Foster child's death causes Holden to make changes

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Bob Holden ordered a shake-up Tuesday in the state Department of Social Services and accepted the resignation of a top official in response to the death of a 2-year-old foster child.

Holden's actions come three weeks after a pair of investigators he appointed concluded that the state's foster care system had serious flaws.

The investigation was prompted by the death of 2-year-old Dominic James in August and concerns that state foster care workers in Springfield could have done more to assure his safety.

The boy's foster father, John Dilley, 34, of Willard has pleaded innocent to charges of second-degree murder and assault, as well as a charge of child abuse resulting in death.

The governor's office requested and accepted the resignation of Robin Gierer, the state's associate director of child welfare, said Holden spokesman Mary Still.

'Streamlined focus'

Holden also announced a reorganization of the Department of Social Services, especially targeting its Division of Family Services, a massive section that oversees everything from foster care to food stamps and welfare benefits for the poor.

"A streamlined focus on children's services provides a new level of attention and oversight needed in an agency this size," said Holden, whose staff added that more changes would be coming in the months ahead.

The Family Services Division is to be abolished and replaced with two divisions. A new Division of Children's Services is to oversee the foster care system and handle complaints of child abuse or neglect, officials said.

A new Division of Family Support will handle food stamp and welfare programs, as well as the enforcement functions for child support payments.

Child support collection duties are to be transferred to the Department of Revenue, and workforce development duties are to be transferred to the Department of Economic Development. Hendricks said she did not know how many employees would be transferred or whether any would lose their jobs.

Holden also established an ombudsman position in the Office of Administration who is to investigate complaints and monitor children's services.

The resignation of Gierer was the second in recent weeks. Christine White, the assistant deputy director of children services, resigned to take another job outside state government. White and Gierer both had served as the department's point people following Dominic's death, providing explanations about the division's foster care policies.

Dominic had been entrusted to Dilley and his wife after authorities removed the boy from his mother's home because of a domestic disturbance in which she allegedly was intoxicated and volatile.

Dominic died Aug. 21 at a Springfield hospital of a brain injury that authorities have said is consistent with violent shaking. It was the second time he had been to the hospital.

Sidney James, Dominic's father, has said that he wanted his child out of the Dilley home. He has alleged Dominic had a new injury each week when he had supervised visits with him. Every time he showed concern, James said the caseworker told him he was overreacting.

Following Dominic's death, the state Senate also created a committee to look into Missouri's foster care program and suggest any changes to state law. That committee has not yet issued a report.

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