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Abandoned in Hell
The majority of Kentucky children who die or nearly die in abuse and neglect cases had previous contact with social workers, five years after the state committed itself to being a better protector.
A former internal investigator at the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services who alleged that her superiors wanted her to cover up mistakes made in a horrific child abuse case in Berea has settled her whistleblower lawsuit.
Bridget Frailley, a 20-year employee, sued the cabinet earlier this year, saying she refused to falsify her report on how the cabinet’s child-protective office in Madison County erred by leaving the girl with her abusive father, Julio Valladares, and his abusive girlfriend, Linda Richmond, both of them now in prison.
As part of a sealed settlement on Nov. 13, the cabinet paid Frailley $43,000. It also gave her a new job in Louisville as a social services specialist. She was involuntarily transferred in March to what she considered the less desirable post of social services clinician, which was part of the reason for her lawsuit.
The Herald-Leader obtained the terms of the settlement in Franklin Circuit Court through the Open Records Act.
Frailley is satisfied with the outcome of the case, said her attorney, Shane Sidebottom of Covington.
“Ms. Frailley is a very well-respected employee in a very tough profession,” Sidebottom said. “She was a person who has had incredible evaluations. Nearly perfect evaluations. Her record speaks for itself. She is happy she could resolve this cordially so she can finish out the last few years of her career.”
The cabinet did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
In the Berea child abuse case, an 8-year-old girl was wheeled into Kentucky Children’s Hospital at the University of Kentucky in 2014. The girl was catatonic, malnourished and covered in bruises and sores. Police determined that Valladares and Richmond had been methodically torturing her for months despite the sporadic attention of the cabinet’s child-protective workers.
Although Valladares wouldn’t cooperate with the child-protective workers, even shutting his front door in their faces, the workers ultimately closed the girl’s case file and left her to languish in the home.
“It was a difficult case for me to work with because I just didn’t feel comfortable. But there wasn’t abuse,” one of the social workers, Robert Wayne Baldwin, later testified in court.
After the Herald-Leader reported the girl’s story in February, relying in part on Frailley’s critical reports, the cabinet rebuked Frailley, demoted her to front-line social worker and involuntarily transferred her from Frankfort to Louisville, according to her suit.
Frailley’s supervisors faulted her for not including in her reports the allegation that the Madison County attorney didn’t move aggressively enough to reopen the case against Valladares in court and force him to cooperate with social workers, according to her suit. Her supervisors called this “critical information that could have dispelled cabinet blame for failing to protect this young girl from her father,” according to the suit.
Instead, Frailley’s review faulted the cabinet for not adequately pursuing the matter.
The cabinet, in its response to Frailley’s suit, acknowledged “deficiencies” by its child-protective workers in the Valladares case. But it said Frailley’s subsequent review of the case also failed to identify mistakes made by others, which is what caused the “loss of confidence” in her ability to do her job.