Testimony highlights high caseloads, turnover within FSSA

Relates to:
Date: 2005-01-22

Associated Press |

INDIANAPOLIS - The neglect trial of a former child welfare caseworker is providing a behind-the-scenes look at the high number of cases and high turnover inside the state's system for protecting abused and neglected children.

Attorneys for Denise C. Moore claim she had a caseload of more than 100 children, well above the limit of 35 ordered by a federal court.

Moore is charged with obstruction of justice and two counts of neglect. Prosecutors say she lied about doing a background check on L.B. and Latricia Bars, the couple who adopted twins Anthony and Latoya Bars in 1999.

Beaten and starved, Anthony, 4, died in January 2002; Latoya is mentally handicapped from the abuse. The Barses were convicted of child neglect; Latricia Bars was sentenced to 13 years in prison, and L.B. Bars was sentenced to eight years.

If convicted, Moore could face six to 20 years in prison.

Gayle Folaron, an Indiana University associate professor of social work sitting in on the trial this week, said she hoped the jury and state will recognize the seriousness of too many cases per worker.

''Until the Legislature steps up and puts some money into the child welfare system so the caseload size is manageable, you're going to continue to have this kind of problem,'' she told WTHR television.

Defense attorney Jack Crawford said the responsibility of placing the children with the couple was not just Moore's.

''Posing criminal liability on a caseworker for something other people decided and someone else actually did is completely unfair,'' Crawford argued.

Moore's supervisor Mary Kettery testified Thursday that Moore's work had deteriorated during the time the state placed the twins with the couple with an abusive past.

Kettery said Moore carried an average caseload of about 39 children.

When questioned by the defense, Kettery said that number could have climbed to more than 100 at times.

Kettery testified that although she approved the twins adoption, it was Moore's job to give her the appropriate background information.

Prosecutors say a proper background check would have found three substantiated cases of abuse in the Barses' home and shown that L.B. Bars was convicted in 1987 of felony battery for whipping his daughter with an extension cord. The information would have been enough to block the adoption, prosecutors said.

Moore took the twins' case after their birth to a crack-addicted mother in 1997.

Moore says she performed the criminal history check on L.B. Bars and showed it to Kettery.

Investigators with the child welfare agency interviewed Kettery in March 2002, and she told them she reviewed Bars' criminal history and that it was not enough to block the adoption.

Thursday, Kettery denied seeing those records.

Kettery was suspended last year for showing ''poor judgment'' in the twins' adoption.

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