Social services commissioner to review baby Braxton case

Posted at 1:57 PM, Feb 07, 2012
and last updated 2012-03-21 13:59:30-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WTKR) The director of Virginia Beach Human Services, who at first said there was no reason for an internal investigation after the death two years ago of foster baby Braxton Taylor, today said he would ask the state social services commissioner for a review of the case “to make sure this never happens again.”

While he did not concede any fault or blame, Robert Morin Jr. said he would call Virginia Department of Social Services commissioner Martin Brown Tuesday afternoon. Morin said they would discuss several changes to local policy, including:

*Requiring investigators to examine a foster child’s injuries, instead of leaving that to foster-care counselors

*More forcefully challenge foster parents to explain injuries

*Expand training for all staff members on recognizing abuse and neglect

*Increase the number of social-services workers who are trained to spot abuse

Morin’s statements came as NewsChannel 3 prepared to ask him about his 2002 resignation from Florida’s child-welfare department. News accounts show Morin was one of several Florida directors who resigned amid a foster-care scandal that included missing children, and charges social workers falsified records of home visits.

Morin said he was brought into Florida as a “troubleshooter” to improve performance and conditions in his district, and he says he did exactly that. He said when Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush ousted the child-welfare secretary during the scandal, the new appointee elected not to renew several directors, including Morin. He said it had nothing to do with his performance.

Morin’s proposed changes in Virginia Beach address several concerns that surfaced in a three-month NewsChannel 3 investigation. The investigation showed social workers on at least two occasions saw Braxton was bruised and cut, but accepted explanations from foster mother Kathleen Ganiere that the baby fell down a lot.

A picture of Braxton, taken in the Human Services building barely two weeks before he was killed, show his head bruised, his eyes sunken and his lips cut. Ganiere later pleaded guilty to shaking Braxton to death. Doctors at CHKD told Braxton’s family the signs of abuse were obvious, and an autopsy pinpointed several fresh and older abuse injuries.

The director on Tuesday also said he was mistaken in an earlier interview with NewsChannel 3 when he indicated there had been no changes to policy or procedure because of Braxton’s death.

He provided a memo from Cheryl Williams, Adult and Family Services Administrator, requiring once-a-week visits with foster children, instead of once a month. The memo also outlines more stringent injury-reporting requirements.

The memo was emailed by city spokesperson Marc Davis today. In December, NewsChannel 3 sent an open-records request to Morin for all documents related to Braxton’s case. That letter was forwarded to the city attorney’s office. In a series of letters and emails, the city attorney and his staff said all documents were secret.

Reached at her home, Braxton’s first foster mother, Sarah FitzPatrick, said it shouldn’t have taken the death of a baby and pressure from NewsChannel 3 to bring about these changes. Sarah and husband Ben cared for Braxton seven months before he was transferred to Ganiere, a first-time foster mother.

The couple agreed to tell their story to NewsChannel 3 to expose what they saw as fatal flaws in the city’s social services system. Braxton’s grandparents, Betty and Rufus Easter from Eden, N.C., and Braxton’s birth mother, Kristen Wall of Norfolk, all gave interviews as part of the NewsChannel 3 investigation.

The changes, Sarah said, “are a good start.”

NewsChannel 3 is still pursuing records through the Freedom of Information Act. Braxton’s biological mother, Kristen Wall, is suing the city. In response, the city attorney has said no one in Human Services was negligent and, even if they were, the city is immune from lawsuits.