BY JEFF DEENEY I want to make some quick comments about the case of Charlenni Ferreira, a 10 year old Feltonville girl who turned up dead on Wednesday bearing multiple indicators of a long and horrendous history of physical and sexual abuse. Due to the demands of my social work job I can’t really take the time to put together anything comprehensive today so this will have to do until more details about the case come out.Let me start by saying that I’ve never worked in child welfare, nor for DHS specifically as an agency but I have worked with homeless families, and more specifically with families in Feltonville; in fact I worked with a family living about a block away from Charlenni’s home on C Street during the time that DHS was involved with her. My job at that time and subsequent social work jobs have brought me in contact with DHS social workers and contracted DHS service providers like SCOH (Services to Children in their Own Homes) workers who do home visits and TSS (Therpeutic Support Staff) workers in the school system. I don’t know anything particular about the details of the Charlenni Ferreira case beyond what I read in the papers this morning, nor do I know anyone associated with the case at DHS.
In case you’re not familiar with this part of North Philly, Feltonville is a predominantly Latino neighborhood that is sort of an extension of the Badlands barrio directly south of it. Feltonville is not as bad in terms of violent crime or drug dealing as the Badlands, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a great neighborhood. The homes in Feltonville are a little bigger, the streets a little wider and the families here are a little better off than those living below Erie Avenue, but the neighborhood is still extremely poor compared to many other neighborhoods in the city. This is simply to give you some sociological context for the story, not to imply that drugs were involved.
The obvious question that arises in Charlenni’s case is, did DHS fall down again like it did so egregiously in the case of Danieal Kelly, causing the death of another child the agency was charged with protecting? The short answer is, it’s impossible to tell from the available details. However, what is available doesn’t look good for the agency.
According to the Inquirer in 2006 a nurse at the girl’s elementary school was pounding the table at DHS, saying that Charlenni was being abused. As a mandatory reporter of child abuse, this is a nurse’s job and it sounds like she was a good nurse who did exactly what she was supposed to. She advocated for the child to the point that a child protection case was opened at DHS despite the ambivalence of a pediatrician engaged by the agency. Whoever this nurse is, she deserves to be commended for this, because she was right and this doctor was wrong.
The Inquirer then states that the child received services in the home for a 12 week period from a private child welfare agency called Family Preservation. This would be aSCOH worker making the home visits, not a DHS social worker. After this 12 week period, the case was closed, the agency stating there was no evidence of abuse.
Alarm bells. A major part of the problem with the Danieal Kelly case was that the contractor agency that was supposed to be providing SCOH services totally fell down. In fact, MultiEthnic often wasn’t making visits when they said they were, though they were charging the city for the service. As a result, that agency,MultiEthnic Behavioral Health, was charged with a variety of fraud related crimes. Of course, we don’t know what Family Preservation’s 12 week interaction with Charlenni consisted of, so it’s impossible to say at this point that the agency bears any responsibility.
Regardless, my interaction with SCOH workers in the field has left an unfavorable impression of the professional capacities of the people often tasked with this crucial job. SCOH workers do not have the training or education that a DHS social worker has. They are paid very low wages and the demands of their jobs are high. And yet they are the frontline reporters who in many cases determine whether or not abuse is occurring in the home. Much of the commentary I wrote about the Danieal Kelly case focused on this poor decision by DHS to farm out this totally critical and basic function of their agency to often unreliable outside contractors.
After the SCOH agency closed Charlenni’s case, having determined there was no abuse in the house, the school nurse again made abuse reports and advocated for the child. (Seriously, who is this nurse? Hopefully the dailies are tripping over themselves to get a profile on her.) Again, DHS’s pediatrician didn’t feel there was current abuse occurring in Charlenni’s home and the agency refused to open a new case. Again, this does not sound good for the agency.
All of this happened in the months prior to Mayor Nutter’s election, and if you remember he camped out at DHS for a week after his election to make a show of his intent to turn the agency around. Regardless of whether or not DHS is determined to be at fault in the death of Charlenni Ferreira, now is probably not a bad time for the papers to take a look at whether or not things at DHS have gotten any better since Mayor Nutter pledged to improve the agency. In the meantime, we’ll have to wait for more details to trickle out before any conclusions can be made about whether Charlenni Ferreira is another Danieal Kelly, a child whose slow and painful murder was facilitated by institutional failure and criminal fraud in the child welfare system.