Police, DA Launch Broad Investigation of Child Protective Services in Wake of Child’s Death

October 21st, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Tiffany Nicole Klapheke of Abilene, Texas, was so upset about her husband’s overseas military deployment that she walked off and left her three children, ages three years, 22 months and 6 months, alone, apparently for several days.  Such, at any rate is her claim.  What’s certain is that her 22 month old daughter Tamryn died of dehydration and malnutrition and the other two children were near death when police discovered them.

Klapheke is in jail on $500,000 bond, the two remaining children are in foster care and her husband has filed for divorce.

But that’s only part of the story.  The rest is that the police are investigating the local Child Protective Services for allegedly covering up its involvement in Tamryn’s death.  Read about it here (Associated Press, 10/16/12) and here (Houston Chronicle, 10/16/12).  Although no charges have yet been filed, expect that to happen in the near future.  For the time being, several Child Protective Services employees have either been fired or quit in the wake of Tamryn’s death and the police investigation.

Put simply, it looks like CPS knew that Klapheke’s children were at risk, but a caseworker closed the agency’s file on the children a matter of days before Tamryn died.

Agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins said a Child Protective Services caseworker assigned to investigate allegations of medical neglect against Klapheke closed the case soon after being promoted to supervisor and just six days before Tamryn died.

That employee resigned two weeks after the child died and her supervisor was disciplined.  But the case turns out to be far broader than merely the malfeasance of a single caseworker and her supervisor.  Police and the Taylor County District Attorney have executed warrants for agency documents and computers.

[Abilene Police Chief Stan] Standridge and Taylor County District Attorney James Eidson declined to say what charges police are considering. However, Standridge said officers executed a search warrant on the local CPS office and a supervisor’s home and car Tuesday morning after finding probable cause to suggest documents and other evidence existed to support allegations of evidence tampering.

Eidson said “there is more than one person” being investigated at the office.

According to the search warrant affidavit, a regional director, a program director and an investigative supervisor are suspected of tampering with evidence.

But that’s just the Klapheke case; apparently the problem extends beyond that case and beyond agency incompetence to intentional wrongdoing. As the Houston Chronicle reports, police are investigating whether agency officials have hidden evidence of abused or neglected children, tampered with evidence and lied to police, all in an effort to cover up the negligence of caseworkers, supervisors and others.

But it’s the behind-the-scenes action, in which police said CPS workers were told by super­visors not to cooperate with officers investigating the case, that now takes center stage and could affect hundreds of other cases in the Abilene region.

“The evidence suggests that the conduct being investigated predates the Klapheke investigation,” Chief Stan Standridge told the Houston Chronicle, which reported Monday that a CPS investigator quietly closed a previous case involving Tamryn and her sister six days before the girls were found…

“In the ensuing days following the death of the child, the department became aware of instances in which CPS employees were told by supervisors not to cooperate with law enforcement,” Standridge told reporters Tuesday…

The search warrant affidavit details suspicions that CPS regional administrator Bit Whitaker; program director Gretchen Denny, who has since relinquished that post and been reassigned; and CPS supervisor Barbara McDaniel, who was later reprimanded by CPS; tampered with evidence involving the Klapheke investigation.

Specifically, the affidavit states that another CPS worker, Rebecca Tapia, “was ordered not to release any information or photographs to medical staff or law enforcement” after Tamryn’s death and while investigators were at the hospital with the surviving sisters.

“Rebecca did not provide a photograph because she was directed by a supervisor not to provide a photograph,” Standridge told the Chronicle.

According to the affidavit, Abilene detectives interviewed 12 CPS employees in the weeks since Tamryn’s death and believe that several supervisors “have intentionally and knowingly concealed, altered or destroyed records and other documentation material to this investigation because of the damaging nature of the documents.”

McDaniel was interviewed Sept. 18 and according to the affidavit, she “lied” for several hours and ultimately admitted to giving the order not to share information.

Another person interviewed recounted several cases involving other police agencies in which “Gretchen Denny and Inv. Supervisor Barbara McDaniel had ordered investigators not to provide reports to law enforcement.”

High Turnover of Staff at Child Protectice Services

Finally, the root of the  problem is what we’ve come to expect – understaffing by Child Protective Services.  As happened in Arizona, Texas pays its caseworkers too little and gives them oversized case loads in high-stress jobs.  That’s an iron-clad guarantee of high turnover, which is precisely what’s going on in both states.  High turnover means ever-larger case loads for those who stay on resulting in higher stress, etc. creating an increasing spiral of underserved kids.

There was a backlog of cases in the Abilene office at the time of the toddler’s death due to a shortage of caseworkers, [CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins] said. Instead of 16 caseworkers, there were six.

There’s a shortage of caseworkers statewide, he said, and chronic turnover is an issue. As of Oct. 12, the state had 1,495 case workers — more than 400 less than it should have, he said.

“We’re, frankly, caught in a pretty vicious cycle,” Crimmins said.

However much we pay child welfare workers, they’re not meant to be a substitute for families.  There will always be a need for Child Protective Services, because there will always be some people who abuse and neglect children.  But the decline of intact families and the rise of single-parent households has increased the likelihood of child abuse and neglect beyond anything it was in the 60s and early 70s.  The simple fact is that a single parent, regardless of how dedicated, can’t care for children as well as two parents can.  This society’s embrace of divorce and single-parent child rearing is one of the most destructive developments of the past 40 years; its consequences are many and essentially all of those are bad.  We can reverse the tide of single-parent households, but it’ll take a political will that’s entirely lacking now.  Until we find it, we’ll continue to throw money at Child Protective Services and wonder why so many children get hurt or killed.

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