Michael Amon

Social service agencies in the dark

Posted in Newsday by michaelamon on November 25, 2009


BY MICHAEL AMON
Feb. 27, 2008 P. A4
The Child Protective Services workers assigned to investigate a complaint against Leatrice Brewer on Friday did not know of her extensive criminal record, mental health history and frequent appearances in Family Court, Nassau County officials said yesterday.

Blocking their efforts: a combination of Nassau Department of Social Services policies and state and federal laws that do not allow the sharing of personal information across government agencies.

“We are unable to capture the information that we want,” said Mary Curtis, the deputy county executive for health and human services.

State privacy laws blocked the agency from contacting the county Department of Mental Health, Chemical Dependency and Developmental Disability to act on the warnings from family and friends that Brewer was mentally ill, said Karen Garber, program coordinator for the Department of Social Services.

Nassau officials said they don’t know whether having access to a comprehensive history of Brewer’s hundreds of contacts with at least 12 government agencies and nonprofit social service providers would have prevented the drowning of her three young children Sunday.

Nevertheless, they are training new scrutiny on policies that limit the investigative scope of CPS workers to the complaint before them – and prevent them from tapping other agencies for important insights such as drug use, criminal behavior and mental health.

“It’s very difficult to deal with one component of a person in a vacuum,” Garber said. “It makes it difficult to come up with an appropriate plan for a person.”

On Friday, when the father of Brewer’s two sons complained that she was threatening the children, CPS caseworkers did not know or were prevented from knowing the following pieces of information:

She had been arrested seven times in the last seven years.

She had been referred for a mental health evaluation this month when she reapplied for welfare benefits.

She had been referred to nonprofit organizations that provide mental health and substance abuse programs.

She was involved in heated child custody disputes with two ex-boyfriends who had accused her of neglect.

The limited information available to caseworkers included a history of her contacts with CPS. It showed six of the nine cases opened against her were unfounded, while the other three involved relatively minor infractions, officials said.

“Generally speaking, the children seemed well cared for,” Curtis said. “They were clothed, they were fed, they were going to school, the apartment was well taken care of.”

In April 2003, when the first CPS case was opened on Brewer, caseworkers could not take into account that she had been charged with felony assault and criminal possession of a weapon that month. The charge was later reduced to harassment in September 2003 and she served 4 days in jail. The social services complaint, which officials declined to disclose, was determined to be unfounded and closed in August that year, officials said.

Of the first seven cases opened against Brewer, six were unfounded complaints, officials said. But the two most recent cases, both opened in the last year, showed evidence that she did not adequately supervise the children, though officials said CPS workers may not have had enough information to take appropriate action.

On June 20, an anonymous caller alerted social services to Brewer, who was sleeping in her car while her kids played unattended in a school playground, officials said. Then, on Oct. 20, her oldest child, Jewell Ward, 6, told a caseworker that she was supervising her younger brothers while her mother was out.

Both cases were closed, the most recent on Dec. 12, Garber said, after a caseworker admonished Brewer to not leave her children home alone.

A CHRONOLOGY OF COMPLAINTS

Nassau County Child Protective Services opened 10 cases in the last five years on Leatrice Brewer and her children. Six were closed as “unfounded,” three were closed after neglect was “indicated,” then remedied, and the most recent remains open.

APRIL 15, 2003 County opens first case on Brewer and treatment of her oldest child, Jewell Ward, then 1. Closed on Aug. 4, 2003, as unfounded.

JAN. 13, 2004 Nassau police respond to a 911 call at Brewer’s home and arrest her boyfriend, Innocent Demesyeux, for allegedly assaulting her in front of her two children. Child Protective Services also responds and finds “inadequate guardianship.” Caseworkers visit Brewer and children 10 times, and case is closed on March 11, after Brewer obtains an order of protection against Demesyeux. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor attempted assault.

DEC. 22, 2004 Neglect case opened for undisclosed reasons. Case closed on March 22, 2005, as unfounded.

OCT. 20, 2005 Police respond to 911 call made by Brewer. After doing laundry in the basement, she returned upstairs to find her two children missing. Police contact CPS but soon learn that the children’s great-grandmother had taken the children. Complaint was deemed unfounded on Dec. 12.

JAN. 7, 2006 Police respond to 911 call by the children’s great-grandmother, who said Brewer had slapped Jewell. CPS is contacted. Police and caseworkers find no physical injuries or marks indicating abuse. County officials say state law allows corporal punishment. Case deemed unfounded on April 7.

SEPT. 26, 2006 Neglect case opened for undisclosed reasons. Case closed on Oct. 21 as unfounded.

MARCH 15, 2007 Neglect case opened for undisclosed reasons. Case closed as unfounded.

JUNE 20, 2007 An anonymous caller reported that Brewer was sleeping in her car as her children played in a school playground. CPS caseworkers visited Brewer “a handful of times” and cited her for inadequate supervision. No action was deemed needed and the case was closed on August 7.

OCT. 20, 2007 After an undisclosed caller reported Brewer for leaving her children at home, a CPS caseworker interviewed Jewell, who said she often makes popcorn for her brothers and watches scary movies when her mother is gone. CPS cited Brewer for inadequate supervision and advised Brewer to not leave her children at home alone, telling her to ask neighbors for help.

FEB. 22 Innocent Demesyeux, father of Brewer’s two sons, called the State Central Registry for child abuse to report that Brewer “is threatening to put the children outside” on a cold, snowy day, is using drugs and is leaving the children home alone. Two CPS caseworkers visit the home that day, but find no one home. A caseworker is assigned to visit Sunday, by which time the children are dead.

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