Friday, October 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Girl wasted away under DHS care

City review of teen's neglect was key to ouster of leadership.

Fourteen-year-old Danieal Kelly, bedridden and nearly paralyzed with cerebral palsy, wasted away in her stifling Mantua apartment, gaping bedsores exposing her bones. When she died, she weighed just 46 pounds.

The tragedy happened in plain sight of Philadelphia's troubled Department of Human Services - an agency that failed her, city officials acknowledged yesterday.

As Danieal faded, a private company was being paid by the city to visit the home at least twice a week. How often the visits actually occurred is in dispute.

She died, dehydrated, in a record heat wave Aug. 4, nine days after the last scheduled visit. Maggots were found in her wounds.

"I'm outraged and saddened," acting DHS commissioner Arthur C. Evans Jr. said yesterday. "The system clearly failed with this kid. There's just no way you can look at a situation like this and say there wasn't a failure. "

The story of Danieal Kelly is the latest revelation of a child death that might have been prevented by DHS, the agency responsible for protecting the city's vulnerable children. A DHS caseworker visited the home at least three times in nine months without spotting the neglect, according to a city review of the death.

Police are now investigating.

Evans assumed the post last week after his predecessor was ousted by Mayor Street in the wake of an Inquirer investigation into child deaths.

During a review of child deaths prompted by the story, Street and his advisers were stunned by the facts of the Kelly case, passing around autopsy photos of the girl.

Officials said the case was a key factor that led Street to force the resignation of DHS Commissioner Cheryl Ransom-Garner and the termination of her deputy, John McGee.

The city has terminated its contract with the company that was paid to assist the family, Multiethnic Behavioral Health.

Evans, while declining to answer specific questions about the case, said that one of his first acts at DHS was to order that 109 children served by Multiethnic be placed with another provider by the end of today.

"I just felt that, given the magnitude of what I saw, that we needed to do that much more expeditiously," he said.

Evans and city spokesman Joe Grace said they could not explain why the agency did not immediately end the company's role in oversight of children.

Evans said no DHS workers had been disciplined in connection with the case, though he said that remained a possibility. He said he believed most DHS case workers were diligent and committed.

In interviews yesterday, McGee and Ransom-Garner defended their actions. McGee said he immediately stopped all new referrals to Multiethnic and ordered DHS caseworkers to check on the children in their care.

Ransom-Garner said she ordered an investigation into the company's performance.

McGee said he moved to reassign all of Multiethnic's clients to other social-service agencies, but had to wait until an investigation was completed.

"Multiethnic complied fully with all DHS procedures as required by their contract," said Luther E. Weaver III, company counsel. "When the full story comes out concerning this family, it will be demonstrated that Multiethnic and its employees were not responsible for the death of Danieal Kelly. "

A five-page city death review concludes that caregivers did very little for Danieal and her family. It notes that DHS failed to conduct a medical evaluation, even though the agency's own planning document had recommended one.

"Her condition deteriorated over a period of time, and this should have been apparent to anyone responsible for her personal care," the review said.

At the same time, it found the girl's death was the result of neglect by her mother, Andrea Kelly, described as her "primary caregiver. "

A lawyer for the mother said the police are investigating her culpability, but he says she did nothing wrong.

The lawyer, Vincent J. Giusini, filed legal papers two weeks after the death clearing the way for a possible lawsuit against the city and the private social-service agency, contending they failed to take the steps that could have saved the girl's life.

"This agency should have made a decision, 'We should get an air conditioner in there,' or should have removed the child," Giusini said. The temperature hit 97 degrees the day before her body was found.

Police, the medical examiner, and the city Law Department all knew facts of the case within a few weeks of her death.

But Street didn't learn those facts until the end of his review Thursday, Grace said. The administration will examine where communications broke down, Grace said.

After the death, the city moved in and took custody of Andrea Kelly's eight other children, ranging in age from 2 to 18. They have been placed in foster homes.

On Oct. 10, she gave birth to another child. DHS took this baby boy away from her in the hospital.

According to Giusini, his client was a good-hearted woman who has no criminal record or drug and alcohol problems. She was simply overwhelmed by the task of caring for so many children, especially given the extra demands of the wheelchair-bound Danieal, the attorney said.

Between 1999 and 2004, the agency received five complaints of neglect involving the family, but deemed them all unsubstantiated, according to city records.

In one such case, DHS received a report in 2004 contending that Danieal was medically neglected and in need of support services. The agency rejected the complaint as unsubstantiated.

DHS intervened on behalf of Danieal on Oct. 14 of last year. It hired Multiethnic to deliver services to the family.

Its job was to provide parenting education, to make sure the children went to school, and to help the family apply for housing assistance.

City records question the agency's performance in providing services to the Kelly family.

"This agency could not have, in my opinion, been seeing the child twice a week in the last two weeks of her life as they indicated," Ransom-Garner said. She also said she thought DHS shared the blame.

Andrea Kelly, 37, said that she strove to be a good mother for Danieal, but that the difficulties were immense.

"She would need help getting dressed, doing her hair, doing everything," she said. "I was doing that all alone by myself. "

Fighting back tears, the mother described Danieal as a "very happy girl" who would sing along with Sesame Street songs.

The night before the death, she said, Danieal ate dinner with the family, as she always did. She said she never observed the deep bedsores cited by authorities after the death.

The mother said that the social workers would show up infrequently and stay only briefly.

"It was no three hours," she said. "Ten or 15 minutes, a half-hour. Not long enough. "

According to Andrea Kelly, the social workers spoke with her, but seemed to ignore Danieal. "They never talked to her, never asked her any questions, never really went up to her and looked at her.

"They never spent no time at all," she said.

The DHS oversight was the second time the agency had intervened to monitor the well-being of one of Andrea Kelly's children.

In 1997, the agency was alerted that one of her sons, then 3, was dressed in dirty clothes, smelled bad, and had an eye injury.

The mother said the allegations were "all wrong. "

According to her lawyer, DHS says in official papers that this prompted the agency to monitor the family for two years. But the mother said the contact was limited to one visit by a social worker.

"The guy came one time," she said. "He never came back. "

In a separate interview, Danieal's father, Daniel Kelly, said both the child's mother and the social-service agencies shared the blame for his daughter's death.

"It's a lot of finger-pointing between her and them," said Daniel Kelly.

Daniel Kelly, who has two children with Andrea Kelly, has lived apart from her for years.

He was critical of Andrea Kelly, saying she raised the children in "substandard" conditions and had neglected her daughter.

At the same time, he faulted social workers, saying they should have recognized the danger to his daughter.

"This happened over a long period of time," he said. "Obviously, somebody didn't care. "

The three-story red-brick house where Danieal died is now boarded up, trash strewn on its front porch. Neighbors said they never saw the girl.

Said Essie Davis, who owns a house two doors down: "Nobody knew she was there until she died."



Inquirer staff writer Marcia Gelbart contributed to this article.

To read the Inquirer investigation of child deaths that led to the DHS shakeup, visit http://go.philly.com/dhs


 
 


John Sullivan, Ken Dilanian, Craig R. McCoy and Nancy Phillips INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS
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