Federal Judge Finds Texas Has Broken System

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CPS is a “broken” system.

Federal judge finds Texas has “broken” foster care system, says she’ll order changes

AUSTIN, TX  –  Long-term foster care in Texas is “broken” and routinely does grave harm to children already dealt a tough hand, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack of Corpus Christi said the state violated the Constitution by keeping about 12,000 youngsters for years in an underfunded and poorly run system “where rape, abuse, psychotropic medication and instability are the norm.”

Defendants John Specia and his staff at the state Department of Family and Protective Services have “the best intentions, she wrote. ” But the system, despite 20 years of reports and attempted fixes, keeps harming the children it’s supposed to help”, the stinging opinion reads.

Jack, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, ruled in favor of nine children who sued the state in 2011 on behalf of all Texas children in long-term foster care.

Their lawyers, who included members of the Dallas-based Haynes and Boone firm, said Texas’ foster care system forces thousands of youngsters to live in poorly supervised institutions.  The department frequently moves the children from one place to another and often splits up siblings, plaintiffs said.

Jack agreed, saying Texas routinely violates the children’s 14th Amendment rights to be free from harm while in state custody.

Julie Moody, a spokeswoman for the protective-services department, said it’s disappointed with Jack’s ruling.  The state has insisted that plaintiffs’ lawyers have ignored recent improvements that followed the Legislature’s sweeping changes to Child Protective Services in 2005, along with an overhaul of foster care two years later.  They also repeatedly boosted the agency’s budget — Texas current spends $1.4 billion a year on Child Protective Services.

“Texas performs comparably with other states in this area, and has steadily improved,” she said.

While Texas fiercely contested the suit, officials didn’t immediately say whether they would appeal Jack’s ruling.

The case centers on children removed from their birth homes by Child Protective Services who then linger for at least a year, sometimes 18 months, in foster care.  Because CPS and its contractors have been unable to reunite them with their birth families or find a lasting home with relatives or an adoptive parent, the youngsters are in limbo.

Even though judges work to try to avoid it, many children then enter CPS’ “permanent managing conservatorship.”  At that point, the state often drops the ball because the law does not require that the children have their own lawyer and another adult advocating for them, plaintiffs argued – and Jack agreed.

She found that CPS has too few conservatorship caseworkers, so their huge caseloads cause them to fail to pay enough attention to their charges.

“Texas’ foster care system is broken, and it has been that way for decades,” Jack wrote.  “It is broken for all stakeholders, including DFPS employees who are tasked with impossible workloads.  Most importantly, though, it is broken for Texas’ [permanent managing conservatorship] children, who almost uniformly leave state custody more damaged than when they entered.”

Jack said that within 30 days, she would appoint a special master to develop a sweeping plan for improvements.

The cost to the state is uncertain but likely to be in the millions.  CPS has authority to employ more than 9,200 people, though turnover is a chronic problem, as the judge noted.

Jack said she’ll ask the special master to recommend how many more CPS workers should be hired and how many more child-care licensing inspectors should be added.

She’s requiring each child in long-term care to have an attorney ad litem as well as a court-appointed special advocate.

The judge also said the special master will study “child-on-child abuse” at group homes and treatment centers.  The master will push for the state to move children who do not have severe physical or behavioral impairments into the least restrictive settings possible.

CPS also would have to improve case files it keeps on the children – including annual photos, to help in identifying runaways.  The state also will have to stop placing certain foster children in unsafe placements like “foster group homes that lack 24-hour awake-night supervision,” Jack said.

Marcia Robinson Lowry, the founder of New York-based Children’s Rights, which led the effort and has filed similar suits in more than a dozen states, called Jacks’ decision “stunning” and painstakingly researched.

“Texas certainly has one of the worse foster care systems in the country,” Lowry said.

Special Ed Teacher Charged With Child Abuse

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Ashley Frabizzio, 30

Elmwood Park Special Education teacher charged in alleged Child Abuse

Elmwood Park, NJ  –  A special education teacher at an Elmwood Park elementary school has been charged with child abuse and simple assault and released after posting bail, authorities said Monday.

Ashley Frabizzio, 30, of Butler, was arrested Saturday after an investigation that started last Thursday, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said in a statement.  Molinelli said the investigation began when detectives of the Elmwood Park Police Department were notified by an administrator of the Sixteenth Avenue Elementary School of allegations against Frabizzio.

No details were provided concerning where or when the abuse was alleged to have occurred, or the relationship between Frabizzio and the children allegedly affected.

Molinelli said the investigation was conducted jointly by his office’s Special Victims Unit and the Elmwood Park Police.

Frabizzio was charged with two counts of fourth-degree child abuse and two counts of simple assault, a disorderly persons offense.

Municipal Court Judge Anthony Gallina set bail at $2,500, and ordered Frabizzio released when she posted 10 percent of the bail.

He also ordered that she have no contact with the alleged victims, the school or school personnel.

AL DA Wants Longer Child Abuse Punishment

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DA Randall Houston

Wetumpka case prompts DA to seek stronger child-abuse punishment

WETUMPKA, AL  –  District Attorney Randall Houston wants to strengthen the penalty for aggravated child abuse, bringing the punishment up to par with murder and other violent crimes.

Houston’s move would change the punishment in aggravated Child Abuse cases where victims are under the age of 6.

“The aggravated Child Abuse statute covers children from infants to 18-year-olds,” Houston said.  “It’s obvious that a teenager is better able to seek protection from an abuser than a child under the age of 6.”

“These are our youngest, most helpless victims.  After a child is 6, they are usually in a school situation, where educators can recognize the signs of abuse.”

Houston represents the 19th Judicial Circuit, which includes Autauga, Chilton and Elmore counties.  Currently, aggravated child abuse is a Class B felony, with a punishment range of two to 20 years in prison.  Houston will be backing a bill in the 2016 legislative session that begins in February to stiffen the penalty to a Class A felony.  Murder, attempted murder and other violent crimes are Class A felonies, with a punishment range of 10 to 99 years to life in prison.

By law, aggravated child abuse results in “serious bodily injury” to the victim.

A current case being investigated by his office moved Houston to seek the punishment upgrade.

“I stood in court last week to oppose a bond request made by a mother who, along with her boyfriend, heinously abused her 4-year-old son to a point that he was near death,” Houston said.  “As I looked that defendant in the eye and thought of the ways she and her boyfriend had abused her own son, I realized that the current penalties for such monstrous acts are inadequate and must be toughened so those who commit them can stare at the four cold walls of a prison cell for the rest of their lives.”

Houston was referring to the case of Hallee Ann McLeod, 28, of Wetumpka, whose son was found unresponsive and injured in the back of a car in Panama City, Fla., in September.  She is facing aggravated child abuse and chemical endangerment of a child charges in Elmore County, courthouse records show.

Last week Elmore County District Judge Glenn Goggans refused to lower her bond, which had been set at $300,000.  She remained in the Elmore County Jail on Monday, jail records show.

Elmore County Sheriff Bill Franklin, who has been the county’s top cop for 24 years, calls the abuse “one of the worst cases I have seen.”

The child was discovered by Bay County, Fla., deputies as the car was parked in the courthouse parking lot.  Scott Hicks, McLeods’ boyfriend, had driven to Panama City, Fla., to pay fines on an unrelated case.  Local authorities were contacted by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and an investigation began that showed the abuse of the boy occurred in Elmore County, Franklin said.

“Nothing can erase the trauma that this child suffered, but we can ensure that the severity of the penalty truly matches the severity of the crime,” Houston said.  “Then perhaps justice can be fully obtained.

“As a prosecutor I take my responsibility to ensure the protection of the most defenseless among us very seriously, and toughening our aggravated child abuse law will held accomplish this mission.”

Houston has been successful in efforts to toughen punishments. After a series of alcohol related fatal boating accidents in the circuit, he fought a three-year battle to get the Legislature to toughen the homicide by vessel law.

The law was an unclassified felony, meaning it had a maximum punishment of five years in prison.  The punishment for homicide by vessel law now allows prosecutors to seek the same punishment as cases of DUI related motor vehicle accidents.  That means defendants can be charged with manslaughter or murder in DUI related boating accidents that result in fatalities.

Houston hopes the strengthening of the aggravated child abuse law doesn’t take as much time.

“We are in it for the long haul,” he said.  “If it takes another long fight, we’re dedicated to doing whatever it takes to see this change implemented.”

FL Man Charged With Aggravated Child Abuse

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Christopher Craig “Kodak” Williams

PALM COAST, FL  –  A 22-year-old Palm Coast man was arrested and charged with aggravated child abuse Sunday.

Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies and paramedics were called to an Ethel Lane address in reference to a report of an injured child.

When deputies arrived, witnesses told officials that Christopher Craig “Kodak” Williams picked a child up by his arms, raised him above his head and slammed the child onto a carpeted, concrete floor.

A police report says the child suffered severe head injuries that caused the child to experience seizures.  The report also says the child began bleeding from his right ear as a result of his injuries.

The child was airlifted to Shands Medical Center in Gainesville under a trauma alert.  Officials said the child is in critical but stable condition.

Williams’ bond is set at $10,000.

Radiothon To End Child Abuse

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Radiothon To End Child Abuse

Family Fun Pizza Night brings in $2,389

Walker, MN  –  The Family Safety Network and the Village Square once again partnered with each other last Thursday night to host the Family Fun Pizza Night.

The event is part of the 27th Annual Radiothon to End Child Abuse, an event of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting that raises money and awareness of child abuse and local resources available to the community.  The funds go to help end child abuse and neglect in Minnesota and for local counties of Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater and Hubbard.  These include the Leech Lake Reservation Children’s Initiative and the Family Safety Network.

The Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Student Council also held a Change for Child Abuse fundraiser leading up to the Radiothon.  The seventh- through 12th-grade classes donated $764.39, with the senior class winning the class competition with $440.

“We thought this would be a great cause and to get the students to realize what change they can make by giving a few cents,” said Maizee Freeman of the WHA Student Council.  “I was blown away by how successful it was.  We didn’t know how it was going to go over, but we were going to try.”

Shelby Short, another student council member, said they started collecting the change back in November, and will do this again next year.

Both Freeman and Short attended the Family Pizza Night so they could pass along the money raised by the senior high classes.

There are about 40 students part of student council with teacher Paul Schroeder serving as the advisor.

Hayford Racing of Walker, a cross-country snowmobile racing team, is purchasing all the pizzas for the senior class, which were brought up to the school Monday for lunch.

The Pizza Night brought in $1,624.61 for a total of $2,389.39.  A total of $37,000 was raised during this year’s Radiothon to fight child abuse.

The Walker event featured celebrity waiters from the Cass County Sheriff Office, including Sheriff Tom Burch and some deputies, and the administration of Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School.

Village Square owners Gary and Theresa Bilben donated a $1 for every pizza ordered that evening along with all tips the celebrity wait staff collected.

All proceeds from Pizza Night and WHA School fundraiser directly benefit communities, as the funds stay local and help support the Family Safety Network programming and services.

Pledges were also collected throughout the 24-hour period, and a live, on-air auction was held.

Since the Radiothon started 1989, nearly $1,050,000 has been raised since the Radiothon began.

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