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CPS Issues Fake Story

December 1, 2005 permalink

Many newspapers in Ontario uncritically print press releases from Children's Aid without checking the facts — they can't because the stories lack identifying information, exact names and places. Here is an instance of a newspaper in Texas that printed a story created by local child protectors and had to retract it two days later when it was revealed as a fake. How many Ontario stories are fake?



CPS says worker's story fake

By Jen Sansbury
The Facts

Published December 01, 2005

The Facts has discontinued this year's Fill-a-Stocking fund-raiser after learning a submitted story about a needy foster child published in Tuesday's edition was fabricated.

Publisher Bill Cornwell said the $1,070 received since Friday will be returned to donors.

During the annual Fill-a-Stocking campaign from Thanksgiving through Christmas, the newspaper publishes submissions written by caseworkers for Child Protective Services of Brazoria County. Each story includes an editor's note explaining that children's identities are protected. Otherwise the stories are represented to the paper — and readers — as true.

However, agency officials on Wednesday said Tuesday's story was not based on a real case.

"CPS apologizes to the Brazosport Facts and to the local community for this mistake," regional director Randy Joiner said in a written statement. "We will make sure that when CPS supports external fund drives in the future that there are clear instructions to staff and appropriate checks and balances are in place to ensure accuracy."

Cornwell said the newspaper relies on its sources to provide factual information, not "creative writing."

"They have violated the trust with this newspaper," he said. "We took the word of a local state agency in an effort to raise money for needy kids.

"We've allowed them to change names and dates and places to honor certain privacy concerns," Cornwell said. But, "there's nothing true about the story that ran."

Managing Editor Yvonne Mintz said she has stressed to officials with the Brazoria County Alliance for Children, the umbrella community organization that ultimately receives and spends the donations, that the stories be accurate.

"Just like anything we put in the newspaper we want to be able to stand by them," Mintz said. "The program brings in a lot of money for kids in foster care, and we don't take lightly the fact that we have to stop."

Tuesday's story featured 10-year-old "John," who was said to be living in an emergency shelter and whose mother had been missing since "the hurricane," apparently a reference to Hurricane Katrina which devastated parts of the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29. Many evacuees from Louisiana came to the greater Houston area, including Brazoria County.

The article included details about a recent ice-skating trip and a Christmas wish to go home. It also included quotes from the boy saying he doesn't think he'll get gifts this year, and he doesn't believe in Santa Claus anymore.

The problem, according to state officials, is the story isn't true.

"It's not based on a real child's story," said Patrick Crimmins, a Child Protective Services spokesman in the state office in Austin.

"We believe that the story was written and submitted with the best intentions in mind," Crimmins said. "The caseworker obviously has real children with real needs, and we don't doubt that her sincere desire (was) to use this story to help generally."

The Facts launched Fill-a-Stocking in 1982 to help raise money for "special occasions and special needs" of abused and neglected children in the county's care. The newspaper publishes the caseworkers' stories, accepts the donations and passes them on to the Brazoria County Alliance for Children.

"We've covered a multitude of things from braces that are not covered by Medicaid to upgrading children's glasses," said Deborah Spoor, the alliance's president.

The money is used all year long to buy birthday and Christmas gifts and cover other expenses during the year that foster families and the state aren't able to pay.

"We've bought senior rings, we've bought prom dresses. We have done band camps, baseball camps, we have bought shoes — specialized shoes like cleats," Spoor said.

In 2004, Fill-a-Stocking raised $9,570. The money will be depleted by the end of the Christmas season, Spoor said. The 2005 money would be spent for gifts and special items in 2006. Spoor said she's not sure what the organization will do come January.

"It's like losing a major grant," she said. "What do you do? You take a deep breath, you step back and try to develop an alternate plan."

For the first time this year, the alliance was acting as a liaison between The Facts and Child Protective Services to ensure the stories arrived at the newspaper in a timely manner.

"I don't think that we ever questioned that the stories were factual, none of us ever did," Spoor said. "Our concern was always that we protect the confidentiality of the child."

Child Protective Services officials said the article was written by a caseworker in the agency's Angleton office, but have not provided any additional information about her or the process for vetting the stories before they are submitted to the newspaper for publication.

"Absolutely, a supervisor should have been reviewing them, but I don't have the details yet about who reviewed this one," Joiner said.

The issue came to light when a reporter for a Houston television station made inquiries about "John" with the Child Protective Services' regional and then state offices.

Regional spokeswoman Gwen Carter, who lives in Lake Jackson, said there are no children fitting the child's circumstances in the 13-county region served by the Houston office. All evacuated children who came to the area and have not been reunited with their parents have been placed with relatives, she said.

Lauren Crim, a local Child Protective Services employee who was involved with collecting the stories for publication in The Facts, referred a call for comment to Crimmins.

Joiner said the agency is continuing to investigate what happened. He said he thinks it's possible the child was a composite of children the caseworker has worked with. She wrote another story for the series that had not been published, Joiner said. It is still being reviewed.

Agency and newspaper officials said no other major errors have been found in the other four stories that had been published so far this year.

Denise Troyer of Lake Jackson, who donated money in her grandchildren's names, said she thinks it is "just sad" that a Fill-a-Stocking story was made up.

"I can't understand that with as many pathetic stories as there are out there why they would do that," she said.

Another early donor, Mildred Walker of Clute, said contributing to the Fill-a-Stocking fund is a holiday tradition.

"I've donated for years now to The Facts, and I've always hoped it did some good," she said. "Can't you change it and give it to some other causes?"

Cornwell said he doesn't know whether Fill-a-Stocking will resume next year. The paper sponsors a variety of holiday initiatives to collect coats, food and cash donations, including Angleton Goodfellows, and will continue this year as planned.

"We're going to reconsider what we can do to help needy kids," he said, "and who we can trust."



A local office of Child Protective Services (CPS) has issued an apology to the editor of the Brazosport Facts for an inaccurate story that was submitted to the newspaper and published Tuesday, Nov. 29, as part of the annual "Fill-a-Stocking" campaign to help foster children.

The story was about a 10-year-old boy identified as "John," living in an emergency shelter since losing his mother in a hurricane. An internal review by the agency has determined that the story written by a CPS worker in the Angleton office was not based on a real child's story.

"CPS apologizes to the Brazosport Facts and to the local community for this mistake," said Randy Joiner, CPS' regional director. "CPS has been an enthusiastic partner in the Fill-a-Stocking campaign, and we sincerely hope that this isolated incident will not overshadow the good work of 7,000 employees and will not damage other worthwhile efforts to help real children with real needs."

CPS has checked all other stories that have been published in The Facts during this year's campaign. Each story is accurate with the exception of minor details — for example, names or exact ages — which may be changed to protect the identity of individual children.

The Facts and CPS have agreed that stories that have been submitted to the newspaper but not yet published will be returned to the agency.

CPS management will review all the actions and the circumstances that led to the mistake.

"We will make sure that when CPS supports external fund drives in the future that there are clear instructions to staff and appropriate checks and balances are in place to ensure accuracy," said Joiner.

Source: The Facts