Prosecuting Caseworkers: Take 3

Last week, Youth Services Insider attempted to provide some context to the recent arrest of child welfare caseworkers assigned to Gabriel Fernandez, an eight-year-old Los Angeles boy who was known to the system and killed by his parents.

The arrests were called “unprecedented” by union representatives, as quoted by Garret Therolf of the Los Angeles Times. But, we pointed out, it has only been a few years since the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office brought homicide charges against two New York caseworkers.

Well, YSI has learned, from one of its readers, there was at least one before that one, too. You really couldn’t draw up a worse case, and a good deal of justice was doled out.

Danieal Kelly, a 14-year-old with cerebral palsy, was found dead in her mother’s apartment. You can read the horrific details of the case in the grand jury’s report; if it’s not the most depressing report we’ve ever read, it’s sure close. But the bottom line is that she was unable to care for herself, and at some point her mother stopped moving her or feeding her, allowing her to die slowly in bed.

In the wake of Kelly’s death, her mother was convicted of murder and her father of endangering the welfare of a child. But the buck did not stop there.

Philadelphia contracts much of its family services out to private providers, and the one assigned to the Kelly family was called MultiEthnic Behavioral Health, Inc. (MEBH).

But that outfit was not in the business of actually serving anyone; it was pretty much a fraud machine. The worker assigned to Danieal, Julius Murray, never visited once; his supervisor, Mickal Kamuvaka, did nothing to ensure her employees were doing their jobs.

From the sentencing announcement made by the FBI:

From 2000 to 2006, the defendants committed fraud on the federal government and on the City of Philadelphia by knowingly filing false reports claiming to provide social services to at-risk children and their families, when few or no services were ever provided, and then billing the City for those services. Danieal Kelly’s family was among those that was supposed to receive services.

There was a top-notch school that specializes in working with kids with cerebral palsy right down the street from where MBEH was located. An easy resource to access, if anyone was remotely interested in helping Danieal.

The gruesome way in which the 14-year-old was allowed to waste away, coupled with the fraud element, yielded big punishments in federal court. Kamuvaka is in federal prison until 2025, convicted of involuntary manslaughter among other things. Murray, the man assigned to regularly check in with the family, is scheduled for release in 2018.

The buck also did not stop with MEBH. Philadelphia Department of Human Services intake caseworker Dana Poindexter was the intake specialist on Kelly’s case. Someone in intake should not have a case for long, but Poindexter failed to make any determination in Kelly’s case. So as the case stayed in limbo under his control, MEBH was brought in, making it his responsibility to check their quarterly reports.

A former child welfare worker for a different contract provider in Philadelphia described Poindexter thusly to YSI:

Dana was a known and dreaded person to get a case with … He was so inept and arrogant, his work was never completed adequately for it to be transferred. My guess is he held the case[s] with the goal of closing them himself, to avoid the scrutiny from others of his shoddy work.

Poindexter was convicted of endangering the welfare of a child and perjury, and received a sentence of up to five years. So oddly enough, Poindexter was convicted of the same thing that the New York City caseworkers pleaded to after originally being charged with homicide. They got community service and expunged records, and he got time.

Today, private providers handle even more of the workload for Philadelphia DHS through its community umbrella organization (CUA) model. And in the wake of new mandatory reporting requirements brought on by the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, investigations by DHS have soared.

Yesterday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that seven city child welfare workers – three at CUAs, four from CUA subcontractors – were fired for falsifying reports in response to high caseloads.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at