“Where do you go from here?” people voice concerns about CPS
The system that sets in place to watch over our children, but who is watching them?
"According to data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), 49 States reported a
total of 1,585 fatalities. Based on these data, a nationally estimated 1,670 children died from abuse or neglect in
FFY 2015, which is 5.7 percent more than in 2011," according to a Child Welfare document. New 10 hears from viewers all the time about CPS.
And about how CPS is supposed to be looking out for their loved one and they don't realize how bad it is until its too late. News 10's Alani Letang spoke with local people affected by the Child Protective Services (CPS) system as a whole. "When you have a system that's just so broken, something has to be done.
Where do you go from here when the people that are in office and in positions that you trust, both fail?" questioned Chere Pepper, a paternal grandmother who lost her son in May 2015. Chere Pepper is referring to both CPS and the Jackson County Prosecutors Office, while still morning the death of her grandson, Jesse Pepper Junior of Jackson County. She told Letang that the morning Junior was found dead three adults were in the home and no was been prosecuted.
"He was an absolute joy, he made me laugh and he made me smile," Pepper describes her grandson. Junior was just two months shy of two years old when he was found dead in his crib one morning at his biological mother's house. Pepper told Letang CPS had information that might've saved him.
That information was Junior's mother had started dating a key suspect in the murder of another child just weeks before, Scott Jurewicz. Jurewicz was being investigated in the death of 18-month old Brenden Hartranft. Pepper said Jurewicz had a Personal Protection Order (PPO) against him that forbid him to be around any children and that included Junior.
"The mother was told by CPS that this man is a suspect in a murder, she was told by several authorities. And she is not going to heed the warnings then they need to remove the children until they figure out what they are going to do with this man," said Pepper. When CPS learned Jurewicz was around another child they went and picked him up, for violating the PPO.
A CPS worker then went and found Junior at his other paternal grandmother's home in Ypsilanti. Once workers saw he was ok, they left. But before leaving, the worker told the grandmother that she would be calling Junior's father to explain what was going on.
Pepper said 10 days later Junior was found dead from suffocation and severe blunt force trauma to the head. "Hopefully they can fix it, there are too many kids dying, suffering, getting abuse, getting beat up, getting neglected in these homes because it is a paycheck," said Adre Brown, former Ingham County Child Protective Services worker. Brown was with CPS from 2015 to 2016, and he said seeing a child isn't enough in some cases.
Sometimes workers have to take it a step farther if they are able to.
Brown said too many cases, not enough time and lack of knowledge is the looming problem in CPS. Brown also added that at times he has experienced workers only care about the numbers and "not so much about the care and concern," he said. "It's heartbreaking, I see it.
But it comes back to the workers are stressed," explained Brown. Brown said caseworkers have 30 days to close a case once it's opened. And you are only supposed to have 12 cases at one time.
Brown said, " that's not reality, at one time I had 20 cases. I don't know too many workers that stay at 12." Brown told Letang that "as long as your case is done in thirty days, you're a rockstar." Brown told Letang once they get a complaint, they do have to see the child within 24 hours and contact parents as soon as possible.
"Not only do you have to see the kids, you have to see the father of those kids," said Brown. He said doing that opens up many avenues that a worker must accomplish for just one case. Chere said her son never received that call he was promised.
"Even though he has 30 days they didn't have to contact him right away, is what they told me," Pepper said. She told Letang a call could've made all the difference, "I do believe that if that would've been done I think that Junior would be here today." It's been three years, and the investigation is at a standstill.
Pepper told Letang that she would write songs on her guitar in the bathroom, and Junior would like to come in and sing to her. The day before he died she was trying to write a song when he came in and starting singing at the top of his lungs. The next day she finished the song called "You make me smile, you make me laugh" to cope with her sorrow.
Brown said some of the things that are automatic grounds to remove a child from the home are abuse, neglect, drugs, hoarding or infested homes. That's what has Meekhan Clemens of Jackson so outraged when she said CPS didn't automatically remover her great-nephew from her niece's house. "I knew something was going on, I did not know this was going on," said Meekhan Clemens, who called CPS on her niece.
Clemens was renting a house she owned to her niece and her two-year-old son. She had told her niece that she needed to sell the house and they had to move out. The inside of that house she told Letang was "not fit for humans to live in, it was not fit for animals to live in and she had a two-year-old living in there."
She called CPS, she also called police on her niece after she and her boyfriend threatened to burn the house down.
Clemens got a PPO and then showed up with police to remove her niece from the home. Inside the home were, "torn down, ripped apart computer parts everywhere, all the walls busted out to try and get electric out of walls," Clemens said that her niece and her boyfriend would do this to get money for drugs. Also for money, Clemens said they would go find copper. "All the copper pipes had been stripped out so there was no running water in the home.
They had stripped down the furnace, so there was no heat in the home and we are talking about late December," said Clemens. In addition, there was a "TV in her son's room that was hanging from the ceiling. If the wires were to have busted on that, it would have hurt him so badly.
All the windows were broken," said Clemmons. So she had to make a second call to CPS, and the response she said she got concerned her. "Well that's something we will have to deal with when we get to it," said Clemens.
That wasn't good enough for Clemens so she called the child's biological father to come pick him up. She said, "if I were to have walked out of that house and she would've gotten him back and something would've happened to him. I would've never forgiven myself."
Clemens said she feels like she shouldn't have had to make the second call to CPS after the police saw the conditions of the house. "The one thing I can do is protect that child and CPS failed on that aspect too," said Clemens. Fortunately, Clemens' nephew is safe with his biological father out of state. There is no doubt that cps could use more help, bigger budgets, and better-trained agents.
Until that happens, Brown told Letang it's important to build up communities around families to better protect the children and give them the help they need.
Brown describes CPS as "a broken system, but it can be fixed. He said CPS "has to be reformed somehow," to help out with some aspects of CPS, like proper training and centralized intake of cases. As for Junior, police are continuing to investigate his death.
However, Scott Jurewicz is in prison for life in the death of 18-month old Brenden Hartranft. Letang has reached out to the Department of Human Health and Services, Bob Wheaton, the Public Information Officer said they cannot discuss specifics regarding Children's Protective Services cases. Their response:
All of our offices act to protect the safety and well-being of children in accordance with Michigan's Child Protection Law and MDHHS policy and based on the facts and evidence available. Under policy, the department is to make contact with the non-custodial parent as early as possible during a Children's Protective Services investigation. Under the law, MDHHS is required to petition the court for removal of children in some cases.
In cases that don't meet that standard for a mandatory removal petition, policy requires CPS to file a petition for removal if no amount of services to the family or
intervention will keep the child safe. It's ultimately up to the court to decide whether to authorize a petition for removal filed by CPS. We never want to leave a child in an unsafe situation, nor do we ever want to see a child removed from a parent when it is unwarranted.
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To file a complaint of child abuse/neglect with the Office of Children's Ombudsman
OCO complaint form