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DHS distributes, pulls back confidential files in child abuse case


DHS distributes, pulls back confidential files in child abuse case

September 17, 2008

By Rob Moritz


CONWAY -- Just minutes into a legislative discussion Wednesday on ways to improve the state's embattled foster care system, human services officials interrupted the meeting to say some of the documents distributed to lawmakers were confidential.

The documents detailed the investigation of Brian John Bergthold, a former foster parent who faces state and federal prison sentences totaling 110 years for molesting foster children in his care and filming the encounters.

Included in the documents was reference to Bergthold's statement to a state review team that he was "led by God" to care for children in his home.

A DHS attorney told members of the House and Senate children and youth committees the documents, which included e-mails among DHS employees, some information about the victims and those who made accusations against Bergthold, had been provided to the Bella Vista police, but were confidential and not to be released.

Lawmakers, along with several people in the audience, returned the documents and a redacted version was later released to them.

Newspaper reporters attending the meeting declined to return the documents and DHS officials, along with Sen. Gilbert Baker, R-Conway, who was chairing the meeting, asked them to refrain from releasing any information on the victims or accusers.

In the unredacted version, state human services workers described the 46-year-old Bergthold as a single white man who lived alone in Bella Vista.

"Brian wants to be a foster parent because he feels led by God to do so," the assessment said. "He says that he has the abilities, both personal and financial, and the space."

The report also said Bergthold said he wanted to share his blessings with others, and added, "He is open to either gender but feels that based on his experience, boys would be better."

After the meeting, Rep. Donna Hutchinson, R-Bella Vista, said she understood why the information was retrieved by DHS, but added that without the information committee members were unable to get a complete picture of the problems that occurred during the investigation.

She also said DHS officials were provided with a packet of all information that would be handed out to the committee several days before the meeting.

"I had given them these papers ... I let them know this was coming," she said. "I was surprised no one had looked it over."

2008 Sep 17