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By Attorney David Engler
Nick Kerosky, the Director of Trumbull County Children Services expressed succinctly the attitude of most bureaucratic children service directors, “There’s no support that it [wrongdoing] ever happened. I don’t believe it ever happened,” Kerosky said.
“While the death of a child is always a tragedy, it is unfair and unethical to assume that a death means that there must be wrongdoing on the part of CSB.” Director Kerosky said in a press release, in response to allegations that the 2003 death of 3 year old Auntavia Diggs was in part due to CSB’s inaction
Kerosky believes that one, two or three children deaths in Trumbull County, Ohio during a 6 year period should not give rise to criticism of CSB. I suppose he is talking about me when he suggests it is unethical to assume a death means that there must be wrongdoing on the part of CSB.
I will not comment about my pending action on behalf of a dad who lost his only child, a daughter, (without being represented,) to a foster-parent who quickly murdered the little 22 month old, strangling the life out of her. CSB said she would be a good foster parent. She left the impression of her ring on the baby’s neck.
No I want to talk about poor Auntavia who was tortured, burned and then murdered by people CSB said were appropriate to watch children.
Relatives say Ethel Wilbert-Bethea who is serving 21 years for murder reached out to CSB three times to give the baby back. CSB’s records, which we learned from the State Audit are sometimes ‘adjusted after the fact’, reflect a Hogan’s Heroes Sargent Schultz mentality of “I’ve seen nothing. I’ve heard nothing.”
5 months earlier in 2003, little 4 year old Logan Guiton was murdered while in foster care by Michael Ledger. His head was cracked against a wall in the house where he was placed by CSB. Ledger is serving 15 years to life. The CSB director at that time said there were no records to suggest CSB had any culpability.
This is the point: when any child in their care dies, it should be assumed that children services erred. An agency should not be afraid to look at itself in every instance and find out how it could have prevented the tragedy.
Look at The CSB mission statement. …it is to protect children in Trumbull County from being abused in their schools, homes and to especially protect those children from the most likely abuser, a family member. The standard of care becomes even greater when the child falls into the care and custody of CSB. It would seem that a child being molested in CSB’s own building would be a clear case of a colossal CSB screwup when it was known or should have been known that the father was a voracious sexual predator who had his siblings removed from his home when he was released by department of Youth Services. While in Mahoning County lock up as a juvenile, he was a sexual predator. The grandmother complained to CSB about him being a sex offender. CSB does not keep notes, when it does not fit its story.
Trumbull County Children Services Bureau fails when a child gets sexually abused. Anywhere. Anytime.
It will happen again. And at every turn CSB should be asking itself what did we do wrong. This doesn’t mean CSB will be sued. It is a fundamental shift in philosophy from what Kerosky said about the murder of poor Auntavia, to a more principled belief, that when it comes to the safety of our children there is no margin of error. There can be no hesitancy to act. Each tragedy should be a moment to learn from mistakes and work harder to prevent the loss of a child in the future. CSB is protected from just about every form of liability except the one that springs forth from the expenditure of 15.5 million dollars of taxpayer money each year to affirmatively keep kids from dying. CSB is in a statistical tsunami of children’s deaths and abuse and its answer is to say bad things happen. The rate of children’s death by caregivers in Trumbull County is either a statistical anomaly or an indication that something is broken and needs fixed.
“Poor Joshua! Victim of repeated attacks by an irresponsible, bullying, cowardly, and intemperate father, and abandoned by respondents who placed him in a dangerous predicament and who knew or learned what was going on, and yet did essentially nothing except … dutifully recorded these incidents in [their] files.” It is a sad commentary upon American life, and constitutional principles – so full of late of patriotic fervor and proud proclamations about “liberty and justice for all” – that this child, Joshua DeShaney, now is assigned to live out the remainder of his life profoundly retarded. Joshua and his mother, as petitioners here, deserve – but now are denied by this Court – the opportunity to have the facts of their case considered in the light of the constitutional protection that 42 U.S.C. 1983 is meant to provide.”
This was the famous dissent given by Associate Justice Harry Blackmun in the DeShaney v. Winnebago County Children Services case that stands as law today. The mother of Joshua had sued the county CSB for allowing the child to go back to the care of his father despite a clear indication that the father was a child abusing bully. A child was abused by his father and CSB failed to act. The majority in the case stated that Joshua could not recover from Winnebago County because the federal laws are meant to protect violations of a state actor, not a private actor like Joshua’s father or in the case in Trumbull County, Wilbert-Bethea who murdered Auntavia. The Supreme Court did say that there might be state court remedies, but those are unlikely since governmental immunities protect CSB from all but the most egregious acts of indifference. They are not protected however when the offender who kills or molests is an agent of the State like a foster parent or the harm takes place on its own property.
It is unlikely that CSB will change from within and become the type of agency that understands that every death of a child is one too many and at each death or each incident of abuse CSB should ask itself what it did wrong.
Our victimized children do not fail us, we fail them.
CSB is given $15.5 million dollars a year to perform a job the rest of us believe is proper and right.
And this is not a condition that is found just in Trumbull County, Ohio. It has happened with three murders of children in Hamilton County this past year.
The State of Florida, after the sickening murder of a young boy and girl by their adoptive father, revamped its entire child protective service organization to allow not-for- profits and faith based groups a chance to be held more accountable than government agencies grown indifferent with time and attitudes of “it wasn’t me.”
Yes there should be no shame in each time a child is murdered, abused, or abandoned for the wealthy tax payer funded agency to say to itself, “what did we do wrong.” Not to take this attitude will only lead to more unspeakable horrors.
Attorney David Engler