Missing since January 2001, and no one knew it?
May 2, 2002 4:53 AM   Subscribe

Missing since January 2001, and no one knew it? In January 2001, Rilya Wilson was handed over to people who claimed to work for the Florida Department of Children and Families. Department officials say that they do not have custody of the child. In fact, they don't know where she is, or who has her. The child's caseworker's been fired for falsifying documents in another case, and had been slacking in this one. Rilya's grandmother's attempts at following up were apparently stonewalled. No one knows where little Rilya is, but there are some suspicions that she may be the child known as "Precious Doe," a little girl found murdered in Kansas City. How does something like this happen? More importantly, what could be an appropriate consequence for Florida DCF authorities who lost a five year old child and didn't seem to care?
posted by Dreama (12 comments total)
growing up a welfare baby in nj, i can say the fooling without hesistation:

family services are not healthy for children and other growing things.
posted by jcterminal at 5:14 AM on May 2, 2002

Whatever the consequences are, they should be harsh enough to dissuade anyone who really doesn't care and doesn't take their job seriously, from becoming a welfare worker. I'd like to think this will never happen again but I doubt it.
posted by Jubey at 5:26 AM on May 2, 2002

It's hard to evaluate just what's going on with the information at hand, but it doesn't seem like there's enough to place the blame squarely on the DCF just yet. Clearly the Florida DCF has to take some responsibility for allowing a child supposedly under their watch to go missing for a year, but at the same time it seems a bit odd that the only person who saw the mysterious fake caseworkers is the grandmother, and that she says she's been calling the state about it and yet there's no record of those calls, and that she seems to have never called anyone else about it, either.
posted by biscotti at 6:17 AM on May 2, 2002

It will keep happening until these people's salaries are aligned with the value of their work.

Oh, sorry. That would be welfare spending. Income redistribution and all, can't have that.
posted by luser at 6:21 AM on May 2, 2002

I think it is fairly obvious that the social system in place here in America is completely screwed up. Children are taken from their homes who should not be. Children are left in their homes who should not be. Now this...

To be fair, it is NOT always the social workers fault. The system is completely scewed and there are simply not enough people covering an enormous case load. There are not enough foster parents, people willing to adopt older children, etc. etc. but I am off on a wild tangent here.

The issue here is that Florida allowed this little girl to slip through the cracks as she was in what is called a "comfort placement" meaning she was with a family member and they assumed she was safe. Granted this is negligence on the part of Florida Dept of Children and Family Services but this occurence is not all that rare.

The larger issue is that the grandmother allowed random people to take this child without confirming who they were and without checking up immediately with authorities to verify her whereabouts.

"The grandmother said she repeatedly called the state to check on the child, but the agency said it has no records to confirm the calls. Miami-Dade police said the grandmother is not under suspicion."

Maybe not but the grandmother was as negligent as the state - why does no one point this out???
posted by gloege at 6:25 AM on May 2, 2002

Update - the child's prints do not match the dead Kansas City girl
posted by gloege at 7:03 AM on May 2, 2002

Florida DCF has problems. Lots of them. Some folks I've talked to wouldn't be surprised at all if DCF had just lost track of the kid. The "fake" DCF caseworkers sound as reliable as the real ones. It wouldn't be hard to imagine that DCF really did come to claim the child and then reassigned her, misplacing all the paperwork along the way.

Plus, it's the Miami DCF.

I'm not going to bother linking to some DCF criticism because there is so much of it out there.

This is a very sad example of how poorly DCF (formerly HRS) is being run. Hopefully they'll find the girl safe and sound right where someone left her.
posted by ahughey at 7:19 AM on May 2, 2002

"The department and I take full responsibility for what happened," said Charles Auslander...

Christ, how often do you hear those words? I'm not excusing the deed, but for a department and it's director to admit the fault and take full responsibility is as rare as a unicorn.
posted by ao4047 at 7:20 AM on May 2, 2002

it seems a bit odd that the only person who saw the mysterious fake caseworkers is the grandmother, and that she says she's been calling the state about it and yet there's no record of those calls

The fake caseworkers probably gave her a fake phone number. My first impression was that maybe the real caseworker works for the abductors and tips them off to vulnerable guardians. There may be many more of these cases where fake social workers show up and take back a foster kid. If a real case-worker is in on the scam then nobody from the state checks up on the kid and the foster parents assume the state has the kid so nobody on the outside checks either.

This quote is what made me suspicious:

Florida agency officials said Rilya's original caseworker resigned recently after being accused of falsifying documents in another case.
posted by plaino at 7:27 AM on May 2, 2002

plaino: yeah, that seemed suspicious to me, too. But fake phone number or not, the grandmother didn't get any real answers for a year and didn't think to try calling a different number and speaking to somebody else?
posted by biscotti at 7:46 AM on May 2, 2002

I can't be more specific, but a relative works for a similar social agency. A few months ago it developed that a caseworker had been continually falsifying documents for at least a year, noting client visits where none occurred and for all we knew spending the days she was supposed to be driving out and checking on families, at the mall shopping.
posted by dhartung at 8:57 AM on May 2, 2002

The caseworker was not doing follow-up visits with this family as scheduled. It's not too farfetched to consider that this was, in fact, a convenient cover to explain why s/he was unaware of the snatching, while s/he was actually involved.

The article does indicate that the grandmother is not suspected of any wrongdoing.

But fake phone number or not, the grandmother didn't get any real answers for a year and didn't think to try calling a different number and speaking to somebody else?

Those who have firsthand knowledge of DCF type agencies can tell you that the agencies love to play the confidentiality card. (And often use "confidentially" to hide their ineptness and mistakes.) They are master stonewallers. I can easily see the grandmother calling up and asking "What's going on with Rilya?" without being specific about the fact that Rilya was no longer in her physical custody, and being told "We cannot tell you anything right now, ma'am." meaning that any "progress" on her case was on a need to know basis and the grandmother didn't have a policy-defined need to know.

I can also see where literacy, authority and race issues could come into play with regard to the grandmother's actions and reactions which exacerbated the situation. If the case worker was in on a plot, these are issues that would have been known and exploited.

I guess I'm left with questions I think I'd really rather not know the answer to, specifically why they wanted this little girl. If she had been a white infant, I could see some baby-selling scheme coming into play, but there isn't a huge underground demand for five year old African American girls. If someone plotted to take this child, I can only fear that it was for some purpose too distasteful to put into words.

Given that, I can't answer my own question regarding appropriate consequences for DCF personnel who should have aware enough of what was happening to stop this from happening, or to raise an alert before this child was gone for a year. Whether this was an organised plot that involves multiple DCF workers or simple gross negligence, I don't know what response matches the horror of the situation.
posted by Dreama at 4:35 PM on May 2, 2002

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