KSL INVESTIGATES

‘Who else could it be happening to?’: Utah family discovers caseworker’s report riddled with inaccuracies

Jun 14, 2022, 10:00 PM | Updated: 11:28 pm

WOODS CROSS, Utah – Utah’s Division of Child and Family Services is tasked with keeping children in difficult situations safe, but a Woods Cross man says a DCFS report filed regarding his family is riddled with inaccuracies.

“If this is happening to us, who else could it be happening to?” said Kevin Leary.

It was that nagging, unanswered question that pushed him to sit down with the KSL Investigators. Leary is involved in a difficult family court dispute between his wife and her ex-husband, involving his stepchildren.

“Family court cases are super stressful and sometimes can be very daunting,” he said.

Kevin Leary (Josh Szymanik/KSL TV)

Leary believes many Utah families can relate to the challenging situation that a family court case can involve, but a troubling discovery he made in recent months has escalated his concerns.

“It really casts a real dark shadow on the entities that we’re dealing with,” Leary said.

Curious about documents and reports related to their family court case, Leary said they started filing public record requests with the DCFS.

“You expect a level of trust when you’re dealing with them,” he said.

But Leary found details in a case report from 2021 simply don’t add up.

Inconsistencies

For example, a note in the report says on March 23 at 1 p.m., a caseworker “met face to face” with a child “in an office at the school” they attend. Leary says that’s impossible because the student had left school two hours earlier that day with a parent. An automated email notification from the school confirms the student was checked out at 11:01 a.m. that day.

The report also lists an April 9 interview with the child’s sibling, again stating the caseworker met face-to-face with that student “in an office” at the same school. The problem? Leary said that child has never been enrolled as a student at the school the caseworker claimed to have visited. The KSL Investigators confirmed that with the school district.

Leary discovered a DCFS report filed in his family’s court case is riddled with inaccuracies. (KSL TV)

Then there’s a 10-minute phone call the caseworker logged with Leary’s wife at 5:20 p.m. on May 6, but Leary insists that call didn’t happen. He said he and his wife were together, preparing to board a plane. He supplied the KSL Investigators with their flight itinerary and a call log from their phone company that shows no such call.

“We can’t get any headway in the family court system when you have falsified records that are being used in that same system,” Leary said.

DCFS Response

When KSL reached out to DCFS about the inconsistencies in the report, division spokesperson Sarah Welliver denied requests for an on-camera interview and instead provided a statement and answered questions via email.

DCFS confirmed the caseworker is no longer employed by the division. The caseworker was dismissed after more than nine years on the job, following a disciplinary action, but records the KSL Investigators obtained reveal the termination was not related to the Leary family’s case.

Welliver said the family’s casefile has since been updated but could not provide information about when the changes were initiated. DCFS has not yet released the latest version of the report to the KSL Investigators.

“In instances where new information is received regarding a closed case, including an [Office of Child Protection Ombudsman] investigation, DCFS will review that case and update the case as appropriate,” Welliver wrote in an email.

The agency’s prepared statement lists options for families experiencing issues with a caseworker.

“How families experience our services matters deeply to us,” the statement reads in part. “Family voice and feedback are critical to our work of safe children, strengthened families. Any family involved with DCFS who feels their concerns are not being heard are encouraged to speak with their caseworker, their caseworker’s supervisor, region leadership, and/or our constituent services administrator.”

The statement also pointed to the Office of Child Protection Ombudsman (OCPO) as another option for families seeking to report or resolve issues with DCFS. The OCPO is described as “an independent office created to investigate complaints about DCFS,” according to the state’s website.

Leary said he did contact the OCPO with his concerns but didn’t hear back on whether an investigation took place.

Criminal investigation

Frustrated with seemingly unsuccessful efforts to address the problems in the casefile, Leary said he contacted his local police department to report the caseworker assigned to the case.

The Woods Cross Police Department investigated, but the case was handed over to the Pleasant Grove Police Department because the caseworker is believed to have filed the report while working from home in that jurisdiction.

Online court records confirm the Pleasant Grove City Attorney’s office has filed a misdemeanor case against former DCFS employee Michelle Harper. She faces one count of falsification or alteration of a government record and has a court appearance set for June 22.

When reached by the KSL Investigators, an attorney defending Harper said she had no comment about the pending case.

No audit

Welliver told the KSL Investigators DCFS is not conducting an audit of the other cases Harper handled, citing the number of people involved in each case.

“It’s not just one person that touches the case,” she said. “It’s a number of people from different agencies.”

But the system in place didn’t prevent or catch the errors in the report that Leary found.

“This is something that could affect multiple families, multiple children, and for them to not do anything, what does that say about that agency?” he said.

The KSL Investigators shared information about the case and the inconsistencies in the report with Ronni Bateman, chair of the Stop Abuse Campaign’s Utah chapter.

“It’s astounding, really,” she said.

Ronni Bateman, chair of the Stop Abuse Campaign’s Utah chapter. (Tanner Siegworth/KSL TV)

Bateman said DCFS provides a critical service – children and parents are counting on the agency to get it right, and the courts rely on DCFS professionals to make sound recommendations.

“If they can’t get accurate information, then really, really dangerous decisions about custody and things like that get made,” she said.

Bateman believes the division should check to see if misinformation was included in other case reports handled by the same caseworker.

“When something that egregious happens, you have to make sure that there weren’t others,” she said.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you

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‘Who else could it be happening to?’: Utah family discovers caseworker’s report riddled with inaccuracies