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DHS workers suspended in child’s death

Two Philadelphia social workers were among nine charged yesterday in the death of a Danieal Kelly, a 14-year-old girl who starved to death in 2006, her body eaten by bed sores to the bone.

Snapshot of Danieal Kelly.
Snapshot of Danieal Kelly.Read more

Two Philadelphia social workers were among nine charged yesterday in the death of a Danieal Kelly, a 14-year-old girl who starved to death in 2006, her body eaten by bed sores to the bone.

Unveiling a blistering grand jury report today, District Attorney Lynne Abraham blasted the city's Department of Human Services as an indifferent and callous agency that had let Kelly die needlessly.

Drawing gasps at a news conference in which she showed a photograph of Kelly's bloody, emaciated corpse, Abraham urged the state to take over DHS - a call that was not embraced by state officials.

At a later news conference, agency director Anne Marie Ambrose broke down crying at the podium when asked if she had seen the photo in which the dead child was hardly recognizable as human.

The grand jury's stark and emotionally wrenching report, Abraham said, should "outrage the whole Philadelphia community."

The grand jury also charged Kelly's mother with homicide, and her father with child endangerment. But it said they shared responsibility for Danieal's death with two DHS workers, as well as two other private social workers who worked under contract with the agency.

The two city workers were suspended yesterday along with former acting Health Commissioner Carmen Paris, according to a statement from Mayor Michael Nutter. He called Danieal's treatment "utterly reprehensible" and urged that the people responsible for her death "be dealt with in the strongest possible legal manner."

When asked why the department waited nearly two years to make sure the workers were no longer safeguarding children, Ambrose responded: "I'm not sure I have a good answer for that. I've been in the job for 30 days and asked myself that when I reviewed the findings."

She said that based on everything she knew about the case, she intended to fire the two workers. She added that most of the agency staff were caring and hoped the actions of a few did not paint the whole agency with a broad brush.

Nutter said reforms recommended by a blue-ribbon pannel last year are being implemented. Citing this progress, the Rendell administration rejected Abraham's call for a state takeover.

"I'm not going to say there's never, ever going to be a point where that would not be a goal, but not at this point," said Public Welfare Secretary Estelle Richman.

She said she was "surprised" by the arrests. "I'm not surprised at the outrage, I just didn't see it coming," Richman said.

She emphasized that DHS had made "good progress" since Danieal's death two years ago. Richman said she meets with city DHS and health officials regularly.

"They are on the right track. I don't want to disrupt that at this point," Richman said.

The two city workers charged were Laura Sommerer and Dana Poindexter. Both were charged with child endangerment, and Poindexter was charged with lying to the grand jury.

The pair were responsible for overseeing the care provided to Danieal and her eight brothers and sisters because the children were at risk of neglect.

The others charged were Mickal Kamuvaka and Julius Murray, former workers with a now-closed private agency that was supposed to provide care to Danieal Kelly's family under a contract with DHS.

Kamuvaka and Murray were both charged with involuntary manslaughter and several other charges, including fabricating records.

In a series of articles published starting in late 2006, The Inquirer focused on the deep failings of DHS - especially the number of children who had died while they or their parents had come under the scrutiny of DHS.

The articles prompted then Mayor Street to fire the agency's two top officials and to appoint a blue-ribbon commission to overhaul the agency.

Despite the reforms, Abraham said DHS remained badly dysfunctional - or worse. "The report demonstrates DHS as an agency in total meltdown and freefall."

She said that the teenage Kelly had died from agency "indifference."

Moreover, the DA said, workers with DHS and the private social agency, Multi-Ethnic Behavioral Health, tried to cover up their failings after the girl was found dead in a dark and squalid room in West Philadelphia.