Kristi's Kids: Lawsuit claims failure to protect during CPS era - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

Kristi's Kids: Lawsuit claims failure to protect during CPS era

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Arizona's child welfare system is often in thee headlines. Now, a case dating back to the Child Protective Services days is coming back to haunt the state. A Tucson brother and sister are suing a list of people and organizations, including a local non-profit.

There are more than 18,000 kids in state care right now. Most of the children removed from their parents are in foster care. Some, in a group home, which is where this brother and sister say they were physically and sexually abused.

They're suing the state, their case managers, and a Tucson non-profit claiming a "failure to protect."

"There's an expression: there are accidents, and there are accidents waiting to happen," said Tucson attorney, Michael Bloom.

It was an accident, in this case, with two young victims. The brother and sister are listed only as Jane and John Doe.

Bloom is joined by another Tucson attorney, Lynne Cadigan. They are suing on behalf of the two children, saying they were emotionally and physically abused in state custody at a charity-run group home.  

"They were ripped away from their home, and they were placed in a situation that was worse - much worse," Cadigan said.

The eight-year-old boy, and ten-year-old girl were removed from their mother in May of 2012, because, attorneys say, they'd been exposed to a dangerous family member. They were placed in one of 14 SPLASH houses operated by the non-profit, GAP Ministries, where, the lawsuit claims, Jane was the only girl, and John was the youngest of all.

"It's always an improper placement if you place a very young girl in a group home where she's the only girl, and there's older teenagers there who have had violence problems in the past," Cadigan said.

During a visit with her mother, documents say Jane told her mom she'd been touched sexually by a 13-year-old boy at the home. John also said he was physically bullied by the same 13-year old and another boy in the home. Court documents say the school was never notified. Their mother emailed the CPS caseworker and called the CPS hot-line, but her daughter would later report the abuse was continuing.

On October 8th, mom contacted the Pima County Sheriff's Department.

"What's at stake is the health and welfare of these children who are in these tough situations," said Sergeant Gerard Moretz, one of the PCSD investigators.

Moretz tells Kristi's Kids, DCS and GAP Ministries have a legal obligation as mandatory reporters.

"The appropriate course of action is call the police and the law is very specific about the time requirement. The law says that reports should be made immediately," Moretz said.

According to the Sheriff's incident report, that didn't happen.  The GAP Ministries staffer told investigators, he had only been working at the home a couple months, and he followed protocol.

"If a child is being neglected or physically abused, and a mandatory reporter has information or has that suspicion and they fail to report, they can be charged with a class one misdemeanor," Moretz said.

In an email to Kristi's Kids, a spokesperson for the Department of Child Safety wrote: "...as the case involving GAP Ministries is still an open court case, we are unable to comment on pending litigation."

Meanwhile, GAP Ministries president and founder, Greg Ayers, told Kristi's Kids via email in part "...all significant incidents go through a series of investigations. First, we inform law enforcement immediately if necessary. Then we inform DCS no later than 24 hours of the incident/accident taking place. We are a mandatory reporter and we take that responsibility very seriously."

In the end, Jane and John Doe were returned to their mom, and the 13-year old boy in the SPLASH house pleaded guilty in Pima County Juvenile Court. Their attorneys say it's a fraction of the justice deserved.

"They report it, no one does anything. what that does is these children then learn - what good is it to report anything," Cadigan said.

Here is the entire statement from GAP Ministries:


I would like to thank both Paul and yourself for coming to our agency desiring information regarding the safety of children in our care and the care of DCS. I am sorry that I wasn't available in person as I am traveling out of state and will not return until next week. As you know I cannot specifically comment on the current court case as it is in litigation at this time. However, I would be happy to give you some insight about GAP Ministries and our track record in caring for thousands of children in our community over the past 15 years.

GAP Ministries has grown to one of the largest providers of residential congregant care in our State. We serve 120-130 children every night in 14 residential homes in the Tucson area. Our reputation within the Foster Care Community has grown each and every year and we are now considered one of the finest agencies within the State. We work at many different levels with DCS by providing  training, supervision and daily support to individual foster families throughout the community. We also provide court ordered supervised visitation services to hundreds of families and their children each month within our facility and out in our community.  Our approach is unique among Foster Care providers as we built this agency on the value of family and the restoration of family within our community. This has created recognition by DCS for our care and attention to children and the family unit.

You asked a question regarding finances and when we are compared to our peers both within the State of Arizona and across the United States, we provide a higher level of congregant care at a significantly lower costs then most agencies. We are generally 15-25% lower than others organizations that are contracted for the same congregant care services. We have been asked many times how we can do it at a significantly lower cost? It isn't easy but our community believes in our program and financially supports us in covering any short falls. We are required to have annual independent financial audits that ensure to our donors that the finances they have in-trusted to us are being used appropriately and effectively.

When looking at the care we provide, our family model is also unique among  providers and has been recognized by the State of Arizona as a model that is effective, safe and appropriate for child development. In a recent survey of clients that receive services from congregant care providers, GAP Ministries received the highest marks from children that they feel safe, secure and happy.  What makes us as effective as a traditional foster family is the quality and quantity of support we give to our house parents. This support empowers them to be effective parents to all the children they care for.  All of our staff take great care to ensure the safety and well-being of children. We take all necessary steps to ensure that children are protected in our care at all times as ALL staff have extensive training before they begins working with children and then receive 24 hours of ongoing training each and every year that follows.This ensures we keep up with the best practices available. We strictly adhere to staff/child ratios and line of sight regulations which ensures children are being properly supervised. Our Administrative staff is both experienced and educated with Bachelor, Master and Doctorate level individuals that support and mentor all direct care staff.

Though I can not specifically talk about this case, I can say that ALL significant incidents go through a series of investigations. First, we inform law enforcement immediately if necessary then we inform DCS no later than 24 hours of the incident/accident taking place. We are a mandatory reporter and we take that responsibility very seriously. These notifications  put into motion the series of investigation that ensure the safety of all children in our care. If warranted local law enforcement investigates to see if there was any criminal action. DCS investigates to ensure children are safe and secure. Office of Licensing and Certifications investigates to see if all policies and procedures were followed. We also have an internal investigation to ensure that we did everything we could to prevent the incident from happening. There are many sets of eyes both internal and external looking into everything we do to ensure we are keeping children safe. This current case is a civil case as all investigations from law enforcement, DCS, OLR and GAP Ministries verified we followed all policy, procedures and protocols. It is always unfortunate that accidents happen but sometimes there is nothing that could have been done to prevent injury.

GAP Ministries influence within our community is far more reaching then Foster Care. We provide transitional housing for young adults aging out of Foster care at no cost to the State of Arizona in our STEP program. We feed hundreds of food deprived children in our community each week through local title one schools. We distribute almost a million pounds of food and millions of dollars of personal care and household items into more than 80 community partners each year.We are developing a culinary program that will train low to no income individuals who have a desire to work in the food service industry by Tucson Former Iron chef.

I hope this helps you with your story and I would love to give you a tour of our facilities so you can see first hand what makes us different.

Thank you for what you do for children within Southern Arizona, you are a much need advocate and we pray that God will bless all your efforts as you not only report the news but live a life to make a difference in the lives of others.


Greg Ayers
GAP Ministries

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