Baby Braxton Investigation: Councilman calls for firing of Beach human services director

Posted at 8:09 PM, Jul 23, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-23 23:17:08-04

VIRGINIA BEACH – City Councilman Bill DeSteph is calling for Human Services director Bob Morin’s firing after a pair of state reports declared the city’s child-welfare agency is “in crisis,” suffering from a lack of leadership, and is sometimes breaking the law.

“The entire leadership needs to go,” said DeSteph, reached by phone Monday. “There is a lack of accountability.”

A pair of state reports released Friday detail a child-welfare organization that often does not follow best practices or even state guidelines and recommendations. The reports said the Virginia Beach agency is lagging near the bottom in key measures when considered against other child-welfare departments. The report also said the staff has little confidence in Morin, calling him “largely ineffective, distant, unresponsive to the needs of the organization and completely out of touch with the work being done.” The former director of the child-welfare division, Cheryl Williams, received similar criticism in the report. Morin slashed her duties days before the report was published, but said on Friday he would not be resigning. Instead, he said he will be “a troubleshooter” and a “change agent” committed to making the agency better.

The reports come a year after a NewsChannel 3 investigation revealed social workers either missed or ignored signs of chronic abuse inflicted on a foster baby. Our investigation showed an abusive foster mother, Kathleen Ganiere, did little to hide the bumps, bruises and split lips visible to case workers, but she successfully fooled them into thinking the injuries happened because the baby fell down a lot.

She later shook Braxton Taylor to death in Feb. 2010. He was 10 months old. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter, but no investigative agency ever looked into the competence of the child-welfare office. Braxton’s grandparents and first foster family asked NewsChannel 3 to do that. Morin at first said no investigation was needed because his staff “did everything appropriately,” but after our story aired, he asked for a state review.

That review showed no single factor, if done differently, would have saved Braxton. However, it concluded that had workers been better trained, and had they shared with each other the volume of alarming warnings about Braxton’s injuries and Ganiere’s odd behavior, the death might have been avoided. The review also said Ganiere and her husband were not assessed properly to be foster parents, and her husband never completed foster-parent training. Her husband, Brian Kezer (referred to as BK in the reports) was never criminally charged. In short, the reviewers said a complete culture shift was needed at the city’s Human Services building.

Councilmembers Harry Diezel and Glenn Davis, both reached by phone, said they wanted to hear more from the city manager. Diezel said Morin’s leadership “is not something in the plus column,” and Davis said at the very least, “there should be significant discipline.”

The Council is on summer break and will not meet formally until the middle of August.

Jim Spore, the city manager, said he will announce Tuesday a task force to dig into the report and determine how the city’s child-welfare division can meet the recommendations in the state reports.

“That's what we are after, a solution,” Spore said Monday. “We're not after somebody's head on a platter, we're after a solution here.”

Spore said he expects the task force to make its recommendations by the end of August.

“From that we will draw some conclusions and take some definite actions,” he said.

He did not say Morin would remain as the director of the agency, nor did he say Morin’s job was in jeopardy.

“That point will come,” he said. “But it is not 48 hours after you have read the report.”

Braxton’s first foster parents, Ben and Sarah FitzPatrick, thanked NewsChannel 3 for investigating Human Services when no one else would. While they are satisfied at the depth of the report and its recommendations, they are disappointed the changes come at such a cost. They were Braxton’s foster parents until he was transferred to Ganiere.

“Changes should have been made then, right then, not wait for us to go to you to say, 'hey, something needs to be done,'” Sarah FitzPatrick said.