MorganRants

Things I am passionate about. Injustice, stupidity, intolerance, bigotry and small-mindedness. Oh and there might just be some humor to offset the whole thing.

Sacramento CPS report in child death was altered

Posted by morganwrites on August 23, 2008

(SACRAMENTO, CA) – In the 16 days between the time 4-year-old Jahmaurae Allen was beaten to death and Sacramento Child Protective Services publicly released portions of its records, the case file was altered to change the original finding in the case, The Bee has learned.

One early version of the report from the social worker, who began handling an allegation of abuse involving the 4-year-old on June 19, described the allegation as “unfounded,” two sources who read the document told The Bee this week.

Another early version obtained by The Bee described the allegation of abuse of the little boy as “inconclusive.”

But the portions released by CPS to The Bee this week under a new public records law do not reflect either of those findings. Instead, those files indicate the allegation of abuse was “substantiated,” a finding listed as “effective 7/21/08” – the day Jahmaurae was beaten to death, allegedly by his mother’s boyfriend.

A top county official said Friday she was unaware of the varying case files until The Bee raised questions.

“We’re pulling computer records right now to find out what’s happened,” said Lynn Frank, director of the Health and Human Services Department, which oversees CPS.

Late Friday, CPS Director Laura Coulthard issued the following statement:

“CPS policy and procedures requires supervisors to review social worker’s cases, and update or correct findings based on their independent assessment. In the Jahmuaure (sic) Allen matter, supervisors and management did such a review and made new findings that differed from the social worker’s original assessment …

“The county is reviewing allegations by The Sacramento Bee that original documents were altered. If it is established that those documents were altered, the county will take appropriate responses as warranted by this investigation.”

Children’s advocates outraged.

The existence of differing versions of the case file outraged children’s advocates who work with the agency. Some had been instrumental in pushing for the new law, which forces child welfare agencies to open files of children who die on their watch.

“This is unbelievable,” said Robert Fellmeth, a law professor and director of the San Diego-based Children’s Advocacy Institute.

“If you don’t take the kid (from the home), the only check you have is this: the record of what you did or did not do … ” he said. “If you start playing with that and altering that, you undermine the only check these kids have on failure to protect.”

Alarm over child welfare files being falsified or backdated has surfaced elsewhere.

Last week in Philadelphia, criminal charges were filed against two social workers in a case that led to the starvation death of a disabled 14-year-old girl. Workers were accused by the grand jury of falsifying documents after her death to make it appear they had performed their jobs properly.
Jahmaurae’s death has spawned a grand jury probe of CPS, and the agency said Tuesday it was planning to launch its own independent review.

CPS has conceded it should have done more to protect Jahmaurae, and suspended the social worker. At the time, the agency said the social worker “worked in isolation and did not follow established department procedures.”

Sources familiar with the case say the social worker’s entries and narrative about what happened were not accessible until after Jahmaurae was killed. It remains unclear who completed portions of the file.

CPS documents show the social worker evaluated the case after a doctor reported June 17 that Jahmaurae might be the victim of physical abuse. That doctor reported a painful swelling and bruise on the boy’s chest the size of an adult fist.

CPS documents indicate the social worker tried to contact the boy and his mother on June 19, going to their Foothill Farms apartment. The worker went to the wrong apartment at first, and when she found the right apartment, no one was home. She left her card on the door and returned June 21, the documents state, and left her card again.

She finally made contact when the mother called her June 23, according to one early version of the case file that was not released by CPS. The social worker went to see the family the next day, and Jahmaurae told her that the bruise on his chest had come from a fight with his 3-year-old brother. He “denied being hit by anyone else,” it said.

Initially, the social worker filed a report that the allegation of abuse was “unfounded,” sources said.
In CPS jargon, “unfounded” means the report is determined not to be true, according to agency literature.

But a subsequent report on the case obtained by The Bee – also not the one ultimately released by CPS – does not reflect that finding. Instead, that version reads:

“The allegation in regard to physical abuse was assessed by this reporter with a case disposition of inconclusive. This was evidenced by lack of disclosure from the minor that the mother’s boyfriend had hit him. Also, the minor’s (sic) were observed jumping off furniture and throwing things at each other.”

“Inconclusive” means there isn’t enough information to know either way, according to a CPS pamphlet.
The documents CPS eventually provided The Bee under the new law do not contain either the “unfounded” or “inconclusive” findings. Instead, those documents say: “Effective 7/21/08” – the day Jahmaurae died – “a review of this case has deemed the conclusion to be substantiated.”

That finding means there is credible information to believe child abuse or neglect did occur, CPS materials show.

Had the doctor’s abuse allegation been deemed “substantiated” a month earlier, it would have set off a more detailed investigation that could have led to Jahmaurae being removed from the home. As it was, it appears CPS had no contact with the family after the social worker’s June 24 visit.

Altering record criminal offense.

The documents CPS provided also differ from an earlier version of the case file in other ways.
An entire passage in the document provided by a source does not appear in the documents released by CPS.

That passage, dated June 23, 2008, discusses what happened when the social worker finally heard from Jahmaurae’s mother:

“The mother stated she was afraid that this social worker was trying to take her children. The mother stated she is new here from the Bay Area.

“This social worker told her that I have to see her and the children and do an assessment and then we would talk further. This social worker told her not to be concerned about the article in The Bee Sunday (sic) CPS is supportive of families.”

That was a reference to an investigative series on CPS that began in The Bee that day.

William Grimm, a senior attorney at the Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law, said he was deeply disturbed by the initial “unfounded” report on Jahmaurae.

“If a physician sees a fist-sized bruise on a 4-year-old, the red flag automatically goes up,” he said. “I just don’t understand how any reasonable person could make a judgment other than ‘substantiated’ – period.”

Jahmaurae was the seventh child to die since September whose family had had previous contact with CPS.

The suspect in the case is 26-year-old Jonathan Lamar Perry, a 6-foot-4-inch, 250-pound man who was in the apartment with Jahmaurae and the boy’s 18-month-old sister.

Perry is charged with murder and child endangerment. He is being held in the Sacramento County jail and has yet to enter a plea.

Robert Wilson, executive director of Sacramento Child Advocates, said Friday he “would sure be interested to see how CPS explains” the different versions of the case file. His office, whose attorneys represent children in dependency court, received the same version from CPS that The Bee was given this week.

Fellmeth, a former prosecutor, said the California government code makes it a criminal offense to alter a public record – even if that record won’t be given to the public. “You’re not supposed to be altering, period,” he said.

The proper way to make changes in public documents is to “overlay, or add the correction – not subtract or erase or alter.”

“You don’t create a new reality,” he said.

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