Child welfare scandal

Latest DCF scandal claims moonlighting supervisor

 

cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com

More than two dozen times during the past eight months, Duray A. Smith worked at least a partial day supervising state child abuse investigators — as well as a full day substitute teaching.

At least that’s what his time sheets say.

Smith, a child protection supervisor with the Department of Children & Families in Miami, billed the state agency on about 30 occasions since late October for at least a partial workday on the same day he is listed as a substitute teacher with the Miami-Dade School District, records show. The time sheets do not include the exact hours Smith worked, so it’s unclear if he double-billed the state and the county school board.

Though DCF requires its employees to obtain permission before taking on a second job, Smith’s personnel file shows no evidence he informed his bosses of his moonlighting.

Embroiled in one of the agency’s worst scandals in recent years, Smith abruptly resigned on Thursday. “Please accept my letter of resignation effective immediately,” he wrote in a terse email to DCF’s top Miami boss, Southern Region administrator Esther Jacobo.

Another supervisor, Tracey Wadsworth, was placed on administrative leave Thursday, Jacobo said. The investigator in the case, Shani Smith, no relation to Duray Smith, already is under suspension. DCF Secretary David Wilkins said both his agency’s inspector general and the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office are looking into whether Shani Smith concocted a substance abuse evaluation that was never performed.

The investigator and two supervisors are under intense scrutiny as DCF administrators try to figure out what went wrong in a case involving an 11-month-old Kendall boy who died May 16 when his mother left him strapped in a closed, hot car, along with her purse and a can of beer, and forgot about him. Child welfare investigators had evaluated his safety twice before his death, including after a November incident in which his mother, Catalina Marista Bruno, had been arrested for drunken driving with the infant unsecured in the front seat.

Jacobo declined to discuss Duray Smith’s second job on Thursday, saying the agency had been unaware of his moonlighting until she was questioned by The Miami Herald. “We have had no opportunity to review anything,” she said. Duray Smith could not be reached for comment.

At a time when agency heads insist they have “transformed” DCF to avert such tragedies, the death of Bryan Osceola has caused some children’s advocates to question the reforms’ success. The Community Based Care Alliance, which oversees Miami’s child welfare and foster care efforts, will discuss Bryan’s death at a meeting next week.

Bryan’s parents, Catalina Bruno and Amos Osceola, had been the subject of two calls to DCF’s abuse and neglect hotline during his short life. The first call was received on July 7, 2012, when Shani Smith wrote that Amos Osceola had been arrested for domestic violence after he “attacked” Bruno in front of her three children — Bryan, a 4-year-old and 10-year-old from a different father.

Four months later, Shani Smith investigated another report: Bryan had been found Nov. 3 lying on the front seat unsecured as his mom was “passed out” drunk in a Chevy Impala a few minutes before midnight near Krome Avenue. The hotline was told that Bruno was “driving recklessly” and had “hit several walls” before falling asleep in her car with the transmission still in drive. Though the Florida Highway Patrol charged Bruno with drunken driving and child neglect, Smith closed her investigation as unfounded.

In an interview with The Herald, Shani Smith said she did not verify neglect allegations because she was “never able to find a history or pattern of the mom putting her children at risk, or being a risk to her children.” Bruno had been arrested three times on charges involving drugs or alcohol, and had been cited twice for violating municipal ordinances banning open containers of alcohol. Smith said workers at the hotline did not provide her with Bruno’s full arrest history.

Jacobo, the Miami administrator, said agency policy does not require a pattern of maltreatment for an allegation to be verified.

Shani Smith closed the case without offering any services to, or requiring any supervision of, Bryan’s parents. In her case notes, Smith said Bruno had submitted to an evaluation by a local substance abuse center, which concluded she did not need alcohol treatment — though Wilkins said the evaluation has yet to be found. Smith denies making up the results of the report.

“I’m not a monster,” she told The Miami Herald. “These are not numbers to me; they’re people I interacted with, looked into their faces and felt for. We give ourselves to these cases.”

Wadsworth, who is so highly regarded in the department that she helps train other child abuse investigators, was expected to perform an agency review of Bryan Osceola’s case last fall because the boy was considered to be at high risk of further abuse or neglect. Her involvement in the case is under review, Jacobo said.

Duray Smith was Shani Smith’s direct supervisor, and he had been involved in DCF’s last Miami disaster, the February 2011 death of Nubia Barahona. Police and prosecutors say Nubia was tortured, starved and killed by her adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, as DCF investigators overlooked various warnings.

Her death sparked the appointment of a task force that studied agency failures and recommended a variety of reforms. Wilkins then launched a child welfare “transformation” that he says has led to meaningful improvements statewide.

Records show Duray Smith had a supervisory role in a report — open at the time of Nubia’s death — that the girl and her twin brother were being tied up in a bathtub.

Duray Smith’s personnel file, obtained by The Miami Herald, shows he was hired by DCF as an investigator around 2002, and resigned five years later. “I have reached a point where I feel I have completely outgrown the position of [investigator] and it is time to move on,” he wrote in December 2007.

He was rehired the following March. Records from that time say he had left the agency to move “out of state,” though he changed his mind and remained in South Florida. Smith had been a substitute teacher before he joined DCF.

Shani Smith, whom he supervised, said she was well aware that Duray Smith had a second job as a schoolteacher. “We all knew,” she said. “It was no secret.”

It was to his bosses, though. Jacobo said a review of agency records turned up no request for dual employment, and she was never made aware otherwise.

“We don’t forbid it, obviously,” Jacobo said. “But you need to get approval from your supervisor to see if it conflicts with anything we do, and to make sure there’s no conflict of interest, in general.”

Editor’s note: A version of this story posted earlier misstated the number of times Duray Smith moonlighted and the volume of hours he put in for at DCF on those days.

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