A state review triggered by NewsChannel 3’s investigation into Baby Braxton's violent death in foster care outlined several mistakes in that case.
It also concluded that the city's child-welfare division is an agency "in crisis" that needs more effective leadership.
The Beach's social-services director, Bob Morin, says a pair of stinging state reports that outline several problems in the city's child-welfare division are on the mark. But you might remember more than a year ago, the director said there was no need for an outside investigation.
He said then that the death of Baby Braxton Taylor, abused to death by a foster mother right under the noses of city social workers, was a tragedy, but not something that needed an outside review. We found out today that Morin's staff didn't even fill out a state form to report the death.
Our investigation into Braxton's death at the hands of a foster mother, and the warning signs of ongoing abuse that child-welfare workers apparently discounted, led Morin to change course and ask for the state review.
The report detailed how the second foster father, the husband of the woman who killed Braxton, had no city training at all, but was still allowed into the program. Staff members also told reviewers they had no confidence in the director.
“So are you intending to stay in this position?” Mike Mather asked.
“Yes, I am,” Morin replied.
Not so for Cheryl Williams, who until recently headed the child-welfare workers. The report said she was not an effective leader and had too many people reporting to her. Morin removed child-welfare from her duties. And when it comes to putting some children in state-run facilities, the reviewers said the Beach is breaking the law.
The pair of reports, more than 100 pages, detailed a climate where workers often do not follow best practices or even state guidelines for foster care.
“Apparently in the last two years, that has not been embraced. And we are changing the way we do that,” Morin said.
“Why has that not been embraced?” asked Mather.
“I think leadership,” Morin responded.
“Leadership is you and the people who report directly to you,“ said Mather.
“I am certainly in the leadership. You are right. I should have known about that,” replied Morin.
Morin said, with the report in hand, he will begin making the changes outlined by the state reviewers.
He says he has already started a reorganization that will ensure the kinds of mistakes and oversights that led to Braxton's death will never be repeated.
“His legacy will be that we do our job better in the future,” says Morin.
Braxton's first foster parents, who said he was a healthy and thriving baby when he was transferred to Kathleen Ganiere, turned to NewsChannel 3 when no one would look into the problems that led to his death.
Their emotional story is what ultimately triggered the state review. It was a public pain they were first reluctant to share, but then decided Braxton needed to be the baby who made other babies safer.
“We don't want to be in the media. But if this, all of this, if the whole state has looked at Virginia Beach, then that's the price that we are glad to pay,” says Ben Fitzpatrick.
Bob Morin has already started making recommended changes. He says the entire child-welfare division will undergo a shift in culture to meet these recommendations. The Fitzpatricks said they were happy with the report, but are still wondering how the individual social workers who did not step in to save a bruised and battered Braxton, managed to keep their jobs.