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MEDIA ERROR -- WLFI News 18 (Lafayette) - Feb. 12, 2013 -- Liz Nicoles
ERROR: "News 18 reached out to the Department of Child Services for this story. We asked if someone would be able to comment on the process of how a case is handled. A spokesperson for DCS told us it would be "inappropriate" to comment on our story. However, a wealth of information was provided to us for research for this report.”
CORRECTION: DCS responded to Ms. Nicoles in a Jan. 25 email, providing her with information about how cases are handled, and specifically offering to answer any questions she had about that process. Ms. Nicoles did not follow up with any questions about the process prior to airing her story.
MEDIA ERROR -- South Bend Tribune -- Nov. 3, 2012
Error #1: "Seeming forgetful and disoriented, the caseworker was handed a box of tissues while he composed himself enough to be able to admit that, days after the report came in, he asked the children about abuse -- always in front of adults, and never singly. They denied being mistreated."
CLARIFICATION #1: Below is a list of multiple actions DCS (and law enforcement) took in May 2011 to investigate reports of abuse of the Sturgis children. This record may be of interest to South Bend Tribune readers regarding this case:
DCS, like law enforcement, is unable to substantiate abuse reported in May 2011. No additional reports of abuse are made to DCS until Nov. 2011.
MEDIA ERROR -- Evansville Courier & Press -- Oct. 21, 2012
ERROR: "He [Zoeller] stepped into the emerging controversy over DCS decisions, taking over representation in appellate cases instead of private law firms the agency had hired."
CORRECTION: DCS does not hire private law firms to handle state cases. It hires full-time attorneys as members of the DCS staff.
MEDIA ERROR -- Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette, Editorial -- Sept. 18, 2012
ERROR #1: "Last week, Director James Payne took the unprecedented move of creating a committee to weigh every piece of information the department disseminates to the public. In a directive that sounds straight out of George Orwell’s “1984,” Payne created a Data Governance Committee that will review any request for information from the public and media as well as clear any news releases, communications, Power Point presentations, emails, etc."
CORRECTION #1: This is not an unprecedented move. A broad spectrum of public and private organizations use this approach to ensure they are collecting proper data and ensuring it is accurate when disseminated--in any form. (A Google search of the phrases "data review teams," and "data governance committees" reveals a significant list of information on the practice.) In fact, a number of states have mandated legislatively that data review teams be established for law-enforcement, education and health agencies. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advocates for data governance committees, as does the National Center for Educational Achievement, John Hopkins Medical, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and a long list of other organizations that manage volumes of information and confidential data -- as DCS does. During a time when it is upgrading its computer system and its data gathering, storing and reporting capabilities, DCS has merely taken a responsible step to ensure that information disseminated is accurate. To do so, DCS has created a team made up of "on-the-ground" employees that work closest with the data and children. The seven days requested in the transparent email sent to all employees is merely to ensure everyone plans accordingly for proper review when responding to a data request. This is good management, not a "shadow of secrecy."
ERROR #2: "The DCS in March sought and obtained an unconstitutional appeals court order preventing the South Bend Tribune from publishing information the newspaper already had legally obtained. Attorney General Greg Zoeller stepped in, overruling the DCS attorneys and dropping any legal action to keep the information hidden."
CORRECTION #2: The St. Joseph County juvenile court released records to the South Bend Tribune without redacting personally identifiable information that could enable the public to identify the caller who reported abuse in the case. Callers to the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline are permitted under Indiana law to remain anonymous. State law requires identifiable information in an abuse or neglect case to be confidential--as does federal law. In fact, some states are now under scrutiny from the federal government for being too lax in ensuring confidentiality, and those states could be hit with sanctions that would cut off millions of dollars in federal money to those states--money that helps considerably with providing services to children of abuse and neglect. Furthermore, and most crucial, is the fact that reports from community members are the primary avenue by which children of abuse and neglect can get help. To expose those reporting child abuse or neglect publicly would put a chilling effect on others wanting to make a report, but fearful their identity will be shared in the local newspaper. These are the considerations that DCS must contend with in doing it's work each day to truly protect children in our state. While the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette may describe it as a "shadow of secrecy," we characterize it as a necessary action to ensure the safety of children, and the anonymity of those reporting abuse and neglect. We believe those actions have a higher purpose for and benefit to the people of Indiana.
Misconceptions About Indiana Department of Child Services’ Authority, Actions Clarified
On Wednesday, September 5, legislators, media, citizens and the Indiana Department of Child Services staff alike listened carefully to more than three hours of public testimony regarding individuals’ and professionals’ experiences with DCS. While much of the testimony recounted experiences that occurred before DCS was established in 2005, DCS was listening, taking copious notes, and will be following up with the legislative committee and individuals on situations shared.
However, as the intent of the forum was to inform the public, there were a number of misunderstandings and errors shared Wednesday that DCS feels should be publicly corrected—to ensure that true solutions can be determined from this investment of time, energy and emotion from so many. Here is a listing of misconceptions shared Wednesday, and facts to help clarify those misconceptions.
Misconception #1: DCS directs the activities and decisions of law enforcement.
Fact: DCS has no authority over law enforcement. In short, DCS does not give law enforcement direction, and has no authority under Indiana law to do so.
Misconception #2: DCS has a “single-minded” focus on reunifying children with abusive parents.
Fact: On Aug. 22, 2012, DCS staff gave nearly four hours of public presentations discussing how both Indiana and federal law require the agency to operate, and that its priority consideration in any case is the “safety and well-being of the child.” Indiana law also requires that DCS make all “reasonable efforts to preserve and unify families,” (IC 31-34-21-5.5). These laws are established by the Indiana legislature. DCS’s role is to adhere to these laws when working to protect children from abuse and neglect. In addition, experts in the field of child advocacy agree uniformly that keeping the child safely in the home whenever possible has proven to be far more beneficial to the child, as compared to the traumatic impact removal causes. However, because DCS does work with safety as the guiding priority, Indiana is also publicly criticized for being a state that has some of the highest removal rates in the nation.
Misconception #3: DCS has sole decision-making authority to remove a child from the home.
Fact: The decision to remove a child from the home must be ordered by a juvenile court in the county where the child resides. Only in the case of imminent danger can DCS, generally with law enforcement on site, remove a child temporarily until a court provides a permanent ruling. DCS gathers information, and provides that information to the court via a formal fact-finding process. The court then uses that information and Indiana law to rule on removal. While DCS can provide information and make a recommendation, the ultimate decision rests with the court.
Misconception #4: DCS destroys records of unsubstantiated reports of abuse or neglect after 6 months.
Fact: DCS proposed legislation in 2012 to amend the law requiring extension of the timeframe for records deletion from six months to the time when the youngest child named in the report turns twenty four years of age. That legislation was passed during the 2012 Indiana General Assembly.
DCS appreciates the heartfelt testimony of those who spoke at Wednesday’s interim study session. We share the same goal – to keep children safe. How we go about doing that is where we all need to work together. Just as DCS must have the proper facts to act on reports of abuse and neglect, so we believe the public must have accurate facts of what DCS can and cannot do under federal and state laws.
MEDIA CORRECTION: The Tribune Star (Terre Haute), Aug. 29, 2012 -- By Lisa Trigg
MEDIA ERROR: "[Judge] Taliaferro serves on an interim study committee that is examining the state’s Department of Child Services and its efforts to “keep children safe.” Sadly, she said, while she was at the group’s first committee meeting in Indianapolis last week, a 3-year-old child was beaten and later died. Neighbors reported the abuse to police twice that day, she said, and a case worker allegedly dismissed a police officer from the scene while leaving the battered child in the care of her mother’s abusive boyfriend."
CORRECTION: While federal and state laws do not allow DCS to share information directly on this matter, DCS can state that this understanding published in the Terre Haute Tribune is absolutely inaccurate. Records regarding this case are now being prepared to be shared with the Marion County juvenile court system that will speak to a very different truth than Judge Taliaferro's understanding.
MEDIA CORRECTION: Fort Wayne Journal Gazette -- Aug. 26, 2012, Editorial
DCS Response: We are glad to see that the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette recognizes the Indiana Department of Child Services' continued effort to build relationships with the public it serves. To that end, it is important to ensure the public has correct information, and that points made in the Journal Gazette's Aug. 26 editorial are clarified and corrected so the public is accurately informed with facts.
MEDIA COMMENT #1: "A public relations effort paints the work of Indiana’s child protection agency as among the best in the nation. But under the scrutiny of judges, child advocates, health officials and lawmakers familiar with their work, agency officials issued an almost apologetic response to troubling questions about their performance."
CORRECTION #1: On Aug. 22, 2012, the Indiana Department of Child Services provided nearly four hours of information (not apologies), demonstrating a factual account of the circumstances in existence when the agency was first developed in 2005, how the agency works today, its obligations under law, how the 92 county DCS offices are the direct decision-makers regarding actions related to assessments and case management in protecting children in their own communities, and explaining how adjustments are being explored amidst a number of improvements DCS has implemented over the past few years. Those Aug. 22 presentations provided publicly, and to the news media, are available online.
MEDIA COMMENT #2: "The initial meeting of the Department of Child Services Interim Study Committee last week offered a promising start in changing the increasingly centralized DCS culture. If it results in the agency’s restoring authority to the local child protection workers who best know their communities, the committee’s work will have been worthwhile."
CORRECTION #2: Such inaccuracies as this one above paint a misguided picture for the public. Each county in Indiana (all 92) has a local child-protection office, staffed by trained professionals and management whose time and responsibilities are dedicated specifically to working directly with children and families of the communities where they reside. They also work directly with service providers in their communities, local law enforcement, judges and prosecutors. To imply otherwise is a misrepresentation of the truth. We hope such comments, as those made in the Aug. 26 editorial by the Journal Gazette, are merely a misunderstanding. The Aug. 22 presentations provided at the legislative summer study committee may help to correct public misunderstandings of how DCS works at the local and state levels today.
MEDIA COMMENT #3: "Carmen is at least the 28th Indiana child to die in the past five years after DCS had been actively involved with the family or contacted with a complaint of abuse or neglect. The numbers suggest the agency’s emphasis on keeping children at home is endangering lives, while complaints about the number of calls the statewide hotline screens out raise questions about how many more situations are never investigated."
MEDIA CORRECTION #3: Everyone agrees: The death of even one child is too many. The agency worked diligently to provide proactive and preventative action to assist the family of Carmen Ellis; however, both federal and state laws prohibit public sharing of what action was taken. Nonetheless, it is important for a news media source to provide the public with facts that depict truthful context, not just a portion of the truth. Here is a listing of facts shared with the Journal Gazette directly over the past few months, though none of them were referenced in the Aug. 26 editorial:
MEDIA COMMENT #4: "Payne’s assertion that child protection services were even worse before his agency was established doesn’t square with the complaints from law and public safety officials involved in the system."
CORRECTION #4: The facts DCS Director James Payne shared in the public presentation on Aug. 22, 2012, were not his assertions, but rather facts taken directly from the 2004 report: Putting Children First: Recommendations from the Commission on Abused and Neglected Children and Their Families. This report was developed prior to the existence of DCS.
DCS responds-Indianapolis Star, August 21, 2012-By Alex Campbell & Tim Evans
DCS REACTION: "Andrea Goodwin has a history of excellent performance with DCS over a course of more than 18 years in working directly on the frontline with children and families in Indiana. We here at DCS have viewed her deep commitment consistently in caring for abused and neglected children. The question of Andrea's academic performance has been addressed with Indiana University, and they report that the source of these allegations made to The Indianapolis Star has made no contact with IU, or provided any concrete evidence to support these accusations. In addition, Ms. Sweazy never brought her allegations to DCS directly while working for the agency (before or after sharing her allegations with The Indianapolis Star), nor after she was terminated.
"DCS's position on this matter is as follows: We stand behind Andrea Goodwin based on nearly two decades of first-hand experience with her as a dedicated and highly capable social-work expert. In addition, academic records and instructor evaluations IU provided to DCS regarding Andrea's master's degree work overwhelming demonstrate her overall academic success. We also support her decision to terminate any employee who has a documented history of leaving her shift without prior supervisor approval, which cannot be tolerated from an intake specialist on the hotline, a crucial frontline position in protecting children from abuse and neglect." -- John Ryan, DCS chief of staff.
Northwest Times, July 29, 2012
Error -- Sue Brown of the Northwest Times ran the following inaccuracy in her July 29, 2012, article: "With police prodding, DCS took action to place the child temporarily in foster care, but the child since has resumed contact with the person accused of molestation."
Clarification -- DCS can find no documentation where Lowell law enforcement reported or "prodded" anyone to take action in this case. Action to protect the children was the result of the DCS family case manager collecting information from a variety of sources, and making a formal recommendation to the court--which is how removal and reunification of abused or neglected children from or with their families works under Indiana law, respectively.