Nikki Haley Refused Embattled Welfare Czarina’s Resignation (Twice)


haley-approval-ratings[1]S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley rejected a resignation offer from her scandal-ravaged welfare czarina earlier this week, multiple sources familiar with the situation tell FITS.

Not once but twice, actually …

Lillian Koller – Haley’s political appointee – is facing a storm of controversy over numerous scandals at the S.C. Department of social services (SCDSS), the agency she’s run since 2011.

What sort of scandals? Well, there’s the colossal and ongoing failure of its child support enforcement database project, questionable consultant payments and allegations of cooked books at its “welfare to work” program (and in its food stamp system).

Not only that, there’s also blood on the agency’s hands as it relates to several botched child welfare investigations which resulted in totally preventable fatalities.

Lawmakers from both parties – including one of Haley’s top allies – have called on the governor to fire Koller. And so have we.

Haley has refused to do so … and earlier this week she refused Koller’s own efforts to step aside (twice).

Koller’s multiple offers to resign reportedly came in the wake of a visit to her office by federal and state law enforcement agents earlier this week. It’s not immediately clear what the agents were looking for, but sources at the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) tell FITS the agency’s director Mark Keel has “strongly counseled” Haley to fire Koller.

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These people were totally manipulated. If there was a warrant they wouldn’t have knocked on the door! Notice how the police were not aggressive in any way? They hung back at the door as well as inside. They were used as an intimidation tactic. The social worker LIED about being allowed to take these children!

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Secrecy cloaks foster care investigations by S.D. social services

1399180075000-185510636Foster children are some of the most vulnerable South Dakotans.

They are taken from their homes and families.

They're asked to live with strangers, sometimes with foster siblings who also come from troubled backgrounds, and to trust a system.

The Department of Social Services tries to carefully screen foster parents, visit foster children regularly and take seriously complaints of abuse or neglect.

But some child advocates in South Dakota have pointed to cases of rape or abuse in foster homes as evidence of a failure to protect children.

They say the state's Department of Social Services has too much discretion as to whether claims of abuse or neglect are valid, whether a child should return to an abusive home or whether a foster home placement is right for a child.

Native American activists often accuse the Department of Social Services of seizing children unnecessarily and placing them with white foster families. A group of families sued social services in federal court last year, alleging children are taken for months, though hearings last less than five minutes and don't offer parents a chance to respond.

But South Dakota's secrecy — abuse and neglect hearings are closed to the public — makes it difficult to evaluate the arguments.

The state's confidentiality laws prevent social services from commenting on specific cases, even when there are criminal charges.

States such as Nebraska, Michigan and Minnesota are more transparent. In Minnesota, for example, the records and reports from abuse and neglect investigations are open for public review.

System's secrecy barrier to evaluation

Almost 700 families and group homes provide foster care in the state at any time. An Argus Leader records request showed 121 investigated complaints of abuse or neglect in foster homes from 2009 to last year. Of the complaints deemed worthy of follow-up investigations, only eight were substantiated, and licenses were revoked in each case.

It's far below the thousands of complaints filed for other kinds of family households. But without more information, it's difficult to gauge the depth of problems in foster care.

Court proceedings involving juveniles are closed to the public,so disputes about the placement of abused or neglected children with parents, relatives or foster providers come to light only after criminal charges are brought or a lawsuit filed.

Even then, the process and the conclusions largely are protected from public view. Disclosing the results of abuse and neglect hearings is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Claims of abuse or neglect against foster parents after placement also are confidential.

Some child advocates say recent incidents in Aberdeen highlight a pattern of insufficient investigation and an agency more concerned with covering mistakes than correcting them.

■ Fred Slota, a former foster father from Aberdeen, will be sentenced next week for raping a child in his home.

■ One-time foster father Richard Mette pleaded guilty to rape in 2012 in a case that involved years of abuse of children whom he and his wife had adopted out of the foster system.

■ The guardian of another girl sued the Department of Social Services after being placed in a foster home with a teen boy who had molested other children. The lawsuit, which was settled out of court, claimed the teen molested her on several occasions.

"I believe that there are kids in foster care in Brown County right now who are not safe," said Shirley Schwab, a former head of the county's Court-Appointed Special Advocates Program who closed her office after a high-profile falling out with social services.

Problems have surfaced beyond Brown County. Earlier this year, a former Canton city commissioner and longtime foster father, Jeffrey Nolte, was indicted on rape charges related to a child in his care, although the victim was not a foster child.

How foster care investigations work

Complaints against foster parents can come from children, neighbors, teachers, doctors or anyone else involved with a child who suspects abuse or hears the child talk about abuse or neglect, said Virgena Weiseler of the Department of Social Services.

If the department deems the allegations worthy of follow-up investigation, it passes it along to private contractors. The reports can be included in civil abuse and neglect proceedings. But unless there are criminal charges, the public wouldn't know anything took place. Even substantiated claims of abuse or neglect leave unanswered questions.

In response to an Argus Leader records request, the state offered a spreadsheet with details of each case investigated from fiscal years 2009 through 2013.

The information includes when a report was made, the type of report, the age of the child or children involved, the office through which a foster home is supervised, a ruling of substantiated or unsubstantiated and the date of that decision.

Read More at: Secrecy cloaks foster care investigations by S.D. social services

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From foster care into the sex trade

Lawmakers are trying to make sure teenage sex trafficking victims get social services instead of criminal records

Every year, federal and state governments pour millions of dollars into combatting sex trafficking through local and federal law enforcement agencies. But the emerging link between the child welfare system and child sex trafficking in the United States underscores the need for a new tactic, one that addresses the social origins of child sex trafficking.

At the end of July, the FBI’s Innocence Lost initiative, the wing of the agency tasked with addressing domestic child sex trafficking, conducted its annual three-day Operation Cross Country. During these 72 hours, federal agents across the country “recover” juvenile victims from sexual exploitation and arrest their exploiters. This year, the agency boasts that it saved 105 children and arrested 152 pimps. According to U.S. law, anyone under 18 and involved in the sex trade is considered sexually trafficked.

However, what happens to those who are “rescued” is unclear. Whether the children are placed in juvenile justice proceedings or the Department of Social Services, the story of the rescue mission as the FBI tells it ends when the handcuffs go on—often both on the exploited young person as well as his or her exploiter. (A video montage of Operation Cross Country VII accompanies the FBI’s press release.)

Julianne Sohn, spokesperson for the San Francisco division of the FBI, explained to AlterNet that the agency couldn’t account for what happens to the youth after they are “recovered” because local law enforcement agencies have varying policies on how to handle teens.

“If you’re 17 years old and sex-trafficked in New York you are literally a victim and a criminal at the same time,” Chrystal DeBoise told AlterNet. DeBoise is the co-director of the New York-based Sex Workers Project, an organization advocates for both sex workers and trafficking victims.

The Sex Workers Project has helped to decriminalize individuals who have been sex trafficked and charged with prostitution by successfully lobbying for the Vacating Convictions Law, passed in 2010 in New York, which allows a trafficked individual to have her record cleared.

But DeBoise notes there is still a long way to go: “Over 50 percent of our clients are trafficked and they tell us that the arrests were some of the most traumatizing parts of their trafficking experience.”

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Florida DCF head David Wilkins resigns

BLfgs.Em.56[1]David Wilkins, Florida’s top child welfare and social services administrator, resigned Thursday amid an escalating scandal over the recent deaths of four small children who had a history of involvement with child-abuse investigators.

Wilkins is leaving the agency to “pursue opportunities in the private sector and to provide more attention” to a foundation he leads, Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement.

Wilkins, who became the governor’s longest-serving agency head, served as secretary of the Department of Children & Families since Scott’s inauguration in 2011. But in recent months, Wilkins became mired in a simmering controversy over the deaths of four youngsters in a six-week period, all but one from Miami-Dade and Broward counties. A fifth child, also from Miami, nearly died from a lacerated liver after the agency failed to act when the infant suffered a broken thigh bone months earlier.

In his statement, Scott said the agency’s top Miami administrator, Esther Jacobo, would serve as interim secretary.

“David did a great job in leading the state’s top child protection agency and his service is deeply appreciated,” Scott said. “I have no doubt that Esther will increase accountability in the department and enhance child protective services in order to protect the most vulnerable among us.”

At an event at a Bradenton farm late Thursday, Scott said his administration would “work hard to make sure that we’ll have the right people there to take care of anybody that has a need in our state.” He praised Wilkins as a man who “cares about kids,” adding: “He’ll be a big loss.”

In his short resignation letter — printed on plain paper with no state letterhead — Wilkins said he “appreciated the opportunity to serve the children and families of this great state.”

Thursday afternoon, Wilkins sent a short email to the agency’s 11,600 employees, thanking them for their service and declaring he was “proud to be [their] leader.”

“We embarked on numerous change programs, and I can honestly say we have improved our operational efficiency dramatically and helped more people in this state then we ever imagined possible,” Wilkins wrote. Referring to his wife, he added: “The greatest joy for Tanya and I was to witness the true passion that so many of you demonstrate every day in helping others. It was awe inspiring! We both want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the hard work, the support and for believing in us and what we tried to accomplish.

“Together,” he added, “we made a difference. Continue to be proud of the great sacrifices you make every day so that others too can live the American dream. Our primary wish is that God will continue to bless you, your family and all of those you continue to help.”

Jacobo began her career at DCF as a lawyer and, as statewide deputy director of the department’s Children’s Legal Services, she was responsible for litigation and other legal work statewide before taking over as top administrator in Miami Dade and Monroe counties. She is also a former prosecutor, having risen to division chief of domestic crimes at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.

She inherits an agency in great turmoil.

In recent weeks, one of the state’s established advocacy groups, Florida’s Children First, called on Scott to make changes at the top of DCF. On Thursday, the group’s director, Christina Spudeas, said she was “looking forward to the new administration.”

Read more here:

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