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January 08, 2005

Agencies are faulted in death of 2-year-old

January 8, 2005 [Winston-Salem Journal]
by Patrick Wilson

A series of failures on the part of Forsyth County Child Protective Services, law-enforcement agencies and medical employees hindered investigations of physical and sexual abuse of a 2-year-old girl who was killed by her mother's boyfriend in 2003, a state report released yesterday said.

Bethany Brannock died of head trauma on June 18, 2003. Andre Clifton, 25, who was the boyfriend of Bethany's mother, Leatrice "Leanne" Brannock, pleaded guilty last month in Forsyth Superior Court to second-degree murder and felonious child abuse, and was sentenced to a minimum of 13 years in prison.

Among the many problems cited by the report: A man who reported suspected abuse of Bethany to the Forsyth County Department of Social Services was transferred to voice mail, and no one returned his call.

"Everything just seemed to be falling through the cracks for that poor little girl," said Imran Butt, one of several people who reported abuse. "There were dozens of people who saw that child. The system knew about it.... We as a society failed that child."

The review was required by law because the family had been involved with social services before Bethany died. The Brannock family was reported for abuse or neglect six times between 1999 and 2003, the report said.

Dr. Tim Monroe, the Forsyth County health director, said that no system is fail-safe and that there was no single event or decision that could have prevented the homicide.

But he said that the review found problems that should be corrected. The report makes 17 recommendations for various agencies to better protect children in the future.

Some of those suggestions may be presented by state officials to the General Assembly for consideration, said Carlotta Dixon, the child-fatality reviewer from the state who investigated Bethany's case.

Among the findings of the report, which was prepared by the N.C. Division of Social Services, the Forsyth County Community Child Protection Team and the Forsyth Child Fatality Team:

* Emergency-medical personnel at a hospital saw Bethany on Aug. 3, 2002, for possible sexual abuse. But they did not make a report to Child Protective Services or to police because there was no physical evidence.

* Child Protective Services, or CPS, the arm of the social-services department that takes reports of child abuse and neglect, used information from a private agency whose goals are family preservation to allow Bethany to stay with her parent.

* CPS did not send its finding substantiating that there had been neglect of Bethany in July 2001 to the district attorney's office.

* CPS could not investigate allegations of sexual abuse involving the girl because the suspect was a minor. Reports about the sexual-abuse allegations were forwarded to the Winston-Salem Police Department and Forsyth County Sheriff's Office in August 2002. CPS did not follow up with the agencies to determine their findings. The report says that the sheriff's office did not investigate; no mention is made of the Winston-Salem department's findings.

* Kernersville police did not promptly deal with a May 2003 report that a child was abused in a convenience store, and police did not notify CPS until six days later.

Kernersville Police Chief Neal Stockton said that the officer who investigated the case handled it appropriately. The officer talked with Leatrice Brannock and did not see any indication that there was an emergency. He filed his report, supervisors reviewed it and sent it to DSS, Stockton said.

"If we felt like that child had been in harm's way, we would have made charges and had DSS come out to take custody of that child," Stockton said.

Forsyth County Sheriff Bill Schatzman said he was not familiar with the information that the report said the sheriff's office did not investigate. But he said that the two detectives who handle child-abuse cases have a heavy workload.

"We have two detectives assigned, which is too little in my view," he said. "There's no excuse for not being sensitive and robust and aggressive when it comes to child cases."

Among the report's recommendations:

* Child Protective Services should be familiar with other agencies to which it refers clients. Agencies providing services to families where abuse and neglect have been found should be in regular contact with CPS about their services and goals.

* Medical personnel should notify CPS and law enforcement in cases of suspected sexual abuse, even if there is no physical evidence.

* Police agencies should do their own investigations of sexual-abuse allegations regardless of any decisions by CPS.

* The Department of Social Services should refer reports of suspected sexual abuse to the district attorney.

* CPS should be allowed to investigate juveniles suspected of sexually abusing other children if the suspects were taking care of the children.

* The state should create a hot line for people to call to report child abuse, and Forsyth County should prominently publish in the phone book and other places a number for CPS.

George Bryan is the executive director of Exchange/SCAN, a group that fights child abuse, and was on the 19-person team that reviewed the Brannock case. The problems, he said, were more pervasive than in any other review of a child's death that he's been involved with.

"There were many reports, many investigations of this family. It was a continuing issue," Bryan said. "And yes, we folks that are working in child abuse didn't communicate the way we should have, is what the results say."

Leatrice Brannock could not be reached yesterday for comment.

Sheila Partin, Bethany's paternal grandmother, who made several reports of abuse, said she hopes that the recommendations can help save other children. "We can't bring Bethany back no matter what," she said.

Imran Butt employed Leatrice Brannock at his Quality Mart gas station at the corner of Bodenhamer and West Mountain streets in Kernersville. He made his call to DSS about two weeks before Bethany died, leaving his cell-phone number. He reported seeing bruises on the girl. He was starting two new businesses, driving a lot and working long days; he didn't get a call back.

"I didn't have the time to call someone up and do it again," Butt said. "I should have done more. The system is only as good as we make it."

• Patrick Wilson can be reached at 727-7286 wsjournal.com

Posted by Nancy at 01:01 AM | Comments (0)

Tsunami orphans at sexual abuse risk

January 2, 2005 [UPI]

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Save the Children Fund in Sri Lanka said children orphaned by the tsunami are at risk of sexual abuse in camps or being sold to child traffickers.

The international children's aid organization said it has evidence that children in a camp have been bought for about $40, the Scotsman.com reported Sunday.

"We believe two children were sold to traffickers from Colombo. We don't know why they have taken the children but we fear they will be passed on to pedophiles or sold for some other form of exploitation," said Tahirih Ayn, a child protection officer with Save the Children Fund Sri Lanka.

The number of children orphaned or separated from their parents after the tsunami, which killed nearly 30,000 people in Sri Lanka, is unknown, but in one camp of displaced persons, about 40 percent were children.

A Save the Children Fund official said the group feared that children might be sexually exploited by adults in the camps and it recommended children be separated from adults. The group also said some parents who lost children in the disaster have taken orphaned children illegally.

Posted by Nancy at 12:17 AM | Comments (0)