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More CPS Lies
December 3, 2005 permalink
It is rare for professional journalists to investigate the press releases from child protectors. In this unusual case in which a Texas newspaper was embarrassed to find that they had published a fake story, they checked the other stories and found that lies were endemic.
CPS review finds more stories embellished
By Jen Sansbury
Several caseworkers with Child Protective Services in Brazoria County had embellished stories about foster children for publication in The Facts as part of the now-discontinued Fill-a-Stocking fund-raising campaign.
"It's certainly fair to say that some of the changes, some of the inaccuracies, were puzzling and don't seem to have had any effect other than to make the cases or the plights of the children more dramatic," said Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman in the agency's Austin office.
The annual holiday initiative, which started in 1982, featured daily stories during the holidays about needy foster children and encouraged readers to donate to a fund that helped pay for special needs not covered by other sources. Throughout the year, the money was tapped for items such as stylish eyeglasses, graduation gear and summer camp tuition.
The Facts announced this week it would cease publishing the stories this year after learning the CPS-submitted story that ran in Tuesday's edition was fabricated by a caseworker. It told the story of "John," a hurricane evacuee who supposedly had been separated from his mother for months.
CPS officials have reviewed more than 20 of the as-yet unpublished stories and determined most of them reflected only minor changes designed to mask the identities of children, Crimmins said. Those changes included names, exact ages and, in one instance, a family's country of origin.
But at least seven stories appear to include more substantive changes to the featured children's actual circumstances, including misleading information about drug use, fictionalized descriptions of their personalities and incorrect information about the degree of parental abuse or neglect they suffered.
"There are several of them that have at least partial inaccuracies — and you can term those embellishments if you like — where at least some dramatic license was taken," Crimmins said. "There was not an adequate system in place to make sure that the profiles matched actual individual cases."
For example, an article about "Sara," a 19-year-old mother of four whose baby died while sleeping in bed with her, said she tested positive for methamphetamines and had admitted to smoking crystal meth since she was 11. The story said the mother's children gave statements about watching their mother use drugs. It also said she served four months in jail before being put on probation, spent several months in an inpatient facility and has been clean for nine months.
"Sara" now has a steady job and a new apartment and is allowed unsupervised visits with her children, the story, which had not been published in The Facts, said. "Sara hopes to have her children returned to her by Christmas," it said, "She will need assistance from CPS with clothes, toys and bedroom furniture for her new apartment."
In reality, according to the agency's review notes, the mother is in her 20s, had fewer children and the deceased child was sleeping with her on a couch. She tested positive for marijuana, not methamphetamines, and "it is not true about smoking crystal meth." Her children did not give statements against her, she did not serve any time in jail, is not on probation and did not go to an inpatient facility. She has not been clean for nine months, does not have unsupervised visits with her children, a steady job or an apartment, the review said.
In fact, according to the agency's notes, the profile was actually a composite of two different mothers' stories.
Bill Cornwell, publisher of The Facts, said the newspaper's understanding was that only certain details that could identify specific children, such as names, exact ages and perhaps places, would be changed to protect their identities.
"We wouldn't have allowed them to merge two (cases) into one," he said. "All we wanted was some consistency and accuracy, with privacy the main goal. We didn't need this exaggeration. These stories talk for themselves."
Cornwell said he was surprised to learn that additional submitted stories scheduled for publication in The Facts contained inaccuracies.
"This is one of the reasons why we've put a hold on this campaign this year so we can at least get to the bottom of this," he said.
Crimmins said about a dozen caseworkers were asked to write two profiles each based on their cases. He said he could not and would not identify which of the unpublished stories was written by the same author as the fictional story about the hurricane evacuee.
It is too soon to tell whether Child Protective Services would be interested in continuing the program next year, Crimmins said.
"We just know that our participation in the campaign is going to have to be scrutinized," he said.
Crimmins said the stories also had been submitted to the weekly Pearland Journal newspaper, but it had not begun publishing them.
Inaccuracies in stories that were submitted to The Facts by CPS, but had not run:
- An article about four malnourished children — two sets of twins — said they were living in a filthy home without electricity or running water and eating rotten food off the floor. The 2-year-old twins "were found to have multiple fractures to several areas of their body, which were in various stages of healing." One set of twins was adopted by their paternal grandparents, the story said, and the other set by maternal grandparents, who had said they had been isolated from the children and would love to take them in. In reality, according to the agency review, the children did not have multiple fractures and they were adopted by non-relatives. Furthermore, this was a composite story combining information from more than one case.
- An article about a teenage boy named "Steven" said he and his seven siblings had been abandoned by their parents. Steven works a minimum wage job to take care of his siblings and they had not seen their parents for more than four months, the story said. "Neither has bothered to return to the trailer where they left their eight children to fend for themselves," the story read.
In fact, according to the review, both the mother and the father, who are separated, visited two or three times a month. The story said the siblings were placed in foster homes together in two groups, but in fact a 1-year-old is not with any siblings.
- An article about "Kayla," a teenager left in CPS care by her mother, said she is "very outgoing and easy to talk to" and "loves to write her feelings down" to help her get through the day.
According to the agency's review notes, "Per the worker, you have to pull words out of `Kayla' and she does not write her feelings down."
Source: The Facts