Former OCO director: CPS mistakes ‘troubling’


LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — The former head of the agency that investigates Children’s Protective Services says the state’s handling of Jamarion Lawhorn — the 12-year-old accused of killing a boy after being left in an abusive home — is not unusual.

“The Children’s Ombudsman’s Office has done numerous investigations where CPS workers have failed to file petitions requesting termination when the evidence clearly warranted that they do so,” said Charlotte Smith, former acting director of the agency.

When Smith started at the office 18 years ago, her boss was optimistic.

“We’ll create a good system, we’ll work our way out of a job,” she said. “Well, you know, 19 years later, the OCO (Office of Children’s Ombudsman) is still there.”

Smith resigned after Gov. Snyder appointed somebody else to lead the office.

But she has followed Jamarion’s case and wonders what kind of desperation led a young boy to kill 9-year-old Connor Verkerke on a Kentwood playground on Aug. 4.

Smith says there’s little doubt CPS violated state law by not trying to terminate the parental rights of Jamarion’s mom in 2013 after CPS substantiated new abuse allegations involving Jamarion and after she’d lost two kids years earlier in New York over abuse.

“If that’s the case, if he shouldn’t have been with his mother, then none of this would have happened,” she said.

It’s a scenario, she says, she has seen too often.

“The laws and policies are really good here in Michigan,” she said. “It’s just a matter of compliance, which is something that is seen over and over and over again.”

In fact, the Office of Children’s Ombudsman last year recommended CPS workers file petitions to terminate parental rights when the law requires it — as in this case.

“It is troubling,” Smith said. “They train their workers to do this. It’s unknown to the Children’s Ombudsman’s Office exactly why it doesn’t happen — be it a misunderstanding of  the law, forgetting they’re supposed to, overwork. It’s kind of hard to pinpoint why.”

She wonders if somebody should lose their jobs.

“You would think so,” she said.

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