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Nothing Went Wrong

February 5, 2012 permalink

Baby Braxton Michael Taylor was taken at birth by Human Services in Virginia Beach. At the age of seven months he was transferred to a second foster home where he died a few weeks later, badly bruised over his whole body. According to the Virginian-Pilot, mother Kristen Wall alerted social workers to Braxton's bruises days before his death. “The social worker brushed me off,” she said. Foster mother Kathleen Ganiere was convicted on a plea, so there has been no evidence presented in public. Suspecting problems in human services, the local TV station investigated. They found photographs taken by social workers just days before Braxton's death showing multiple bruises. The TV reporters caught up with Robert Morin, director of Human Services. You will be pleased to hear Mr Morin say: "there was no wrongdoing on our part". Since there was no wrongdoing, all of Braxton's records held by police, human services, risk management and the city attorney will remain secret.

The text of the TV report is enclosed, for the video go to the source or our local copy (flv).



VIRGINIA BEACH— If pictures speak a thousand words, the one we showed Sarah FitzPatrick tells this story.

"Does it look like the same baby to you?" we asked.

"No," she responds.

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Braxton Michael Taylor was a happy child the FitzPatricks fostered from birth until 7 months, when he was transferred to another family. But after just a few weeks with the new foster parents, Braxton changed.

Days later, Braxton died, abused to death by his second foster mother, a woman named Kathleen Ganiere.

"We`re just in complete shock that this happened. That no one stepped in, no one…" Sarash says.

NewsChannel 3's investigation reveals social workers had at least two chances to save Braxton, but didn't. These pictures - pictures Virginia Beach doesn't want you to see - were snapped inside the city's Human Services building with social workers in the room. Braxton's head is bruised, his lips split, his eyes confused and distant. He was supposed to be gaining weight, instead he was shedding it. But still he went home with Ganiere.

"How do you explain that?" we asked.

"I can't explain that. It is beyond incompetent," the FitzPatricks say.

And according to the Fitzpatricks, a social worker again visited Ganiere's home just before Braxton's death. She photographed the baby, and left.

Braxton's grandparents and his first foster parents figured at the murder trial, they would finally learn how social workers saw all these injuries, yet did nothing to save the baby. That way there would be some accountability, and maybe some changes in a system they believe failed this child. But Kathleen Ganiere pleaded guilty. That meant no trial, and for social services, no scrutiny.

"They are just carrying on about life as if nothing happened," they say.

"People keep talking about somebody dropped the ball. They didn`t drop a ball. They dropped a baby," says Mr. Braxton.

So how why didn't social workers spot this abuse and save him? Virginia Beach doesn't want you to know.

The city says the entire police file, a half-inch thick, is secret.

Human Services records, more than 500 pages, secret.

Risk Management, 50 pages, secret.

The City Attorney's file, four inches thick, secret.

We tracked down Robert Morin, director of Human Services, not far from his office.

"Your staff had contact with Braxton, who had bruises, split lips, and in fact, this picture was taken in your facility. That's Braxton. He's bruised, his lips are cut. That's in your building,"

He confirmed with the FitzPatricks feared. He said his staff was not to blame so nothing has changed.

"We didn't have any internal investigations. We found our staff had done everything appropriately," he says.

"There were many red flags she should have picked up on," says Sarah.

"Shouldn't there have been alarm bells ringing somewhere? Among your staff?" we asked.

"We have to take what the foster parent is telling us, especially if we don't have any other kind of reason to disbelieve, and we move from that point on. But no staff has been disciplined because of the event," he says

Court records show Ganiere was telling them Braxton fell down. A lot. Social workers gave her the benefit of the doubt, and that was a fatal mistake.

"There is no doubt that something went terribly wrong. Why was there no internal investigation?" we asked.

"I guess it is your interpretation that something went wrong," Morin replied.

"There was no wrongdoing on our part," says Morin.

Braxton's autopsy report, obtained by NewsChannel 3, reveals signs of ongoing and chronic abuse.

His lips were torn so badly the doctor wrote "extensive" and "severe." He had bruises everywhere, on his ears, right arm, right calf, and on both thighs. His scrotum was crushed and he had severe diaper rash.

Morin said after Braxton's death, he reminded social-services workers to check all children from head to toe. But that's as far as it went.

"Braxton's life has to be worth more. His death needs to be the reason why things change," say the FitzPatricks. "It's a child's life, and it will be another. It could so easily be another if things don't change."

Source: WTKR-TV Norfolk

Addendum: A week after the TV news above generated a public outcry, Human Services director Robert Morin issued a public apology. Most of his response is from the script. His statement is also an example of saying one thing in public and doing the opposite in private. Morin promised to make everything about the case public while his lawyers were opposing requests from the TV station to see records. The report is from WTKR, and local copy (flv).

The former foster parents who spoke out to the press are being fired by DHS. They have been told their remaining foster child cannot stay with them because he is black and they are white. And their foster payment cheque bounced. Video at WTKR or local copy (flv).

Addendum: Three years after Braxton's death, the city of Virginia Beach pays a settlement to the family.



VB settles lawsuit in death of foster child for $450,000

Kathleen Ganiere
Kathleen Ganiere

VIRGINIA BEACH--The City of Virginia Beach has agreed to pay $450,000 to settle a lawsuit in the death Braxton Taylor, who died while in foster care in 2010.

Braxton was 10 months old when he died from shaken baby syndrome, a day after being rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

Braxton's foster mother, Kathleen Ganiere, was initially charged with murder, and later pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison in November 2011.

The settlement was reached Friday, Feb. 15, after several hours of mediation. The City Council was briefed on the settlement, and it will be presented to a Circuit Court judge for final approval. No court date has been set.

If approved by the court, about $170,000 of the settlement proceeds will be put into a trust fund for Braxton Taylor’s brothers and sisters. His biological father, Ralph Taylor Jr., will receive $75,000, and his biological mother, Kristen Wall, will receive $50,000 of the proceeds. The remainder will go to legal fees and expenses.

“We were all deeply saddened by Braxton Taylor’s death,” City Attorney Mark Stiles said. “The abuse he suffered was heartbreaking. It remains unthinkable to us that a foster mother would commit a homicidal act against an innocent child.”

The city says it has made major changes to its child welfare programs after Braxton's death, including improved screening and training for prospective foster parents, weekly face-to-face visits by child welfare workers with young foster children, increased staff training for injury recognition, and increased involvement by Child Protective Services in suspicious cases.

“We have learned from this tragedy,” said Deputy City Manager Cindy Curtis, “and we have made permanent changes as a result. I am confident that these changes will better serve at-risk children and their families.”

Source: WVEC Television