This is a long post but I hope you will take the time to read all of it. All the following are direct quotes from the report. I became increasingly tearful as I read it. The quotes I have pasted below I selected because I personally experienced or observed while I was both a worker and later a supervisor with the Cabinet. While the investigation focused on Lincoln Trail region. I can tell you that these comments were reflective of the region where I spent my career also. Please be sure to read that first quote twice. I was an outspoken critic of how things were done and it often cost me personally. I especially hated the 2001 Council on Accreditation process because so much time, energy, and other resources were shifted away from client service to looking good for the site visits. To me, COA accreditation that year meant little more than fancy window dressing. This report, finally, validates so many of the things I was saying years ago.
Investigative Report Regarding Allegations of Misconduct by Certain Employees of the Department for Community Based Services’ Lincoln Trail Region Related to the Removal of Children and/or the Termination of Parental Rights Based on Alleged Abuse, Neglect, or Dependency
The vast majority of the social service workers we encountered during the course of our investigation carry out their very difficult duties in a diligent, honest, and ethical manner.
First, OIG fully recognizes that the tasks which many social service workers face on a daily basis are, by their very nature, daunting. For example, we recognize that there are many times that a social service worker is called upon to make difficult judgment calls under highly stressful situations, wherein the health and safety of both the social service worker and those they are charged to protect are at risk.
While not easily articulated, we discovered a culture, accepted by some staff and rejected by many others, which thrived on the power of controlling certain families, including but not limited to the ultimate exercise of power – facilitating the removal of children from their biological parents and the termination of parental rights. This attitude appears to have been exacerbated by the fact that DCBS regional approach was highly (and we believe inappropriately) decentralized under the previous administration.
Two hundred unassigned referrals were located in one regional supervisor’s office. The regional supervisors, who were responsible for the policy violations, were not disciplined, but frontline supervisors and workers who signed the complaint letter were disciplined and reportedly targeted for retaliation.
Third, during the course of our investigation, we discovered evidence of potential individual criminal conduct
Falsification of Records/Dishonesty:
During the investigation, biological parents were contacted and investigators verified that home visits, documented in case files, did not occur.
Both current and former workers report documentation was omitted or added to case files to intentionally mislead the court.
There have been instances of dishonesty by DCBS employees, in documentation, in court, and in interactions with clients.
The decision to remove a child from their parents’ home is often completed under subjective standards, especially when the allegations involve neglect or dependency issues.
When a worker contacts a home to investigate a referral alleging unsafe living conditions, in essence, they are requesting to make a warrantless search to determine if conditions are safe for the children in the home. In situations where parents deny the social service worker entry into the residence, the worker has two options, contact law enforcement and request they verify the safety of the children or contact the court and request an emergency custody order (ECO). In most cases, the court is contacted.
Workers respond aggressively to any perceived challenge to their actions. For example, biological and foster parents complained children were removed from their home because they “talked back” to the workers.
Case plans are intended to outline the goals biological parents must achieve to have their children returned to their home. Requirements were routinely included on case plans that were expensive, relative to the client’s financial situation; required unnecessary travel; and were not relative to the family’s issues, as identified by the worker.
There was a noted effort by regional supervisory staff to relieve supervisors of their inherent supervisory authority. For example, regional supervisors established a regional policy (Critical Case Decision Making Protocol) which essentially removed all decision-making authority from the FSOS positions. This resulted in a regional supervisor levying decisions, based on the verbal briefing of another staff member, and without any actual case knowledge. Often the verbal briefing was once or twice removed from the actual staff member involved in the situation and the decisions were in conflict with the staff member’s recommendation for the case.
Workers are overworked and are unable to complete documentation during normal work hours. Not all workers are permitted to work overtime, so they work weekends and “off the clock”. One worker came to the office while she was in labor and worked for three hours, after her water broke, to complete casework because a regional supervisor told her she could not take maternity leave until her cases were up to date. Cases were not reassigned or covered when an employee was on extended leave
Caseloads were redistributed, sometimes to vacant positions, prior to the 2001 COA review, to assure compliance with COA standards. Then, caseloads were reinstituted when COA departed. When a worker leaves, the caseload may not be reassigned for several weeks, leaving cases unattended and clients in limbo.
Social service workers have laughed at parents as they advised them they were removing their children and during the removal process.
Employees were retaliated against, through employment, case assignments, and promotions, for opposing supervisors.
Promoting Adoption Over Reunification
Simply stated, these are not matters of national security, wherein effectiveness often requires secrecy. Rather, they are social service issues that demand the full light of day in order to better ensure the integrity of the process. The fact that children are involved in the process should no longer be used as an excuse to protect these proceedings from meaningful public oversight.
Fourth, Cabinet officials have initiated several positive measures aimed at increasing oversight of field operations and bringing consistency and fairness to the processes discussed in this report, along with continuing to work to improve related operations.