Philadelphia Child Welfare Workers Repeatedly Failed to Save Six Year Old from Deadly Home

The death of six-year-old Khalil Wimes, who was under the watch of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services (DHS), has been the subject of much controversy ever since it became clear DHS didn’t recognize the full extent of the abuse and neglect he was suffering while in his parents’ care. A mandated internal review of Khalil’s case now shows that several child welfare professionals missed chances to save the boy from his parents, who have been charged with murdering their son. The Inquirer analyzed the case review and reported their findings:

Khalil spent the final months of his life beaten, undernourished, desperately ill, and out of school, all whileDHS failed to recognize a child in danger.

Known as an Act 33 review – required in all child fatalities – the new report, released to The Inquirer on Monday in response to a Right to Know request, revealed further details of how professionals failed Khalil.

Carl N. Liedman, Khalil’s doctor, is one of many singled out for blame. According to the review and related documents, he failed to recognize the boy’s “failure to thrive” despite the fact that Khalil weighed 36 pounds at age 3 and just 34 pounds at age 4.

DHS social worker Courtnei Nance, who has since resigned, also mishandled Khalil’s case repeatedly. The review shows that she visited him eight times over the last eight months of his life and not only missed several warning signs, but neglected to follow DHS’ own policies:

During these visits, Nance “observed a bruise on his face as well as other marks which the mother stated were from eczema,” the report says. Nance also inquired about Khalil’s weight, but always thought Cuffie had a “plausible explanation for Khalil’s condition.”

Nance violated DHS policy by not reporting her concerns to the DHS abuse hotline, which would have resulted in further investigation of Khalil’s injuries, the report states.

She also failed to document any of her interactions with Khalil in the agency’s electronic case-management system – another violation of DHS policy, according to the report.

Both of Khalil’s parents had a history of child abuse and neglect complaints against them dating back to 1995, but the judges handling the family’s court cases repeatedly sent Khalil back home with the parents who would eventually be charged with murdering him. These decisions were made over the objections of social worker Jessica Campbell and independent child advocate Monica Sherman, but DHS did officially support the reunification efforts.

The review makes a series of recommendations on policy changes, including more thorough information- sharing between departments, and calls on DHS to “review and reinforce” its safety and documentation policies. DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose said that the department has begun implementing some of the recommended changes and is committed to addressing the issues that contributed to this case’s tragic outcome:

“When these deaths occur, we look hard at what we did and didn’t do,” Ambrose said. “And we’re doing that with Khalil’s death. We look to the Act 33 team to give us clear recommendations on how to improve practice and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

However, local legal experts have openly questioned the city’s lawyers for not fighting to terminate the parental rights of dangerous parents such as Khalil’s. Until that issue is addressed, some feel that it’s only a matter of time until the city ends up with another child fatality review:

“They didn’t try this case, and I believe they should have,” [Richard Gelles, dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice,] said, adding that Pennsylvania legal precedent would have allowed DHS and the city lawyers to make a “compelling case” for Khalil’s not being returned to his parents and staying with his foster parents, where he was safe.

“But they opted not to go into court to contest it,” Gelles said. “It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.”