Worcester, state tighten child abuse oversight

Move comes after death of 8-year-old boy at hands of his adoptive mother

April 17, 1999|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

SNOW HILL -- State and county social service officials unveiled yesterday a series of procedural changes they say will ensure better oversight of child abuse investigations.

The recommendations came in response to criticism that the department failed to heed warnings that might have prevented the beating death in March 1998 of an 8-year-old Worcester County boy at the hands of his adoptive mother.

But for anguished teachers and school administrators who reported nearly two dozens cases of suspected abuse of Shamir Hudson and his two siblings in the 18 months before the child died, the moves announced at a briefing yesterday did little to soothe bitterness about the way the case was handled.

"We want to work with the department, we want the department to work with us -- that's where the failure was," said Dianne H. Raines, a kindergarten teacher at Buckingham Elementary in Berlin who repeatedly reported suspected abuse.

"Our questions and concerns have been brushed under the carpet," said Raines. "Every child who enters my classroom is my child. This will never go away for me."

Paula Erdie, Worcester social services director, acknowledged "some contentiousness among departments that should never have happened," but said her agency is working to ease tensions.

Lynda G. Fox, secretary of the state Department of Human Resources, and Erdie said they are working closely with a team that includes educators, prosecutors, police and other agencies that will review child abuse reports.

In addition, Erdie has assigned a protective services investigator to the county sheriff's department's bureau of investigation to work with police in handling abuse and neglect cases.

Social services officials statewide are preparing to begin working with citizen oversight boards established in a bill, known as Shamir's Law, approved by lawmakers this month and expected to be signed by the governor in the next few weeks.

"We will never forget what happened, and we hope that this tragedy can in some way serve as an opportunity to make our system better," Fox said.

Shamir was found beaten to death in the trailer home of 59-year-old Catherine Marie Hudson, who first took the three children in as a foster parent, then adopted them in 1997.

An autopsy determined that Shamir died of wounds of every "size, age and direction," including a broken rib, a lacerated liver and hemorrhaging from the head. According to police reports, a burn on the boy's arm and open wounds on his legs were covered with duct tape.

In October, Hudson was sentenced to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter and child abuse. Shamir's sister Shamale and his brother Sharnae were placed in foster care after the death of their brother.

A review of the case last spring by the human resources department and an independent audit by the Washington-based nonprofit Child Welfare League of America found that case workers had fol- lowed proper procedures.

Yesterday, Fran Gutterman, the Child Welfare League consultant who conducted the audit, called the case "one of the most complex I've ever had to review."

Under sharp questioning from Buckingham Elementary teachers who testified at Hudson's sentencing hearing and at General Assembly hearings this year, Gutterman insisted that her review showed the department had acted properly.

"We call it as we see it. We were asked to conduct a review of the investigation, and that's what we did," Gutterman said. "Our bottom line is always the welfare of children, but there was never sufficient evidence to remove those children from that home. Sometimes one can do all the right things, and terrible things can still happen."

Pub Date: 4/17/99

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