BY DEBORAH YETTER
Isolated at her Berea home for a year, beaten bloody with a belt, forced into icy showers and ordered to sit for hours at the kitchen table, sometimes naked, writing pages of sentences as “home schooling,” the 8-year-old girl’s condition amounted to one of the worst abuse cases in memory for child welfare officials after she arrived nearly dead at the University of Kentucky hospital in 2014.
How the girl, who survived her injuries, slipped between the cracks of the social service system was the subject of a review last year by Kentucky’s 20-member Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel, a body that reviews such cases and classified this one as “torture,” citing several missed opportunities for help.
Now a veteran state social worker, who conducted an investigation of how workers for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services handled the case, alleges in a whistleblower lawsuit filed Thursday that she was punished for refusing to change her findings to shift blame from state social service officials to a Madison County prosecutor for failing to protect the girl.
Bridget Frailley, a 20-year cabinet employee, alleges she was demoted and transferred after refusing to make such changes to her 2014 “internal review” that identified mistakes by the cabinet, which had received several previous allegations of abuse or neglect involving the girl’s family.
“It’s our position that there was a lot of pressure put on Ms. Frailley to alter an official document,” said Shane C. Sidebottom, a Covington lawyer who filed the lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court. “Ms. Frailley refused to alter the record to say things she found not to be true.”
A cabinet spokesman said agency officials don’t comment on pending litigation.
A key shortcoming Frailley cited in her report involved the cabinet’s failure to follow up after the girl’s father — who has since been convicted of child abuse — failed to cooperate with a prior cabinet investigation.
Instead, the social worker closed the case with no follow up, the lawsuit said.
The case was closed in February 2014 because of the father’s refusal to cooperate, cabinet records said. That was nine months before the girl was admitted to the hospital, catatonic, malnourished, covered with bruises and with open bedsores on her buttocks, the records said.
She also was suffering from “garlic poisoning” after she had been forced to ingest large amounts of garlic as a home remedy, the records said.
Cabinet social workers should have taken the case back to court in February and reopened an investigation, Frailley’s internal review said.
By then, the girl had been removed from public school by her father to be home-schooled. Had the cabinet followed up, it could have prevented the horrific abuse the girl endured at the hands of her father and a woman who lived with him, resulting in injuries so severe the incident was classified as a “near-fatality,” the lawsuit said.
The father, Julio Valladares, and Linda Richmond, identified as his paramour in cabinet records, were later convicted and incarcerated on charges stemming from the abuse, according to records in the case.
Details of the case were reported by The Courier-Journal and The Lexington Herald Leader.
After the Herald Leader story earlier this year, the lawsuit says, Frailley was summoned to Frankfort to meet with top social service officials who rebuked her for failing to include in her report information they said could have shifted blame from the cabinet “for failing to protect this young girl from her father.”
At the meeting, cabinet officials told Frailley she should have included in her report that a Madison County prosecutor had refused to take the case back to court, which could have shifted blame to him. Such information had never been brought to Frailley’s attention, documented in state records or discussed by cabinet officials during her 2014 review of the case, the lawsuit said.
No cabinet records show the cabinet sought to reopen the case, the lawsuit said. It said that four individual reports of cabinet employees all reported the same thing: that the state took no action to attempt to reopen the case in early 2014.
Frailley objected to revising her report, arguing she did not believe that claim blaming the county attorney to be true, the lawsuit said. She said the claim was speculative and likely false, and that to change her report would be “the equivalent of falsifying documents.”
Officials concluded the meeting and Frailley, who had an exemplary career at the cabinet, was ordered to transfer from the Frankfort office, where she reviewed cases for their quality of work, and move to the Louisville social services offices as a social worker, a significant demotion, the lawsuit said.
Frailley said the actions constitute retaliation and that she is entitled to sue under Kentucky’s whistleblower law. The lawsuit, filed against the cabinet, seeks unspecified damages.
In November 2016, the outside panel that reviewed the case expressed shock at the heinous nature of the girl’s abuse, which apparently went unchecked for months in the home where she was supposedly home-schooled.
The girl, reported to have learning disabilities and to suffer from incontinence, was repeatedly punished for accidentally urinating and defecating by repeated beatings with a belt and cold showers. She was derpvied of food, clothes and required to sit at a table for hours writing sentences about her misbehavior, according to cabinet records of the case.
The girl was subsisting on little more than bread and water when she was admitted to the hospital, the records said. The girl, who turned 9 while in the hospital, weighed just 49 pounds when she was admitted.
Police and social workers found boxes filled with papers of the girl’s writing such sentences as “I must go to the restroom when I need to, not hold and pee in my underwear or my pants. I must listen, obey.”
Another such writing said “If you do not do as your Mom and Dad tell you, your life will be short.”
Despite the severity of her injuries, the girl recovered and has been placed in foster care. Cabinet records state that she will need ongoing, extensive therapy for the trauma she experienced.
Contact reporter Deborah Yetter at 502-582-4228 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.