The head of Kansas’ child welfare agency said earlier this month that social workers’ last contact with the family of Adrian Jones was in February 2012.
But records obtained by The Kansas City Star on Tuesday show that social workers with the Kansas Department for Children and Families investigated a hotline call 10 months later, in December 2012. The caller said Heather and Michael Jones’ children were being spanked until “their butts bleed.” The caller also said that the mother in the home had mental health issues and pigs got inside the house.
One social worker spoke with Heather Jones, Adrian’s stepmother, and two children on Dec. 14, 2012, eight days after the hotline call, records show; Michael Jones was interviewed a week later. The parents, who reportedly were separated at the time of the call, denied the allegations; the children — who had no marks or bruising — reportedly appeared happy, and the claim was unsubstantiated.
That investigation and many others were included in the 2,000 pages of records The Star has tried to get since Adrian’s death was reported in late November 2015. Those files show that the Kansas agency had extensive contact with the family for several years, including conversations with the young boy who years later would be tortured before he starved to death in his family’s home and his body fed to pigs.
Asked Tuesday why Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said her agency last had contact with the family in February 2012, a spokeswoman said the statement was meant to refer specifically to the young boy.
“The earlier date provided related to the last physical contact with Adrian,” said Theresa Freed, a DCF spokeswoman. “The December 2012 date did not involve Adrian, as he did not reside at the residence investigated. We cannot discuss other children in the file.”
Adrian was 7 years old when he died. Yet in that short time, several social workers in Kansas and Missouri investigated repeated hotline calls and listened as the young boy talked of how he was beaten and neglected at home, by both his father and stepmother.
Earlier this month, The Star obtained records from Missouri that showed Adrian had told a caseworker and a police officer in July 2013 that he was being hit, kicked and punched at home. Yet he remained with his family.
Records released Tuesday from Kansas also show a host of hotline calls that were investigated. Many were unsubstantiated, or the family couldn’t be located. Among them:
▪ In August and October of 2013, hotline calls were made alleging that Adrian was acting out and had been eating out of a trash can and starting fires. According to the records, the worker assigned to the case was unable to locate the family in Kansas but found them in Missouri. The worker called the Missouri hotline and reported it, records show.
▪ DCF investigated a claim in February 2012 that Heather Jones had physically abused Adrian and another child. The report indicated there were scratches on the children’s faces and Heather Jones had choked them. The allegations were determined to be old, and the report was unsubstantiated. At that time, there was a safety plan in place — regarding an incident a few months before — where Heather Jones was not to have contact with the children.
▪ In late July 2011, someone reported that Heather and Michael Jones’ children had no food and there were guns lying around the house. This call also was unsubstantiated.
In a statement Tuesday as the records were released, Gilmore said she and her staff members “remain deeply saddened” by Adrian’s death.
“As the records reveal, DCF staff followed the family, as Michael and Heather Jones worked constantly to evade our intervention,” Gilmore said. “Even when the Jones family moved to Missouri and was no longer within our jurisdiction, our social workers continued to make efforts to communicate with Missouri officials to ensure the family was provided with services and assessed.
“... Sadly, despite our efforts, this tragedy unfolded — the very worst possible outcome.”
Two Kansas lawmakers told The Star on Tuesday that they still had questions about Adrian’s case.
Rep. Louis Ruiz, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat, said he wasn’t satisfied with how DCF had handled the case. Ruiz introduced a bill dubbed Adrian’s Act earlier this month that would expand the list of people who would be required to report suspected cases of child abuse.
“How do we avoid this tragedy?” Ruiz said about the questions he still has about the case. “Why did the tragedy happen? It didn’t happen overnight.”
Adrian’s Act appears unlikely to pass this session as lawmakers grapple with budget and tax issues in the waning days of the 2017 session.
Rep. Linda Gallagher, a Lenexa Republican and vice chairwoman of the House Children and Seniors Committee, said she wasn’t sure whether a task force lawmakers are pushing for would hone in on any one case, even Adrian’s.
But in an interview Tuesday she said: “We need to know, where did the ball get dropped?”
In Adrian’s case, that featured contact with welfare workers in both Kansas and Missouri.
“What happened that help was not given to this child when he was clearly asking for help?” Gallagher said.
Another Republican and a leading voice on child welfare, Rep. Steve Alford, said he didn’t want to dwell on the case and urged lawmakers to look at the whole picture when it comes to child welfare in Kansas.
He noted that he believed there were problems with the state’s foster care system.
“If we all get entwined on one case, our viewpoint is very small,” said Alford, a lawmaker from Ulysses. “And we need to look at the broad view of the whole thing.”