Mother and Children Ordered to ĎTermination Therapyí
DSS Seeks To Increase Its $90 Million Bonus
Three children on Cape Cod are being told they must engage in "termination therapy" with their mother and be made ready for adoption.
This is the final "service" that DSS is trying to impose on these 8-, 10- and 12-year-olds.
Although DSS knew that their motherís friend was a predator with a criminal record, they never told her about it even though they approved of him to take care of her children while she worked. They say she used poor judgment. And DSS knows that this same predator is now living with another family with young children which is also under DSS supervision.
How can this be happening?
Itís part of the $90 million in bonuses that DSS, not the state of Massachusetts, receives every year from the federal government.
By Nev Moore
May 27, 2000
There is no more spotlight on Kathleen Crowley and her family since DSS Commissioner David Locke traveled to the Cape last fall and assured the editors at the Cape Cod Times that they are important and he hadnít meant to offend them. He assured the editors that it was just a bureaucratic glitch that ruined these childrenís lives. It would never happen again.
The only problem is that Locke was lying. It was not a "glitch."
My husband and I feel we have failed Kathleen Crowley and her children, Anna, Noel and Joshua, who are our daughterís friends. We have nothing left to give them except our ability to tell their story, so that the family they once were wonít simply be erased and forgotten as if they had never existed at all.
This young familyís story begins in 1996 when, as a newly divorced mom of three young children, Kathleen Crowley met a local man, Steven Albrizio, who claimed heíd been a famous professional wrestler. Kathleenís new friend had been a well known, local character for many years. Initially, they just formed a friendship.
Albrizio, a legend in his own mind, did the one thing he really is good at when he met Kathleen Ė fast-talking. Itís not hard to imagine that as a newly divorced mom of three small children, short on money and trying to juggle a job, child care, transportation, and chicken pox, itís easy to become overwhelmed and tired. And, this is the perfect time for a fast talking con man to zero in.
He soon moved in with the family. As a consequence, the children started having trouble in school, which brought the DSS to visit.
The people at DSS knew all about Albrizio. He is a known serial predator who is listed on their own Central Registry of Child Abusers for three cases in 1980, 1988 and 1990. He has a long criminal record as well. It includes 108 arraignments just up to 1996. The DSS knew this and yet in all their contacts in the ensuing years, they never told Kathleen about the danger that she and her children were in.
And when Commissioner Locke told the Cape Cod Times that DSS didnít realize Albrizioís identity because they hadnít checked their computer, he was lying because we have obtained Kathleenís DSS records Ė which show that the case workers did check his identity and they did know he is a predator. But they never told Kathy.
Whatís worse, when Albrizio was finally arraigned for molesting these children, he was released on $300 bail. He is now living with another woman and her children and has a current open case with DSS.
When I called Commissioner Lockeís office to tell them about these facts, his Director of Public Affairs, Carol Yelverton, replied that if I had any concerns about any children, I should call my local DSS office.
A Fast Talker
Within a short time after he met her, Albrizio managed to ingratiate himself into Kathleenís home, run all her bills over the limit and get them evicted from her condo. He suggested that they temporarily live in the back of his junk shop, just until they found a place. Days grew into weeks, then weeks turned into months. Kathleen worked steadily at her low paying job.
She felt she was trapped in quicksand, the harder she struggled, the deeper she sank. She tried to make the back of the shop livable by putting mattresses on the floor. There was no electricity, heat, hot water, or cooking facilities. Albrizio did run a wire from the shop next door so that he could watch wrestling on TV. Most of Kathleenís meager earnings went to Albrizio to buy ready-to-eat food for the kids while she was at work. There wasnít always enough money to do the laundry at the laundromat so Kathleen would try to wash their clothes in the bathtub, but sometimes there were no clean clothes for the children to wear to school. Sometimes Kathleen would keep the kids home from school rather than send them in dirty clothes and have them feel embarrassed.
One time Kathleenís oldest daughter, nine at the time, had a black eye and bruise on her face. When Kathleen questioned her, she said that she had been moving some furniture in the shop and a piece fell, hitting her in the face. Another time Kathleen came home from work and noticed that her little boyís eyes were red and sore looking. When she asked him what happened, he told her that heíd gotten soap in his eyes.
Because the children were missing too much school, the school called DSS in November of 1996. DSS made a finding of neglect and opened a case on the family. They offered no services, just gave Kathleen a service plan detailing their expectations and demands, without offering her any means of accomplishing them.
The service plan at the time of the initial DSS involvement also included Albrizio as he was a member of the household. DSS approved Albrizio to take care of the children while Kathleen went to work. This official "stamp of approval" gave Kathy the message that Albrizio must be a good person.
Things didnít feel right to Kathleen. She could see that the man wasnít quite right in the head, and she did not want to continue to live like this, but she never thought for a moment that he was dangerous.
By now Kathleen felt hopelessly overwhelmed and began to sink into depression and apathy. She knew what the right thing was to properly care for herself and her children, but she couldnít even find a toehold to begin bringing some order back into her life. She continued to go to her job at Burger King in Dennis where most of the townís police officers drove through her window at one time or another.
They all knew who she was because of her association with Albrizio. The police officers would greet Kathleen with a "Hi-how-ya-doin," but none of them ever bothered to tell her that they were being called to the junk shop several times a week when she was at work. They were called by neighbors who heard the childrenís screams for help as Albrizio abused them. Much later, after we had helped Kathleen obtain her DSS case files, we learned that there had been approximately 150 police calls to the junk shop while Kathleen was at work. But no one bothered to tell Kathleen what was going on.
On the original DSS service plan the tasks listed for Kathleen were: "Mother will send children to school with clean, weather appropriate clothing daily. Mother will provide adequate housing for children. Mother will take children to all medical appointments."
DSS did not offer Kathleen any meaningful services or practical means to accomplish these tasks. They just demanded that she do them. Her problems were all temporary problems caused by poverty that could be easily resolved without much of a financial investment by the state. DSS was detailing what needed to be done to adequately care for the children without offering any practical tools to resolve the problem and get rid of Albrizio.
One day Kathleenís oldest daughter told her mother that he had slapped her across the face. That was enough for Kathleen. The line had been crossed. She took her children to the womenís shelter in Hyannis. She cooperated with DSS, seeking their help and support to get away and stay away. The shelter was restrictive and prison-like. The children were not even allowed to go outside of their stark room to play. Kathleen gave in to constant wheedling and pressure from Albrizio and she returned there.
Children Dragged from Mother
The children were dragged from their mother on February 5, 1997. She had been ordered to appear at Orleans court with the children, ostensibly for another hearing about their absence from school. Kathleen and the three children waited in the court hallway from 9 a.m. to 4:55 p.m. At five-minutes-to-five, social workers approached Kathy and said that they were taking the children and told her not to "go hysterical" in front of the children. The children panicked and became hysterical themselves. The social workers grabbed them by the arms and dragged them, screaming, down the hallway.
The last thing Kathleen heard was her children screaming at the social workers to let go of them, then their pleas of: "Mom! Mom! Mom!Ö"
In the original affidavit filed by DSS to the court they stated their reason for seeking removal as: "The court clinician and probation officer express concern regarding possible risk of imminent harm to the children should they be returned to the living arrangement."
Kathleenís case is one of the most senseless and tragic that Iíve encountered. This could have been simply resolved in the beginning by providing her services, such as housing, help with utilities, and access to child care while she worked. Kathleen has never had any involvement with drug or alcohol abuse issues. She has no criminal record other than a couple of bounced checks. She is a pleasant, quiet woman, a mother and a homebody from Cape Cod. Her mother is a librarian.
If their goal really is to help children and strengthen families, why didnít DSS offer her help in the form of meaningful services, support and practical tools to manage daily survival skills, rather than use these issues as an excuse to shatter a family?
The answer is that, although Kathleenís problems could easily have been resolved for a one-time cash outlay from the government of under $5,000, DSS has been able to collect three years of federal funds through their Title IV-E contract. Countless foster parents, therapists, lawyers, court personnel, social workers, supervisors, and "clinicians" have been able to bill the state and Medicaid for funds. Then the real icing on this cake is the three federal adoption bonuses that DSS will receive from the federal government.
It isnít just the individual bonuses that are so sweet to the state. Thanks to Bill Clintonís new adoption incentive program, the states are racing to double their baseline number of adoptions. For states that can accomplish that, the bonuses are multiplied significantly. Massachusetts is trying to win this race. (Could this be our way out of the Big Dig?)
Can It Get Worse?
Kathleen told DSS that she wanted to get away from Albrizio. They sent her to a battered womanís shelter in Brockton. She did not have a car so she could not get back to the Cape to attend visits with her children. She felt isolated in an unfamiliar environment, but she also felt a sense of freedom that she hadnít felt for a long time. She might be on the bottom rung of the bureaucratic ladder that she had to climb to regain her life, but she was happy that she had at least found the ladder. Her DSS social worker told her that now that she was in a shelter, they would return her little boy to her custody the following week. She ran down to the office to tell the shelter staff the great news. Instead of celebrating with her, they told her to pack her bags and leave. Albrizio had somehow managed to convince the Orleans court to pay a private detective to locate her even though she had a restraining order against him. One of the shelter rules was no contact with the abusers. When the detective called the shelter repeatedly, letting them know that Albrizio knew her whereabouts, the shelter considered that a violation of the no-contact rule.
She returned to the only place that she had to go, Albrizioís junk shop. Her freedom had lasted eleven days.
With her children gone and no support systems, Kathleen sank deeper into depression and feelings of helplessness. Now that Albrizioís punching bags had been taken away from him, he turned his fists to Kathleen. She stopped going to her visits with her children because they said they were afraid of him and that they didnít like him. The children told their foster parents that they were afraid that he would find them in the foster homes. Albrizio wouldnít let Kathleen go to her visits without him. So, to protect her children, she stopped going. She tried to hide money so she could make plans to leave him, but he always found it. Albrizio rarely let Kathleen out of his sight. She couldnít even walk to the pay phones without his following and standing next to her, questioning her about who she was talking to and what they were saying. He was such an annoyance that her place of work took out a "no trespassing" order against him, as did several other businesses in the town. Kathleen hit rock bottom.
Free At Last
By chance, Albrizio saw one of our fliers and called us on Kathleenís behalf. He thought that this would restore him to his imaginary role of hero in her eyes. The great guy who was "helping." We agreed to a meeting. He brought Kathleen to our house and spun quite a fantastic story for us.
Kathleen looked miserable and couldnít get a word in edgewise. Tom and I realized that we needed to separate them, but he wouldnít let Kathy move without jumping up and staying glued to her. I invited Kathy to come into the kitchen with me to make coffee. Tom simply body blocked the door from the living room and kept him engaged in conversation. Once in the kitchen I believe Kathleenís first words were, "Oh, Thank God!" She told me that she desperately wanted to get away but had no money, no phone, no car, and he wouldnít let her out of his sight. After playing musical rooms, trying to make plans without him in between us, my husband offered to let Kathleen stay with us for a while.
The plan was for her to come to one of our support group meetings without Albrizio. Within a couple of weeks she managed this. She left with the clothes on her back and her purse containing her photographs of her children.
This time Kathleen had the support and practical tools to leave for good. We helped her get some clothes and personal items. She had privacy and a place to rest and organize her thoughts. She had friends to talk to. She had a phone and a return phone number so that her calls seeking help from various agencies could be returned. Albrizio kept calling us trying to find her but we told him she wasnít here. For weeks he drove back and forth in front of our house or parked on the street and watched the house. I went to court with Kathy while she got a restraining order. She made a full time job of trying to get help, staying on the phone from morning to night, going in circles calling one "advocacy agency" after another, none offering any concrete, practical help. Itís amazing how much funding these agencies get for doing nothing. Kathy called her social worker and got her visits reinstated. She talked to her children regularly on the phone.
The main demand from DSS was that Kathleen find permanent housing, again with no help or suggestions. She had just left an intolerable situation with, literally, the clothes on her back, but they demanded that she find a house. DSS wanted her to go into the womenís shelter in Hyannis called Safe Harbor. They told Kathleen that, if she were in Safe Harbor, they would begin to transition her children back into her custody immediately, within days. Kathleen was willing and anxious to do this. However, Safe Harbor told her that they couldnít give her a room until she had her children with her. Advocate Wendy Capp explained that they could take her in, but as soon as a woman who had her children with her called for shelter, they would have to ask Kathleen to leave. That could happen any day. So, if she went into Safe Harbor, her stay might only last one night, or two or three at the most. Then she would be on the streets, in the middle of winter, without even a car to sleep in. For the next two years DSS kept repeating this request, that she get in to Safe Harbor. The response from Safe Harbor was always the same. The two agencies would not coordinate, and the burden was all on Kathleen.
I also took Kathleen to Independence House, the battered womenís center in Hyannis. They gave her a can of corned beef hash and a pair of sweatpants. We laugh about that one to this day. They are funded as a battered womenís shelter, but they only offer three nights in a safe house, then you are on the streets with nowhere to go. Should that actually come to pass, DSS would claim that the mother had abandoned the children and would immediately seek to have them adopted.
Eventually, another member of "Justice For Families" opened his heart and home to Kathleen, and they have happily been together for two years now. He is a kind and gentle person with a good job where heís been for eight or nine years. He also owns his own three-bedroom home. Is this good enough for DSS? Of course not.
The Whole Truth
There is much more behind Kathleenís case. The whole truth is that Steven Albrizio horribly, sadistically abused her children while he was their caretaker when she was at work. He is the caretaker whom DSS had approved even though they knew he is a predator. They approved him to take care of Kathleenís children, then blamed her for "poor judgment" and held her responsible for her children being abused by him.
DSS never took any of the information about the child abuse to the district attorney or the police. The sadistic abuse by Albrizio would have remained a secret, buried in DSSís files forever, had we not obtained Kathleenís DSS case files for her. In the regular course of our advocacy at "Justice For Families" we help parents involved with DSS obtain their case files. Many people really donít know why DSS is involved with them. Often the reasons given are extremely vague and obscure, so, without studying your case file you canít formulate an effective defense. How can you defend yourself when you donít know what you are supposed to have done wrong? By law, DSS is supposed to give clients their files, but in reality, itís easier to obtain Pentagon secrets than to get your DSS case file. For a short while, when Linda Carlisle was Commissioner of DSS we had successfully negotiated a few points with the administration, one of them being the ability for clients to get their files.
I will never forget the day Kathleen got her files. A DSS case file consists of several hundred pages of gibberish, a four-to-six-inch thick paper cesspool of obscure, irrelevant rambling that seems to have been written by an illiterate paranoid schizophrenic. I dream of the day when the Commissioner, the Governor, and a few federal officials actually read through a few of these and realize that it is based on this garbage that children are being seized. They even report what the parents wear, whether the motherís weight is "appropriate" and whether she wears makeup or not.
The day that Kathleen received her case file was a final crushing blow, for in the files were her childrenís statements graphically detailing what Albrizio had done to them.
We learned that not only had the children been hit, punched, and kicked in their faces and stomachs, but had also been hit with a small baseball bat and two-by-fours. They had been locked up and left in a filthy, junk-filled old school bus that was parked in the back, where they would pound on the walls and scream for help. We read that sometimes Albrizio would take off as soon as Kathleen went to work, leaving the children alone in the cold, dark shop. That was on the nights they got lucky. Albrizio pocketed the money Kathleen gave him to buy food, so the children either got dry cereal, cereal with water, or nothing at all. He focused his attention on the youngest and most defenseless, Kathleenís five-year-old son, who was subjected to ice baths by sitting him in a tub of ice until the little boy turned blue and passed out. He made him sit in tubs filled with ammonia and poured ammonia on any open cuts the children got. The two older girls said that Albrizio would lock himself in the bathroom with the little boy for two hours at a time. At other times he force-fed the boy "something white and sticky from a spoon" until the boy gagged and vomited. They all had been gagged and bound with duct tape. Albrizio glued the little boyís eyes shut with super glue. We realized that the only way to remove the super glue is with nail polish remover. We went numb with revulsion and shock.
Why hadnít DSS ever told Kathleen about this? Even more to the point, why hadnít they gone to the police and district attorney? This information would have never come to light had we not obtained Kathleenís records for her, and this serial child abuser would have remained free to continue hunting new victims.