On Seeking (and not finding) Honesty and Integrity in Human Services

I don’t envy Inspector General Denise Kane’s job for a moment. Imagine rising up every day to confront the challenges that come with having a job description that reads:

The mandate of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is to investigate misconduct, misfeasance, malfeasance, and violations of rules, procedures, or laws by Department of Children and Family Services employees, foster parents, service providers and contractors with the Department.

Over a decade has passed since that seemingly uncomplicated mandate was unanimously passed by the Illinois legislature. Where do we stand in terms of meeting that modest legislative mandate today? And how are some other jurisdictions faring?

I am not looking for a perfect world, and neither are other advocates for reform. Judge Thomas F. Hogan expressed this well in the Memorandum Opinion in Lashawn A. v. Dixon, when he wrote: “Plaintiffs have not asked for a ‘perfect world,’ however, they merely request compliance with statutory and constitutional requirements and they ask not to be harmed while in the District’s custody.”

Surely it cannot be considered unreasonable to advocate for compliance with statutory and constitutional requirements, while asking also that children not be harmed while in state care. Surely it cannot be unreasonable to expect any governmental body not to engage in “misconduct, misfeasance, malfeasance, and violations of rules, procedures, or laws” as a matter of routine.

Nor is it unreasonable to expect child welfare agencies and their frontline caseworkers to conduct their day-to-day activities guided by basic principles of integrity and honesty.

As the Annie E. Casey Foundation explains: “An enormous responsibility is placed in the hands of these workers. They are expected to perform difficult interventions and make skilled judgments that have the power to shift the trajectory of a family’s life. A frontline worker’s recommendations can determine whether or not a mother is reunited with her children in foster care; whether a youth is returned to detention; or whether a struggling family receives help to make the transition from welfare to work.” More to the point, the 2008 Annual Report issued by Kane’s office cites an administrative law judge as saying:

Integrity and honesty are critical to effective child welfare practice. A direct child welfare worker is not only an advocate for the clients served, but also a witness and agent for the court. In order to ensure that correct decisions are made to protect the welfare and safety of a child, the child welfare system is dependent upon the veracity of information received. There must be zero tolerance for breaches of trust. A direct child welfare workers word must be above reproach: if they say it happened, it happened; and, if it didn’t happen, then it didn’t happen. Actual harm or injury to a child is not a prerequisite for immediate corrective action.

Bearing all of that in mind, our search for integrity and honesty in human services begins in Illinois, where according to the Inspector General’s 2010 report:

.A child protection investigator falsified case records, tampered with and falsified overtime reports, failed to inform a supervisor of a suspended driver’s license, failed to carry minimum auto liability insurance, transported children for official business while driving on a suspended license, and made untruthful statements to the Office of the Inspector General.

.A caseworker’s supervisor failed to address the caseworker’s chronic performance deficiencies which included failure to visit assigned wards and record case activity.

.A private agency case aide picked up a two-year-old girl at her foster home to transport her to a supervised visit with her mother in prison. The aide returned the girl to her foster home 2 hours later reporting that he had taken her to the visit when, in fact, he did not.

.A caseworker failed to visit assigned wards; failed to enter case activity or entered case activity on an untimely basis (one to two years late); falsified records by entering contact dates that did not occur; and entered inaccurate dates of contacts and similar text in previously entered contact notes.

.A private agency caseworker falsified documentation concerning home visits and misled a supervisor to believe that she had observed the foster parents’ interaction with the foster children, when she had not.

.A foster care supervisor failed to document quarterly case reviews and failed to implement progressive discipline for a caseworker who chronically failed to document contact notes.

.A private agency caseworker misinformed the court about when the caseworker learned of the birth of a child and documented in a contact note that a referral for services was made when, in fact, the referral was not made until a week later.

Have I overlooked something? Oh, yes, of course. A Department employee was the subject of a federal investigation into the distribution of child pornography. The OIG’s report explains: “Through collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, the OIG learned federal agents had identified and recovered images and films on the employee’s personal computer depicting children engaged in sexually explicit situations. Agents also determined that the materials contained in the computer had been made available for further distribution over the internet.”

UNIVERSAL PROBLEM REMAINS

Falsification of records by Child Protective Services and other “human services” caseworkers clearly remains a significant problem. In Florida, 57.14 percent of the allegation types referred to law enforcement by the Inspector General’s Office involved falsification. Breach of information came in a distant second at 10.71% of cases referred, with computer related misconduct (which included such things as surfing the web for porn sites on company time) landed in third place at 8.93% of referred cases, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families Inspector General’s 2007 Annual Report.

While in the Sunshne State, let’s turn on the television to watch WESH TV in Orlando reporting that: “A preliminary investigation by DCF shows that background checks and inspections were not performed at more than 100 child care centers in East Volusia County.”

“The investigation is focused on the child care licensing office in Daytona Beach. It found workers were falsifying records and forging signatures making it look like some day care centers had been inspected when they had not been,” the report explains. One DCF worker has been fired as a result of the investigation, and another resigned. While falsifying DCF records is a felony, the two employees have not been charged.

From nearby Jacksonville, comes this July 17 Associated Press report: “A former investigator for the Florida Department of Children and Families has been arrested on charges of misconduct and falsification of child-protective records that contributes to great bodily harm.”

According to jail records, 27-year-old QuaKeita Anderson is being held on $100,000 bail.

“Anderson began as a protective investigator in 2007,” the report explains. Hence, she was only 24-years-old when she was initially entrusted with her position as a CPS investigator.

One can only surmise how many families she may have destroyed with trumped-up dependency petitions and falsified courtroom testimony before she was finally caught.

We travel now to New York, where a July 20 headline in The Buffalo News reads: “Collection-agency owner admits bribing Social Services.”

Deborah A. Kantor admitted that she had “bribed a Niagara County Social Services caseworker for seven years to obtain Medicaid client-identification numbers for use by her health care collection agency.”

The bribery charges “pertained to a county caseworker, Michael Albrecht, who was paid $50 for every Medicaid ID number he provided to Kantor,” the report explains. Albrecht reportedly pocketed over $50,000, apparently one 50 dollar bill at a time.

Those 50 dollar bills can add up quickly, as a Texas report explains: “A Child Protective Services caseworker in Floresville is free on bail after being arrested in the theft of hundreds of dollars worth of Walmart gift cards meant for children.”

Stefanie Moore, 32, was charged with theft, officials said. Floresville police arrested her July 2 after an investigation,” the Express-News explains. “Moore is accused of stealing $650 worth of cards that the Karnes County Child Welfare Board donated to CPS, agency spokeswoman Mary Walker said. Thirteen cards, each with a value of $50, were taken, she said.”

“Former County Worker Charged with Falsifying Child Protection Documents,” blared a headline from the Milwaukee area on July 14.

“He was in charge of investigating cases for child protective services in Racine County, but Todd O’Brien has been accused of falsifying documents that could have put hundreds of children at risk,” the story explained.

From Washington State, the Daily News reported on July 15 that: “A state child protective services worker has been charged in Cowlitz County Superior Court with first-degree child molestation and two counts of communication with a minor for immoral purposes from acts alleged to have occurred about a decade ago.”

According to court documents, Mark Edmond Workinger admitted fondling himself in front of the girl, showing her a pornographic magazine and making her touch him inappropriately.

Over the course of the preceding six months, he had investigated reports of child abuse and neglect with Child Protective Services, the Daily News explains.

We travel now to New York City, where 27-year-old Stephanie Sabouni is arrested for falsifying documents in an attempt to cover up her failure to visit children under her supervision. The former educational neglect caseworker altered agency computer records, authorities said, to make it appear that she had visited a child’s home when, in fact, she had not.

“Human services delivery is reaching a state of crisis,” the Casey Foundation explains, adding that: “Frontline jobs are becoming more and more complex while the responsibility placed on workers remains severely out of line with their preparation and baseline abilities.” Many are leaving the field, even as a new generation of college graduates shows little interest in entering the human services sector, and as a result:

Millions of taxpayer dollars are being poured into a compromised system that not only achieves little in the way of real results, but its interventions often do more harm than good. It is clear that frontline human services jobs are not attracting and keeping the kinds of workers we need, and that regulations, unreasonable expectations, and poor management practices mire workers and their clients in a dangerous status quo.

CONCLUSION

My quest for honesty and integrity in human services generally, and in child protective services in particular, continues unabatted, and I believe that my journey has no end in sight.

The frontliners are forced to live many complicated lies every day, and I don’t envy their position.

They live the lie that there are at least some among their ranks who are caring, dedicated and compassionate professionals. They live the lie that there are some among their ranks who are at least minimally effective at predicting the course of future events through their “risk assessments,” hence that they are capable of ameliorating the threat of future abuse and neglect to children. They live the lie that they are capable of deciding while “in the field” whether or not a child needs to be removed from her biological home for her own “protection.” And they live the lie that if that decision is ultimately made, that the child will ultimately fare better in the home of a non-biologically related state-paid caretaker than the child would in her own home.

True integrity would require the admission that the current structure’s “interventions often do more harm than good,” even in the unlikely event that the system were to be purged of its deep-seated structural corruption.