Hotline case was mishandled

Thursday, April 19, 2007

By Lindsay Reed

Information obtained during a Missouri Department of Social Services (MDSS) State Technical Assistance Team (STAT) investigation concerning the death of a 6-year-old Shell Knob boy has raised questions concerning the local Children s Division s investigation process.

A STAT report doesn t have conclusions, said Sara Anderson, MDSS spokesperson. It is a tool we use to look at the process of how things were handled to determine what happened.

It works as an evaluation tool for us to see how we are doing our jobs, said Anderson. If we see changes that need to be made based on a STAT report, we will make those changes.

According to the MDSS Children s Division 2005 report on child abuse and neglect, when a report is made to the Child Abuse or Neglect Hotline Unit (CANHU) a Children s Division representative determines if the child is under the age of 18, under the care or in the custody of the alleged perpetrator and the report meets the legal definition of abuse or neglect.

If a member of the community suspects abuse or neglect, they are asked to call the hotline, said Anderson. The reporter will be asked a series of questions in order to help us understand what the situation is.

Hotline reports are forwarded to the appropriate county office for investigation or assessment, which must be initiated within 24 hours and completed within 30 days of the report.

A MDSS social worker will visit the home of the alleged perpetrator, said Anderson. If the investigator feels there is enough evidence, they will start a case and go from there.

According to the Children s Division s 2005 report, an investigation of a hotline report can include several standard steps.

The investigator will usually contact the reporter and make a determination regarding the safety of the child within 24 hours. They will also usually contact a school liaison, collateral persons, witnesses and the non-offending parent during the investigation process.

Often, even when we don t open a case, we will offer different resources to the family, said Anderson. Resources vary from community to community but can include: childcare services; homemaker services; counseling; or respite care services. The Children s Division investigator is responsible for making appropriate referrals for family services.

According the the 2005 report, after the social worker completes the investigation, they often notify the parent, alleged perpetrator, school liaison and mandated reporter of the investigation s conclusion and findings.

According to the STAT investigation report conducted by STAT investigator Denise R. Brown, many of these steps were not completed during MDSS Children s Division investigations regarding 6-year-old Dennis DJ Fredrick Parker III, of Shell Knob.

Hotline calls regarding DJ Parker s well being were made by family members and several community members who were associated with the Parker family.

Reporters noted concerns regarding DJ Parker s living conditions and care provided by his father, Dennis Parker, Jr., who had sole custody of DJ Parker beginning in August of 2006.

Most of the reporters felt that Dennis Parker, Jr., who used prescription pain medications to control pain associated with injuries sustained in an automobile crash 15 years ago, was over medicating, which they believed made him incapable of properly caring for DJ Parker.

According to Janice Reed, MDSS Children s Division 39th Circuit supervisor, Dennis Parker, Jr., admitted that he was taking the prescription medication Oxycontin to control pain.

During the STAT investigation, Brown also found that Dennis Parker, Jr., had several arrest records for driving while intoxicated in Missouri and Iowa.

Susan Cannon, a registered nurse who works under Dr. K. Duane Cox at Shell Knob Family Medicine, was one community member who reported concerns about DJ Parker s care. Cannon initiated the hotline report after discussing DJ Parker s living conditions and care with the youngster s step-grandmother, Faye Parker.

During an interview with Brown, Cannon said that Dr. Cox stopped prescribing medications to Dennis Parker, Jr., when he felt the patient was over using the medication. At that time, Dennis Parker, Jr., discontinued treatment at Shell Knob Family Medicine, said Cannon.

Another report concerning DJ Parker s wellbeing was made after the youngster found his father unconscious on the kitchen floor of their mobile home. When he couldn t wake his father, DJ Parker ran to a neighbor s home to seek help. The neighbor notified emergency services, which responded to the scene.

After this incident, Sharon Heinzl, MDSS Children s Division 39th Circuit investigator, met with DJ Parker and Susan Wilbanks, Shell Knob Elementary School counselor, at the elementary school to discuss the incident.

After the meeting, Heinzl told Wilbanks that the Children s Division did not have enough evidence to formally open a case for DJ Parker based on the incident in which DJ Parker had found his father unconscious.

Kelly Ruble, MDSS Children s Division 39th Circuit investigator, said when she reviewed reports concerning DJ Parker she found nothing of great concern.

Ruble said she spoke with Sandra Best, who reported the incident in which DJ Parker found his father unconscious. She also spoke with Dennis Parker, Jr., who denied the allegations and assured Ruble that he does not over take his medication.

During an interview with Brown, Ruble said she felt that since the medication was prescribed and Dennis Parker, Jr., was under the care of a physician the issue was addressed.

It s really sad that Children s Division doesn t trust the mandated reporter, who has the child s interest, said Wilbanks, and yet believes the father, who has the motive to be dishonest.

Wilbanks made hotline reports and contacted Heinzl concerning DJ Parker on several occasions. On Nov. 16, 2006, Wilbanks reported concerns about DJ Parker s living conditions and care. After this report, Heinzl told Wilbanks there was enough evidence to formally open a case. Although Wilbanks believed a case was opened, one was not.

During an interview with Brown, Heinzl had difficulty recalling how many times she followed up on hotline reports regarding DJ Parker. She counted four occasions when she visited the Parker home after receiving a report. MDSS Children s Division s records reflect numerous calls made to CANHU regarding DJ Parker.

Heinzl never contacted the juvenile office or local law enforcement regarding DJ Parker s living conditions and care.

I talked it over with Janice (Reed) and I told her I don t have enough to present to them to intervene, said Heinzl. I ve been doing this too long to know what they take and what they don t.

The officers don t like dealing with the juvenile office and they don t like waiting around for DFS (Division of Family Services, which is now known as MDSS Children s Division) to get there, said Heinzl. If they can find a relative to just stick the kid with, they re going to do it and forget it, and that s what happened. I can understand that, we do that too.

Although Reed said she advised Heinzl to contact the juvenile office even if juvenile officers refused to act in DJ Parker s case, she was unsure if Heinzl ever contacted the juvenile office as directed.

Heinzl did inform Dennis Parker, Jr., that if another report was received, a formal case would be opened. Heinzl planned to open a formal case as soon as she returned from a holiday vacation that she took around Thanksgiving in 2006, said Reed.

According to Brown s investigation, Reed was the investigator of a report that was made on Aug. 26, 2004, which was over one year before MDSS Children s Division planned to open a formal case for DJ Parker.

Over the year, hotline reports about DJ Parker s well being were made by the youngster s grandparents, Shell Knob Head Start teachers and other community members. According to Brown s report, none of these reporters were contacted by a member of the Children s Division.

It s really frustrating when you hotline and nothing happens, said Lisa Fielder, Shell Knob Head Start teacher.

Anderson would not say if Heinzl, Reed or Ruble are still employed with MDSS Children s Division.

DJ Parker and Dennis Parker, Jr., were killed in an automobile crash on Nov. 22, 2006. After the crash, blood samples from Dennis Parker, Jr., were sent to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Laboratory in Jefferson City.

Although initial tests have concluded that Dennis Parker, Jr., was not intoxicated during the crash, drug testing toxicology reports are currently pending.

In November of 2006, Barry County Coroner Skip White asked MDSS to open an investigation into DJ Parker s death. The STAT investigation began on Dec. 7, 2006. The Cassville Democrat received a copy of the STAT investigation report from White.

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