The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Sacramento 2-year-old’s death underscores longstanding problems at Child Protective Services

The Public Eye
The Public Eye

Alive for just two years, William Philyaw was the subject of 10 reports of abuse and neglect filed with Sacramento County Child Protective Services.

The agency was told about an abusive father with a lengthy criminal record and a history of drug abuse, a filthy home and a mother unable to protect her children, among other problems.

But in its risk assessments of the toddler’s home, CPS repeatedly recorded inaccurate information, failed to include domestic-abuse reports against the father and omitted the mother’s own history of childhood abuse, The Bee found in a review of William’s 257-page case file.

Even with those omissions, CPS’ risk-assessment system triggered recommendations on four different occasions that social workers take action to stabilize the family situation or to place William in foster care.

Each time, the recommendation was overridden by a social worker and his or her supervisor, and William and his older brother were kept in their Arden Arcade home, according to records obtained through the Public Records Act.

On Nov. 5, two months after the last assessment, 2-year-old William was killed. According to the Sheriff’s Department, William died as a result of blunt-force trauma inflicted by a baby sitter while William’s mother was away for the weekend. Samuel Crutchor is being held in the county jail on a murder charge, along with William’s mother, Tiphanie Williams, who faces a charge of child endangerment.

The case is a textbook example of poor social work because social workers failed to assess the pattern of complaints against William’s parents, according to William Grimm, senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland.

His remarks echo a report released in February by the county’s Child Protective Systems Oversight Committee, an independent body of child-welfare and law-enforcement professionals.

In its report for the last fiscal year, the committee reviewed nine cases in which children were killed or nearly killed and found “the mistakes of the past have been repeated” by the county’s long-troubled child welfare agency.

CPS Deputy Director Michelle Callejas said Williams, the mother, was working with a social worker and receiving services in an attempt to make her home safer for her family.

CPS was not aware that Crutchor was acting as a baby sitter, she said.

Crutchor has a criminal record in Monterey County, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

CPS should have removed William from the home at least a year before the boy’s death, said Grimm, who reviewed the case file.

The trigger, he said, should have been when sheriff’s deputies responded to a domestic-abuse call at the family apartment and a deputy noted that William’s father, Thaddeus Philyaw, had a record of arrests for more than a dozen charges, including attempted murder, rape, robbery and child cruelty.

Williams repeatedly allowed Philyaw into her life, despite his history of violence toward her and others, reports to CPS said.

In one report to a sheriff’s deputy, Williams suggested that she did not want to pursue charges against Philyaw because it would have been a third strike that would send him to prison for life.

In October 2012, a sheriff’s deputy responding to a domestic-abuse complaint noted that both Williams’ children were dirty, with blackened feet and a sticky substance on their bodies, and that the apartment smelled strongly of garbage.

“I would have seriously recommended removing the child from the home at that time,” Grimm said.

“CPS needed to say, ‘Prove to me you’re going to keep these men out of your life and protect your children.’ ”

In January 2013, only three months later, Williams told a sheriff’s deputy that Philyaw had attacked her.

She was not injured, but she said she was “tired of him putting his hands on me,” according to the deputy’s report.

Despite the two domestic-abuse reports, a CPS risk assessment that month said “No” to the question of whether there were two or more incidents of domestic abuse in the past year.

Other errors made in the risk assessments included repeated statements that the primary caregiver – Williams – was not a victim of childhood abuse. That was in conflict with CPS records indicating that she had an extensive history of abuse.

Such questions are part of the risk-assessment system, which is used to score a child’s exposure to risk. Four times those assessments showed the risk to be high. Four times the recommendations that social workers act to better protect the children were overridden.

Two of those times, a social worker said the family already was receiving sufficient services to address the risks, although it’s not clear what those services were.

On the other two occasions, the social worker said he or she could not find evidence to support the recommendations that emerged from the risk assessments.

To override such recommendations, a social worker must offer a rationale and have it approved by a supervisor, Callejas said.

Callejas said the Williams case and others have reinforced “the importance of social workers reviewing prior history and taking that into account as they conduct their investigations and complete (risk assessments).”

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