Sunday, March 1, 2015

Mounting Failures Left Girl to Die

Danieal Kelly's family shunned stability. It says social workers dodged visits. And DHS missed chances.

Almost from the day she was born - three months premature, suffering from cerebral palsy, weighing just 1 pound, 4 ounces - the adults in her life kept letting Danieal Kelly down.

She had a mother who was repeatedly accused of neglecting Danieal and her eight brothers and sisters.

Her father was an intermittent presence - and faced his own charges of abusing her brother.

Like so many other vulnerable children who couldn't depend on their parents, wheelchair-bound Danieal was supposed to be protected by the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, with help from a team of private social workers. They failed her, too.

On Aug. 4, during a brutal heat wave, Danieal was found dead at age 14, weighing 46 pounds, her bedsores festering with maggots, in a house full of disheveled and dirty children.

While federal and city prosecutors investigate, The Inquirer has turned up new details about the troubled history of the Kelly family, and the institutional breakdown that paved the way for Danieal's death.

For nearly a year before Danieal died, the nonprofit MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc. was being paid to visit the family every week and to check on Danieal's health.

But the girl's mother, Andrea Kelly, contends no one from MultiEthnic visited her home for about two months before her daughter died.

Kelly also says a MultiEthnic caseworker had her sign blank forms attesting to visits - forms bearing future dates.

"I was questioning him about that, why was I signing all these papers," Kelly said in an interview. The answer: "So he wouldn't forget" the forms next time, she said.

DHS, in an October letter terminating MultiEthnic's city contract, leveled the same accusation: The company was "requiring families to sign blank encounter forms and consent forms."

A lawyer for MultiEthnic vigorously defended the company and said it was not responsible for the girl's death. Attorney Luther E. Weaver said a firm caseworker had visited the run-down Kelly home in West Philadelphia 18 times in June and July before she died.

As for the contention that a caseworker made the mother "pre-sign" forms, Weaver said: "There's zero tolerance for such conduct. If it occurred, we have no knowledge that it ever occurred."

From dozens of interviews with Danieal's parents, social workers, school officials and others, along with a review of city and court documents, a picture emerges of a girl in growing danger, trapped in a family roiled by constant chaos - and of a city agency that repeatedly missed chances to save her.

DHS opened seven neglect investigations into the Kelly family. Even so, for the two years Danieal lived in Philadelphia, the agency apparently never realized that she was not enrolled in any school.

Danieal's death has become a defining event for the troubled DHS. In its ugly details, hers was perhaps the most appalling death of the 25 since 2003 of childen whose families had come to the attention of the agency.

After an Oct. 15 Inquirer article on the child deaths, Mayor Street reviewed DHS files, becoming particularly upset about the Kelly case. He fired the agency's top two officials and launched an ongoing overhaul of DHS.

"The system clearly failed with this kid," the new DHS commissioner, Arthur C. Evans Jr., said in October.

Danieal's death has focused attention on the city's use of nonprofit social-welfare firms such as MultiEthnic - and how they go all but unmonitored.

Before the latest scandal, DHS auditors did not routinely interview family members or even DHS caseworkers about the agencies' performance. In 30 years, DHS fired just three providers.

In an interview Friday, Evans promised an overhaul of how the agency monitors nonprofits. He said DHS had already hired more auditors and brought in a consultant to recommend reforms. He promised tougher penalties for agencies that don't deliver.

"We'll be much more aggressive," he said.

An erratic life

Along with cerebral palsy and severe mental retardation, Danieal faced an erratic home life, bouncing between states and parents. Her mother and her father, Daniel, separated when she was an infant.

For the first three years of her life, Danieal lived with her mother. According to Daniel Kelly, now 35, he then took custody of Danieal and their son after a panicked relative called to say the children were living in terrible conditions. Later, he said, he found out that the children had not been to a doctor in years, and that their teeth were rotting.

The father moved with his two children to Pittsburgh and later to Phoenix.

According to medical records obtained by The Inquirer, Danieal was in good health in Arizona.

She and her brother attended an award-winning elementary school, Madison Rose Lane, in Phoenix. In Arizona, the records say, she attended special classes and got speech and physical therapy.

"She counts from 1 to 10. She sings her ABC song," one doctor wrote in 1998."She is also able to sing the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance. She can sign some of the nursery rhymes, including'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' and'Old MacDonald Had a Farm.' "

Another doctor wrote: "She voices no complaints."

The family had its share of problems in Arizona.

There, Daniel Kelly has "a history of domestic violence," a DHS document says.

Charged in 2000 with violating a protective order, he was convicted of a misdemeanor and required to attend a domestic-violence counseling program, court documents show.

Prosecutors in Arizona say Kelly didn't complete the program. In 2004, a warrant was issued for his arrest. He is still wanted.

Arizona authorities also substantiated a report that he had physically abused his son, DHS said.

In interviews, Kelly described himself as a "disciplinarian," but not abusive. Arizona child-welfare officials investigated him after he hit his son on the hand with a doubled-up belt, he said.

"It was nothing," he said."I spanked him on his hand in public."

Kelly said his children had missed their brothers and sisters, and he left Arizona in about 2004 to come East and move back in with Andrea.

The family reunion didn't last long. By then, Andrea Kelly had nine children by five men. Eight of those kids were living with her and nine other relatives in a jammed house in Southwest Philadelphia.

"I had a lot of children," Andrea Kelly, now 37, said in an interview."But I also took care of my children, whether their father was involved or not."

Daniel Kelly, who works in a Center City cell phone store, said he had tried to remain a factor in his kids' lives, but had been frozen out as his relationship with his wife fell apart.

During her years in Philadelphia, Andrea Kelly has often come under DHS scrutiny.

Between 1997 and 2004, the agency seven times looked into reports that she was neglecting her children, according to a detailed DHS review of the circumstances leading to Danieal's death.

The first one was substantiated, and the family received social services for a time. The next five complaints were dismissed as unproven.

In 2005, the agency heard a seventh report of neglect in the Kelly family, by then living on the bottom floor of a beaten-up rowhouse off Fairmount Park in Mantua, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

This time, DHS substantiated neglect, but didn't take the children from Andrea. Instead, in October 2005, DHS hired MultiEthnic to help.

MultiEthnic's DHS contract said it would help with housing issues, update the family children's medical treatment, line up doctors for Danieal , and make sure the children attended school.

But even while MultiEthnic was on the job, Danieal never attended school in Philadelphia - and some of her brothers and sisters skipped school at staggering rates.

According to school records, seventh grader Daniel was truant 75 days last year. Fourth grader Andre cut 33 days, and first grader Toneya skipped 25.

Despite these truancy rates, these children were all promoted this fall. A school spokeswoman denied that these were "social promotions," saying the children had received good grades and high scores on standardized tests.

By 2006, Andrea Kelly was pregnant with her 10th child.

Vincent J. Giusini, her lawyer, said she was a well-intentioned woman who should have gotten more help.

In an interview, Andrea Kelly said she tried to be a good parent, but was simply lost when it came to such tasks as ensuring that the children attended school.

An unnerving visit

MultiEthnic also insists that it tried its best.

The firm says it contacted school officials to enroll Danieal in school in late 2005, within a month of taking the family's case. But it said the process had been stymied by Andrea Kelly, who delayed months in signing required forms.

School officials disputed that, saying they never learned about Danieal until the spring of 2006.

In the spring, they said, a special-education expert and an assistant principal from a nearby middle school showed up at the Kelly home with the enrollment forms.

What they saw alarmed them.

The educators were particularly unnerved by Danieal's condition, said Barbara Farley, a spokeswoman for the district. They found the girl in her wheelchair in a dark room - and she screamed when they tried to move her into the light.

School staff told a MultiEthnic caseworker about the concerns, Farley said. Weaver, MultiEthnic's lawyer, said the agency was unaware of any warnings from the school district.

MultiEthnic says the real fault lies with DHS. On July 5, Weaver said, DHS and MultiEthnic were supposed to meet to discuss enrolling the family in a program with more intensive care and scrutiny. According to the firm, DHS "was AWOL - did not show up."

Evans said that he had never heard that before, and that a new study commission would sort out what happened with that July 5 meeting.

It was one more missed opportunity. Within a month, Danieal was dead.

In a so-called death review that analyzed Danieal's case, DHS said it was inexcusable that nobody had saved the girl as she slipped away.

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

In death, Danieal was promised the protection she never found here.

"Safely home," her funeral program read."I am home in heaven."


Contact staff writer Craig R. McCoy at 215-854-4821 or cmccoy@phillynews.com.

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Wendy Ruderman, Ken Dilanian, John Sullivan and John Shiffman.


Timeline: Danieal Kelly and Her Family

Jan. 3, 1992 Danieal Kelly is born in Youngstown, Ohio, the daughter of Andrea and Daniel Kelly. Danieal , who has cerebral palsy, is the third of 10 children born to Andrea Kelly by five different fathers.

1994 Daniel and Andrea Kelly separate. Andrea moves with her children to Philadelphia.

1995 Daniel Kelly takes Danieal and a son, Daniel, to Pittsburgh after a relative calls to say that their mother is not taking care of them. In an interview, he says the two kids had rotting teeth and had not been to a doctor in years. He and the children later move to Arizona.

1997 In Philadelphia, the Department of Human Services opens its first investigation into the Andrea Kelly family: A report says Danieal's 3-year-old brother had bug-infested clothes and decaying teeth. DHS sustains the neglect finding and selects a private agency, Pathways of Pa., to help the family. It provides assistance until March 1999.

1999 DHS opens its second investigation of neglect involving the Kelly children but finds allegations unsubstantiated. There would be three more complaints against Andrea Kelly through 2003 - all deemed unproved.

2000 Arizona authorities charge Daniel Kelly with violating a protective order. At some point, authorities there also substantiate a child-abuse complaint. He says he spanked his son in public, but did not abuse him.

About 2004 Daniel and Danieal rejoin their mother in Philadelphia, as their parents briefly reunite.

May 2004 DHS opens a new investigation, its sixth. This inquiry looks into an allegation that Andrea was not providing proper medical care for Danieal . A social worker also investigates reports of truancy, but apparently fails to realize that Danieal is not enrolled at all. The case is closed, with the complaint deemed unsubstantiated.

August 2005 Andrea Kelly, Danieal , and the other children move into an apartment on Memorial Avenue in West Philadelphia.

October 2005 DHS begins a seventh investigation into a complaint alleging "lack of supervision, poor home conditions." It hires MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc. to check on the children's medical treatment, monitor the children's school attendance, solve "housing issues," and address Danieal's medical needs.

April 2006 Philadelphia school officials say they realize for the first time that Danieal is in the city and needs to be enrolled in school. The enrollment process is still incomplete at the time of Danieal's death.

Aug. 3, 2006 One of the children asks Andrea Kelly to call police or an ambulance for Danieal , but she refuses, DHS says. She disputes this, saying none of her children raised an alarm.

Aug. 4, 2006 Danieal Kelly dies. Documents say the girl had "flies, fleas and fecal matter" on five severely infected bedsores. She was "chronically malnourished" and had no body fat. A DHS caseworker finds the house oppressively hot and strewn with trash. Danieal's seven remaining brothers and sisters are removed from Andrea Kelly's custody. (Another child was already living elsewhere. )

Oct. 10, 2006 Christian Kelly, the 10th child of Andrea Kelly, is born. DHS takes custody in the hospital.

Craig R. McCoy and Nancy Phillips Inquirer Staff Writers
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