Arkansas: Child-welfare agency changes interpreter policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon Oct 29 15:29:57 UTC 2007

Agency changes interpreter policy

Posted on Sunday, October 28, 2007


As the trial of the man accused of raping and killing a 10-yearold
Springdale girl approaches, the state's child-welfare agency is
operating under a new interpreter policy prompted by the girl's death.
Emiti Freddy, a native of the Marshall Islands, moved to the United
States as a young girl with her aunt, Mami Freddy, in search of a
better life. On Oct. 21, 2006, Mami Freddy found her 10-year-old niece
dead in the girl's bedroom.

Springdale police arrested Abon Tili, Mami Freddy's former live-in
boyfriend. He was later charged with the rape and capital murder of
Emiti. Tili, who has pleaded innocent, is awaiting trial, which is
scheduled to begin Nov. 5. Washington County prosecutor John Threet
has said he plans to seek the death penalty. After Emiti's death, the
Children and Family Services Division's Child Death Review Committee
examined Emiti's case in November and recommended that workers not
proceed with interviews when a subject cannot clearly communicate in
English and an interpreter is not available.

Division officials, however, do not have any records to indicate that
any action on drafting such a directive was taken until April — about
six months after the girl's death — after the Arkansas
Democrat-Gazette requested notes from the division's internal death
reviews and any policies resulting from them. The division has also
revamped the process by which it reviews deaths of children with whom
it has had previous contact in an effort to gain more information
about the cases and to ensure that recommendations are completed.

EXAMINING PAST On Nov. 7, 2006, the division's Child Death Review
Committee, which studies the deaths of any children who had past
contact with the agency, examined Emiti Freddy's case. The group of
mostly childwelfare administrators reviews the cause of death and
determines if errors were made by staff members. It also considers
policy, training and systemic issues in addition to what actions the
agency may need to take — if anything — in the future to prevent other
children's deaths, said division Director Pat Page. According to a
summary of the discussion of Emiti's case, "The agency had previously
investigated and found true two physical abuse complaints and had
attempted to open a case. However, the family was evicted and the
worker lost contact."

An e-mail describing the committee's findings stated that the division
worker who was investigating Emiti's case was cautioned by "the
school" that an interpreter was needed. It also stated that the
primary language of the adult caretakers and "alleged offenders" was
not English. "Apparently there was some mix-up in securing the
services of an interpreter and the worker went ahead with the
interview with the female caretaker and did not document an interview
with the male caretaker," the email stated.

Page said the worker, who has since voluntarily left the agency, told
administrators that he called for an interpreter, but no one showed
up. Administrators have been unable to confirm the worker's statement.
Arkansas Spanish Interpreters & Translators Inc., a contractor that
provides such services for the agency, has no records that indicate an
interpreter was ever requested, she said. Following division policy,
Page declined to provide further details regarding the agency's past
contact with Emiti before her death beyond the discussion of her case
in the Death Review Committee notes and e-mails obtained through the
state's Freedom of Information Act.

She would not conf irm whether the "female caretaker" and "male
caretaker" were Mami Freddy and Abon Tili, nor the date that a
caseworker interviewed Emiti's "female caretaker," nor the nature of
other physical abuse of Emiti. Page said she is reviewing the
division's policy of not releasing the history of investigations that
do not relate directly to the death of a child that had previous
contact with the agency, but she has not made any changes. It is up to
the division director to set such policy.

During its Nov. 7 meeting, the committee recommended that "interviews
with persons who cannot clearly communicate in English be delayed
until the services of an interpreter can be obtained. If a delay in
securing an interpreter would create a situation of imminent risk to
the victim children, protective custody should be taken until the
interviews can appropriately proceed," according to a summary of the
meeting. Page said staff members have not been able to determine
whether any action was taken on the recommendation before April.

There have been a lot of staff changes, including her own promotion
from interim director to director in March, and current staff do not
have access to some records, she said. However, administrators explain
to division managers and supervisors the agency's contract for
interpreter services and how to use it each year. Staff members are
trained that they must be able to communicate with those they
interview and that if they cannot ensure a child's safety, then the
child should be taken into temporary custody, said Sandi Doherty,
special assistant to the director. The division also sent a reminder
to staff in April on how to access interpreters.

"I think people do try to follow up," Page said of the committee's
recommendations, but she added that previously, there was no system to
document that recommendations were completed. On May 23, Page issued
an executive directive, which reflected the committee's recommendation
on interpreters. A directive provides field staff guidance on an issue
while administrators draft, review and promulgate a new policy. Page
said she is not aware of any instances in which the division needed to
take protective custody of a child as a result of the directive.

Carmen Chong Gum, the Marshallese Outreach Coordinator for the Jones
Center for Families in Springdale, said that given its new policy, the
division should have ready access to Marshallese interpreters. It
should also establish a certification process to ensure that the
interpreters are qualified, she said. Page said that in Springdale,
the division contracts with Arkansas Spanish Interpreters &
Translators to provide Marshallese interpretation services. The
company had employed one Marshallese interpreter in Springdale, but
that person recently left the agency and a search for a new
Marshallese interpreter is underway, Page said.

Last year, the division used interpreters in 94 of its 20, 625
investigations. The division spent $ 41, 000 during the past fiscal
year on interpretation services, Page said. According to the 2000
Census, 5 percent of the state's 2. 5 million residents who are age 5
and over spoke a language other than English at home.

FOLLOWING THROUGH Since April, division administrators have tweaked
the death review process and instituted a new system for tracking
recommendations from the committee. In April, administrators met first
with staff members who had worked on the case before the committee
met. The initial meeting with field staff allowed administrators to
gather firsthand information from those who worked on the case,
identify any systemic issues, look at any needs that staff or the
child's family may have in dealing with the child's loss and decide
whether to recommend any staff changes or staff disciplinary action to
the committee, said Doherty and Page.

While such meetings have taken place in the past, Page plans to hold
them more routinely, especially in cases that need to be evaluated
quickly. She is planning to hold another fieldstaff meeting soon, she
said. Administrators have also developed a spread sheet that includes
the date of the Death Review Committee meeting, a description of the
child such as "infant," the county where the child lived, the
committee's recommendations, the person responsible for completing the
recommendations and the date the recommendation is completed.

While administrators are still using other means to track the status
of recommendations, they plan to use the spreadsheet for that purpose
in the future, Page said. The agency's executive staff also reviewed
the status of committee recommendations during many of its meetings in
April, May, June and July. Although the group has not reviewed the
recommendations since July, administrators have followed up on
recommendations in other ways, Page said.

"Hopefully that will help to not only document [the recommendations ]
but move them up in priority to make sure everybody is dealing with
them timely," Page said of the agency's efforts to track the

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