Friday, July 31, 2015

Conyers Announces Reauthorization of Trade Adjustment Assistance for Michigan Workers

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (Mich. 13) announced that petitions are now available under the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Reauthorization Act of 2015. 

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) is an integral part of getting thousands of workers back on their feet.  While too many Americans have lost jobs due to unfair trade practices, TAA provides an important first step to helping them recover,” said RepConyers, Jr..

This most recent reauthorization provides expanded eligibility to workers who have lost their jobs due to trade agreements—offering opportunity to many Americans who were left out of previous iterations of TAA, even if their job loss occurred more than a year ago.  This includes reconsideration for those who petitioned for assistance earlier this year but were rejected.

Since it was first authorized under the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, Trade Adjustment Assistance has been a lifeline for millions of hardworking Americans.  The legislation provides job training support, career counseling, income support for workers in training programs, and many others who have had their jobs affected by trade.  If trade is believed to have played a large role in layoffs, then an employer, a group of three or more workers, a union or worker representative, or an American Job Center representative can apply for TAA benefits on behalf of the impacted workers.

The recent reauthorization of TAA will provide workers with opportunities to obtain the skills, credentials, and support they need to obtain meaningful jobs for in-demand professions—offering assistance to an estimated 100,000 workers.These new expansions include up to 130 weeks of benefits that help workers pay their bills while they engage in two-year training programs.  It also includes eligibility for service sector workers, restoring provisions that President Obama had previously signed into law, but expired at the end of 2013.  Importantly, these benefits would be applicable retroactively, meaning that an estimated 17,500 service workers who were left without benefits in the last 17 months can apply for assistance.

For more information on eligibility, please visit  To find the American Job Center nearest you visit or call 1-877-US2-JOBS.  The deadline for applying for retroactive benefits and services endsSeptember 27, 2015.

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DOJ Finds Kids Have No Civil Rights in Child Welfare

What the U.S. Department of Justice has found is that child welfare, more specifically, juvenile
justice in St. Louis County Family Court, contains no civil rights components.

There are three main reasons why the nation's juvenile justice system discriminates against Black youth:
  1. University curricula teach students the philosophy that criminal behavior (including child abuse and neglect by adults) are substantiated strictly with the inferiority in darkness of the color of one's skin;
  2. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Medicaid- Targeted Case Management) classifies and provides higher rates of cost reimbursements for services and program funding for "targeted populations", (ie people of color);
  3. Child welfare, inclusive of juvenile justice, is a residual of the institution of slavery.
Now that the DOJ has a sample finding of the nation's child welfare system, we can only sit back and pray that they develop a model to make recommendations to address the arcane residuals of the "peculiar institution" in dealing with children.

It is time for the Judiciary Committee to hold hearings.

For those who are not familiar with the term "peculiar institution", is is just a more palatable term for the public discussion of slavery.

When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, leading to the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, it forgot children because children were, and are still classified, theoretically, as chattel.

Children are specifically referenced in the U.S. Preamble as "posterity", falling under the legal and financial tenets of perpetuity, or more readily understood as the "best interests of the child".

Therefore, children have no civil rights, and by default of social theories taught in school that people of color are targeted populations, all counties in every state of the union discriminate against Black youth.

I wrote a book, Of Parental Rights: The Acquisition of Goods,  analyzing this issue years ago.  It seems people have read it.

I want to publicly share my most sincerest and deepest gratitude to Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. and U.S. Representative John Conyers, Jr. for their bold dedication to bringing the spotlight to the final frontier of civil rights: children.

With that said, now is the time to look at the other components of child welfare starting with foster care and immigration.

Civil rights is not just a social issue, it is also economic.  

To improve the economy of society it is time to invest in the best interests of children to garner a future return of a productive, tax paying citizen.

Justice Department Releases Findings of Constitutional Violations in Juvenile Delinquency Matters by St. Louis County Family Court

Following a comprehensive investigation, the Justice Department today announced its findings regarding the Family Court of the Twenty-First Judicial Circuit of the state of Missouri, commonly known as the St. Louis County Family Court.  The Justice Department found that the family court fails to provide constitutionally required due process to children appearing for delinquency proceedings, and that the court’s administration of juvenile justice discriminates against Black children.  The investigation was conducted under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which gives the department the authority to seek a remedy for a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the constitutional or federal statutory rights of youths in the administration of juvenile justice.

"The findings we issue today are serious and compelling,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.  “Missouri was at the forefront of juvenile corrections reform when it closed its large juvenile institutions and moved to a smaller, treatment-focused system and we are hopeful that Missouri will rise to this challenge to, once again, be a leader in juvenile justice reform.  This investigation is another step toward our goal of ensuring that children in the juvenile justice system receive their constitutionally guaranteed rights to due process and equal protection under the law.”

Since opening this investigation in November 2013, the Civil Rights Division has analyzed data relating to nearly 33,000 juvenile cases, including all delinquency and status offenses resolved in St. Louis County Family Court between 2010 and 2013; and has reviewed over 14,000 pages of documents, including family court records, transcripts, policies, procedures and external reports.  In June 2014, Justice Department attorneys and its consultants—a law school clinical professor and experienced juvenile defense attorney and a nationally-recognized expert on measuring juvenile justice disparities through statistical analysis—visited the family court and interviewed a number of court personnel, including all of the judges and commissioners as well as the heads of many of family court programs and services.  They also collected information from both the state and local public defender’s offices, private attorneys with experience in the family court and the parents of youth who had been involved in delinquency proceedings with the family court.

The Justice Department found a number of constitutional violations, including:
  • Failure to ensure youth facing delinquency proceedings have adequate legal representation;
  • Failure to make adequate determinations that there is probable cause that a child committed the alleged offense;
  • Failure to provide adequate due process to children facing certification for criminal prosecution in adult criminal court;
  • Failure to ensure that children’s guilty pleas are entered knowingly and voluntarily;
  • An organizational structure that is rife with conflicts of interest, is contrary to separation of powers principles and deprives children of adequate due process; and
  • Disparate treatment of Black children at four key decision points within the juvenile justice system.
The department has opened four cases examining whether juvenile justice systems comply with children’s rights since 2009.  In 2012, the department settled its first investigation of this kind, reaching an agreement with the Juvenile Court of Shelby County, Memphis, Tennessee that calls for comprehensive due process, equal protection and facility reforms.  On June 19, 2015, the Justice Department announced a partial settlement of its lawsuit alleging violations of children’s due process rights in Lauderdale County, Mississippi.  In March 2015, the department announced its investigation of due process and disability discrimination issues in the Dallas County Truancy Court and Juvenile District Courts.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Killing of Cecil The Lion Is More Important Than The Killing of Children

The killing of Cecil the Lion caused an international outrage.

In 2014, 354 American children died while in foster care.

How they died, nobody knows, nobody cares.

The feds do not keep records.


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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why Isn't Michele Bachman Stopping Minnesota Medicaid Fraud in Child Welfare?

For those who do not take time to watch the video or read the article, allow me to provide my summation.

The State of Minnesota has been aware for more than 6 years that child welfare service providers were fraudulently billing Medicaid and forcing children to live in deplorable conditions just to make extra money.

Former U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann, the woman who was "supposed" to be the champion of "unforttunate kids" was well aware of Medicaid fraud..

But what is ever more egregious is the fact that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with the U.S. Department of Justice, has done absolutely nothing to stop the practice of Medicaid fraud in child welfare.

You have a task force to go after Medicare and Medicaid fruad in dealing with adults, but nothing on Medicaid fraud in child welfare.

While the States and these aforementioned federal agencies do nothing, children are being raped, drugged and tortured, while it is all being billed to Medicaid.

By the way, for the amounts of fraud in question, it is considered a civiil violation, not criminal.  That is why no one is stopping Medicaid fraud in child welfare.

To the investigative team of KARE news, I give standing ovations for doing what the States refuse to do.  Thank you and I hope you help these victims find legal representation and sue the shit out the State of Minnesota.

Minnesota woman who kept adoptive special needs children in filthy home charged for defrauding taxpayers 

A Minnesota woman who kept eight special needs children in a home filled with feces, filth, urine and mold — all while billing taxpayers for her supposed childcare and somehow evading child protection officials — was charged with criminal fraud Monday, the state's Attorney General announced.

Erin Davies, 34, allegedly stole more than $26,000 from taxpayers while forcing the adoptive children to live in filth at her Richfield home, KAREreported. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Her mother Betsy Davies, who ran the alleged fraud with her, died in January, shortly before the station uncovered the squalid scheme. She never faced any charges.
KARE revealed in April showed that the Davies home had mold-covered bathrooms, rooms filled with garbage and mattresses stained with urine and feces.

“These children were living in just abject squalor condition,” Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said at the time.

Through the state’s Personal Care Assistance program, under which Davies and her mom were taxpayer-funded assistants for the special needs children, they allegedly filed claims for hours of services they never bothered providing. During some of time Davies claimed she was caring for children, she was actually drinking at bars or concerts with friends or visiting Las Vegas, records show.

Meanwhile, nurses who are required to visit the house twice a year under the PAC program never noticed the nastiness. One wrote in a report the children were “living in a neat and clean home.” 
Andrew Davies, the eldest of the children raised in the home, told KARE his careless caretakers would clean up the house just enough to pass inspection, then hide the children away when the nurses came over.

Even when complaints about the conditions came in years ago from family friends, child protection services never followed up, determining that “child protective services are not needed,” KARE reported. It’s unclear if inspectors ever visited the home more often than required by law.
After inspectors finally wised up and removed the children from the home in January, they were placed in protective custody and are now in foster care. Local building officials deemed the home “unsafe for human occupancy.”

Long before the alleged scam got busted, a local newspaper profiled Erin and Betsy Davies as benevolent workers who were getting squeezed by budget cuts for PCA caretakers.

The 2011 article in the Twin Cities Daily Planet noted that Betsy had already adopted four special needs children, and at the time was about to adopt two more, even though caring for the children had already made her “tired to the bone.”

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GOP Economics: Export American Jobs Rather Than American Products

By John Conyers, Jr.
Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Earlier this year, GOP standard-bearers Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal highlighting their support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, two massive trade deals with Asia and Europe. Congressman Ryan and Senator Cruz built their argument on a simple premise: Trade is good for exports. "These two agreements," wrote Ryan and Cruz, "would mean greater access to a billion customers for American manufacturers, farmers and ranchers."
So it's curious that -- given this supposed emphasis on exports -- the party of Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz is now fighting hard to destroy one of our main instruments for promoting the sale of American products to foreign markets: the Export-Import bank. This 81-year-old institution, which helps U.S. firms finance export operations, sustained 164,000 export-related American jobs last year and has created or sustained 1.3 million private sector jobs since 2009. In sharp contrast to Ryan and Cruz's two beloved trade agreements with Asia and Europe -- which are nearly certain to cost American jobs and undercut workers' livelihoods -- the Export-Import Bank operates at no cost to taxpayers.
On June 30th, just as Congress was quietly passing legislation to "Fast Track" the trade agreements over widespread Democratic objections, GOP leaders allowed the Export-Import Bank's authorization to expire. The bank is now temporarily out of commission, and Republicans show no interest in allowing a vote to revive it. 

When Franklin Roosevelt created the Export-Import bank during one of the darkest periods of the Great Depression, he was addressing the need for a coherent national economic strategy to promote job creation and livable wages. By providing loans at low interest rates to foreign entities to buy American goods, the federal government could, he reasoned, directly support domestic job creation and living standards in a cost-effective way. This vision has been borne out over the last eight decades. The bank had been an important part of our national economic strategy since foreign countries have often demanded financing as a precondition for importing American goods. Foreign competitors including China have created and expanded their own export-import banks to compete with the United States. Last year, the Export-Import bank actually returned $675 million to our federal Treasury, mostly through the interest and other fees it charges on its loans.

In rejecting federal export promotion tools, rejecting investments in highways and green energy, and rejecting essential funding for education and healthcare, the Republicans are left with just one element of an economic strategy: NAFTA-style trade agreements that force U.S. workers into direct competition with workers in countries like Vietnam, where the minimum wage runs below 60 cents per hour. As economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson demonstrated in their research on U.S.-China trade relations, increasing direct competition with large low-wage countries increases unemployment and reduces wages in the United States. Deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership simply empower multinational corporations with maximum influence to shape rules and standards at the expense of everyone else. In short, under the GOP economic strategy, there's just one sure thing we'll export to the rest of the world: American jobs. 

While quite a bit has changed in the 81 years since Franklin Roosevelt launched the Export-Import Bank, one fact remains the same: America needs a coherent national economic strategy focused on raising wages and living standards. We can implement such a strategy by investing in education, innovation, infrastructure, sensible export promotion, and a strong safety net--the genuine determinants of success in a competitive global economy. Having seen the consequences of the GOP's cut-and-run economics, Americans are ready for an affirmative agenda.

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States Have Never Met Goals of CAPTA - Baby LK's OP 7.29.2015

Did you know that not one State has ever come close to meeting a single goal of the Child Abuse Treatment and Prevention Act of 1974?


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Medicare at 50: A Cost-Effective and Compassionate Model

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
WASHINGTON – THURSDAY, July 30, 2015, U.S. Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13) will host a special forum, “Medicare at 50: A Cost-Effective and Compassionate Model.”  Wendell Potter, health insurance whistleblower and Senior Analyst at the Center for Public Integrity, will moderate the event.  The forum will highlight the successful Medicare program, the advancement and challenges of the Affordable Care Act, and the proposed “Medicare for All” healthcare system will be discussed among the featured panelists.

WHO: Rep. Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI)
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA)                     
Wendell Potter, moderator, Health Insurance Whistleblower, Center for Public Integrity
Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen
Michael Lighty, Director of Public Policy, National Nurses United
Robert Zarr, President, Physicians for a National Health Program
Andrea Miller, Executive Director, People Demanding Action 
      Don Berwick (via video), former administrator of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid    

WHAT:  Forum to discuss the successes of Medicare, review the major advances and challenges of the Affordable Care Act, and chart a path towards the proposed “Medicare for All” healthcare system.

WHEN:  TOMORROW - Thursday, July 30, 2015 from 1 – 2:45 p.m.

WHERE:  2237 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. (map)     

The event will be streamed live and can be viewed at

# # #
Rep. John Conyers (MI-13) is the last remaining member of Congress to have voted for the passage of Medicare in 1965.  He is the lead sponsor of H.R. 676, “The Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act,” which would create a single-payer healthcare system in the United States.

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Deportation and Foster Care Billing - Baby LK's OP, Juy 28, 2015

Did you know that foster care of children whose parents are deported bills twice as much as traditional foster care? 

If the The United States Department of Justice will not listen to an original source, then maybe they will listen to a crying baby.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

ICE and CPS: The Multi-million Dollar Secret Affair of Deportation

Each year, thousands of children are put into foster care because their parents have been locked up in
a federal detention facility for the crime of being undocumented.

As the system of child welfare operations is exempt from scrutiny, many parents are "detained" through the partnership of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with Child Protective Services (CPS).

CPS staff do not have legal training nor do they have policy on inter-jurisdictional partnerships.

For example, the practice of "targeting vulnerable populations", a federal code term to describe minorities, CPS does not need warrants to enter a home nor parental permission to detain and interrogate a child at school.

When a parent comes to pick up the child from school, ICE will be there waiting, along with CPS which places the child in foster care, billing at an enhanced rate.

Once a child is in the foster care system, concurrent planning is immediately put in place.  This means the child is fast tracked to adoption as relative placement is not enforced.

Under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the timeline to initiate Termination of Parental Rights proceedings is 12-months.  If a parent is detained in ICE custody, it will be for 2 to 3 years.

These children bring increased adoption tax credits and monthly adoption subsidies as the children are deemed to be "special needs".

ICE is used to promote the political agenda of human trafficking of children to generate revenue for the tax-exempt child placing agencies and service providers of the child welfare industry.

Deportation does not make sense; it makes millions.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Baby LK's Original Posts: Foster Care Horrors From the Mouth of a Baby 7,27,2015

Introducing Baby LK, of Legally Kidnapped, and his brand new series of "Original Posts".

If the The United States Department of Justice will not listen to an original source, then maybe they will listen to a crying baby.

Ignoring a baby crying in pain, asking for help is child abuse, right Attorney General Loretta Lynch?

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Orange Chicken Abuse - Baby LK Report For July 26th 2015

Baby LK recaps the week in news for the child protection industry. Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Children's Lives Should Matter, Too.

For years, children have been forceably snatched from parents for being poor minorites, by psuedo-law enforcement of Child Protective Services, without warrant, without being charged, without being read any rights, only to be placed in state custody to be raped, beaten, drugged, trafficked, commit suicide, attempt suicide and murdered, yet, despite the silent cries of these chldren due to privacy laws, and unparallel jurisprudence of a dependency court which adjudicates these cases against parents under the premise of being "guilty until proven innocent" without being able to confront your accusor, nothing has been done by the U.S. Department of Justice.

When watching this video of U.S. Representative Al Green, replace Sandra Bland's name with that of a child, any child who has died in foster care, and ask yourself why there has been no call to action to initiate any type of federal investigation.

You can find the name of a child who has suffered under the custody of a state, daily, here.

Rep. Al Green (D-TX) calls on The United States Department of Justice to investigate the death of #SandraBland.
Posted by C-SPAN on Wednesday, July 22, 2015


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The Multi-billion Dollar Industry of Warehousing Children

State laws hiding child abuse in foster care are inclusive of all the States.

What goes on behind the closed doors of foster care is excluded and exempted from public scrutiny, the same way fraudulent billing of Medicaid pays for the horrific treatment of children in these restrictive institutions.

Another reason the States will make no movement to introduce sunshine policies is because of the push for privatization.

Many facilities are religious-based, with a secondary level of inpenetrability against audits or even contract compliance.

By privatizing child welfare services, the agencies not only self-report, but they handle internal complaints.

Think of it like this:  If a child wants to file a complaint of abuse against a staff, the child would have to file the complaint with the staff person who engaged in the transgression.

Many children are placed in state care for the simplist reasons of poverty.  The more a state cuts resources and services to families with young children, the more likely there is an increase in the rate of children being placed in care, in a system that was never designed to do much more than to bill Medicaid.

Poverty is not a crime, but according to child welfare law, it is.

Warehousing children is a multi-billion dollar industry of human trafficking which is too big to fail.

This is why there are confidentiality laws.

This is why the abuse is hidden.

An untold number of foster children in South Carolina custody are neglected, drugged, beaten and molested in group homes and institutions where the state warehouses them for millions of dollars a year at taxpayer expense.

Read the Series

Part I: Warehousing our Children: How South Carolina laws hide child abuse inside group homes 

What's more, South Carolina keeps the abuse these children suffer secret by using state laws that shield group homes from almost any scrutiny.

Court records shed light on some of the worst cases, but this state-sanctioned secrecy makes it impossible for the public to weigh the difference between well-run group homes and those that resemble a Dickensian orphanage. Even parents who reluctantly send their children to these facilities for treatment can't figure out how to keep them safe behind closed doors.

When Jessica Freeman placed her daughter in Springbrook Behavioral Health last year, she had no idea the state had investigated the Greenville County home 95 times since 2000 for possible abuse and neglect — more than almost any other residential treatment facility in South Carolina. That's because the state Department of Social Services doesn't make the few records that are public readily accessible.

Freeman pulled her daughter from the facility last fall after a therapist told her that several Springbrook staff members had beaten an autistic child in an incident caught on a security camera.
“That's ridiculous,” Freeman said. “You can report a bad hamburger easier than you can report someone abusing your child.”

Springbrook administrator Mike Rowley would not discuss any specific case, but said most allegations made against the facility are cleared by the Department of Social Services.
“If we have anything substantiated, those employees are immediately terminated,” Rowley said. “We don't want them around other children.”
Charleston County School teacher Jeremy Wise teaches English literature to children at Windwood Farm. The group home for boys in Awendaw offers an on-site school for children in its care. Many of the children have been shuffled around several group homes and foster homes by the Department of Social Services.

Two Springbrook employees have been fired for child abuse or neglect in the last three years, he said.
Despite stories such as Freeman's, South Carolina continues to send its youngest foster children into group homes and institutions at a higher rate than any other state in the country, federal data shows. This trend persists even though a growing body of evidence points out that children should grow up with their own families or in foster homes.

Related documents

That's why other states have reduced their reliance on group homes by expanding foster family programs or finding relatives for these children to live with. But South Carolina has largely resisted change, dumping tens of millions of dollars every year into privately-run group homes for no other reason than that's how this state has always done it, some experts say.

“I can say, having done this work for 15 years nationally, that South Carolina is possibly the worst I've ever seen on that front,” said Ira Lustbader, the litigation director for Children's Rights, a New York advocacy group.

More than 100 group homes and institutions are scattered across the state, ranging from rural farms to sophisticated psychiatric compounds. At any given time, they house about a quarter of South Carolina's 4,000 foster children.

While group-home supporters acknowledge that some problems persist within the industry, they insist these facilities provide desperately needed services for troubled children who aren't suited for normal homes and have nowhere else to live.

But even Susan Alford, named the new Department of Social Services director late last year, finds South Carolina's numbers problematic.

“Our rate is too high,” Alford said. “We put too many children — especially in the 0 to 12 (age) range — we put too many of them in group homes. Our aim would be to try to decrease that number.”

Troubling findings

South Carolina isn't the only state faced with these problems. Published reports across the country detail a litany of horror stories in which children and teenagers in group homes have been overmedicated for mild behavioral issues, raped by their peers and lured into prostitutionwhile their temporary guardians aren't watching. But many other states are moving away from this model. Meanwhile, South Carolina continues shoveling hundreds of children a year into a system rife with complaints and concerns.

The Post and Courier reviewed lawsuits, visited group homes, filed open records requests and interviewed dozens of state leaders, child welfare experts, parents and former foster children for this series. Among other things, the newspaper's investigation found:

- Nearly a quarter of the children under 13 years old who entered the foster care system in 2013 were placed in group homes and institutions in South Carolina — by far the highest placement rate for this age group in the United States. By comparison, only 2 percent in Tennessee and 3 percent in North Carolina were placed in similar settings. The national average is 4 percent.

Some children live for months, even years, in group homes because South Carolina fails to recruit enough foster families and the state pays them so little to participate. Some foster parents are paid less than $13 a day to raise a child.

The South Carolina Department of Social Services spent $28.1 million in 2014 placing children in group homes — more than five times the amount the agency paid foster families. Group homes earn at least $86 per child per night.
Deborah McKelvey, the executive director for Windwood Farm, checks on a room where visiting families can spend time with children in the facility’s care. She said group homes provide a measure of security that foster families often can’t offer, especially for children who may have trouble bonding in a new home.

The Department of Social Services reviews hundreds of allegations of child abuse and neglect in group homes, institutions, foster homes and day care facilities every year, yet the agency's team of 10 investigators rarely finds enough evidence to support those claims. The state has investigated 484 allegations of abuse and neglect in group homes and institutions in the past five years, but has only been able to find evidence to prove 44 cases.

South Carolina makes it easier to know which restaurants are infested with cockroaches than to pinpoint where children have been neglected, or worse, physically and sexually abused.

Court records allege children who disclose that they've been abused in group care — by adults and each other — are often ignored because state caseworkers are so overloaded that they don't have time to weigh the allegations.

'Dangerous deficiencies'

In January, Children's Rights and the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center filed a federal lawsuit against South Carolina on behalf of 11 foster children who allegedly suffered from the Social Services agency's “dangerous deficiencies.”

The complaint contends children were abused, overmedicated, separated from their siblings, kept in solitary confinement, fed moldy bread — and the worst of it happened in group homes.

One 16-year-old girl reported that children at the Jenkins Institute for Children in North Charleston hoarded food because they were “frequently deprived.” The group home denied her medicine and feminine hygiene products, and she said a maintenance worker there asked her to take naked pictures of herself on a cellphone, according to the lawsuit.
Johanna Martin-Carrington, director of the Jenkins Institute for Children, said the allegations aren't true. “Children make those claims,” she said. “But we know it didn't occur.”

The lawsuit also alleges that a teenager at Epworth Children's Home in Richland County was prescribed a “powerful psychotropic medication for the first time in his life.” The drug is used to treat bipolar disorder, even though the child had never been diagnosed and hadn't received a mental health evaluation at the group home, the complaint contends.

At Helping Hands, a group home in Aiken County, the lawsuit claims that a 9-year-old boy's toothbrush was smothered with feces.

Epworth Children's Home and Helping Hands did not respond to messages about the lawsuit.
The original complaint also contends that several unnamed group home employees and state caseworkers did nothing when some children tried to report the abuse. One caseworker allegedly told a child, “She had a lot of children on her caseload and so was limited in what she could do to help her,” the lawsuit stated.

Paula Fendley is the executive director for the Palmetto Association for Children and Families, an organization that represents many group homes in South Carolina. She said similar cases filed by Children's Rights in other states have been settled before trial.

“You can allege anything in a lawsuit, but you have to be able to prove it,” Fendley said. “If these things are, in fact, true, then I guess all of that will come out in the court.”
Windwood Farm, established in 1985, is a combined “Level 3” group home and psychiatric residential treatment facility for boys in Awendaw. It is one of more than 100 group homes and institutions across the state that accepts foster children from the Department of Social Services. A smaller number of children staying in the residential treatment facility here are called “private placements.” Their own parents retain custody, but have decided they need intense, out-of-home care for behavioral health issues, such as autism or bipolar disorder.

Alford and Gov. Nikki Haley, both named defendants in the lawsuit, agreed to participate in early court mediation, public records show.

According to the South Carolina Department of Social Services, “group or congregate care is designed to meet the needs of children/youth who are unable to live at home or in a foster family and require temporary care in a group setting.”

Some of these facilities, often called “children's homes,” are vestiges of old orphanages and they provide a variety of different services.

For example, “Level 3” group homes offer behavioral health treatment for children, while “Level 1” group homes generally keep children without any mental health diagnoses.
Most children in group homes in South Carolina have been placed there by the Department of Social Services as part of the foster system.

Institutions, such as psychiatric residential treatment facilities, are designed to offer an even higher level of care for children with more severe behavioral health needs.

Some children in group homes and institutions are considered “private placements.” Their parents retain legal custody, but have decided to place them in these facilities for treatment.

Haley's office directed questions about the lawsuit to the Department of Social Services.
Alford would not discuss the pending litigation. “Those are things that I just can't talk about,” she said.

Funding foster families

The federal lawsuit hinges on the widely-accepted premise that social services caseworkers in South Carolina are overwhelmed with work. They don't have time to keep track of all the children that they're charged to protect.

A Legislative Audit Council report published last year shows more than 30 percent of caseworkers statewide were each assigned at least 50 children to monitor, and a few were assigned more than 75. The Child Welfare League of America, a national advocacy group, recommends each caseworker manage no more than 17 families per month.

The Legislative Audit Council report and a string of child deaths prompted Statehouse hearings and calls to reform the child welfare agency. Former DSS Director Lillian Koller, who tried to scale back the number of foster children in group homes, resigned under pressure last year.
Still, the General Assembly has failed to pass any sort of major legislation to reform the Department of Social Services.

“It's not something that legislators get excited about because there's no glory in this,” said Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, a member of the Senate DSS Oversight Committee.

“I know that everybody wants to talk about roads and jobs, and we do need to talk about those things and those are important, but if we don't save our children, we don't need our roads.”

Appleseed Legal Justice Center Director Sue Berkowitz said the Legislature needs to broaden its probe into the state agency because child deaths aren't the only problem it faces.

“There's so much more going on,” she said. “What hasn't been focused on is what's happening to our kids once they go into the system.”

Data provided by the Department of Social Services shows about a quarter of the 4,000 foster children in South Carolina lived in a group home, an emergency shelter or an institution on April 1. Experts, including the Department of Social Services director, say that's too many.

“The goal in child welfare is for you, as much as possible, to keep kids in families,” Alford said. “If you can't keep them with their biological family or put them in kinship care, then you're looking at foster care as the next best alternative. That should be your first priority.”
Susan Alford, the new Department of Social Services director, said she’s focusing on foster children’s safety and well-being. She also wants to find permanent living situations for them. She admitted that DSS places too many children under 13 years old in group homes.

national report published by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation this year said group homes aren't designed to offer the “individualized nurturing” that children need.

“In many cases, a child ends up living in a group placement simply because an agency has not found an appropriate facility,” the report's authors wrote.

On May 1, 2,310 foster homes were licensed to accept children in South Carolina — too few for the nearly 4,000 children in the system. But the child welfare agency can't recruit enough families, partly because they're paid so little to participate. Foster parents only make between $12.77 and $17.27 per child per night — no more than $6,303 a year to clothe, feed and care for a child.

In response to a public records request filed by The Post and Courier, the Department of Social Services said it spent $28.1 million in the 2014 fiscal year to house children in group homes and institutions, but only $5.5 million on foster families.

Critics argue it makes no sense that the state spends more than five times the amount of money to house less than a quarter of all foster children in group homes because many of them shouldn't be there in the first place.

“It's bad for kids, but it's also a total waste of taxpayer money,” said Lustbader, of New York's Children's Rights. “That's the part that doesn't get as much attention as it deserves.”

Some group facilities for children earn additional income from other agencies. The state Medicaid agency, for example, spent $23 million during the 2015 fiscal year on South Carolina children in psychiatric residential treatment facilities, which offer the highest level of care.

Most “Level 3” group homes — a step down from residential treatment facilities — pull in $151 per child per night, or more than $50,000 per child per year. “Level 1” and “Level 2” group homes largely accept children without any psychological problems and earn either $86 or $98 per child per night.

Meanwhile, a 2012 national report shows only five states paid foster families lower rates than South Carolina. Even some group-home advocates acknowledge these foster family payments aren't sufficient.

“It's less than you would pay to board your dog,” said Deborah McKelvey, the executive director of Windwood Farm, a combined “Level 3” group home and psychiatric residential treatment facility for boys in Awendaw.

South Carolina needs more foster families, she argued, but some group homes offer children a measure of security that a traditional family can't provide.

“I know the national picture says children under 12 shouldn't live in a group setting,” she said. “I say children under 12 frequently are too afraid to bond with a family. They feel safer in a group setting where they know somebody is awake 24 hours a day watching their back.”

Children eat family-style meals together at Windwood Farm, she said. They go to the beach. Windwood almost resembles summer camp, complete with an obstacle course, ponds for swimming and fishing, and a fitness trail, she said.
Rooms inside Windwood Farm in Awendaw look like a normal home. Staff at this group home for boys organize family meals. They take children on beach trips and to community events. They also remind them to brush, floss, wash and flush with these wall decals.

Jody Tamsberg, chairman of the Windwood Farm board of directors, said that even though South Carolina agencies pay Windwood significantly more than foster families to care for children in state custody, those payments don't cover its bills. The nonprofit group home still must raise at least $500,000 a year to break even, he said.

“I love good foster families and there are lots of them, but even the good ones, they can't take a kid that's been abused, that's on eight medications, that's totally out of control,” Tamsberg said. “There's got to be a place where they can come, stabilize, be safe and have skilled professionals — nurses and doctors — tend to them.”

Brendin and Faith

Brendin Cecere and his mom, Faith Rice, moved out of their Summerville house right before Thanksgiving three years ago following a physical fight between Rice and her ex-husband. The ordeal was particularly traumatic for Brendin, who is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
“Brendin's whole world that he knew was done. Everything that was familiar — his routine, his home, his neighborhood — everything that he was familiar with, with the exception of school, was out of sorts for him,” Rice said. “By January, he pretty much broke down.”

Brendin, now 13 years old, threatened his mom with a knife. He hurt the dogs. He threatened to hurt himself, too.

“At that point, there wasn't anything more I could do but place him in a facility,” Rice said. “As much as it killed me, there was nothing more I could do.”

Brendin spent nine months at Three Rivers Behavioral Health, a psychiatric residential treatment facility near Columbia, and more than a year at Willowglen Academy, a similar facility in Kingstree. Rice believes he was abused at both homes.

At Three Rivers, Brendin's arms and chest were bruised, he told her, by a nurse who hit children with an open hand.

At Willowglen Academy, Brendin said a staff member broke his arm.

The Department of Social Services investigated Brendin's allegations at Willowglen Academy but determined his claims were not credible, Rice said. The group home told Rice that he fell out of a window and that children with behavioral issues or special needs like Brendin tend to embellish the truth.

“I said, 'What about these other kids that can't defend themselves, who are not verbally expressive like my son?'” Rice said.

She couldn't even get a copy of the official 11-page state investigation into Brendin's injury, she said. A Department of Social Services supervisor in Williamsburg County told her the document was protected by state law because the case was determined “unfounded.”

Three Rivers Behavioral Health and Willowglen Academy, both owned by out-of-state, for-profit corporations, did not respond to questions about Brendin.
Children staying at Windwood Farm in Awendaw share rooms. The bigger rooms house up to four children at one time. Around-the-clock staff members monitor bedrooms at night to ensure that the boys are safe.

The Department of Social Services opened 100 investigations into alleged abuse and neglect at multiple Willowglen Academy facilities and 97 investigations at Three Rivers since 2000, but the agency would not tell The Post and Courier how many of these allegations it could prove.

Brendin left Willowglen Academy late last year to live with his grandparents in Simpsonville. Rice, who was recently diagnosed with cancer, didn't feel safe choosing another group home. She's still trying to figure out what really happened last fall.

“I spoke to the SLED (State Law Enforcement Division) department. I spoke to Nikki Haley's office, who bounced me to Lindsey Graham's office,” she said. “Both offices told me they are not able to handle cases like this.”

'Looking for loopholes'

The South Carolina Department of Social Services receives hundreds of reports alleging abuse and neglect in foster homes, institutions, group homes and day care centers every year. But 10 years of DSS data shows the department rarely finds sufficient evidence to prove that a child has been abused in one of these “out-of-home” settings.

In 2010, for example, the department investigated 132 reports of abuse in group homes and institutions, but found enough evidence to prove only six cases. In theory, some cases were handed to local law enforcement agencies for investigation. But the Department of Social Services would not tell The Post and Courier how many abuse reports were handled by police or which agencies were involved.

Four years ago, this prompted some child advocates in South Carolina to question if these reports were always properly investigated. They wanted to know why the number of “founded” cases was so low.

The South Carolina Citizen Review Panels, three independent groups set up to evaluate child protective services, were particularly worried by a report that boys in a group home were sexually abusing each other as an initiation ritual.

At the time, Social Services explained that the incident was not “indicated,” or proven, by its Out-of-Home Abuse and Neglect division because child-on-child abuse is not specifically addressed in state law.

“They were looking for loopholes so they don't have responsibility. That's just crazy,” said Donna Xenakis, a former chairwoman of the Lowcountry Citizen Review Panel.

Only 13 reports of abuse in group homes and institutions were determined “indicated” or “founded” last year.

A team of 10 investigators at the Department of Social Services examined fewer than half of all reports filed in the 2014 fiscal year for out-of-home abuse and neglect. Some of the reports were “screened out,” the agency explained, because they did not meet the “statutory criteria” to warrant an investigation.

'Never going to change'

Jessica Freeman's adopted daughters Jaylin and Olivia were discovered bound together with a bungee-cord in their Tennessee home before they were taken into state custody more than 10 years ago.

“Jaylin came to me at 5 years old. She weighed 22 pounds and had STDs,” Freeman said.
Charleston County School district educators teach some of the children staying at Windwood Farm in a red school house built on the Awendaw property. Other children who live at this group home attend regular, community schools.

Olivia, 4 years old at the time, weighed 23 pounds and also was sexually abused.

“They didn't talk,” she said. “They weren't potty-trained.”

The girls, now teenagers, require out-of-home treatment in group facilities in North Carolina.
“Both of my girls are going to need care like this for the rest of their life,” Freeman said. “It's overwhelming, as a mom, because you want to protect them and you want to keep them safe and you reach a point when you can't do that anymore.”

Last year, Jaylin lived at Springbrook Behavioral Health in Upstate South Carolina until her therapist told Freeman that staff members beat an autistic child in front of other children in the gymnasium.

“The reason why this stuff continues is because the children don't have a voice to speak up,” Freeman said. “I think as long as people are quiet it's not going to get any better.”

Mike Rowley, the administrator for Springbrook, said the facility takes every allegation seriously and self-reports any suspected child abuse case to the South Carolina Department of Social Services.
“I don't think there's anything we do that should be secretive,” Rowley said. “It's a great place for kids.”

The Department of Social Services denied an open records request filed by The Post and Courier to review any “Out-of-Home” abuse reports, even reports that determined abuse allegations in the group homes were valid. State law exempts these documents from disclosure, the agency's lawyer said.
“Confidentiality is such a big thing in child welfare,” Alford said. “By statute, a lot of what we do is not considered to be public knowledge. That's one barrier. I think the department is trying to be a lot more transparent.”

Alford acknowledged that potential child abuse in these facilities keeps her up at night.
“We have to be concerned with their safety all the time,” Alford said. “We're legally responsible for that by statute. We're morally responsible for it. Of course it concerns me.”

Berkowitz, the Appleseed Legal Justice Center director, said the Department of Social Services needs to admit its problems before the agency can solve them. She doesn't trust the department's own data.
“These are our poorest kids, our most vulnerable kids,” Berkowitz said. “I have heard so many people over the years and seen so many reports. 'We're going to fix this. We're going to fix that.' And I just think unless there is some structure that will require this to happen it's never going to change.”

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