March 1, 2012

Analysis: Child safety not always a priority

Feb 27, 2012 12:30pm

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — A newspaper's analysis has found that child safety is sometimes overlooked by social workers in domestic violence cases.

The Lexington Herald Leader reported the findings after looking over 85 internal reviews done by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services after children with whom they had contact either died or received serious injuries in 2009 and 2010 ( The analysis found that 48 of the reviews mentioned domestic violence and that it played a direct role in five cases.

Cabinet officials who reviewed the fatalities said workers missed opportunities to protect children living in situations that included domestic violence.

Jim Grace, assistant director of the cabinet's Division of Protection and Permanency, said when officials find a systematic problem due to a fatality review "there's the expectation that we would correct it."

He said training is being conducted by the cabinet "on the dynamics of domestic violence and how it relates to a child's protection."

Among the cases that were reviewed was the death of 3-year-old Owen Utley, who was shot and killed by his father in Gallatin County in February 2009.

The internal review shows that Michael Utley was charged with assaulting the child's mother 18 months before killing the child and himself.

An adult-protection worker for the state substantiated domestic abuse, but the child's safety was never considered by social workers, according to the review. On the day the child was killed, the state found that Michael Utley fatally shot the child after beating his live-in girlfriend until she ran to a neighbor's home for help.

The internal review says social workers should have formally assessed the "risk of harm" to the child after the first report of domestic violence.

Other shortcomings highlighted in the reviews include that reports of domestic violence aren't always thoroughly investigated and domestic violence shelters aren't always easily accessible for rural residents.

Original Article

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