers and get Federal incentive payments, I would suggest you haven't gone far enough.
I understand the importance of allowing States to make their own decisions and allow for local variations about ways to do things. It is obviously a very important good government principle.
Chairman HERGER. If the witness could conclude her testimony.
Ms. LOWRY. I would ask you to consider legislation that mandates minimum standards in the States with regards to applying the Federal law; minimum standards with regard to such things as caseloads, worker qualifications, training, the frequency of visitation of workers with children, and a system of accountability or some quality assurance system so that you can have some sense of security that, in fact, the States are applying your statutes in the way that I am sure you intended. Thank you very much for the opportunity to address this group.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Lowry follows:]
Chairman HERGER. I thank you, Ms. Lowry, for your testimony. I want to thank each of you for your testimony. I have been very generous on the time, and we have gone considerably over on each of our witnesses. That is due to the incredible seriousness of this hearing. Our purpose here today and the reason we have invited those who we feel are closest to the issue in New Jersey is to try to get the facts out so that we as a Congress representing the concerns of innocent children that are within your jurisdiction, and not only in New Jersey, but all 50 States, that we do everything we can to ensure that these innocent children are taken care of in the best way that we can -- and that we eliminate as much as possible all abuse.
Before I get into my question, I do want to recognize another Member of the Committee on Ways and Means who is sitting with us on the panel, Mr. Mark Foley. Without objection, he will sit with us.
If I could just open up the questions just with a yes or no answer as much as you are able to, again those of you who are closest to this issue, if I could ask based on your professional or personal opinion, were the Jackson boys abused? Ms. Maguire?
Ms. MAGUIRE. Yes.
Mr. RYAN. Yes.
Mr. SARUBBI. Yes.
Reverend THOMAS. No.
Ms. KATZ. We have not been given enough information to make that determination.
Ms. LOWRY. It seems likely, but I agree we don't have all the facts.
Chairman HERGER. Thank you. With that, we open up for questions. Mrs. Johnson.
Mrs. JOHNSON. Thank you. I was first elected to the legislature in the 1970s as a State senator. The first national hearings on foster care were held. I was on this Committee when we passed the first round of foster care reform legislation. I have been deeply involved in reforming the independent living program. My State has been subject to a suit, and I see how court monitoring does and does not make a difference, and all the resources it puts in place that are helpful, and those that it squanders. So, I have one short question to ask of Reverend Thomas, and then I would like to ask Ms. Maguire a question. Reverend Thomas, did the four boys cited in this suit attend church regularly?
Reverend THOMAS. They attended church regularly.
Mrs. JOHNSON. Were, all but the one, the oldest, well behaved?
Reverend THOMAS. Extremely well behaved.
Mrs. JOHNSON. You had no reason to suspect, even though they were very small and very skinny, that there was any other problem other than an eating disorder?
Reverend THOMAS. No. They were always well dressed.
Mrs. JOHNSON. They did come with the rest of the family?
Reverend THOMAS. Absolutely. We keep church records, and I looked it up, and it was approximately 67 times in the past 2 years, about 60 percent.
Mrs. JOHNSON. Ms. Maguire, I am interested in the long run and how you select foster homes and how you oversee them and how you keep track. Clearly what your testimony lays out in spades is the same testimony that has been laid out for two decades. This is the hardest job there is is to be a protective services worker. It is very hard to be a teacher in our urban areas, but to be a protective services worker where you are dealing with very difficult children and families, it is the hardest job there is. It is true that the cases when they go bad are the most spectacular, and heads roll because that is all we know how to do.
I agree with many of the comments that were made that this is the quickest way to discourage the quality of people we need in the foster care and child protective services from wanting to serve.
I am impressed, Mr. Sarubbi, with the number of people you have, but you see, it really didn't make any difference. It is after the crime that you matter. It is irrelevant. We want to prevent the crime. So, I want to know, and I hope this Committee will look at best practices, I want to know what are we doing to support foster families. Do you have any mandatory meetings for children in foster care? Do we have any compulsory requirement that they be brought to certain child support situations so that if there is a problem, they can talk about it, because they have different problems than ordinary children. They have two families.
I want to know a little bit more, and I know you don't have much time, but in the long run I am interested how you recruit foster families, how you support foster parents, how you support foster children, and how you prevent out-placement of children into foster care.
So, it is the whole systemic issue we have to face here, and certainly lower caseloads is absolutely crucial. We can make -- the idea that we would lay another level of bureaucracy on you or even another office without looking at the obvious blatant problem of caseload is really just too ludicrous to entertain. Your lack of training, ongoing training, the lack of integration of protective services training and foster care training and any other kind of training, we need to hear from you new views, new thinking. I don't want to hear the same old stuff. I have heard the same old stuff, the same old accusations and problems.
How are we going to use what we have learned in medicine, for example, support groups, family resource centers, bring families together? Are we using them at all? Is there any mandatory requirement that foster children attend the local resource center play sessions? What are the resources in the community that are already there that we can require people with foster care children to participate in?
The same is true of kinship care. I would like -- I know we have thrown out a lot, and we only have 5 minutes to question, but we need new thinking. You think we are going to legislate the same way the State is responding to this? We can't afford to do that.
Ms. MAGUIRE. Your points are very legitimate, and the truth of the matter is the New Jersey system does not do those things that you suggest. One of the work groups that we have currently engaged that involves foster parents, other community members as well as staff is a resource family group to do precisely what you are doing, to plan a set of standards, a set of values about how we do value foster parents. We don't do that well at this point. It is to develop strategies to include them in a far different way that includes them not only in participating as a team member for the planning for the children under their care, but also in support of them.
I have never understood, quite frankly, why we don't treat foster parents like we do natural parents who have accepted children into their homes.
Mrs. JOHNSON. Be thinking about it, because maybe we will have a hearing on those kinds of progressive ideas.
Chairman HERGER. The gentlelady's time has expired. The gentleman from Maryland Mr. Cardin to inquire.
Mr. CARDIN. Let me thank all of you for your testimony. The first way to correct the situation is acknowledge you have a problem, a serious problem, and, Ms. Maguire, I compliment your acknowledgment of the problems in New Jersey, which, again, is not unique to New Jersey. As the testimony has indicated here, particularly from Ms. Lowry, this is a problem that is being confronted in many parts of the country, if not in every system.
I am concerned, though, as you pointed out, New Jersey conducted safety assessments in foster homes before the Jackson children were discovered, and 14,000 plus homes had been inspected, including the Jackson home, which got a clean bill of health. Now you are going to reevaluate 6,000. I am curious as to how you selected the 6,000, and if you have the resources to do a safety assessment, because when you put a stamp of approval on a safety assessment, I think the public has a right to expect that, in fact, these homes have met your standards. Do you have the resources, and how did you select these 6,000?
Ms. MAGUIRE. Again, a very legitimate question. The safety assessments began in New Jersey for all out-of-home placements prior to the settlement of the lawsuit. At that time -- and nowhere in the United States is there a safety tool that exists for out-of-home placements. There is a structured decision-making tool for children in their own homes, but none for out-of-home placement. We took a modified version of an in-home, tried to enhance it for purposes of out-of-home, and we began those reviews on June 2nd.
Mr. CARDIN. My question is how did you get to the 6,000 that are now being selected?
Ms. MAGUIRE. I am trying to get there, sir. Prior to the lawsuit, we had accomplished a number of safety assessments. When the lawsuit was settled, we changed that form yet one more time that drove the decision-making and the process of safety assessing. Six thousand children had already been assessed. We are going back over the ones we have done prior to the enhancement of the safety tool.
Mr. CARDIN. I appreciate that. Just for my own curiosity, was the Jackson family in that 6,000?
Ms. MAGUIRE. The Jackson family was assessed on June 6th. It is important to note that safety and assessing safety is a point in time, and that child welfare system needs to expand that.
Mr. CARDIN. I agree with you there, and I just point out that the public believes that when you do a safety assessment, that the children are safe, and that is not the case, I am afraid.
Let me move on if I might. Mr. Ryan, I would like your suggestion in regards to those families that have adoption subsidies, there is at least an obligation for us to make sure that the children are being treated properly, and having some type of a review on their health is a good suggestion. You might want to try to find out whether or not it would be too burdensome on the families and refine your recommendation. I think our Committee would be interested in following up on that.
Mr. RYAN. I would be happy to do that and submit something to the Committee.
[The information follows:]
The recommendation regarding adoption subsidy can be found in the Executive Summary of the "Jackson Investigation: An Examination of New Jersey’s Child Protection System and Recommendations for Reform," which was released by the Office of the Child Advocate on February 12, 2004. The recommendation is to provide an array of post-adoption supports, including the requirement that families, who elect to apply for and are approved to receive an adoption subsidy, ensure that a physical examination is completed for each child annually by a State-licensed physician.
The report can be viewed in its entirety at www.childadvocate.state.nj.us.
Mr. CARDIN. Reverend Thomas, I think we would be more sympathetic to your point if there was some evidence that in the last 4 years, the children had some medical attention. If you have a problem you can't deal with, you would think that you would have sought some medical advice. From at least what has been presented so far, there is no evidence that the children in the last 4 years have had medical attention, and this is very concerning, at least to me and, I think, to the public.
Let me move forward, I guess and try to figure out where we go from here. Nationwide tenure for caseworkers is under 2 years. Salary is $33,000 on average. Is that adequate in order to get the type of people and the type of expectations for caseworkers that are taking care of America's most vulnerable children, and what do we do about it?
Ms. LOWRY. What we find in the systems that we have become involved in is it is not simply a matter of money, but the worse the system operates, the least likely it is to retain good workers. You have to make these systems work better. It is very often the case that there are private agencies providing services, and the private agencies pay less than the public agencies. The good workers go to the private agencies because most people want job satisfaction, particularly people in this field. When the agency insists on high caseloads, has no placements to put the children into, and doesn't provide any training, good workers leave. So, you have to fix the system if you want to have good workers.
Mr. CARDIN. I agree with you. Money is not the whole issue, but it is very difficult to understand how you can do the training and keep people with the types of budget supports that are out there today. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman HERGER. Thank you. The gentleman from Kentucky Mr. Lewis to inquire.
Mr. LEWIS OF KENTUCKY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Ryan, can you give us more specifics about the medical condition of the boys today? How they are doing? I think you mentioned they are gaining weight, but can you give us an update?
Mr. RYAN. Thank you, Mr. Lewis. I am especially thankful that you referred to them as the boys and not as a project. I don't begrudge advocacy on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Jackson. I think that in some ways, Reverend Thomas' advocacy on behalf of them is a friend standing by them in a dark time. The public vilification of these boys, characterizing any one of them as a liar and describing them as a project, is despicable, and I think it needs to stop.
In terms of their medical condition, I think the boys are all making a very steady recovery. They are gaining weight. As the prosecutor indicated to you, that is simply because they are being fed. There is no magic medicine occurring here. These boys are eating and growing.
Mr. LEWIS OF KENTUCKY. Was there any evidence for any type of medical condition that caused an eating disorder at all as the Reverend made mention?
Mr. RYAN. My investigators have not concluded that that is a cause of their condition. As I indicated, there is 20,000 pages of documentary evidence to be reviewed. There are witnesses that my team is still talking to, and I think Mr. Sarubbi has a better sense of that than I do at this point because he is more invested in the medical component of the investigation than my team.
Mr. SARUBBI. It is true that some of the boys -- one of the boys did have acid reflux, but my discussions with the physicians are it was easily treatable. It is a common illness that many of us suffer from, and with the right kind of medication and medical attention over a period of time, it is not something to cause you to be 19 years old and appear to be 10 years old in your stature.
In terms of the children's mental outlook, I can tell you that they have been meeting with the social worker at the hospital and the other facilities that they are at right now, and upcoming in the next month or next week, we expect that they are going to be going into some formal therapy sessions to help deal with their situations. Their outlook is good. They are positive. They enjoy their placement where they are at. My investigators have been interactive with Bruce on a regular basis, and he is pleasant and charming and has kept a positive attitude about this whole situation.
Mr. LEWIS OF KENTUCKY. I read somewhere that there was a lock on the kitchen door.
Mr. SARUBBI. That is correct. We actually found two locks. There are two entranceways to the kitchen, one that goes from the dining room, and the other that goes from the hallway. Both were locked. There is an alarm on the kitchen door as well and a sign that said, "Stop and think and pray before entering," which was a reference to the children going into the kitchen and getting food unsolicited or without approval.
Mr. LEWIS OF KENTUCKY. Mr. Ryan, let me go back to you. The income -- the benefits that the Jackson family were receiving, were there other sources of income, do you know? Is there any reason why they couldn't have used other opportunities to get food for these children? There are food stamps, cash welfare benefits, disability benefits, unemployment benefits, and hopefully a food pantry at the church. Any reason why those kids were not fed?
Mr. RYAN. None that I can understand. I think one of the most frustrating aspects of the investigation is that it is very difficult to know what is in the heart of a person, and it is difficult to know what was in the heart of Mr. and Mrs. Jackson.
To answer your question directly, all of those public supports were available and more. New Jersey has the most comprehensive child health insurance program in the country that covers children up to 350 percent of poverty. Every one of those children was eligible for free public health insurance, and the public health insurance system indicates no hits against those boys in the last several years.
Mr. LEWIS OF KENTUCKY. Let me just say this: there is a lot of finger-pointing, but, listen, good parents, parents have to be responsible for their children, whether adopted children -- I am an adopted -- parent of an adopted child. The responsibility is with us to make sure our children are fed, they get good medical care, they get clothing. It is our responsibility. If we don't live up to those responsibilities, then we should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I know there is evidence out there that has to be looked at, but the bottom line, the responsibility is on the parents. I yield back.
Chairman HERGER. Thank you, Mr. Lewis. Now the gentleman from Washington to inquire.
Mr. MCDERMOTT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ms. Lowry, we have a family that sounds like who got $30,000 under the adoption subsidy program. Fetal alcohol syndrome is well recognized. There was a recent article, I guess, on Monday in the New York Times about further research that has been done in that whole area. These kids were clearly eligible for $30,000. What seems to me that was missing was anybody looking at how that $30,000 was spent in terms of dealing with these. Mr. Lewis is correct and the State is correct in that there is a health care system. There was nobody -- they just handed the $30,000 to these people and said, go on your merry way.
I would like you to take the rest of my 5 minutes to tell me what kind of a law you think we ought to pass with what kind of enforcement mechanisms to be able to stop this, because we are putting out the money. They got a good idea -- the idea of adoption subsidy is a good idea. I instituted it in 1971 in the State of Washington. I would like to hear what you think needs to be done nationally, because sometimes the Congress has to act when States clearly --
Ms. LOWRY. I really appreciate you asking me that question because I think this case is so awful that it has raised a lot of somewhat confusing issues. What is really important is that we provide families for children, and when children in foster care get adopted, they should be members of that family just as Mr. Lewis' child is, I am sure, a full member of his family. We want people to realize that -- we want the people to realize that they have the responsibility that the Congressman was talking about. We want the child to realize that this is really their family, not a pretend kind of family.
The problem in this case, and what I would ask Congress to think about, is not whether there was post-adoption monitoring, because if post-adoption monitoring had taken place in New Jersey, it would have been just as bad as the pre-adoption monitoring. Four children -- almost five children were placed by DYFS in that family, children with problems, and the family had other children as well. Who is making the decision to place those children there in the first instance? When it came to the point that these children were going to be finalized, how is the decision made to turn these children permanently over to this family, at least after the first boy was there? There were children starving, malnourished, stunted growth. These were kids with problems. There were a lot of kids in the home, maybe too many under the circumstances.
The problem is before the adoption is finalized. I would urge you not to think that the answer is to undermine the permanence of an adoptive placement, but to insist the laudable, enormously important goal of giving children permanent families is made with careful decision-making. We are turning these kids loose. We should, but we should know what we are doing before we allow the State to leave.
Once again, it gets back to the quality of decision-making, to caseloads, to training, to accountability. Those are all critical issues. Congress says, please get more kids adopted. Right thing to do, but we don't want them to get adopted with a tick on a piece of paper. We want them to get adopted --
Mr. MCDERMOTT. Give me the minimum standards that ought to be in the Federal law.
Ms. LOWRY. Yes, Congressman. I think there really have to be, because we know by now that the States are running these systems with high caseloads, untrained workers. We know these conditions exist. It was fair enough to say to the States, here, we are giving you the money. Here are the general outlines of our public policy. You all implement this public group policy if you want to do it here, here and here.
What we know today, whatever happened in this case is not an aberration. We know this is happening in other States. So, we have already given the States the opportunity to set their own standards. They are not protecting these kids. So, I think it is time for Congress to take another look at the goals in the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 to see whether you need to impose more strictures, loose strictures but more strictures, on the States and tell the States that your caseloads may not go below X. Eighty is not acceptable. I think everybody would agree with that.
Mr. MCDERMOTT. This woman had 38, but that is after. What about before? What should an adoption preparation worker have?
Ms. LOWRY. An adoption worker ought to have reasonable caseloads, ought to have training. The pressure in New Jersey is to get kids out of the system and count another adoption. Some of these kids really luck out, and they are incredibly wonderful families, but that is not being decided by the State. It is a matter of luck. Whether or not children are safe and are getting good families should not be a matter of luck. The State ought to have the capacity to make those decisions. If you don't have the basic tools, if you don't have workers which have training, which have supervision, if the system doesn't have accountability that workers are going to have their decisions reviewed higher up within the agency, if you don't have a quality assurance system, you have a whole atmosphere in which nothing matters.
We have case records from the State of New Jersey in which there are notations children are abused in foster homes. The abuse is not substantiated because there is no place to put the kids if they have to remove the kids, and the notation on the record says, well, this is another case of business as usual. The States should not be allowed to do business as usual that allows kids to get abused, and I think the only answer to it from a Federal level is to say you can't run the system if you are below certain minimal standards. I don't mean the best standards. I mean certain minimal standards. I don't know what they are today, but smart people can figure them out.
Chairman HERGER. I thank the gentleman from Washington Mr. McDermott. Now the gentleman from Pennsylvania Mr. English to inquire.
Mr. ENGLISH. I thank you, Mr. Chairman. I must say as I have listened to this testimony, this has been as extraordinary a hearing as I have attended in my service in Congress, and it is stunning to think that these things are happening in the United States in some of our relatively affluent communities and apparently that this is not an isolated incident.
Ms. Katz, during your testimony, you cite various reasons why caseworkers in New Jersey are unable to perform their jobs. You also state that the State didn't give caseworkers the latest training. The thing I am grappling with is we have heard testimony to the effect that there were 38 visits to this home over the previous 4 years. Is it a function of the fact that the workers were poorly trained that they failed to note that a 19-year-old only weighed 49 pounds.
Ms. KATZ. One of the things that I tried to talk about is two different types of systems that DYFS has. Protective services and adoption in foster care are essentially separate systems. The caseworker that visited the home, the most amount of those 38 times, the 38 represents a number of different visits over 4 years. This worker was on the job 2 years, 26 years old, her first job with the agency.
There is no training in protective services mandated for workers that are going into the Adoption Resource Centers. That caseworker had no training about what to look for. It is the union's belief that all workers that, before they go into foster care or adoption units, spend a year in a district office doing protective services work, learning what to look for and what to see. We haven't seen the records. We haven't been given any documents, which is unusual, but I believe that this particular caseworker was seeing what the members of the church were seeing, what the neighbors were seeing, and believing that this foster home was an appropriate home.
It had been approved for adoption over and over and over and over; had been approved as a foster care home over and over, and the family was lauded in the community.
Mr. ENGLISH. Ms. Katz, you also noted in your testimony that because home schooling was involved in this home, that the children were not subjected to the kind of oversight that they might have had in a public school setting. I guess my question for you, or for Ms. Lowry: is there any empirical evidence to suggest that the risk of this sort of incident is greater in a home-schooling setting? There seems to be a lot of empirical evidence to suggest that home-schooling families disproportionately are strong in certain other areas. Is there some reason to believe that home schooling is part of the problem here?
Ms. KATZ. Well, let me comment, and then -- what I was testifying to is that home schooling creates gaps. In New Jersey, nearly 20 percent of the abuse cases are reported by schools. I come from a family of all teachers, elementary schoolteachers, and because they see children every day, they get to know them well, especially young children, and that is a very large source of information going into the system that there may be abuse, that there may be neglect. When kids are outside the school system, it seems you need extra protections.
It is not that home schooling causes the problem, but it creates a gap. Other States, New Jersey is not one of them, have regulations about children needing to be seen and tested by their public education system.
Mr. ENGLISH. Ms. Lowry, if you want to comment on that, I would welcome it, and while you are at it, you had cited a class action lawsuit and that around 4,000 children placed in New Jersey foster homes are being individually assessed. What are the results of those assessments, and how many children have been removed from unsafe homes to date?
Ms. LOWRY. When the first round of assessments was concluded, which was about 3 weeks ago, prior to this Jackson case, only 31 children had been removed. Frankly, we had some serious question about that, but no basis on which to question it. Given our data that the rate of abuse was so high, it seemed unlikely that only 31 children needed to be removed.
The new assessments have just started, so we don't know how many children are going to be removed this round. We expect these assessments will be better. In fact, we are going to ask the State, if the removal rate turns out to be very high, if the assessments turn out to be very faulty, as this one may have been, we are going to ask to have all of the homes reassessed, not just these that were done, because that 31 number seemed awfully low to us.
On the home-schooling issue, I think that the very important point was made, which is that New Jersey has very, very few requirements with regard to home schooling. So, frankly, I wonder, given what else we know about this family, whether the kids who were home-schooled got any education at all. I suspect they didn't get very much.
Mr. ENGLISH. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman HERGER. Thank you very much. The gentleman from California Mr. Stark to inquire.
Mr. STARK. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I apologize to the witnesses for not being here at the beginning of your testimony. I have tried to glance through it to get up to speed. Mr. Sarubbi, am I pronouncing that correctly?
Mr. SARUBBI. That is pronounced correctly. Thank you.
Mr. STARK. In New Jersey, as I think we do in California and many other States, the law would require, say, a teacher in a public school to report a case of child abuse or serious mistreatment or illness. What is the law generally in New Jersey? Is there an obligation to report this kind of thing?
Mr. SARUBBI. If they believe that there is a problem there, yes. I think with our schools there really is a requirement on an annual basis that children be examined by a physician.
Mr. STARK. If a teacher saw, say, in third grade, saw a kid coming in with a black eye or a bruise frequently, does the law require that teacher to report to somebody that they suspect something?
Mr. SARUBBI. Yes.
Mr. STARK. Now, other than teachers, in some States, I believe the State of Maryland, anybody can --
Mr. SARUBBI. It is everybody in New Jersey. It is not just limited to a teacher.
Mr. STARK. Okay. I am not a lawyer, so help me through if I am not getting the right words here. Have you prosecuted a lot of child abuse cases; is that part of your department?
Mr. SARUBBI. Yes. In fact, my child abuse unit is handling this investigation in conjunction with the Collingswood Police Department.
Mr. STARK. I have a daughter-in-law that does that in Berkeley, I might add. Very proud of her. Although she was just appointed to the bench by Davis before Schwarzenegger got in.
Let me go back a minute. Would you, if you can give your opinion here, and I do not know whether that is -- would you consider these children, their treatment, constituted abuse under the terms of New Jersey law? Maybe that is not a --
Mr. SARUBBI. What I can tell you is what I had stated in my testimony, that based on our investigation that we have done so far, I believe that there was probable cause to sign a complaint for endangering the welfare of children and aggravated assault. In addition to that, a judicial officer was required to pass on the evidence to make a determination as to whether they felt the charges were appropriate. They were signed, a warrant was issued, and the Jacksons were arrested. So, I hope I have answered your question.
Mr. STARK. Yes. I am trying to use colloquial terms, and I don't suppose that you can. Maybe you can -- and, again, this is an opinion. I notice that in this picture that was in the paper, that the girls in the family all appear to have been well fed and not mistreated, or whatever the legal term is. Does that mean anything to you, say anything to you? Do you have an opinion as to how --
Mr. SARUBBI. That is an excellent observation, Mr. Stark, and one that we have compared to the physical condition of the boys. We do not have than answer, unfortunately, as to why the girls were treated one way and the boys were treated another. Now, our investigation is continuing.
Mr. STARK. Was that question raised by people investigating it? Did they point it out that this seemed --
Mr. SARUBBI. Absolutely. We have mulled over that question on numerous occasions in my office amongst the legal staff and the investigators, and we are really still at this point trying to pin down the true motive in this case. That is one of the questions we have asked ourselves, and we may get an answer to it, we may never get an answer to it.
As I mentioned earlier, part of our investigation is going to include psychiatric evaluations of the children, and perhaps those questions may be answered during that process.
Mr. STARK. Reverend Thomas, did you ever talk with -- was it Keith -- no. Or Michael. Who is the 19-year-old?
Reverend THOMAS. Bruce.
Mr. STARK. Bruce.
Reverend THOMAS. Bruce was more in the shadows than the other children.
Mr. STARK. Did you ever chat with him?
Reverend THOMAS. Oh, sure. He would come out of church.
Mr. STARK. These kids go to Sunday school?
Reverend THOMAS. They went to Sunday school. Their Sunday school teachers have expressed to me how --
Mr. STARK. What grade in Sunday school was Bruce?
Reverend THOMAS. Bruce was in one of the lower grades because he kind of stuck with his other siblings.
Mr. STARK. Were they all like in second, third grade? Where were they? I do not know how you rank that.
Reverend THOMAS. I am not actually sure, but I do have some -- I am probably the only one -- can I say something? I am probably the only one that knows the family, or really knows the family, for 15 years. I am probably the only one who has consistently been around this family. I have video here of what this family looks like where they are in a talent show in the church. Actually, it was a missions banquet. I have pictures here of this family.
Some of these allegations that I am hearing are absolutely startling to me. I know the family, I have talked to them about the kitchen being locked and things of that nature, and those things are simply not the way they appear. Bruce would go down to the kitchen at night and eat most of the food. The family had to put an alarm, no locks, just an alarm, so that they would know. The family dog would often alert them if he was trying to go and do a disturbing thing in the neighborhood.
These allegations are simply not true. The family had plenty of food. They ate three meals a day. They didn't need assistance. They never even came to the church for financial assistance until a landlord called me and said, I think they are in trouble financially.
Mr. STARK. Things, I guess -- you and I, Reverend, probably aren't the judge and the jury in this case, and things aren't always, I guess, as they appear. We find serial killers and bank robbers and people that happen to live next door to us, and you are just shocked to find out that people who we see every day are --
Reverend THOMAS. Yes, sir. I have been around a while.
Mr. STARK. So, that is something that Mr. Sarubbi and the criminal justice system will decide.
Reverend THOMAS. May I just -- do I have a chance to say anything more?
Chairman HERGER. The gentleman's time has expired, but maybe a short statement.
Mr. STARK. Sure, Reverend, go ahead.
Reverend THOMAS. I have no political interest. I do not know all the things in the system. I am just a pastor. What just was said about the boys being treated differently, well, here is all the boys together, including the father, and this was taken just 2 and a half weeks ago. The picture that you are very familiar with, the picture of the girls. Believe me, folks, these are not monsters. They are --
Mr. STARK. All that is missing are the four loaves and the seven fishes, hey, Reverend?
Reverend THOMAS. Pardon me? Yes.
Chairman HERGER. The gentleman's time has expired.
Reverend THOMAS. Thank you.
Chairman HERGER. With that, I yield 5 minutes to a Member of the full Committee, the gentleman from Florida, Mr. Foley, to inquire.
Mr. FOLEY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing, and as Co-Chair of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, I sit here trembling, listening to what I have heard today.
Reverend Thomas, with all due respect, this lack of even empathy for the kids. I almost feel or hear you saying, let's just call off the hearing and have an exorcism on these heathens. It is troubling that in a church -- and other points, home schooling is being attacked today; money in the system, we don't have enough money, training. What type of training does somebody need, additional training, to find these problems in these kids? Isn't there a doctor in your church that recognized the frailty of these young boys?
I am astonished. I am astonished. People treat their pets better than New Jersey has treated their children in this instance. If they treated a dog like this, people would be in jail already in the Humane Society. Gopher tortoises have a better safety net in this country than these kids.
I do not know where to start. I do not know where to start, but I see these four children wasting away, going to Sunday school and church every week, and nobody in the congregation thought to call someone. Thirty-eight visits on this home, $30,000 a year, not a dollar going to a doctor, nobody going to seek intervention.
So, it is not all about money -- and maybe it is about money. Maybe we have turned kids into money machines. Here, you take these kids. No one else wants them.
With all due respect to this family, if they are so demonic, then let somebody else deal with them. I heard you say, Reverend, he didn't want to turn them in because nobody else would take them. When you ignore the obvious, your statement that somehow the kid ate his lunch on the way to school and then lied to the teacher, well, at least he would be a normal-weight liar.
Reverend THOMAS. May I respond?
Mr. FOLEY. Please.
Reverend THOMAS. Yes. First of all, these children came in looking pretty much the way they look to you, very startling to you. I have a cousin who has cerebral palsy, and my cousin looks differently than other people and very underweight. I do not go up to my cousin every week and say, what is wrong with you, or turn to her mother and say, show me some papers or say what are you doing.
Mr. FOLEY. Reverend, these are boys.
Reverend THOMAS. These boys were energetic, you will see in the video, energetic, coming up and hugging me, the first to come out after church, the little girls and the little boys. Believe me, our focus is on these children. Ray and Vanessa have been accused as being animals and everything else, but let me tell you what, these children are happy children, and they have been a great blessing to our church. There is not only me, there is 300 some other people who have observed them and loved them, and their condition was always taken into account because that is the way they came. I saw them when they first came.
Mr. FOLEY. Then how do you account for the gain of weight under State supervision?
Reverend THOMAS. I seriously question it. If I was placed in the hospital with 24-hour, around-the-clock care for the purpose of gaining weight, I would gain weight. You would gain weight. We would all gain weight. I want to know if it is water. I want to know if it is convoluted in any way. Did they have shoes on when they came in? What is the story? Did they have shoes only when they were weighed?
Mr. FOLEY. Do you discount the rummaging through the garbage next door looking for food?
Reverend THOMAS. Bruce? That was not the first occasion this child has done this kind of thing, and this is part of his sickness, and there is a need for his psychological well-being. He escaped one other time, went to a neighbor's house, just like we have the problem now; went to a neighbor's house, said, my parents are in Florida, they have left me here home alone. When the police came, checked it out, parents were there. This time he said, I don't have any parents, I am from Camden, I am homeless. Of course, that was obviously not true. They were right there in Collingswood frantically wondering where he was.
Mr. FOLEY. Well, I just know Florida has had its share of problems, a lot of States have, so I am not casting aspersions only on New Jersey.
The Governor ordered a blue ribbon panel on May 6, 2002, reported May 28th. We have had two progress reports. There is some good information the State can glean from this, but I have to tell you, we have to get moving. We have to get on this program.
It is only when a politician's job is on the line do we start waking up and shaking up these agencies. Typically what happens is we just change the name of the agencies so people can forget what the problems were in the past, and we don't change the fundamentals.
Our colleagues have asked some very important questions, and I think all of us share a responsibility. This isn't just pointing to a State and saying, how did you let this happen? Too many kids are falling through the system, we are asking too much of those very same people to go in homes that most people armed at the waist with guns wouldn't go into.
It still troubles me that 38 visits occurred, and I do not know whether they took place at Starbucks, but they do not seem to have been focused at the house. Obviously, someone missed -- even if they were looking at 1 child in a house of 12, they still missed some telling stories of that home.
So, at the end of this, hopefully, it is not about federalizing child protection, but it is all of us taking individual State responsibilities to see that these agencies are monitored; that the people sent out there tasked with the jobs were listened to. I have looked at some of these in Florida where caseworkers come back and tell their bosses, and the boss says, don't bother me with that, I can't fix it, or, I can't do anything about it.
Whether we are in our churches, in our Boy Scout troops, or in our hospitals, we all have to band together, because this is an epidemic problem for our kids, and it is just startling. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the indulgence.
Chairman HERGER. I thank the gentleman from Florida. I recognize the Ranking Member from Maryland Mr. Cardin.
Mr. CARDIN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would ask unanimous consent if I could yield my time to the gentleman from New Jersey, Mr. Payne, who is not a Member of our Committee, but he is a person who has a great deal of interest in this subject, and a distinguished Member of Congress.
Mr. PAYNE. Thank you very much. I appreciate your yielding the time, and thank the Chairman for allowing me to ask a few questions.
I would just like to once again ask Reverend Thomas how he feels that the weight gain could happen? What was the amount of weight totally gained by the -- how much -- about 50 pounds, when together they weighed -- it is probably about half of the amount of weight that they were when they were discovered? You said you think that they are doing abnormal things, when we have heard the prosecutor and Mr. Ryan say they are simply being fed.
Reverend THOMAS. Mr. Payne, I didn't mean abnormal things. I am saying these children have fluctuated in their weight before. These children have never received 24-hour, around-the-clock care to put on weight. Anyone would put on weight. I would really like, with the indulgence of the Committee, to have a little snippet of that video shown.
Mr. PAYNE. I only have 5 minutes, and I know we don't have time, Mr. Chairman. Let me just ask you another question. It seems like it is normal that people have three meals a day, and so you are saying now that because they are concentrating on gaining weight, that something different is being done. It seems to me they are getting three meals a day, which every child is supposed to get. That doesn't seem abnormal.
I am also kind of shocked, too. We look to the church for leadership, and I know that evidently you have a nice place in your heart for the parents, but you make the children, the victims, seem like the perpetrators. The way you describe Bruce, you make him like he is a criminal. He would do these horrible things, and all the focus is on the victim. It is unbelievable.
I have triplet grandchildren, and they are 5 years old, and I just cannot believe that somebody's children weighed less than them. It is almost impossible. I don't see how a person of the church -- and I really respect the church, but I remember it sounds like some of the missionaries back in the Belgium Congo in 1890 when they went and treated in a paternalistic way people -- it incenses me that a person of the cloth could sit there and defend people who are wrong. They are wrong. There is no question about the fact. These parents are wrong. These children are victims. You turned the children around, as a man of the Bible, to say that there is something wrong with these abnormal children. It is absolutely wrong. When we have people making excuses for wrong people, we are going nowhere in this society.
In our town of Newark, where this young boy, 7-year-old Faheem Williams, was found dead in the basement, not one single person in the church, not one single public official, came out in defense of this horrible parent who allowed a child to die and to leave them in a box in the basement of a place.
When you are wrong, you are wrong. For us to continually make excuses for wrongdoing is wrong. We are as wrong as the parents when we make excuses for people that there is no question that something was done wrong here; that these children were not fed. Why would a kid be out at 2 a.m. anyway?
How can you defend a child being out at 2 a.m., being heard by a neighbor, being picked up by the police, if this is such a great church-going good family? It is absolutely ludicrous.
Reverend THOMAS. May I respond?
Mr. PAYNE. No, I don't want a response. I yield back the balance of my time.
Reverend THOMAS. That is very unfair, sir.
Chairman HERGER. I will allow Reverend Thomas a short response.
Reverend THOMAS. Yes. In all due respect to Mr. Payne, we are dealing with allegations that are extremely serious against this family, and the truth must come out, allegations such as they never went to eat in a restaurant. I have pictures here of them. The prosecutor has many more pictures of them at Disney and other places.
We are not out to make any of the children look bad, but there are untruths that have been told that has made this entire family look bad, has split this family up. I am with the birth children, and I would like to see the children. I have a pastoral responsibility to see the children, and I have not been able to get to see the children. I have been told that I am not allowed at this point to pursue it any further, basically to just -- we will call you back when we want to call you back.
These children, there is no truth to these allegations. I can be called a liar. I have nothing personal to gain. I am simply their pastor. I am not elected to any office. I have nothing else. I am just telling you these people are innocent, and I am telling you they had three meals a day, they ate like everyone else, and there are some serious difficulties with these children that have absolutely -- they have had to deal with, and they have had very little support in that whole thing. So, I really believe that you at least should see the children on that video.
Mr. CARDIN. Mr. Chairman, before we adjourn, if I could have 30 seconds?
Chairman HERGER. The gentleman from Maryland is recognized.
Mr. CARDIN. Just to reflect, and thank you for holding this hearing. It is somewhat painful, but I think it is important that we have a record of what happened in New Jersey. New Jersey is not alone. In Miami a young girl was missing for 15 months before anyone knew that she was missing. In Pennsylvania a young girl 3 years old died after allegedly being beaten and starved to death by a woman and a boyfriend just a day after a social worker visited. So, this is not a unique circumstance.
Ms. Lowry, keep up your good work. Mr. Ryan, I am glad to see you are independent and giving a voice in New Jersey. Keep up your work. People are listening. We have to change the system.
Chairman HERGER. I thank the gentleman from Maryland. I would like to just conclude, and I want to thank each of our witnesses. I want to conclude by rephrasing just a bit the question that I started with, and I have to say that in my 17 years in Congress, this is the most alarming issue, the most alarming hearing that I have sat in as a father of nine.
When we look at the fact that Bruce had gained 18 pounds and now weighs 63 pounds, and this is over a period of 24 days, Keith had gained 16.5 pounds and now weighs 56.5 pounds, Tyrone had gained 11.6 pounds, now weighs 39.6 pounds, and Michael had gained 9 pounds and now weighs 32 pounds, my original question to each of you was based on what you know -- and the purpose of this Committee was to get those who are closest to this issue in New Jersey to come before this Committee so we would be able to get the facts out so that we could move forward, and it appears that we will be moving forward with further hearings on what we can do to help prevent something like this from ever happening again. My original question was your personal opinion, as an answer yes or no, were the Jackson boys abused.
I think I would like to rephrase that. Now, in this, what is it, less than a month period of time that the boys have been out of this home, are these boys better off now than they were before -- and if I could just ask in your opinions, and that is all they are, whether they are or not better off after this hearing?
Ms. MAGUIRE. Well, they are certainly in a safe environment now, and they are gaining weight. I think that is indicative of the answer, Representative.
Mr. RYAN. Representative, they are healthier, and they are on the road to recovery, but this is not a happily-ever-after story. These boys and their sisters have seen their family implode, and these boys and their sisters are separated now. One boy is in one facility, two others in another, the fourth boy is in another facility, the sisters are somewhere else. One can only characterize that as tragic.
We would all do well, I think, to think about how these systems can work to strengthen families and support them so that at the end of the day families don't implode, parents aren't charged with these sorts of crimes, and children aren't left languishing and starving. This is really a failure that these children will have to live with for a very long time.
Chairman HERGER. Mr. Sarubbi.
Mr. SARUBBI. I think clearly they are, from a physical as well as a psychological standpoint, but I have to echo Mr. Ryan's statements in that these boys have so many hurdles to overcome over the next several years. They are entering a very critical period in their rehabilitation in terms of their ability to grow to be somewhat normal height. Tests will continue to be run. If their growth plates are closed, there is not a good chance that they will grow to within normal ranges for children their age.
So, they are coming to a very difficult time, and I think that is complicated by the fact that they have been separated from what they have known for so many years, however horrible it may have been.
Chairman HERGER. Reverend Thomas.
Reverend THOMAS. Just to preface my remark, the night -- or the day that the children were taken from the home, and I went to the home as a pastoral visit and was there to give support to the family, they were devastated. They were crying. They were in terrible shape. Raymond turned to me and he said, perhaps what will come out of this is that Bruce will get the kind of help that he needs. That is where we are. Any help that can be given to these children, anything that can make their health and strength better, of course we are in favor of that.
Chairman HERGER. Good. Ms. Katz.
Ms. KATZ. I have two kids, and as much as they fight, I think that one of the most horrible things that we could do to them would be to separate them. I would have to echo what Kevin said. I think that as healthy as these boys may be becoming, it is tragic, and we need to find the ways to stop these things from happening before we get here, because there is no good outcome here.
Chairman HERGER. Thank you. Ms. Lowry.
Ms. LOWRY. I think there is very little question that these children have been permanently and irrevocably damaged. Although they may physically get better, they have been deprived of a chance for a real family that they can grow up with, and I think it is very hard to put them back together again.
Chairman HERGER. Well, I want to thank you. Again, I want to thank each of you for your testimony. It has provided useful information for us to consider as we assess this case and its implications in subsequent hearings and discussions. Our goal is to ensure the safety of all children, and we appreciate your help to that end.
Mr. FOLEY. Mr. Chairman?
Chairman HERGER. The gentleman from Florida.
Mr. FOLEY. May I ask unanimous consent to include in the record the blue ribbon panel report of Florida?
Chairman HERGER. Without objection, so ordered.
[The information is being retained in the Committee files.]
Chairman HERGER. With that, this hearing stands adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 12:27 p.m., the hearing was adjourned.]
[Questions submitted from Chairman Herger to Mr. Ryan and Ms. Maguire, and their answers follow:]
Questions from Chairman Wally Herger to Kevin Ryan
Question: I understand doctors have seen the boys since they were removed from this home.
- Can you share with us their professional medical evaluations of the boys’ condition and any ailments or physical disorders they might have? (For example, it has been alleged the boys suffer from everything from fetal alcohol syndrome, to being crack babies, to -- in Rev. Thomas’ testimony -- “rumination.” Is that true?)
- Have the doctors offered any type of prognosis for their recovery?
- What should all this tell us about claims that the boys suffered from eating disorders that resulted in their being so severely malnourished?
Answer: (a) With respect to the boys’ medical conditions and any ailments or physical disorders that they might have, my office has done three things: (i) we have subpoenaed medical records from the three medical providers that were referenced in their case files, including: CAMCare Health Corp., Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center and Voorhees Pediatric Rehabilitation Hospital; (ii) we have requested an independent medical review of this information from two pediatricians, in order to glean a fuller understanding of their medical conditions and treatment since October of this year when they were removed from the Jackson home; and (iii) we are awaiting the reports on each of the boys from Dr. Marita Lind, the treating pediatrician under contract with the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) who has had the most regular and comprehensive contact with them.
(b) We know that a variety of medical professionals, including but not limited to, pediatricians, endocrinologists and dentists have examined the boys since October. In light of their varying medical conditions, growth stages and ages, we anticipate a fuller understanding of the prognosis for recovery for each boy, once we review the individual medical reports. We expect to receive this information in the next week or so.
(c) Dr. Lind’s comprehensive report on each boy should help explain, at least in part, whether claims that the boys had suffered from eating disorders that led to their severe malnourished states, were in fact true. What is indisputable, however, is that, to date, the boys have gained both height and weight and, to my knowledge, have been administered nothing other than a normal diet and vitamins.
Question: What specifically in this case has led you to begin your own investigation? I understand that you are working with the prosecutor’s office as you move forward. What do you intend to do as part of your own investigation? Do you anticipate making recommendations for how New Jersey could improve its child welfare system based on the findings of your case? (In addition to answering these questions, I encourage you to share such findings or recommendations with the Subcommittee when they are available.)
Answer: Approximately 9pm on October 24, 2003, I received a call from a high ranking official at the Department of Human Services (DHS), which first alerted me to the facts surrounding the Jackson’s home, that four boys had been removed from that home in severely malnourished states, and that the Camden County Prosecutor was planning the next day to conduct a press conference announcing criminal charges against the parents for aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child (in this case, the four Jackson boys). That call prompted my office to begin an investigation into the Jackson matter which includes, but is not limited to, an in depth inquiry into the systems that serve children in the care and custody of the State, and the factors that permitted the Jackson boys’ deteriorated medical conditions to persist virtually unchecked.
As you are aware, my office was created by statute in September 2003 and, among other things, is charged with identifying systemic problems with the various entities, public or private in New Jersey, that serve children. Having taken office just one week prior to the call from DHS on the evening of October 24th, the Jackson case served as a catalyst for my office to begin its inquiry into the child welfare system that apparently failed these boys.
As I mentioned earlier, we do anticipate making recommendations for how New Jersey could improve its child welfare system, based upon our findings, and will gladly share that report with you. We recognize, however, that the Jackson case provided just a small snapshot of the entirety of the problems facing New Jersey’s system, and are cognizant of the enormity of the task of creating real and lasting reform. To that end, you should know that New Jersey is facing a January 18th deadline with which it must comply as part of a lawsuit settlement with Children’s Rights, Inc. The very simplified significance of that date is that DHS must present an independent panel of five experts its plan for comprehensive reform of the child welfare system, which the panel will evaluate and ultimately accept or reject.
Question: Do you have any data about other children in foster care or who have been adopted from foster care in New Jersey who have fetal alcohol syndrome? For example, do we know if any of them suffer from the sort of malnutrition evident in this case? What does that suggest about this case?
Answer: We have not made a specific inquiry about data concerning other children either in foster care or who have been adopted from foster care, who have fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), and have therefore not necessarily linked malnutrition to this factor. Examining FAS as an independent and early identifier of future complications for foster children may be an idea worth considering, however, in the Jackson case, I have not yet seen evidence that necessarily draws this conclusion. Indeed, it appears at this juncture that proper nutrition and consistent medical attention might have averted many of the boys’ problematic health issues. Again, the medical reports should be helpful in this regard.
Question: How much Federal and State money did the family receive in the form of maintenance payments to support the children? Is there any evidence suggesting what those funds were spent on?
Answer: On average, the Jackson family received approximately $4800 annually in the form of subsidy payments for each child. Half of that money is provided by the federal government; the other half by the state. Other than a per diem clothing allowance calculated as part of each child’s subsidy, there is no requirement, reporting or otherwise, that the funds be spent in any particular manner for the children’s care.
Questions from Chairman Wally Herger to Colleen Maguire
Question: You state in your testimony (page 4) “it has been documented that none of these boys had seen a doctor in at least five years.”
- First, how is this documented?
- Second, even if we accept the parents’ claims that the boys suffered from eating disorders, and that is the explanation behind their size and weight, doesn’t the absence of medical attention for that long in and of itself amount to neglect?
- Documentation: The four boys were all enrolled in New Jersey Medicaid, which is a component of the adoption subsidy program. According to initial Medicaid claim history, there is no documentation of any claims for any of the boys for almost five years. Further, there is no evidence that the boys received medical care from any provider not affiliated with the Medicaid subsystem. No provider has come forward; nor have the parents provided anyone with the name of any provider. Information provided by the Camden County Prosecutor indicates that Mrs. Jackson admitted that she has not taken these boys to a doctor for the past five years. However, the Department of Human Services (DHS) is continuing to review all of this information.
- Does this constitute neglect? The failure to provide children who have medical problems with appropriate medical treatment does constitute child neglect under New Jersey law. New Jersey law requires any person who has reason to suspect that a child is being abused or neglected to make a report to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). The report would then be investigated. In this situation, no report was made until the night that Bruce was observed eating from a neighbor’s trash.
Question: What is the boys’ long-term medical prognosis? Are they going to be regularly seen by doctors? Will they receive specialized medical care? How will you ensure that occurs?
Answer: The prognosis of the two younger boys is that we expect them to make a full recovery, whereas the two older boys have more significant obstacles to overcome and therefore have a more guarded prognosis. All of the boys are still undergoing testing to assist in fully understanding the medical implications of their health issues.
Each of the boys will be receiving specialized medical/dental care as determined by their individual needs. All four boys are receiving weekly in home/hospital visits by a nutritionist who is working in coordination with them, their primary care physicians and their foster parents.
The children remain under the care of the NJ Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) which will continue to monitor their medical care. A senior level administrator in the DYFS’ Southern Regional Office is coordinating all of the issues related to this situation. A physician and medical consultant are reviewing their medical needs and care, and assisting in coordination. Also, plans for the boys are being reviewed by the Family Court.
Question: Ms. Lowry’s testimony states that her review of this case finds:
“A failure to adequately conduct a safety assessment on behalf of the child in foster care who was placed with (the Jacksons) – an assessment which should have included an evaluation of the home environment and any and all health and safety issues affecting all children in the home. Had such a complete assessment been conducted, the terrible circumstances under which the four adopted boys were living would have become obvious. None of this happened, however – why not.”
What does the safety assessment require? What aspects of the house and the family are examined? Why did this safety assessment not happen? Do you have any doubt that if a proper assessment had occurred, that not only would the female foster child not have been placed in this household, but the State would have taken action to protect the boys as well?
Answer: Effective June 2, 2003, the NJ Division of Youth and Family Services initiated a safety assessment of all children in out of home placement. The process was subsequently modified effective August 18, 2003, to provide casework staff with additional information about the foster home. This initiative concluded on October 23, 2003. For children placed in adoptive homes, a Placement Assessment format was utilized which was originally developed to guide adoption decision-making concerning permanent placement with an appropriate family. This process, guided by a series of questions, solicits information about the care the child is receiving, how the family understands and is able to meet the youngster’s needs, his/her safety in the home, and the family’s ability and commitment to raise the child to majority.
The Placement Assessment (which was conducted on the foster child in the Jackson home) is divided into six sections. These include:
- An initial face sheet containing identifying information, any allegations of abuse/neglect, or criminal record of all adults residing in the home, and any waivers previously granted.
- Child Issues- information obtained about an individual child. This information includes an assessment of any special needs; observations of the child, their clothing, their living space and incorporation into the family unit; the child’s perceptions of family members, discipline methods and other family member relationships; status of birth siblings; child’s placement history; dates and findings of last medical and dental exams and the status of the child’s life book.
- Family issues- information to be obtained about the foster/pre-adoptive family. This asks for a list of each individual residing in the home and a description of their role within the family. Any special care needs of the child in question are to be recorded, as well as how those needs are being met and by whom. Other information requested is the age and health status of the parents; an assessment of the stability of their relationship and their individual feelings about the child; family member interaction; integration of the child into the family unit; parent perceptions of the child’s current and future needs; disciplinary methods; support systems; and prior parenting experiences.
- Physical space issues- an assessment of the living and sleeping space and housekeeping, health and life safety standards.
- Collateral contacts- documentation of contacts with doctors, schools, therapists or other service providers, and an exploration of any difficulty that the foster family had in handling other children and how they resolved those difficulties.
- Final assessment- This section is completed by the caseworker and supervisor about the child’s needs and the family’s ability to meet them, the child’s safety and adoption status. The date of the final supervisory conference is documented and the approval/disapproval of the foster parent adoption plan.
As you will note, this is a very comprehensive review, and it was this protocol that was completed on the foster child in June 2003. The conclusion reached was that the foster child was safe and receiving adequate care in the home. The questions related to other family members focused on the other children in the home only as they related to the prospective foster home adoption plan.
The completion of a thorough assessment at that time should have initiated an immediate investigation concerning the care of all of the children in the home, leading to protective actions on their behalf. Although the foster child was placed in the Jackson home in August 1999, which predates the implementation of New Jersey’s safety assessment process and the adoption office’s Placement Assessment process, ongoing assessment activities should have uncovered these problems, leading staff to take appropriate actions.
Question: What concerns me about this case is what might have happened to the children in this house if the neighbor had not called the police last night. It was the police and the neighbor who immediately realized that something about this boy was not right, not the numerous caseworkers who had visited this house. Add to that the point Ms. Lowry makes in her testimony about how over one in ten foster care children in New Jersey are abused and neglected in foster care. That's a startling statistic. What is your Department doing to ensure that there are no additional children who are currently being neglected while in foster care and whose neglect is unnoticed by caseworkers?
Some of the facts about the house and the family that are being uncovered raise some concerns. The electricity had been off for six months. The family was behind in their rent and had recently received assistance from their church to help pay some bills. The father was unemployed.
- Why would this information not raise concerns with a caseworker?
- Are the State’s protocols for assessing a child’s current living arrangement designed to find out this type of information?
- Are you considering changes to capture this information?
Answer: As noted in the information in question #3, caseworkers are required to routinely gather and assess information about a wide range of child/family issues. In this case, clearly the lack of electricity is a concern that should have been identified and addressed.
Since the state is concerned about this issue, DYFS has taken a number of steps to strengthen our processes. First, licensing for foster parents has already been revised to require that every family member be seen before a foster home license is granted or renewed.
Second, following the state-wide initiative to ensure that each child in substitute care was safe, on October 23, 2003, DYFS implemented procedures to assure that the safety of each child placed into substitute care by the agency is assessed on a continuous, ongoing basis. New protocols were developed to facilitate the policy. This activity is unique to New Jersey. We believe that no other state child protective service agency in the nation has developed a tool and implemented procedures to assess the safety of children placed in substitute care, including home-like settings and congregate care facilities.
NJ policy specifies that a child’s safety in foster care will be assessed, and thus assured, at the following set intervals:
- Within five (5) work days of the agency first placing a child into substitute care. The child safety assessment is conducted during the agency’s first visit to the foster home after placing the child.
- Within five (5) work days of moving/re-placing a child into a new foster home. The child safety assessment is conducted during the agency’s first visit to the foster home after placing the child there.
- When investigating a child protective services allegation regarding a foster home.
- Every six months, when the agency prepares case recording documents.
- Child safety may be reassessed at any other time, when appropriate and as necessary, to assess the safety of one or more children residing in the substitute care home.
Agency Caseworkers, Supervisors, Managers and Administrators make the decision whether additional child safety assessments need to be conducted on a case-by-case basis, based on the circumstances of the child.
Procedures followed by agency field staff for assessing child safety in a foster home include:
- Interview the child in private.
- Observe other children in the home, including birth children and other foster children.
- Observe the physical condition of the home to determine whether there are any apparent safety hazards or life-safety concerns present.
- See the child's room and assure the child has a bed.
- Determine whether the child’s physical needs are being met. (Is the home clean? Is there is an adequate supply of food for the children? Are the utilities operational – heat, running water, electricity?)
- If the household has a pet(s), ask to see the animal and assure that it does not pose a danger to children.
- Interview the foster parents. Ascertain how the child is adjusting to the home and substitute care family.
- Observe interactions between the various members of the household.
- Confirm the names and relationships of all adults and all children currently residing in the home; obtain identifying information about any other persons residing in the home. If other adults reside in the home, find out who they are, and whether they have a role in caring for the foster child.
- Return to the home/conduct a follow-up field contact if an adult or a child household member is not at home during the agency’s field visit.
- Take prompt action if a child is found to be in danger in the foster home. Develop and implement a plan to assure the child’s immediate safety; remove the child, if necessary.
- Notify the State’s Office of Licensing and the DYFS regional foster home unit if there is a concern about the physical structure of the foster home, or a violation of standards. Life/safety concerns are addressed immediately.
Third, there will be another safety assessment review of approximately 5000 children placed in substitute care settings. We anticipate utilizing community providers, who will receive specialized training for this process. This will commence in January 2004.
Beyond the above efforts to assess safety in foster homes, DYFS is requiring staff to identify and assess safety concerns including such basic factors as working utilities, appliances and adequate food. These include a continued roll-out of our Structured Decision Making program which will include new tools and training for all casework staff. To support an overall improvement in case practice, the state is hiring additional supervisors and case practice specialists, which will provide casework staff with greater support with their decision making.
Question: Is it unusual for families to survive solely on foster care and adoption payments, as apparently was the case in the Jackson family? Do you know what share of all cases does so? Does that raise any red flags with your office? How about when a parent is laid off? Does that affect anything with the case?
Answer: As part of the assessment process, foster and adoptive parent applicants are required to document that they have financial resources to support themselves, separate from any board payments provided by the state to assist them in the care of the child(ren). Further, they are required to notify DYFS if their financial circumstances have changed. Currently, once the home receives its initial foster home license, income monitoring does not occur. However, once an issue is identified that may affect the safety or welfare of a foster child, there is an expectation that it be appropriately addressed, up to and including the removal of the child(ren) and closure of the home.
Adoption subsidy is more complicated. Documentation of adequate financial resources is required during the assessment process. Families are currently required to sign Subsidized Adoption Annual Renewal Agreements that indicate they continue to provide financial support for the child. We do not have information on the number of adoptive families where subsidy has been the only source of income. However, just as with birth parents, the state’s current authority in adoption matters is very limited as it relates to on-going monitoring of issues such as income. We are looking into ways to strengthen our ability to monitor adoption subsidy payments.
As a result of this matter, there will be a complete review of the state’s licensing process for foster parents and the adoption subsidy policy. As previously noted, in areas where system weaknesses have been identified, these will be strengthened.
Question: Your testimony (page 4) states “there is some indication that the boys may have had medical issues prior to adoption.”
- What does this mean?
- What specifically did your Department know about the medical condition of the boys when they were originally placed in foster care with the Jacksons?
- I can only assume that if the boys suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, which has been alleged and which is known at birth, that that condition was known to caseworkers. Is that true?
- What were the Jacksons told?
- Were the Jacksons instructed to provide regular medical care, including doctor visits for the boys?
- Obviously, no one followed up to check on their medical conditions. Should that have happened in this case, under your protocols? How about other cases?
Answer: The closed DYFS records for the four boys indicate that each of these youngsters had significant medical issues before coming to live with the Jackson family. It also appears that there were indications before the boys were adopted, that their medical conditions were not resolving.
While the children were followed at a local pediatric clinic, it does not appear that any alarms were raised about their condition, although two of the boys had at best, minimal weight gain, and for two of the children there was a loss of weight. In the fall of 1996, three of the children were seen by a specialist. The physician indicated that the children had medical conditions but no instructions were given to the parents that anything should be done differently.
The Jacksons were given extensive medical and social histories for all of the children. The parents were present for a medical evaluation for two of the boys in 1996 and discussed the medical conditions of the children with the pediatrician. Both boys were adopted on March 14, 1997.
We expect that adoptive parents understand and are prepared to meet all of the needs of the children they are adopting, including medical and dental care. When a child is being adopted, the adoptive parents are told that they are now responsible for meeting all of the child’s needs just as they would be for a child born to them. Because the family had been very cooperative and involved in the children’s medical appointments prior to adoption, there was no suspicion that they would not continue to do so after adopting the boys. It is unfortunate that no referrals were made to the Division by the hospital clinic where they were treated for a number of years when these children stopped coming for medical care after the adoption finalizations.
Once the adoption is finalized, there is no protocol to monitor that children receiving adoption subsidy are receiving appropriate medical treatment. However, this issue is under review as we look to strengthen our adoption subsidy program.
Question: The purpose of this hearing was to review in detail what went wrong in this case, and what that means. Let me turn this around. Based on what we know now, what should have happened?
- When should your department have acted?
- Should these boys have been placed with this foster family in the first place?
- Should they have been allowed to adopt them?
- I want to know at what point the system broke down and started doing things that in retrospect shouldn’t have happened. And based on that, what changes have you made or plan to make so that similar breakdowns don’t happen in the future?
Answer: From all collateral reports, the Jackson family appeared to be doing very well with their first foster child, and the case record documents his progress. This is most likely why other children, seemingly having somewhat similar problems, were placed with them. The extensive court reports completed at the time of adoption for each of these boys are extremely positive. The family is portrayed in very glowing terms, and the medical issues are noted as being successfully addressed. Because it probably didn’t happen all at once, it is difficult to say from a safety perspective just when DYFS should have acted.
This case illustrates that, in our efforts to effect a permanent plan for a child, we often turn to the same individuals and families who previously answered our call to accept a child who needed a home and family. While these families are to be applauded, we all must recognize that the more they extend themselves, the more that they need the on-going support of family, community, and government.
This case also illustrated weaknesses in our systems and practices. We have already made a number of changes, such as requiring that licensing see every member of the household, instituting safety assessments for children in out of home care, and implementing new Structured Decision Making training in February 2004. We will make other adjustments as further investigation and review of “best case practices” are conducted.
[Submissions for the record follow:]
Atwood, Thomas C., National Council for Adoption, Alexandria, VA, letter
Cohen, Steven D., New Jersey Child Welfare Panel, Trenton, NJ, statement
Frenzel, Hon. Bill, Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care, statement
Pertman, Adam, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, New York, NY, letter and attachment
Reiniger, Douglas H., American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, New York, NY, statement
Smith, J. Michael, Home School Legal Defense Association, Purcellville, VA, statement