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Reversing Reform

May 25, 2012 permalink

A decade ago Maine had a scandalous child protection system. It reached its nadir with the death of five-year-old Logan Marr at the hands of ex-social worker Sally Schofield turned adoptive parent. Ten years of improvement have led former Maine critics to praise the new trimmed-down child protection system.

Now in the pattern of a foster care panic, Maine is seeking to undo the entire decade's reform with public reaction to a single horrible child death. One of the graduates of Maine's foster system, Gordon Collins-Faunce, murdered ten-week-old Ethan Henderson, and this tragedy is becoming the justification for a large expansion in the number of children removed from their parents.

Enclosed are summaries by Legally Kidnapped (LK, Patrick Rafferty) and Richard Wexler. In LK's terms, a system suck is a person who supports the social services system.



A System-Suckology Case Study: The Death of Ethan Henderson

The state of Maine has been recognized by the Anne E. Casey Foundation as having a NationalModel Child Welfare System. The reason for this is that the state has managed to cut the number of kids in foster care in half over the last 10 years, by utilizing more kinship placements and doing more to help the family by giving the parents the support they need, which helps keep children who come to the attention of Maine's Child Protective Services safe in their own homes. These reforms happened mostly in response to thedeath of a little girl named Logan Marr.

Then on May 5th, of this year, there was another horrible act of child abuse committed against a little baby from Maine named Ethan Henderson. I have been following this case because I believe it is being used as a springboard in Maine to turn around the trend of taking less kids into care and instead be a bit quicker to remove. For this, I believe there are two reasons. The first is that the state is broke and the more kids they take into care, the more federal funding they will receive. The second reason is that the state's economy is staggering, needs to be able to provide business to the service providers. We all know that the minute a kid is taken into foster care an army of service providers, everybody from the lawyers to the shrinks, get their contracts. For example, as the state moves to put less reliance onto group homes the group home providers will fight to remain afloat by touting their benefits to some news reporter looking for an expert opinion. Without business, they close. But we'll get to that later.


I have done something a little different with this case. What I have done is collect a number of articles that mention the case of Ethan Henderson. From these articles, I pulled out various factors, main points, what have you, and put it all into a mind mapping software program that I found in the GoogleChrome Web Store. From there I was able to pick out and organize a few of the patterns that the people who are fighting for justice against Child Welfare Fraud should be made aware of.

So lets take a look at this case.

The mother, had gone to work on Saturday May 5th, leaving her three kids with Gordon Collins-Faunce. Collins-Faunce was the father of their 10 week old twins named Ethan and Lucas. At one point the father went out to have a cigarette, and when he came back Ethan and a 3 year old daughter from the mothers previous relationship were both crying. Collins-Faunce became frustrated with the baby crying and picked Ethan up by the head, holding him dangling for a minute max, then threw him violently into a chair, causing the infants head to snap back. When being questioned by the police, Collins-Faunce estimated that on a scale of 1 to 10, the force with which he threw Ethan was probably an 8 or 9. Friends also said that Collins-Faunce had been targeting Ethan, and that they didn't even realize it.

Doctors said that Ethan presented as dirty with a rash, dirt under the fingernails and a dirty belly button. They also said that they had found both New and old brain injuries. He was blinded and one side of his brain had completely stopped working. Police were monitoring his condition which was described as "grave" and on May 7th, Ethan died.

Now, this is one of those cases where Child Protective Services really should have been involved. This guy is a sicko, and is obviously not safe to have around children. Also, if CPS was involved with this family, that is something that we do not know at this point. What we do know is that there were prior incidents of abuse.

The first incident was when Collins-Faunce had broken the babies arm when he was 4 weeks old. He had gotten frustrated while changing the baby's diaper. The child was treated by doctors. Collins-Faunce had originally told them that the baby's arm had got stuck between the crib and a bumper.

As for the second incident, court documents show that a daycare provider made the referral to CPS regarding bruises on the 3 year old daughter whose name was Neveah The daycare provider also said that the twins were sick and not receiving medical attention.

Now here's where the case gets interesting, because Police will not say when this referral to CPS was made, and although one state worker did confirm that they had received a referral from the daycare provider, DHHS will not confirm or deny anything. Although we know that the above did happen, details are rather slim. The State of Maine's Attorney General's office is not allowing anybody to talk, citing an ongoing criminal investigation. Nobody else is being allowed to talk either including the hospital, CPS or anybody else who may have had contact with the family. And this is where the $100,000 dollar question comes from… "Why didn't CPS do anything to protect these kids?"

The newspapers are going nutty over it. The System Sucks are demanding answers. The people have a right to know if there are any flaws in the child welfare system. The legislature Health and Human Services committee wants to know if more could have been done to save this child to prevent more kids from falling through the cracks. I will discuss this in further detail later, but first there is more to this story. Lets take a look at the parents.

As for the mother, Christina Henderson, she was at work when the assault took place. no criminal charges have been filed against her, however Maine CPS Agents have removed the other two children, Lucas and Neveah from the home and have placed them in foster care. Records say that she never knew what was going on, although there has been a little debate around this, considering the broken arm and her 3 year old being "covered with bruises" there are those who believe that she must have done something. She is planning to petition the court to have the kids returned to her now that Collins-Faunce is no longer in the home. She also held a vigil at the home, calling Ethan her "Angel in Heaven."

Not all that much more is known about the mother. The father however had a history which should concern us greatly.

Gordon Collins-Faunce was 23 years old. He was a high school graduate who worked as a flagger on a road crew. He was discharged from the military after holding a knife to a roommates throat. Collins-Faunce was also in foster care in Maine, having gone through six different homes in 5 years. He was sexually and physically abused by "various foster parents" and was taking medication for PTSD because of this. In 1997, Collins-Faunce was adopted by Irving Faunce and his wife, he was 8 years old at the time.

Collins-Faunces PTSD meds had been changed recently, and he was having trouble sleeping. On the day of the assault against Ethan, he did not take his meds.

Gordon Collins-Faunce was arrested and charged with Elevated Aggravated Assault of a Child. After Ethan died, the charges were upgraded to, "depraved indifference murder" which shows no value for human life. He is sitting in York County Jail, on suicide watch, on $100,000 dollars bail. His lawyer is named Amy Fairfield. He will be prosecuted by the State of Maine's Attorney Generals office. He makes his first court appearance on May 11th. The criminal case is expected to last about a year. The AG doesn't want anybody to talk, citing the ongoing criminal investigation. The AG also wants a psychiatric evaluation done by the State Forensic Services.

Now, the way the newspapers are reporting this, nothing in his past matters. Nor should we be concerned with the circumstances of his past in any way. This guy is a monster who killed a child. That is all that matters right? Hang the mother-f*****!!!

I disagree. Here's why. One article talked about the adoption when Collins Faunce was 8, as being a happy ending to a troubled childhood. While that may very well have been true, Gordon Collins-Faunce was clearly a damaged child who grew up to be a very damaged adult. One so damaged, that he would at the age of 23 commit a horrendous act against a helpless infant.

First of all, if he was taking medication for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to his inability to get past the sexual abuse that he suffered at the hands of "various foster parents." This after being removed from his biological parents for "abuse or neglect." That, and the fact that his medications had recently changed and causing trouble sleeping, it is quite possible that Gordon Collins-Faunce was not entirely sane at the time of the crime. Psychiatric medications have been known to cause people to do some crazy things.

Moving on…

What's most disturbing in this case is the public and media reaction to it. What is most at issue is all of the secrecy and nobody talking is driving people absolutely nuts.

DHHS would not comment citing confidentiality rules. CPS says there is a state law preventing them from commenting on CPS cases. Child welfare advocates are asking if signs of abuse were ignored by CPS. Nobody is saying whether or not the broken arm incident triggered a call to the child abuse hotline, however a broken arm on a 4 week old should have been a bright red flag as should a 3 year old being "covered with bruises. We do not know when the report to CPS was made by the daycare provider. We do not know whether or not CPS acted on that report. We do not know if CPS agents visited the family or if they had opened an investigation on the family. We do know that they removed the other two children from the home after the assault. We do not know of that turned up any further information. Also, the hospital will not comment as to whether or not they made a report regarding the broken arm.

As a result, lots of people are asking questions. System Sucks are crawling out from under their rocks. The newspapers are demanding that the state release information so that we may know just where CPS failed this child. Was it because of a systematic failure? Is CPS short staffed? Did they investigate and find nothing wrong? Were they even investigated at all based on previous reports? Did any doctor, nurse, or anybody else report the broken arm to CPS? Did CPS act upon the report of a 3 year old covered with bruises?

Even Maine's Governor is concerned that, "The pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction," suggesting that the state has gone too far in trying to keep kids in their homes. One could make the connection that if this is the case, that CPS did in fact investigate this family. Governor Paul LePage, however, has also cut funding to DHHS which includes various programs that are used to keep kids safe in their own homes. Governor LePage also claims to have been an abused child.

Sadly, Maine's governor is an idiot. He does not consider the damage done to kids in Maine's foster care system and is using the case for a major shift in public policy change, which even Richard Wexler has thrown his two cents into the ring saying "Using Ethan's case for an excuse for major publicpolicy change would be a mistake." That shift will be for CPS agents to remove more kids from their homes.

I should also say that because nobody involved in the case in any way is talking, reporters are turning to the experts. Questions are being asked of the states Child Death and Serious Injury Review Board. Most importantly: Is CPS doing enough to protect children in Maine?

As for the broken arm, people are suggesting that doctors should have reported such an incident on a child of such a young age. We don't know if they did or not, because the AG has told everybody involved not to talk, but we find out that failure to report cases could hit a mandated reporter in the wallets with a $500 dollar fine. Dr.Lawrence Ricci of Spurwink's Child Abuse Program says that "a broken arm should be viewed as a likely sign of abuse on a 10 week old baby." Ricci also doesn't think that the state acts fast enough to remove children from their homes when there are signs of abuse. Ricci also works for a private organization which provides group home services for foster kids in Maine as well as other services for abused and neglected children. I'm not saying there is a connection between his opinions or his organization, I'm just sayin.

So what we end up with is a loud public outcry against a product of Maine's Foster Care System who was on medication at the age of 23 due to abuse which he suffered in Maine's Foster Care System, which will lead to more kids getting removed from their homes and thrown into Maine's Foster Care System. Why people actually believe that if a kid can be sexually abused by "various foster parents" that throwing kids into foster care is keeping them safe, is beyond me.

Whenever there is a child who dies from abuse or neglect, CPS reviews it's policies and procedures to see if anything could have been done differently so that that child will still be alive today. Clearly in this particular case something went wrong. We just don't know what that is exactly.

There is a lot of concern around whether or not the broken arm incident was reported. Perhaps it was perhaps it wasn't. Nobody's talking. Lawrence Ricci suggests that doctors are hesitant to report abuse because it either violates confidentiality. Another doctor suggests that if they report a family, they never see the kids again so they loose track of how they're doing. Ricci also suggests that in some cases, doctors are gullible and can't tell when a parent is lying. Ricci, however can make all the suggestions and claims that he wants. That doesn't change the fact that we simply don't know if the broken arm was reported.

You can bet your sweet ass however that the whole system in Maine is about to go under the microscope. It will give System Sucks something to talk about, something to debate and a path to grow their businesses. It will give the media something to harp on. The people will remain stuck on the fact that a baby died. They won't care about any of the circumstances which led to this. It will not matter that this is the kind of kid who comes out of Maine's Foster Care System. They will simply demand that CPS do more to protect children. Because they failed this one kid, many other children in Maine will pay.

My heart and best wishes go out to Christina Henderson and her family.

Bibliography: (in no particular order)

Source: Legally Kidnapped blog

Foster care in Maine: Will one dumb politician undo a decade of progress?

UPDATE, MAY 16: Longtime Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz has a great column today about a classic case of Maine's child welfare agency confusing poverty with neglect - a perfect illustration of why the state needs to do more, not less, to curb needless foster care.

I’ve written often about the transformation of child welfare in Maine, and how child safety improved after the state abandoned a take-the-child-and-run approach in favor of one which emphasizes safe, proven programs to keep families together. I’ve written about how the death of Logan Marr, a little girl taken needlessly from her mother only to die at the hands of her foster mother, a former child welfare caseworker, shocked the conscience of the state.

Maine’s reforms have been recognized by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, which made those reforms a finalist for its Innovations in American Government awards. The executive director of Maine’s leading child advocacy organization, the Maine Children’s Alliance, who also serves as the state’s independent child welfare ombudsman, even wrote a guest column for this Blog praising the reforms.

Unfortunately, because child welfare systems are more secret than the CIA, sometimes all it takes is one dumb politician to bring down a decade of reform. Looks like Maine has found its dumb politician, the current governor, Paul LePage. For starters, as Governing magazine reported, LePage got rid of Jim Beougher, the head of the child welfare division at the state Department of Health and Human Services, who led the reform effort.

Now LePage has found a horror story to exploit. In the wake of that case, LePage now says he “feels” that the state has gone too far in reducing entries into care. The state’s largest newspaper, the Portland Press Herald, compounded the error by confusing two sets of numbers, wrongly claiming that entries into care in Maine have been cut in half. They have not.

Here are the facts, and how they stack up against LePage’s “feeling.”

  • No state can prevent every child abuse death. Though each is the worst form of tragedy let us be grateful that the number is low enough, especially in a small state like Maine, that the number can rise or fall due to random chance. That’s why the federal government uses a different measure: the percentage of children reabused in any way within six months after their cases become “known to the system.”

    Since Maine began its reforms in 2003, that percentage has declined by 20 percent. In other words, with caseworkers spending less time on false allegations and trivial cases, they have found more children in real danger, and made Maine’s children safer – not safe enough, but safer than they were during the era of take-the-child-and-run; the era to which LePage apparently wants to return.

  • The claim that the number of children removed from their homes in Maine has declined by 50 percent is flat-out false; and all it takes is two clicks of a mouse to prove it.

    Every state must report these data to the federal government. In Maine, the number of children removed over the course of a year peaked at 1,052 in 2000 and 1,047 in 2001. Click here to see for yourself. The number of removals fell after Logan Marr died, and after the PBS series Frontline exposed the failure of Maine’s former take-the-child- and-run approach to the entire nation. In 2010, the most recent year for which data are available, 760 children were taken from their families in Maine. Again, click to see for yourself.

    So yes, over the course of a decade, entries declined, as they should – but by about 27 percent, not 50 percent.

  • As can be seen by clicking on those same links, the number that fell by about 50 percent is the number of children trapped in foster care on Sept. 30 of each year. But that number can rise or fall for reasons totally unrelated to whether children are taken away in the first place.

    Children taken more than a decade ago, during the heyday of Maine’s take-the-child-and-run fanaticism, may simply “age out” of the system with no place to go. Other children, like the suspect in the current tragedy, himself a former foster child allegedly abused in foster care, are adopted. This “snapshot number” is important, but it tells you nothing about whether a state is doing more to keep children out of the system in the first place.

  • NCCPR compares the propensity of states to take children from their homes by comparing entries into care to the number of impoverished children living in each state. By that standard, Maine still takes away children at a rate slightly above the national average. In other words, if anything, the reforms in Maine haven’t gone far enough.

    Maine also has made great progress in where it places children when they really do need to be taken from their homes.

  • Study after study has found that, when a child really must be taken from her or his home, placing that child with relatives is more stable, better for children’s well-being, and most important, safer than what should properly be called “stranger care.” Back when Logan Marr died, Maine had one of the worst records in the nation for kinship care. Now, Maine uses kinship care at a rate slightly above the national average, though still behind the national leaders. (Details are in NCCPR’s interactive database.)
  • Maine’s greatest success has been in dramatically reducing the worst form of care, the use of group homes and institutions. The proportion of children trapped in so-called congregate care has been cut by at least 73 percent. (Again, details are in NCCPR’s interactive database.)

    But, of course, that means the reform effort made powerful enemies – the people who ran all those group homes and institutions that had to cut back or close entirely. That foster care-industrial complex apparently has the governor’s ear in a way that vulnerable children do not.

Finally, one more number: 15,000. As I’ve noted often on this Blog, that’s the number of cases examined in two massive studies of how children fared in typical cases seen by workers for child protective services agencies. In those typical cases the children left in their own homes typically fared better even than comparably-maltreated children placed in foster care.

That doesn’t mean no child ever should be taken from her or his home. Rather, it means that foster care is an extremely toxic intervention that should be used sparingly and in small doses. A little girl named Logan Marr had to lose her life before Maine learned that lesson. To forget that lesson now would be like spitting on her grave.

Source: Richard Wexler blog

Addendum: A chart published January 26, 2013 in the Maine Sunday Telegram shows how rapidly the progress in Maine has been reversed.

Addendum: Another chart published March 24, 2013 by the Maine Sunday Telegram shows the state reversing a decade of progress.