As more information is released in this case in the form of medical records and court records courtesy of Jeff Hanson and Trista Reynolds, the more questions I have for DHHS and the more confident I am that Trista Reynolds has a case to sue the pants off of them. DHHS failed Ayla in two ways. They allowed her father to take her by either not following up on a report of abuse or ignoring a report of abuse and they did nothing to enforce their own rules and guidelines by demanding that Justin return Ayla to Trista's care upon completion of rehab, that coupled with the report by a mandated reporter of possible child abuse and additional suspicious injuries, led to Ayla "disappearing" while on what should have been DHHS's watch.
(Dale M. pay attention! You need to read this so you will stop with your ravings about DHHS and how to file for Parental Rights and Responsibilities in Maine, you are wrong so read closely, maybe you will learn something.)
Let's start with some trivia on Mandated Reporters and Maine DHHS laws regarding Child Abuse/Neglect.
Myth or Fact:
DHHS Caseworkers may walk into a home and decide on the spot to take a child if they believe the child or children have been seriously abused or neglected?
Myth: As an agent, you can seek court action to remove or call law enforcement to provide interim care for up to 6 hours.
The DHHS actively explores relative or kinship placement when children come into state custody?
Fact: Yes, even prior to coming into custody
All abuse cases must be reported to DHHS?
Myth: Physical discipline that causes only transient injury is allowable under state law
As a mandated reporter I am entitled to know what happened to my report?
Myth: You are not entitled. Under optional disclosure DHHS can share info if it affects the safety/care of the child. At the time of the report the Dept. may be able to say whether intervention is likely or not
The purpose of the trivia was to show people that what we think we know about DHHS and their rules and regulations may not always be accurate. Many people are under the false assumption that DHHS can take a child from a home if they think the child is being seriously abused or neglected and that it does not have to go through a judge. I, personally, thought that any case of child abuse should be reported to DHHS. I did not know that an injury that was a result of discipline was exempt under law. You can find more of the above trivia here
Mandated Reporters (such as a Physician, Dentist, Guidance Counselor, Teacher...)
A mandated reporter is legally required to report suspected child abuse or neglect to Child Protective Services immediately or as soon as possible.
If a mandated reporter knowingly fails to report a situation where they have reasonable cause to suspect child abuse or neglect, they are committing a civil violation and may be prosecuted and fired.
Going on the assumption that the doctor who saw Ayla for her pulled leg muscle, who listed in their report that there was "still concern for non-accidental trauma given the timing of acute onset limp (had just returned from visit with her father)", followed through with their treatment plan which was as follows:
Plan 1: Refer to Maine Orthopaedics
Plan 2: Report to DHS maternal concern about safety at dad's.
Then DHHS was made aware of the possibility that Ayla was being abused while in the care of her father, Justin DiPietro but they still allowed Ayla to go live with her father 19 days later and did not assist Trista on retrieving Ayla per the agreement of all parties at the Family Team Meeting on 10/20/11 even after having received a report that he was possibly abusing her. Nor did they find it suspicious that less than 3 weeks after that, Ayla has yet another injury while in her father's care and this time sustains a serious arm break. How could DHHS overlook this? What happens once a report is received by their office? Aren't they required to follow up on it?
When DHHS receives a report of abuse they have an initial assessment which may include-home visits, interviews with family members, and collateral contacts. DHHS then makes a decision based off of those initial interviews and assessments. The findings are broken into three categories: Abuse/Neglect Substantiated, Indicated, or Not. Substantiated is when they have definite proof that abuse/neglect has occurred or will occur unless there is intervention. Indicated means that they have not found definitive proof but it is likely that it has or could happen. An unsubstantiated case is closed although sometimes DHHS offers services to these families. If a case is Substantiated or Indicated, CPS becomes involved.
Here is a link to an illustration of how what happens when a case is reported and what happens after the initial report.
If there was an injury reported by a doctor to possibly have come from trauma that was not accidental, I would hope that CPS would not come back with a finding of unsubstantiated. I would expect that they would feel that it was at the least indicated and require a more in depth assessment of the situation.
If CPS did their job correctly, which I am not seeing any evidence that they even interviewed Justin nor did a home visit, a complete assessment would be done and then a family team meeting would be called and a family plan would be set up. CPS would then offer different services to the family and stay involved until there was no more risk to the child. If CPS claims they did follow up thoroughly, I would think they would still have had an open case on Justin at the time of the arm break and would have stepped in to remove Ayla from Justin's care and place her back with Trista but they did not. They didn't even lift a finger to help Trista get Ayla back after the family plan was put in place after the first family team meeting. The dates of the reported incidents are too close together for DHHS not to have been aware of the reports of possible child abuse or to have fully assessed the situation and deemed Justin's home safe for Ayla.
9/29/11-Trista brings Ayla to the doctor's for the pulled leg muscle. Doctor was required to notify DHS that day or no later than the next business day.
10/17/11-Justin takes Ayla with DHHS's help
10/20/11-Family Team Meeting with a Family Plan put in place that Justin would return Ayla to Trista's custody on 10/22/11
0/22/11 Justin fails to follow through with the Family Plan
11/12/11-Ayla is seen at the ER for the broken arm
11/14/11-Ayla is seen by a specialist in Portland due to the severity of the break
11/21/11-The last follow up appointment Ayla is taken to before she disappears. She was to supposed to be seen again on the 16th of December but the appointment was cancelled.
12/15/11-Trista filed for Parental Rights and Responsibilities
12/17/11-Ayla is reported missing
12/19/11-A judge signs Trista's petition and waives the filing fees, they also agree to pay the costs of serving the other party.
(Dale if you are still with me, this part is for you!)
Trista was restricted access to Ayla after December 8th. She was not able to talk to her on the phone or see her in person. She tried to get DHHS to intervene on her behalf and enforce their family plan and from Trista's reports they did not assist her. She was left with no other option but to legally file for Parental Rights and Responsibilities through the court so that there was either mandated visitation or that Trista retain physical custody of Ayla.
Trista filed the paperwork on 12/15/11. On the second page, it shows that is was received and stamped on 12/15/11. On the bottom of the page where it was signed by a judge it is dated 12/19/11. Trista was found to be eligible to have the filing fee waived and also the court would pay to have the other party served. It shows on the paperwork that first you file, then the other party is served which is why there is a section on the original paperwork that states if the fees are waived the courts will pay for the paperwork to be served, if you served the other party first, there would be no need for this on the original paperwork. (In case you don't comprehend that Dale, here is it again laid out for you!)