Press one of the expand buttons to see the full text of an article. Later press collapse to revert to the original form. The buttons below expand or collapse all articles.
Death Records Faked
June 8, 2014 permalink
When a Florida newspaper began an investigation into child deaths, DCF began to keep deaths out of the record. The suppressed details from most reports, leaving the full story only in one case where they placed the blame on a judge instead of social workers.
Child deaths kept off the books at DCF
At 2 a.m. on Dec. 13, 2013, a Riviera Beach mom woke up to find her newborn baby's lips were purple. Blood and milk oozed from the girl's nose. She had stopped breathing.
The baby, authorities say, likely was accidentally smothered to death by her mother, who placed the girl in bed with her, and three other children -- a practice known as "co-sleeping" that can be lethal to infants.
Child welfare investigators had been involved with the family four times before the infant's death.
An investigator prepared an incident report on the baby's death later that day and emailed it to a supervisor.
The paper trail ended there.
Kimberly Welles, an administrator at the Department of Children & Families' Southeast Region, deleted the incident report, email records show. And she instructed the supervisor who wrote it, Lindsey McCrudden, to deep-six it, as well.
"Please do not file this in the system. No incident reports right now on death cases," Welles wrote in an email that day. "Please withdraw this and thanks. Will advise why later."
Last November, the Miami Herald was finishing a tally of Florida child abuse and neglect deaths among families that had previously come to the attention of DCF. The count was undertaken as part of a project called Innocents Lost. To track the number of dead children, which soared to new heights in recent years, reporters relied on public records, including incident reports.
Documents obtained after Innocents Lost was published show that, starting at least as early as last November as the Herald was grilling DCF on its problems preventing deaths of children under its watch, one branch of the agency deliberately kept as many as 30 deaths off the books -- ensuring they would not be included in the published tally.
The incidents were in DCF's Southeast Region, encompassing Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Broward -- the county cited by the Herald as having the most reported deaths by abuse or neglect. wwwDCF's new secretary, Mike Carroll, said he has dispatched his top deputy, Pete Digre, to look into the missing records.
Carroll's initial assessment of the matter: "Was it ill-advised? Absolutely. Was it a mistake? Absolutely."
But as to whether the missing records amounted to a deliberate attempt to conceal deaths or suppress numbers in a series of articles highlighting DCF blunders, Carroll said: "I am not certain yet. I hope that's not the case. I have made it clear to folks that we are not in the business of hiding information."
Southeast Region administrators say they ceased filing the required reports for at least five months because they were in the process of developing a new reporting tool, Carroll said.
He added: "There is no evidence that makes me think there was a conspiracy to withhold information ... I don't have anything that shows me this was done with ill intent."
Carroll reaffirmed previous pledges to transform his agency into one of the most open and forthcoming in the United States, beginning with the online posting of "every single death report."
Streamlining and speeding up the availability of agency information, Carroll said, will not only allow DCF to quiet its critics -- it may help the agency improve its performance.
"We have to get better at what we do," Carroll said. "If DCF had contact with a child, we should have zero child deaths with those families."
Rash of deaths
Reporters on March 31 requested all child death incident reports statewide since Nov. 1, roughly when the Herald's gathering of death reports had concluded. As DCF prepared to fulfill the records request, it discovered a strange new development: From at least November onward, the Southeast Region apparently had stopped filing incident reports, though more than two dozen child deaths had occurred in the region, according to the state's child abuse and neglect hotline.
On April 2, a DCF child abuse and quality assurance specialist, Leslie Chytka, wrote in an email that she had found 30 child deaths with no corresponding incident reports -- a violation of agency rules that say such reports must be completed "within one working day" of a child's death. She instructed staff in the region to file reports for all of the 30 deaths.
That led to another email, from another staffer, with the title: "the upcoming rash of incident report deaths." In it, DCF quality assurance manager Frank Perry wrote: "Disregard the next thirty or so incident reports that will be posted in the next day or so. They are child deaths we are aware of but are not in the ... system. I have been asked to create these incidents so they are recorded."
And create them he did -- very quickly. The reports, filed by Perry on April 3 and April 4, are unlike any of the of the 145 or so the Herald received from the rest of the state at that time: They were largely devoid of information. Many of the Perry reports consisted of four sentences or fewer and offered no information, or scant information, regarding each family's history with DCF. Such information is customarily provided in an incident report.
Only one child death incident report from the region included unredacted details of the family's history with DCF. That one blamed the death on a Miami judge who ignored an agency recommendation about where the baby should live..
Source: Bradenton Herald