Two children whose mother was an employee in the Division of Children and Family Services of the state Department of Human Services were ordered removed from her custody last year by a judge who found the children were in "imminent danger" at her home.
The employee, Chanel Moore, who is required by law to report child maltreatment to the state's abuse hotline, apparently did not inform DHS that her husband had done anything to harm the children. It was the boys' grandfather who first called the abuse hotline to report that the older boy had cuts, bruises and scars on his back. Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce awarded custody to the grandfather, George Turner II, after Turner initiated court proceedings in November 2013.
After the grandfather called the maltreatment hotline in spring of 2013 and during the custody proceedings that followed, Chanel Moore continued to work at DHS. At some point after his hotline call, Turner said, a caseworker visited Chanel Moore's home in response to his report, but did not remove the children.
A trusted source says that not only did Moore not make a maltreatment report, DCFS Director Cecile Blucker also knew about the abuse allegations and did not report them.
The case is of particular interest because state Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork) also said that Blucker was aware he had rehomed his children before a maltreatment report of abandonment was made to the hotline.
Judge Pierce ordered DHS to turn over its files on the allegations made against the boys' stepfather, Brandon M. Moore, last April. Chanel Moore was fired in July. In his final custody order in August 2014, Pierce wrote that DHS had made "true findings" of abuse by Brandon Moore and neglect by Chanel Moore. Asked for the reason for her termination, DHS would only disclose that she was fired for violating agency policy.
Turner, of Conway, originally called the state child maltreatment hotline in spring 2013 after learning that the child's stepfather, Brandon Moore, had "whooped him with a belt." During a visit to his grandfather, the younger boy told Turner, " 'You should look at [his brother's] back, he has scars on his back," Turner told the Times. Turner said a caseworker visited Chanel Moore's home in response to his report, but left the sons in the home. In an affidavit filed in January 2014 in Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce's court, Turner said, "I believe there was a true finding of physical abuse against Mr. Brandon Moore, the stepfather, because I was subpoenaed to testify and did testify before the Appeal Tribunal of the Department of Human Services on Nov. 18, 2013."
According to Turner, the judge said he did not understand why DHS did not follow protocol and remove the boys from the home after the home visit. He said that Pierce, after meeting with the boys in chambers, expressed displeasure in open court with DHS and said he was turning the documents from the agency over to criminal investigators. The Times has a call in to Judge Pierce for comment.
Brandon Moore, 30, was arrested Nov. 14, 2014, on a charge of 2nd degree battery and ordered not to have any contact with Chanel Moore's oldest son. A jury trial was set for June 9 of this year.
But why did DHS evidently not take action against Moore on its own, considering Turner's original call to the child maltreatment hotline occurred many months prior to the court's involvement?
Turner said he believes the abuse was known to Moore's boss, Cecile Blucker, the head of DCFS, prior to Judge Pierce's involvement. An anonymous source corroborated this account. Like Moore and other DCFS employees, Blucker is a mandated reporter
DHS spokesperson Amy Webb said that if allegations of maltreatment rise to the level that requires reporting, Blucker reports it. Moore's termination letter, provided to the Times under the state Freedom of Information Act, redacted the reason for her firing. Asked why the termination reason was redacted, DHS spokesperson Kate Luck said the agency was "bound by very specific confidentiality laws that prevent us from making certain information public." She said DHS cannot even reveal which statute, exactly, required the redaction in the first place.
"I understand that it's frustrating; it can be frustrating for us too," Luck said in an email. "We want to, and strive to be, as open as we can be. But there are times, like this one, when our hands are tied. We have our top attorneys review the information we release under the FOIA and in this instance, there are other confidentiality laws at play that take precedence over the FOIA. To cite those laws would be revealing the confidential nature of the information. [Our emphasis.]
"[W]e are in the process of seeking an Attorney General's opinion on this issue and will abide by whatever that opinion says. However, at this time our attorneys feel the information released was the most we could provide and still be within the law."
The allegations made against Brandon Moore, that Chanel Moore and Brandon Moore were living together when the alleged abuse occurred and that Moore lost custody are already known. The names of the minors involved are also known; they are in the court records of the custody action.
All that is not known is whether Chanel Moore was fired for not reporting a suspicion of maltreatment, as she was required to. Is that protected by confidentiality laws so confidential we can't know what the laws are?
Moore's is not the only case in which alleged abuse occurred in a DHS worker's home. In July 2008, the aunt of a 2-year-old drove her nephew to a DHS office to show caseworkers the bruises on his buttocks and back. She'd found the marks while she was taking care of the toddler. A DHS worker on duty took photos of the boy, but told Amanda Allen, the aunt, to return the child to his mother. The mother and father of the child were living with the child's grandmother, a DHS employee.
A month later, the boy was in Arkansas Children's Hospital with a fractured skull, detached gallbladder, internal bleeding and bruises all over his body. The employee resigned that month, DHS said at the time.
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