Fired Miami social worker gets 1 1/2 years in prison for extorting families of refugee children

As a newly hired employee for a Miami social services agency, Leslie Rubero Padilla’s job was to reunite unaccompanied refugee children with their parents or legal guardians in the United States.

She was supposed to charge the families only for transportation, such as airfare. But authorities say Rubero shook down more than a dozen of them by insisting they had to send her additional money or the reunification with their children would be delayed — or, worse, they would be deported back to their native country in Central America.

“This case is just so shocking because this defendant preyed on the most vulnerable people,” federal prosecutor Daniel Bernstein said at Rubero’s sentencing hearing on Friday. “Why is it so offensive? She calculated that these are people I can rip off because they are not going to report it.”

The prosecutor asked U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles to send Rubero, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud in September, to prison for four years. Bernstein pointed out that she not only exploited the poor parents and guardians for a total of $11,100, but also noted: “She had legal custody of their children.”

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Vital Information from Attorney Vincent W. Davis

if-social-services-removed-your-children-ca-attorney-vincent-w-davis-explains-how-to-respond[1]THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IS PROVIDED BY ATTORNEY VINCENT W. DAVIS AND COPIED HEREIN WITH PERMISSION. PLEASE CONTACT ATTORNEY DAVIS

FOR MORE INFORMATION: 888-506-6810

The Most Important Thing You Must Know At the Beginning of Your Juvenile Dependency Case

by VINCENT DAVIS on NOVEMBER 3, 2014

I’ve been noticing a shift in the willingness of social workers, and sometimes judges to place foster children with family. It seems that all the political lobbying foster parents are doing in Sacramento and amongst the County social workers is paying off.

It is imperative that you know the following: YOU MUST FIGHT TO PLACE YOUR CHILDREN WITH FRIENDLY RELATIVES at the very beginning of the case; otherwise you risk losing them to adoption to the foster parent. This is rarely fought about during these juvenile dependency cases. And it should be something that should be raised by your attorney at each and every hearing; and if it is not completed (i.e., the child actually placed with a relative), your attorney should have a trial on this, and perhaps other issues, at the Disposition Hearing. Please read, read and re-read California Welfare and Institutions Code section 309. And if necessary have your attorney have a trial on these issues at the Dispositional Hearing.

Here are some actual recent case studies.

The first case from Riverside County. The relatives who wanted the child lived in Oklahoma. They were cousins of the mother. They contacted the social worker at the very beginning of the case, 3 days after the first hearing, the hearing commonly known as the arraignment detention hearing.   Short after that hearing, the child was placed with a local foster care family. Turns out, the foster parents were a young couple, who couldn’t have children and wanted to adopt this child. And under a concept in the law called Concurrent Planning, the county social worker supported the foster parents desire to adopt.

The social worker informed them of two important things; both of which were false. First, the social worker said that they could not have the child placed in their home in Oklahoma, at the beginning of the case, because the court would order Family Reunification Services for the parents. And that could not happen until the court terminated Reunification Services 6 to 12 months into the case. This is false, because the child can be placed with the relatives, despite the parents being given Family Reunification Services.

Second, the social worker informed the relatives that the child could not be placed in their home without an Interstate Compact Placement of Children (“ICPC”) approval from Oklahoma. An ICPC is a report prepared by the receiving state social worker approving the Oklahoma relatives. All of this is true. But, the social worker told the relatives that this could not even be requested or initiated until at or after the disposition hearing; which in this case, was months down the road. This was false. ICPC can be initiated at any time. And remember, the foster parents and the child are living and bonding during all this time.

Third, the social worker had the opportunity to initiate and request and Expedited ICPC, which is completed in 30 days. For whatever reason, she did not. Had she done so, the child could have been placed with the relatives quicker and faster.

Instead, the social worker requested and ICPC, which took months and months. Apparently, and as usual, a regular ICPC takes months and months and months. And on top of that there was further delay because the County social worker delayed the process, the California ICPC office delayed processing the request, and then Oklahoma delayed the process because someone went on vacation.

While all of this was pending, the parents’ parental rights were terminated at the Welfare & Institutions Code section 366.26 hearing.

About a month later, the Oklahoma ICPC was approved, but the relatives were no longer legal relatives since the parents lost their parental rights. Relatives are relatives only through the parents; and if the parents lose their rights, the relatives in turn lose their relationship with the children as well.

The relatives did go to court and request that the child still be placed with them, but they were denied. The fact that they were no longer relatives, and the fact that the child had formed a loving bond with the child after all that time, were things used by the juvenile court to justify not giving the child to the Oklahoma relatives.

The next case is out of San Diego County. The child was taken from the parents based on the allegations that mother had mental and emotional deficits, and that the father was responsible for the death of a sibling. The child was placed in a single parent foster home.

As it turns out, the social worker claimed that she was never told of any relatives that wanted the child placed in their home. And as it turned out, there were 3 relative families in San Diego, one in Arizona, one in Colorado, one in Alabama and one in Korea. The Arizona and Korea families were stationed in that locale, as part of the United States Armed forces. It appears that the social worker either spoke to, or had the chance to speak to some of these relatives, but never inquired if they wanted the child; instead waiting for the relative to take some affirmative action to have the child placed in their homes.

This is not the law in California. California Welfare and Institutions Code section 309, requires the social worker to search out and find, and to use “due diligence” to find relatives. If you think about it, this is an onerous burden for the social workers, but it is the law. And the biggest problem is that most attorneys are not familiar with this particular law, or choose not to fight for it, or enforce it at every hearing, especially the disposition hearing. In this case, it was conceded that there was no due diligence filed with the court. And honestly, after 25 years of practice as an attorney in this area, I’ve never seen a due diligence for relatives filed with the court. I take that back, San Francisco uses an outside service to locate relatives, but I don’t think it was filed with the court. But there, one of the relatives informed me that she did get a call, but the caller basically called to talk her out of wanting to have the child placed in her home. And the relative went along with the recommendation that the child not be placed in the relative home.

Yet, despite these facts, the court left the child in the foster home because the child had formed a bond with the foster parent.

The third case is an interesting case out of San Bernardino County. The children were removed from the parents because of allegations of mutual domestic violence. At the beginning of the case, I provided 25 names of relatives to the social worker. After 2 months, the social worker refused to investigate and report to the court about any of the relatives. The children were in foster care, and the recommendation by the social worker, for concurrent planning, was adoption by the foster family.

Here’s the funny part. The number one relatives was the maternal grandparents, who were both medical surgeons from El Salvador. Both traveled to/from the United States frequently, visiting and working in the United States. Both came to the San Bernardino, and the court was informed that they would stay there as long as necessary to keep the children, and to get them out of foster care. Turns out the grandfather had a United States Visa that expired in 2021, and the grandmother had a Visa that expired in 2018.

WIC 309 states that the immigration status of the relative care takers cannot be considered. So if you are undocumented, that cannot be used against you in getting your relative children placed with you. Notwithstanding, the social worker told the grandparents after they arrived in California, that they could not have the children because they weren’t citizens. And the worker’s attorney argued in court that since they were not permanent residents, they children could not be placed with these grandparents. And initially, the court seemed to go along with that, but began reversing when I pressed the matter.

Now, on my recommendation, the grandparents I recommend these grandparents come from El Salvador, and I had section 309 on our side.

After a trial, the judge informed me that the children should be placed with the mother, my client, after her home was checked out, and after we filed a Restraining Order against the father. It seemed that I had pushed the relative placement issue so hard, the court decided just to place the children back with the mother. Maybe it was easier than investigating 25 relatives, and dealing with the Immigration issues.

We offer free initial consultations, and we can offer an extended case analysis and consultation for a nominal fee. Also we are available to represent you in your juvenile dependency matter as a parent, relative or foster parent. Check our website for news on the monthly Juvenile Dependency Law seminars in a city near you.

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Girl, 5, raped and flogged for being late for dinner at foster home, inquiry told

Girl, 5, raped and flogged for being late for dinner at foster home, inquiry told

State of NSW resisted accepting liability for abuse at Bethcar children’s home despite one manager being jailed for 30 years

The royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse is currently examining events that occurred at the Bethcar children’s home in Brewarrina, NSW.

A girl who was physically and sexually abused from the age of five until 15 by her foster parents at a home for Indigenous children was also lied to and convinced to be so terrified of her biological parents she would not speak to them, the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse has heard.

Kathleen Biles and two of her siblings were made wards of the state and sent to live at the Bethcar Children’s Home in Brewarrina in remote northern NSW more than 30 years ago.

The state-funded home was run by Burt and Edith Gordon and their son-in-law Colin Gibson from 1969 to 1989.

The royal commission is examining how complaints of abuse at the home were handled, with an emphasis on the “protracted” litigation procedure when civil proceedings were brought by fifteen former residents of Bethcar against the State.

Biles told the public hearing in Sydney on Wednesday that she had learned from her department of child services (Docs) file that her mother had tried to get the children back, but her father thought they were better cared for at Bethcar, and that he “trusted” the foster parents, Burt and Edith Gordon.

Gibson was jailed in 2007 on two separate sentences of 12 years and 18 years for offences against a number of girls.

Biles told the commission her first memory of abuse was at the age of five when she went to the Gordons’ to complain of a headache.

“Before Edith could say anything, Burt held up the blanket he was under and said words to the effect ‘come under the blanket with daddy. Daddy will make it better’,” said Biles.

Burt Gordon then sexually assaulted her. Edith Gordon seemed “completely indifferent”, said Biles. When she started crying, Edith Gordon said “what’s wrong with you you naughty little girl” and Burt Gordon invited her under the blanket again.

Edith Gordon told her to go to Burt Gordon but she said no, so the woman physically beat her.

“Later I learned from experience that Edith would respond like this every time we told her that we had been abused,” said Biles.

The children were also told that their parents did not want them. Burt Gordon would tell the children their parents were evil and alcoholic, and threatened to send the children back to them if they misbehaved, said Biles.

“I was terrified of my biological parents because of what he said,” she told the hearing.

When her parents came to see her at school one day and called out to her, she was too scared to go to them.

Biles detailed numerous horrific instances of the decade-long abuse which she said made her feel “violated” and like “nowhere was safe, even if other people were there”.

No case was taken against Burt Gordon, who was old and unwell at the time of the investigation. He has since died.

The royal commission is hearing from a number of witnesses, including six former residents of Bethcar.

Another five-year-old girl was raped and then flogged when she was late for dinner after she was placed in Bethcar at the age of two or three. The abuse began soon after. The girl, given the pseudonym AIQ for legal reasons, told no one until she was in her late 30s.

Children who went to police and NSW welfare officers with allegations of abuse were returned to the home where they were beaten, the commission heard.

As the hearing began in Sydney, the commission was told the state of NSW had for years resisted accepting liability for any abuse and disputed for four years that it had occurred – even after Gibson was jailed.

When 13 former residents came forward in 2008 to sue the state, the Crown Solicitor’s office employed solicitor Evangelos Manollaras and junior counsel Patrick Saidi to handle the case.

Counsel assisting the commission, David Lloyd, said Manollaras doubted the abuse had happened and at one stage wrote “... in fact, I’m having some difficulty in having understanding how a jury convicted Gibson”.

There were years of delay and legal tactics. Saidi was highly critical of the Women’s Legal Service, which was supporting some victims, the inquiry was told.

Lloyd also said that when the plaintiffs requested an acknowledgment and a modest amount of money, Mallollaras expressed the view that “firstly I don’t ever recall the state apologising for anything, secondly as to the sexual assaults, I have a very strong doubt that anything occurred at all in most cases”.

In one email Manollaras raised the “possibility of undertaking some surveillance” on at least some of the plaintiffs and suggested an initial compensation budget of $20,000-$30,000.

The case was settled at the beginning of 2014, with each plaintiff getting $107,142 with the state to pay legal costs.

The state had spent almost $1m defending it.

The hearing continues.

theguardian.com

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House Ways and Means Committee Discusses Obama Plan on Psychotropics on Foster children

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources heard testimony yesterday on the disproportionate use of psychotropic medications on foster youths, and the president’s $750 million proposal to address the issue.

The hearing yesterday was spurred along by the presence of a celebrity witness, talk show host “Dr. Phil” McGraw.

“These drugs can change and even save lives,” McGraw told the committee. But with foster youths, they are “too often misused as chemical straitjackets,” prescribed to mitigate “undesirable behavior” and make foster youths “less inconvenient.”

The use of psychotropics on foster youths has received attention from several corners in both houses of Congress and the White House in recent months. President Barack Obama proposed in his fiscal 2015 budget a $750 million, 10-year plan to help states develop different ways to address mental health challenges among foster youths.

Last week, Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee said the committee plans to “play offense” on what Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) called “mind-bending drugs.”

Youth-Shadow-Day_0

Ways and Means leadership from both parties asserted an interest in addressing the issue. “This is a bipartisan issue,” said Subcommittee Chairman David Reichert, “We are together on this.”

A 2011 law shepherded through Ways and Means required states to share their prescription and monitoring protocols with the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Everyone agrees that these drugs are flowing too much,” McGraw said. “The real question is, why? Why is this happening?”

The president’s proposal is a two-pronged plan that focuses mostly on building the ability of states to treat foster youths without psychotropic drugs – or at least with less drugs – and then rewarding states for lowering reliance on the drugs.

The first part is a $50 million a year, five-year investment by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). That mandatory spending would “encourage the use of evidence-based screening, assessment and treatment of trauma and mental health disorders” among foster youth.

The second part is a $500 million Medicaid demonstration program that would provide performance-based Medicaid incentive payments to improve care coordination and delivery of evidence-based services for foster youth.

One key element of those demonstrations would be improved collaboration between child welfare and health services agencies.

“You’d think that child welfare and mental health systems would work together a lot; you’d be very wrong,” said Dr. Michael Naylor, who helps lead a medication oversight partnership between the University of Illinois-Chicago and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

ACF official Joo Yuen Chang testified that the agency found a services gap as it engaged more local systems about psychiatric medications.

“Child welfare agencies did not have access to the research-based, non-pharmacological, mental health treatments for the conditions for which many of these children were being medicated,” Chang said at the hearing.

The Dr. Phil Foundation is one of the 110 organizations to sign a letter in support of the Obama proposal, which ranking minority member Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) introduced for the record.

But McGraw also suggested a more nefarious reason for overreliance on medications.

“It’s pay for pathology,” said McGraw, who is also a spokesman for Court Appointed Special Advocates. “More prescriptions, less treatment. More prescriptions, less treatment. These children deserve better than that.”

Read More at: House Ways and Means Committee Discusses Obama Plan on Psychotropics | The Chronicle of Social Change:

 

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Rewriting Rules On Reunification Of Troubled Florida Families

The Legislature’s child welfare overhaul bill, awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature, would make it harder for the state to reunify children with dangerous, drug-addled parents.

Over a dozen turbulent years, Kaylee Ann Rice was in and out of state care as her troubled mom parented in a fog of drugs and violence. Courtney Coughlin’s rap sheet stretches 19 pages, peppered with weapons, battery and drug charges. She had been to jail twice, attempted suicide twice and wascommitted once.

Yet Kaylee, who first came to the attention of state child welfare authorities as an infant, was always returned to her mother.

The cycle ended when Kaylee was killed. Three days after her 12th birthday, she died after her mother hurtled through a red light at 90 miles per hour while fleeing police. She was trying to cash a stolen check. The girl was not wearing a seat-belt.

When Florida lawmakers overhauled the state’s child protection laws this session, they also took aim at the state Department of Children & Families’ sometimes ill-fated decisions to return vulnerable youngsters to drug-abusing and dangerous parents.

The child welfare bill, still awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature, gives Community Based Care groups — private organizations contracted by DCF to provide child welfare social services — a chance to raise objections if they think reunification will leave a child in danger.

“We wanted to have a role in the conversation about reunification,’’ said Kurt Kelly, who heads the Florida Coalition for Children, which represents the state’s CBCs. “Because we are providing the services, we are often the closest to the families and can contribute to the decision about whether a child can be safely reunified.’’

Over the past five years, more than two dozen children have died after either they or an older sibling were reunited with volatile, lawless or drug-using parents. The parents were shown mercy. The children weren’t.

In the most recent case, a Sanford toddler, Tariji Gordon, was killed three months after she was returned to her troubled mother, who had been stripped of custody after smothering Tariji’s twin brother. The first death was originally ruled accidental, but it appears to be under investigation again.

“The decision to reunify is similar to the decision to remove; it’s the most important decision we make in the life of a case. Sometimes we make the decision to reunify parents because they have completed the list of tasks that was given to them,’’ said DCF interim Secretary Mike Carroll. “But there is not a whole lot of analysis to determine whether the tasks resulted in a change in behavior, or mitigated the safety concerns that led us to remove the child in the first place.”

He added: “We have to get better, particularly when the case is high risk.”

The story of DCF reunifications is not as much in the numbers as the quality of some of the investigations and the decision-making that preceded them. Even when the agency takes a child away from the family — a rare occurrence — it will often return the child to his or her abuser after a parenting class or the signing of a promissory pledge.

State Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, who co-wrote the overhaul bill, said she didn’t realize the state had an issue with risky reunifications until recently, following Tariji’s death. Representatives of Central Florida private foster care agencies visited her, and expressed deep concerns about DCF’s reluctance to give them a seat at the table when decisions were made on whether to return children to their parents.

“They were telling me how many cases they had where they would recommend that a child not be reunified, yet the data and documentation was never heard in court. They would submit it to DCF, and they would not be able to make it available” to a judge, said the Republican, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. “I was horrified by what was going on.”

Tariji’s death

That conflict came into sharp focus with the death of Tariji. The 2-year-old and her surviving siblings were returned to their mother, Rachel Fryer, after two years of living in a foster home. Early on, a court-appointed guardian ad-litem in the case expressed concern about Fryer’s ability to provide for her family. Tariji was dead within three months of moving back with Fryer, who is now in jail, charged in her daughter’s death.

Fryer is accused of killing the girl, then stuffing her body in a suitcase and burying her in a shallow grave in Putnam County, 50 miles from her Sanford home. Fryer denies the allegation, saying she found Tariji unresponsive and tried to save her with CPR and asthma medication.

Less than three years earlier, Fryer suffocated Tariji’s twin, Tavont’ae, as mother and son slept together on a couch. After the 2-month-old’s death, DCF asked a judge to permanently sever Fryer’s parental rights to her four surviving children — she had surrendered her rights to two other older children in an earlier, drug-related case. After the infant’s death was ruled an accident, Tariji and the three siblings were returned to their mother in November, 2013. She died in February.

In January, the guardian — tasked with advocating for the best interest of the child — requested a hearing on Tariji and her siblings’ reunification, citing “pressing concerns.” It was never scheduled.

In a court hearing weeks before, on Dec. 9, the guardian told a judge she believed the children were content and showed Fryer affection, but she was concerned about the mother. “The children are happy to be home with their mother. There are some concerns about the mother’s stability. Her income, I believe, is based on student loans...she has been having difficulty paying rent and having funds for food in less than a month that the kids have been home,’’ the advocate said.

At the same hearing, a DCF lawyer said there were no issues related to the reunification or the children’s safety. The judge signed off on DCF’s plan to reunite Fryer, 32, permanently with her four children, but said she wanted the case to be closely monitored. A final review of the case was to be set for this month.

Read More at: miamiherald.com

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