Politics & Government

State says social worker didn't properly investigate abuse report before child's death

FRANKFORT — A state social worker allegedly failed to properly investigate allegations of physical abuse involving a 3-year-old whose father was accused of killing her less than a month later, according to state records.

Supervisors wanted to fire Donna Monroe Currey in October, citing claims that she didn't fully investigate a June 14 report about the Christian County girl's arm being broken. Officials also alleged that Currey falsified records about how she handled the abuse report.

"Your indifference in this case was egregious and demonstrated serious neglect toward your duties," officials said in a September letter.

Currey resigned from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services in October, according to records the Lexington Herald-Leader obtained under the state's Open Records Act.

The girl, Alayna Adair, died July 2 after being taken to a Nashville hospital. Her father, Charles T. Morris, 22, is charged with murder.

Currey also helped handle reports of physical abuse involving Amythz Dye, a 9-year-old Todd County girl beaten to death by her adoptive brother in February. The state's records about Amythz, who was called Amy, were made public by a judge earlier this month.

There is no record in Currey's personnel file that she did anything wrong as she handled reports of abuse of Amy, several of which were made in 2007, and Currey was not disciplined for her role in that case.

However, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd blasted the cabinet over its handling of Amy's case. Shepherd said the state failed to properly investigate multiple reports of suspected abuse of Amy. The cabinet claimed it had no jurisdiction to pursue the reports because a sibling, not a parent, allegedly was hurting Amy, but the judge flatly rejected that assertion.

Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the cabinet, said the agency has done an internal review of cases handled by Currey in Christian County and found "no further evidence of falsification or lack of follow-up," Midkiff said.

Shelley Johnson, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jack Conway, said the office had been notified of the allegations against Currey. It's the office's policy not to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

Currey could not be located by the Herald-Leader for comment.

Hired by the cabinet in 1999, Currey transferred to Christian County in 2010. She previously worked in Todd County.

On June 14, Currey was assigned to investigate a report from a local hospital of possible abuse of Alayna after Alayna came in with a broken elbow. Less than a month later, on July 2, Morris reportedly told authorities Alayna tripped and fell in the bathtub. She was taken to a hospital in Nashville and later died.

Christian County Commonwealth's Attorney Lynn Pryor said Friday that Morris' explanation was not consistent with the girl's injuries. The medical examiner's opinion was that Alayna died primarily as a result of blunt force trauma to the head, Pryor said.

No trial date has been set for Morris.

Supervisors placed Currey on administrative leave after Alayna's death.

According to a Sept. 28 letter to Currey, the cabinet sought to fire her because she failed to have a face-to-face interview with Morris and Alayna within an hour of receiving the June 14 complaint, as cabinet policy requires.

Currey also failed to fully investigate the allegation of abuse and lied to supervisors and on cabinet forms about her investigation, the cabinet said.

According to cabinet records, Currey went to Gateway Medical Center in Clarksville, Tenn., on June 14 after receiving a complaint that a 3-year-old girl had been taken to the hospital with a possible broken elbow, fever, mosquito bites and multiple bruises.

When Currey arrived at the hospital, Morris and Alayna were not there. They actually had been at the hospital the previous day.

Currey then called Morris, who told Currey his daughter had injured her arm playing on a water slide at a neighbor's house, cabinet records show. However, cabinet officials said that was the third story Morris had told about the injuries and that Currey never followed up with physicians at Gateway or with the pediatrician who treated Alayna earlier that day.

Morris had first told medical personnel he wasn't sure how Alayna was injured and then said the girl had gotten hurt before he picked her up from her mother's home, according to the cabinet's investigation.

Hospital personnel said the broken arm could not have been the result an accident, according to the file.

Currey said she tried to make home visits on several occasions in the following days. However, Currey's travel voucher log and sign-in sheet do not indicate she went to Oak Grove, where Morris lived at the time, according to state records.

Currey then told investigators that she had interviewed Morris and his daughter at Fort Campbell, where Morris was stationed, on June 28, but that she did not sign in at the base.

Currey said Alayna had a soft cast on her arm and kept taking her arm out of the sling. Currey also said Morris appeared to be a loving father.

However, cabinet officials said they talked to an orthopedic surgeon who said he had put a hot pink, hard cast on Alayna's arm the day before Currey's reported visit to Fort Campbell.

Currey, in a written response to the cabinet's allegations, said she had stopped by Morris' house several times. Currey said she didn't list the trips on her travel voucher or sign-out sheet because she didn't always put down every place she went.

"It is normal practice not to write down each separate address," Currey said.

Cabinet officials also said Currey failed to get all of the necessary medical information from Alayna's pediatrician and Gateway, and she failed to do a thorough background check on Morris, who had admitted he had been investigated by Tennessee child protection officials in the past.

The cabinet's investigation also showed that Morris had at least one previous report of domestic violence in Kentucky.

Currey also allegedly did not question why Morris was being medically discharged from the Army. According to cabinet records, Morris was being discharged for mental health issues, including inability to control his anger.

In her Oct. 7 resignation letter, Currey said she wanted to leave because she needed a less stressful job.

"The present caseload is more than four times the best practice caseload average of 17 cases per worker," she said.

Currey's immediate supervisor, Debra Robertson, said in an interview with cabinet investigators that the number of child-abuse referrals in her office had skyrocketed recently. Robertson said she had five workers who were asked to investigate 75 to 90 child-abuse referrals a month.

Robertson said she thought Currey was a decent employee but was shocked that she had not seen Alayna in person.

"I can't believe she didn't see the child. That's social work 101," Robertson said.

Pryor, the commonwealth's attorney, said she has requested the cabinet's records in the case. If it appears there was any potential criminal conduct in how the investigation was handled, "I will promise to look closely at it."

It's difficult to say whether different actions by the caseworker or others could have prevented Alayna's death, Pryor said.

"There are a lot of things that might have prevented the child from dying. I wish any one of them had (occurred), because it's horrible," she said.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader