Slain boy’s case raises interest in child welfare oversight

Adrian Jones (Courtesy: KSHB)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Records released last week that indicate Kansas officials investigated claims of child abuse for several years before a 7-year-old boy was tortured, starved, killed and fed to pigs may be strengthening some lawmakers’ desire to increase oversight of the child welfare system.

The records show that Kansas Department for Children and Families officials investigated claims of child abuse over several years and had contact with Adrian Jones’ father, Michael Jones, and stepmother, Heather Jones, who are now both serving life sentences for killing him. Some lawmakers say Adrian’s case is further proof that the child welfare system needs reform.

“It is tragic that it took this level of catastrophe to bring notice to the problems that many of us have seen in the system,” said Republican Sen. Barbara Bollier, of Mission Hills.

An audit of the foster care system completed this spring determined that children in foster care weren’t always kept safe and that the system didn’t have enough homes or case workers. It also determined family support workers employed by contractors that provide foster care services didn’t have enough experience. Adrian was never placed in foster care, but his family received support services from one of the state contractors providing family support and foster care placement services.

House and Senate negotiators are working on a bill that would create a task force to oversee the foster care system. Bollier, who is on the conference committee, said she thinks the concept has momentum because of Adrian’s case.

Under the bill, the task force of 10 legislators and eight stakeholders would meet six times a year.

Democrat Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, said she’d like to see the task force have more child welfare stakeholders and experts instead of legislators. She said she’d also like it to meet more frequently and look at child welfare in general, not just foster care.

Republican Rep. Linda Gallagher, of Lenexa, said the task force wouldn’t get “too deep into the weeds” on individual cases, but that it might study Adrian’s case as an example of where the system can go wrong.

Republican Rep. Brenda Landwehr, of Wichita, said the task force may want to review the system, but that people shouldn’t point fingers at the Department for Children and Families because of Adrian’s case.

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee also considered a bill that would require adults living in a home with an abused or neglected child to report that abuse. But that bill was introduced in May and likely won’t get a vote as lawmakers spend most of their time working to balance the state’s budget and wrap up the legislative session. Lawmakers budgeted to spend 100 days in Topeka but will return for day 102 on Tuesday.

According to DCF records, after Adrian’s mother, Dainna Pearce, left him and her other children at home without supervision in August 2011, the children were placed with Adrian’s father, Michael Jones. The Department of Children and Families started getting reports of abuse four months later. In December 2011, while Michael and Heather Jones were reportedly separated, another child in the home suffered a seizure after Heather Jones said Adrian pushed the child down the stairs. Heather was at the house doing laundry and watching two children while Michael took the older children to school. But doctors said the child’s injuries didn’t indicate that he had been pushed down the stairs.

In the investigation, a social worker found that Adrian had bruises, but a police officer deemed him safe in the home. Heather Jones’ child, whose father was not Michael Jones, was removed from the home and eventually placed with the child’s father because Heather wasn’t submitting to random urine analyses.

Michael Jones signed a safety plan Dec. 9, 2011, that said Heather wouldn’t have unsupervised contact with the children. In February 2012, the department received another report of abuse, but social workers determined the children were reporting past abuse.

In March 2012, a social worker told a Topeka police officer that she thought she had enough evidence to substantiate claims that Heather Jones abused Adrian and another child. The records do not indicate what happened after that.

Michael Jones registered to home school the children in July 2012, said Kansas State Department of Education spokeswoman Denise Kahler. Child welfare officials received another report that unnamed children were being abused in December 2012 while Heather and Michael Jones were separated. The children had no marks, and the case was unsubstantiated.

Officials received reports in August and October 2013 that Adrian wasn’t being properly supervised. Michael and Heather Jones were back together, and the family crossed state lines, making them difficult to track for Kansas and Missouri child welfare officials. Missouri officials confirmed the family was living in Missouri again in March 2014, and the records indicate Kansas officials had no more contact regarding the family after 2014. Adrian’s remains were found in Kansas City, Kansas in 2015.