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Issues in DCFS' handling of Aniya Day-Garrett case also cited in prior cases

Posted at 4:09 PM, Nov 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-12 18:11:21-05

Many of the same issues that plagued county social workers’ handling of the case of Aniya Day-Garrett, the four-year-old girl who was allegedly murdered by her mother and mother’s boyfriend in March, were also prevalent in two other high-profile cases, according to state reports obtained by News 5.

Those issues cited by state investigators included the failure to complete safety assessments in a timely fashion, as well as a lack of face-to-face contact with children who were allegedly abused.

In late September, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services completed its administrative case review of Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services’ handling of Aniya’s case.

The scathing 21-page report compiled by state officials found the county agency failed at seemingly every turn in its investigations into the alleged abuse Aniya.

RELATED: Scathing report highlights systemic failures by DCFS in case of Aniya Day-Garrett

The state review found county social workers failed to properly conduct follow-up investigations and failed to conduct adequate interviews and observations, in addition to failing to follow long-established procedures.

According to state officials, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services conducts a preliminary review when a child with a history at a county children services agency dies. However, Aniya's case received a more thorough administrative case review, which is warranted when there are extenuating circumstances, including questions of whether state law was properly followed.

When the report was released, News 5 requested similar reports that the state authored from the past decade. The public records request produced two additional reports which covered the cases of Emilliano Terry and Ember Warfel. Terry, 3, was found at a garbage disposal facility in November 2012, one day after his mother, Camilla Terry, reported him missing. Terry, who was 21-years-old at the time, was subsequently convicted of murder. An autopsy revealed the child had been badly beaten.

According to the state’s child fatality administrative case review, which was completed in April 2013, state investigators found CCDCFS had several instances of rule compliance issues. Chief among those issues was the fact that Emilliano was not seen face-to-face as part of social workers’ investigation into allegations of abuse, the report stated. Secondly, a caregiver was not interviewed as part of the investigative process despite confirmation that the caregiver had concerns about the child’s well-being, according to the state’s report.

CCDCFS screened in seven reports that Emilliano was being abused or neglected between May 2011 and July 2012, according to the report. State investigators found that in four of the seven reports, social workers’ initial contact activities were in compliance with state law. The other three reports were not initiated in a timely fashion, the state report found. The report also states the safety or family assessments were not completed in a timely fashion, nor were the investigations completed in a timely manner. The disposition dates for three of the reports were late by 62, 60, and 53 days, the report states.

In their response, county officials outlined a plan for change. In December 2013, however, state monitors found similar issues in their bi-annual review of CCDCFS. The county’s quality improvement plan addressed issues such as: “completing investigations timely, making timely case plans a county-wide priority and tracking cases to assure all required face-to-face contacts are successfully made,” the state report states.

Three years after approving the plan, those issues were again referenced in yet another child fatality review.

In July 2016, a worker with a local cable company came upon a horrifying discovery: a toddler’s decomposing body in a crib under piles of trash. The medical examiner’s office could not determine how Ember Warfel died because her body was so badly decomposed. The toddler’s father, Eric Warfel, was later convicted of gross abuse of a corpse, cocaine possession, and child endangering. Although the child was found in Medina, the family had a lengthy history with Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services.

In the state’s investigation into the agency’s handling of Ember’s case, state investigators found CCDCFS was not in compliance with several sections of state law, including completing investigations in a timely manner, completing case plans and amendments in a timely manner and making monthly face-to-face contact with the family.

“Four of the five reports did not reach a disposition within the timeframes required by [Ohio Revised Code], nor did any of those four cases contain a waiver asking for an extension of time…. The average time to reach disposition in these cases was 95 days, far exceeding the timeframes,” the state report states.

Additionally, state investigators noted in their report that county social workers did not conduct a formal case review or semi-annual review in the first 15 months of establishing a case plan, the report states.

Ember was reunited with her father at a court hearing in January 2015. In preparation for the hearing, Eric Warfel was asked to submit a urine sample, the report states, but CCDCFS did not receive the results of the drug screen until after the court hearing. A subsequent hearing was held in February 2015 at the request of CCDCFS.

“… it was determined by the court that since the father presented resided in Medina County, the case in Cuyahoga County was closed,” the report states. Media County Department of Job and Family Services then serve the family from February 2015 through April 2015.

In the conclusion of the 2016 report, state investigators noted the prior issues that were uncovered at CCDCFS stemming from their investigation into Emilliano’s death.

Those issues were then featured front and center in yet another review of CCDCFS: the case of Aniya Day-Garrett.

In Aniya’s case, missteps by county social workers started almost immediately, the state report alleges.

In February 2017, caseworkers conducted a face-to-face contact with Aniya and her mother, Sierra Day, according to state records. However, Aniya and her mother were never observed together, officials said. Despite this fact, the case file suggests that Aniya and her mother were ‘bonded,’ which the state contends is a conclusion that can only be reached when the two are observed together. Aniya's case was this particular caseworker’s first case without a mentor.

The February 2017 investigation revealed that CCDCFS officials became aware that Aniya’s daycare, Harbor Crest Childcare Academy, had documented injuries on Aniya’s body on multiple occasions. However, the state review found that investigation was closed without county social workers ever obtaining copies of those reports. The reports documenting Aniya’s injuries, which dated back to 2015, weren’t obtained by CCDCFS case workers until May 2017 when a subsequent allegation of abuse surfaced, according to the state’s review.

In the May 2017 investigation, a county social worker was dispatched to the hospital in reference to additional injuries observed on Aniya’s body. According to a Euclid police report, the daycare manager called police after she noticed that Aniya had a head injury and was bleeding from her ear. The injuries were consistent with abuse, the daycare manager believed.

The county social worker was dispatched to the hospital where Aniya was taken. The state review found the social worker noted that the emergency room doctor was reportedly unable to determine whether Aniya’s injuries were caused by abuse. However, the state review found that the hospital’s discharge summary, which was signed by the same doctor, clearly stated that Aniya’s injuries were consistent with abuse.

According to the state’s case review, the discharge summary was included in CCDCFS’ case file. Despite this, both the caseworker and the case worker’s supervisor said they never reviewed those medical reports, the state review found.

The May 2017 investigation spanned 39 days. However, a total of 38 days passed between the initial contact with Aniya and her mother at the hospital and the closure of the case. There were no subsequent observations of Aniya after the first meeting at the hospital, despite the fact that daycare workers and the emergency room doctor both suspected abuse, according to state records.

According to state records, CCDCFS recommended three times that Aniya’s mother receive counseling. However, at no point did anyone from CCDCFS ensure that Aniya’s mother actually sought the recommended counseling, the state review found.

State investigators also found that at least one of the reports of alleged abuse was not screened into the agency correctly. Instead, the report was screened into a category that is not intended to assess cases of suspected abuse or neglect. Additionally, at least one report was not initiated within 24 hours, which is required by the state. The state's review found that in the third investigation conducted by CCDCFS, county social workers visited Aniya’s home but no one answered. There were no additional documented attempts at face-to-face contact within the state-mandated window of four days after the complaint is received, according to state records.

State reviewers found there was no justifiable reason why this did not occur. When the face-to-face contact was successfully made, it occurred 15 days after the initial complaint was made, the state found. According to state records, CCDCFS’ family assessments were not comprehensive in scope and did not include an adequate assessment of risk and safety for Aniya.

The state review found that documentation in the case file revealed Aniya, in response to how she received her injuries, told caseworkers that "mommy did it" and "daddy did it." Despite this, caseworkers said due to the child’s age and development, she could not comprehend or be interviewed regarding the allegations of abuse or injuries. Aniya’s statements were discounted as unintelligible or confused despite her repeatedly stating that her mother caused her injuries, the state review found. However, the caseworker could not articulate why Aniya’s statements were discredited.

According to state records, in the late 2000s, the CCDCFS implemented a continuous quality improvement unit, whose role it was to review cases for compliance with local and state procedures, in addition to identifying trends and patterns. However, the state review found that shortly after the unit was created, it was disbanded after the supervisor retired and assistant supervisor moved to another agency.

In the fallout of Aniya’s death, County Executive Armond Budish appointed an independent panel of child welfare experts to review CCDCFS’ handling of Aniya’s case. The panel recommended a series of changes that the agency make. Among the changes were the hiring of a dozen more social workers, as well as nearly a dozen former or retired law enforcement officers who would help with investigations. Additionally, a DCFS advisory board would be created which would provide oversight.

“The death of Aniya Day-Garrett is a tragedy which saddens us all,” Budish said in a statement. “We have reacted very strongly to the death of Aniya Day Garrett and immediately assembled a panel of experts in child welfare to review the case thoroughly and to make recommendations for the future. We have worked with the public, county council, community partners, child welfare experts, and families to improve our practice and assure the public that child safety is our number one priority.”  

The county formally responded to the state’s findings in mid-October and submitted its corrective action plan. News 5 asked for a status update on those plans as well as comment on this story but a county spokesperson was not immediately available.