on the rise yearly \(as well as abuse cutbacks. In a 1984 interview with the New York Times, then-director of daycare licensing David Beard said: “Since 1977, despite a 120 percent increase in the number of facilities, there’s been a 60 percent decrease in the number of inspectors. We’ve gone from four inspectors a year, to three, to two and now one every six to nine months.” Beard said the problem was intensified by cutbacks in federal aid and by public dissatisfaction with taxes and government regulation. “The mood against regulation of business has spread over to the regulation of human services,” he said. “I think it’s particularly tragic to reduce enforcement when it comes to children, who don’t have a voice for themselves.” The legislature passed several sound child protection laws last session, notably one that permits criminal record checks of DHS workers and day-care providers and their families. The law allows access only to conviction records, not arrests. A “hearsay exception” bill also was approved, allowing for adults to testify in court for children 12 years old or younger about what the victim told them. Day-care licensing officials and parents agree there is need for stricter licensing and registration requirements; improved monitoring systems, with surprise visits; thorough training for staff; and further development of sensitive ways of dealing with children in court. The matter of DHS accountability, and the lack thereof, must also be addressed. “Something has to be done about DHS,” says Betty Drake of Orange, Texas, chairperson of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs’ committee on child abuse. Her proposal: an independent citizens’ review board,appointed by the governor, to monitor abuse cases and to guard against coverup. Her plan was echoed repeatedly by other parents, including Linda Robinson of Tyler, who organized an advocacy group called Outcry. At the same time, the DHS method of operation is in need of an overhaul. Investigations of child abuse complaints presently are divided between two DHS divisions: a child protective services worker investigates and prepares a report, which is turned over to the daycare licensing division. Cases tend to get lost in the shuffle between divisions, critics charge, and some DHS officials believe they may have a point. The agency currently is running a pilot project in five regions to determine whether complaints could be handled more efficiently if the burden of investigation and follow-up rested solely within the licensing division. The project will run through next spring, said the agency’s James Marquart. Maybe it will work. Maybe it will correct the abuse suffered by children and their parents at the hands of a profoundly flawed system. Meanwhile, the gaping holes among all the divisions and units and branches and regions of DHS grow ever wider with each successive complaint. Agency’s Records Under Investigation Austin, San Antonio FACED WITH the loss of matching federal dollars, child protective service work ers were instructed by their supervisors to falsify “plan of service” records by back-dating them to be in compliance with federal timelines, caseworkers from Austin and San Antonio in separate interviews told the Observer. The Travis County District Attorney’s office has been investigating since October this practice, which was apparently once routine procedure. DHS officials downplayed the allegations and said the “problem” no longer exists. “Workers were back-dating records at the request of supervisors,” said a San Antonio caseworker, who spoke on the condition she not be identified. “The supervisors were being leaned on and pitted against each other to make 100 percent [compliance] with the standards. I knew it wasn’t right and so did everybody else, but there just wasn’t any other way we could get our work done.” Guidelines call for caseworkers to write a plan of service within 30 days of removing a child from an abusive home. Subsequent reports are to be filed every six months as long as the child remains in the state’s custody or in a foster home. Failure to meet these timelines could result in a funding cutback from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said Susan Hollon, a regional attorney for DHS. “It was wrong for our staff to do it [backdate]; I think they know we’re going to get them if they do it any more,” Hollon said. David Reilly, the regional director for child protective services in San Antonio, said backdating occurred because caseworkers were “confused” about which date should be written on a completed report the date the plan of service was outlined or the date it was typed and signed. “What we’ve got here is a lot of bureaucratic requirements that certain things have to get done in a certain amount of time,” Reilly said. “The system is big and it’s complicated, but I’m not aware of any huge problems here.” Reilly said he also is unaware of any competitive pressure on supervisors to ensure compliance with the various rules and regulations. “Any back-dating done was not dictated by anybody but individual supervisors,” he said. Reilly said he is issuing “policy clarifications” on the proper dating of agency documents. “It’s always a battle for the frontline staff,” Reilly said. “We spend so much time documenting things that we can’t do what we’re supposed to do in terms of services. It’s hard to find a happy balance.” “I know in my unit the inference is to worry first about meeting standards and then about the safety of children,” said a veteran Austin caseworker who requested anonymity. “I complained about it once [to the regional director] and was told, ‘It’s not your job to evaluate your supervisor.’ End of discussion. But it makes me wonder: if they condone this kind of stuff, what else is going on here that might be putting kids in danger?_” Rosemary Lehmberg, assistant district attorney for Travis County and chief of the public integrity unit, confirmed that her office is investigating the matter. She said she hasn’t found any evidence of intent to defraud and harm anyone by “just blatantly altering documents,” which would be a third-degree felony punishable by two to ten years in the penitentiary. \(Tampering with government records, she said, constitutes a class A misdemeanor, punishable by into,” Lehmberg said, “is that they’re just so damn overworked.” B.A. 10 JANUARY 24, 1986
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