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The mother of a Honolulu toddler who almost died from apparent abuse while under the care of a babysitter in 2015 is seeking a federal agency’s help in figuring out whether the sitter was ever put on the state’s child abuse and neglect registry.
In an Aug. 28 letter, Chelsea Valiente said it appears that the state Department of Human Services closed the case of her son, Peyton, when she and her husband went to family court to have their own names cleared. The letter was sent to the San Francisco regional program manager for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
As a result, Valiente wrote, the department may have destroyed the entire case file. That means that the babysitter, Manuela Ramos, may never have been put on the registry, despite the fact that state officials identified her as the likely abuser, Valiente wrote.
“There was an identified perpetrator … and no one is able to tell us if she is placed on that” list, Valiente said in an interview.
The state Department of Human Services said it could not confirm or deny the presence of someone’s name on the child abuse and neglect registry, which is not public.
But a transcript of a family court hearing on March 10, 2015, shows officials were confused over whether the whole case file would have to be tossed in order to clear the names of the Valientes, and what the implications would be for including Ramos on the list.
“We’re afraid that if there is a total expungement … there would be … nothing in our records showing that there was serious harm to the child and that the perpetrator was the babysitter,” Patrick Pascual, a deputy attorney general representing the department, told family court Judge Catherine Remigio.
The registry is used by government agencies to screen people who care for children in various settings, and is not available to the general public.
Without her name on the registry, Ramos would be able to work at a child care facility, Pascual said. The registry also is used to screen foster care, adoptive parents and in-home child care providers, and is shared with other states doing background checks on people who care for children.
Pascual said he would work with the department to see if the parents could be cleared without getting rid of the whole file, but wasn’t sure it could be done.
“So if we can leave the record, since we do have a finding that she harmed their child, then why don’t we do it?” Remigio asked.
Otherwise, she said, “everyone will have to take their chances in the future if she (Ramos) tries to get licensed.”
In the end, the court agreed that the Valientes’ names should be expunged even if that meant closing the whole file, which Remigio said was the most likely outcome.
In her letter to the federal agency, Valiente wrote that she asked in late 2015 if Ramos had been put on the registry since she was identified as the perpetrator by state officials.
“Being licensed or not should not determine whether CWS follows up on a case especially when a perpetrator is identified,” — Chelsea Valiente
Valiente said that an official at Child Welfare Services, a branch of the department, told her Ramos could not be included since she was neither a licensed child care provider nor a relative of Peyton.
Valiente asked who would be responsible for putting an identified abuser in neither of those categories on the registry, but said she never got a response.
“Being licensed or not should not determine whether CWS follows up on a case especially when a perpetrator is identified,” she wrote.
Valiente said she also suspects Ramos was not put on the registry because an official in a different section of the department wrote her an email a few months after the court proceedings asking for records, saying he could not use information from the case because it had been expunged. The official was exploring whether the state should exclude Ramos from a program in which parents got subsidies to pay for her day care, which it eventually did.
The Human Services Department generally goes through an administrative process to place names on the registry, although it can also happen through family court. The standard of proof is “preponderance of evidence,” a lower bar than in a criminal proceeding. Individuals put on the registry have the right to appeal.
Peyton was injured on his third day under Ramos’ care at her Ewa Beach home. Ramos called Valiente to report that Peyton had been lying on the ground near her when he rolled to his side and his limbs became stiff.
At the hospital, he was found to have suffered a large subdural hematoma, a dangerous build-up of blood on the brain, and even after surgery experienced seizures for several days. Doctors also found retinal bleeding and finger-shaped bruises on his back — classic indicators of abuse.
Chelsea and Rey Valiente lost custody of Peyton for two weeks, until authorities ruled them out as perpetrators.
A team of experts convened to review the case found that “the harm occurred outside the care of the parents and most likely in the babysitter’s home.”
In a filing in family court, which was considering whether to restore custody to the Valientes, a Child Welfare Services official wrote that the state “will not confirm Physical Abuse by parents … and confirm Physical Abuse by baby-sitter, Manuela Ramos.”
A deputy attorney general wrote to the court that “the most likely perpetrator was the Child’s babysitter.”
A spokesperson for attorney Eric Seitz, who is representing Ramos, said he declined to comment for this story.
The Honolulu Police Department investigated Peyton’s case, but a Civil Beat story in February revealed serious flaws in the investigation. Ramos, the babysitter, is married to former HPD Cpl. Mark Ramos, who retired shortly after the case became public.
Manuela Ramos and her teenage daughter, who was present when Peyton was injured, were not interviewed by the HPD child abuse detail for several months. During that time, HPD did not interview her teenage son, who also was present, or the other children at the Ramos home that day. Nobody screened them for signs of abuse, as the team of experts had recommended.
In March, Acting Police Chief Cary Okimoto admitted that HPD botched the investigation and ordered a new review. He also reassigned the detective in charge of the investigation. In April, HPD referred the case to Attorney General Doug Chin. A spokesman for the attorney general said Tuesday that there have been no new developments.