Grandchildren of CCN publisher spend holidays in county hands

December 2, 2013
Gwen' shoes are so small she is forced to walk on the heels.

Gwen’s shoes are so small she is forced to walk on the heels tucked down.


In the midst of a CalCoastNews investigation into alleged abuses of power by a county agency, three grandchildren of the news agency’s co-founder and publisher have been removed from their family and forced to spend Thanksgiving in foster homes.

Karen Velie’s grandchildren, 10-year-old Gwen, 8-year-old Brenden, and 7-year-old Kaleb, were seized July 18 by child protective services. The youngsters have been kept by San Luis Obispo County Child Welfare Services in foster care ever since. All three of the children have suffered varied states of depression since being taken from their family, Child Welfare officials have reported.

Efforts by the family to recover the children have been thus far unsuccessful.

The county’s involvement stems from an incident that started when Velie’s middle child, Cristin Powers, mother of Gwen, Brenden and Kaleb, returned home to find her roommates having an argument. Police were called. Though no report was filed because no crime was committed, Child Welfare removed the three grandchildren because the house was “dirty,” according to Child Welfare.

Powers and Velie hoped to work through the system to regain custody of the children. Initially, Velie’s attorney, Gerald Carrasco, suggested not pointing out inaccuracies in the CWS workers’ report, because resisting, he said, could result in the children being in foster care for months. Velie said the attorney believed the children would be reunited with their family in a few weeks.

At a hearing shortly after the children were taken, a judge said Velie’s was a family in crisis because of the death of another daughter, and ordered CWS to work on reunification.

Since then, CWS Case Worker Heather Zickuhr has arbitrarily cited a series of issues to justify continuing the children’s custody.

Though CWS workers claim they are working on reuniting Powers with her children, they assert it will take time because of a diagnosis made by an outside agency that Powers is “bipolar.” That diagnosis was made without any in-person evaluation by employees of the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO), a county nonprofit which works closely with Child Welfare.

The children at the SLO Children's Museum in June, after building their rendition of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The children at the SLO Children’s Museum in June, after building their rendition of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Because of the “diagnosis,” Powers has been prohibited from seeing her children for more than one hour a week.

A private counselor subsequently concluded that Powers is not bipolar.

Nevertheless, Child Welfare continues to prohibit more visitations, because Powers admitted that she is “depressed” following recent family deaths of her grandmother, uncle and her sister, and the loss of her children.

Child Welfare now has banned Velie, who was acting as a temporary guardian for her grandchildren, from seeing or speaking with the children following a DUI arrest.

At the time Child Welfare took custody of Velie’s grandchildren, CalCoastNews also was investigating alleged misconduct by Child Welfare workers on behalf of CAPSLO.

Former CAPSLO employee Estella Bonds said the agency’s homeless services director, Dee Torres, often contacted Child Welfare to report child abuse, sometimes doing so in a retaliatory manner. Some of those contacts resulted in permanent separations of families and eventual adoptions, Bonds said.

A November 2012 letter signed by “Concerned Employees” of the county’s Department of Social Services to County Administrator Dan Buckshi asked him to investigate the job performances of Assistant Director Tracey Schiro and Department Administrator Natalie Walter. The letter alleged Child Welfare workers were not acting in the best interest of children, instead motivated in its practices by an agency with which it works — CAPSLO.

“Social workers are trained to assess families, be objective and ethical,” the letter reads. “These skills and training are disregarded by the assistant director as she believes her personal assessments or information received by a partner agency [CAPSLO] take precedence to the social worker assessment and opinion.”

Social Services Department Director Lee Collins told CalCoastNews last week he does not condone illegal acts against families “for any reason.”

“We do not do anything illegal to protect CAPSLO,” Collins said.

Earlier this year, CalCoastNews published a series of reports on financial misconduct and alleged theft of donations by CAPSLO Homeless Services Director Dee Torres. Torres is engaged to San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill. Hill has told numerous people that he intends to put CalCoastNews out of business. Hill has also threatened individuals and businesses that advertise on the news site.

Velie’s problems started in July when her 24-year-old daughter suffered a seizure in a bathroom and inhaled water. She was discovered and taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where she lay in a coma.

Velie, Powers and the three children stayed in a hotel near the hospital for nearly a week. On July 18, an organ-donor network dispatched a jet to transport Velie’s youngest daughter to be pronounced brain-dead at a hospital in the Bay Area, and her organs were then donated.

Powers returned home, and that was when Child Welfare took her children.

“Yes, I agree the house was dirty,” Powers said. “We had been out of town. But my children need to be returned. They need their family. They need love.”

Velie was named as the appropriate person to care for the children after they were removed from their home. But Child Welfare officials decided that a DUI arrest would preclude Velie from caring for, or having any contact with, her grandchildren.

Over the last four and a half months, Child Welfare and foster parents have denied Velie’s grandchildren proper health care and daily necessities, according to Child Welfare workers, the foster parents, and the children themselves.


Kaleb in a shirt several sizes too small that he wore to school.

More than a year ago, Kaleb was discovered to have brain pressure because bone plates in his head fused too early. He underwent skull reconstruction surgery prior to entering foster care and frequently suffers from headaches. For 10 days upon entering foster care, Child Welfare refused to allow Kaleb access to his headache medicine. Kaleb suffered intense headaches.

Child Welfare workers did not provide Kaleb his medication until he was taken to his physician and had the prescription refilled, said Child Welfare’s Zickuhr.

Brenden is lactose intolerant, but his foster parents regularly serve him cow’s milk, Brenden said. Photos and videos show Brenden has developed dark circles under his eyes and blotches on his face since entry into foster care.

Brenden cried during his last visit with his mother. That day, the children had not eaten between early morning and 5:30 p.m. The children told their mother that the foster parents took them to the dentist during the lunch hour and did not provide them food.

Videos and photos of the children taken over the past month show the children with matted dirty hair and filthy, poorly-fitting clothes. Powers said the children are bullied at school because they are unkempt.

Gwen wears shoes so small she walks on the heels tucked down. Other children tease her with a new version of “cooties” they call “Gwen’s touch.”

Shortly after the children entered foster care, it was agreed they would be placed with Velie until reunited with their mother. In early August, Child Welfare released Gwen to Velie’s custody, with plans to place the other two children with Velie within days.

The following night, Velie taught a bridge class and Gwen stayed with a babysitter. Velie left the bridge class and en route home was arrested by a San Luis Obispo police officer despite the fact that her blood alcohol was under .08.

The next morning, and even before the police department posted a report of the arrest, Child Welfare’s Zickuhr demanded that Velie bring Gwen back to social services, suggesting Velie would lose her driver’s license. That has not happened. California law does not restrict driving privileges unless blood alcohol levels are over .08.

Nevertheless, Child Welfare reclaimed custody of Gwen, and maintained custody of Brenden and Kaleb.

Gwen cried when forced to re-enter foster care, Velie said. “She begged me to run with her.”

Since Velie’s arrest, both Zickuhr and Case Worker Denise Waters have prohibited her from visiting the children. They have cited the DUI arrest, her occupation as a journalist, and her “personality” as reasons for barring her from visiting her grandchildren. Zickhur and Waters also said that Velie could not see her grandchildren because she told one of them that she was “getting an attorney” to bring the three home, according to reporters who listened into phone calls with CWS employees.

The case workers have also prohibited Powers from explaining to her children why they cannot see their grandmother. The children have come to believe that their grandmother does not want to see them, and they question why their family does not want them anymore, Powers said.

Brenden with dark circles under his eyes ratted hair and stained pants, shortly after leaving school.

Brenden with dark circles under his eyes matted hair and stained pants, shortly after leaving school.

The Child Welfare employee also chastised Velie for telling the children she had moved into a three-bedroom house where she wanted them to live along with their mother. The supervisor said Velie should have told the children she did not have a place to live, and that the Child Welfare workers were “doing what is best for them.”

Child Welfare policy requires children to be reunited with family if they are not in danger, and the agency is required to allow phone calls. The children are usually only permitted one monthly call and, even then, the brief calls are monitored.

Shortly after they entered foster care, Child Welfare workers noted that Velie’s grandchildren “behaved unusually well” for foster kids. Now, after more than four months in foster care, one of the boys has reverted to infant behavior after begging to be reunited with his family, Waters said in a phone message to Powers.

Waters blamed the children’s deteriorating mental health on the one-hour-a-week visit with their mother, and said that was a reason to extend their time in foster care.

At one hearing, Powers’ attorney Mary Ann Foster told the court that Child Welfare workers were not letting Powers visit with the children more than one hour a week. The judge asked Zickuhr why this was occurring. She said the foster parents were too busy to drive.

The judge said that Velie could pick the children up to increase visitation while they work to reunify the children with their family.

The following day, Waters said the judge did not enter the change in writing in his ruling and she was not going to comply.


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It is a very common management trait, particularly in government, that when over one’s head to surround one’s self with palace guards. These guards are protected by the manager and work as a team to destroy any iconoclast or threat to their benefactor.

The old gangster adage of “a fish rots from the head” is a very true management principle and it appears to this observer that SLODSS is that fish. I doubt that any house cleaning will touch career civil servants, but the BOS has control over the fish heads. That being said, given the current make up of the BOS I predict that Lee Collins is safe, as he is well connected to the “D” side of the board.

Although it hasn’t been mentioned, I just thought I should state that Dee (Geraldine) Torres and Lee Collins are very very good and long time friends…

So Dee, Adam and Lee, how cozy.

We know and now CAPSLO wants to do special follow up to oversee Christine after the children are returned. They want to spend time observing her etc so that they can pick apart every little thing and concoct their deficiencies (ie: Christine talks baby talk with her youngest boy when she tickles him) CAPSLO needs to be cut out of this entirely. This family needs to be reunited and any instance of any social workers sniffing around will only serve to further traumatize these poor kids. Regardless, there needs to be an investigation to get to the bottom of how this even happened to the extent that it did. CAPSLO’s finger prints are all over this travesty and it didn’t happen without Lee Collins assistance.

I can’t help but comment on a CWS worker who recently stated at a party that Velie blew way higher than the legal limit and that she was a bloody alcoholic. I hope Karen sues that lying whack job, if that CWS worker is an example of what a professional child advocate is, then every child is in danger. Everyone knows that Velie was below .08%, the report was filed on line. Actually that sounds like the kind of thing that Adam Hill would disseminate. Nut jobs have a way of finding each other.

Everyone needs to continually remind the powers that be that an investigation must happen. The tendency is to ignore this because the kids have been returned. But people need to be held accountable and answer for their actions, something that is sorely lacking in government. We the people need to keep the pressure on.

The kids have NOT been returned.

isoslo, The kids were removed from the neglectful foster home but they have NOT been returned yet and there is no word on exactly when that will be. They don’t work on weekends so I doubt it will be this weekend although they told the children that they would be going home soon. For children soon means 1 or 2 days and I’m certain the those poor kids are very anxious wanting to go home. Those one or two day’s are now more than past and like I said, there is no indication of when they will be returned.

Nancy says: “I can’t help but comment on a CWS worker who recently stated at a party that Velie blew way higher than the legal limit and that she was a bloody alcoholic. ”

A CWS employee discussed a case at a public function and made a diagnosis unsupported by medicine?

This employee has violated the standards and must be held accountable.

Happy that you went to some REAL news rather then where George Leage parks his car.

I know of a person whom had her children removed because her boyfriend abused them while he was taking care of them, both were using drugs on a regular basis, the mom was ordered into a drug program after an arrest shortly after her children were removed. Not even two months into the program her children were returned because she left her boyfriend. Yet the following month the mom was taken into custody after testing dirty for meth in court. She was given ten days and a strike in her program, (a program she failed to complete because she tested dirty a few more times) when taken into custody, she asked the judge for permission for her sister to keep the kids, a sister who was on parole; (not sure for what) She never had the children removed again. I know for a fact reports were made about concern for the the kids being exposed to excessive use of alcohol and drug abuse by the mom, but guess what?? Those kids are still in their mothers custody and were living from motel to motel, and house to house. A couple of months later the mom came in and told us she was leaving the state to go live with her much younger boyfriends family, a boyfriend she met thru another inmate while in jail. He was serving time in prison for armed robbery, they fell in love by mail, and now hewas about to be released. Compare that story to this one!!

As long as she’s just on drugs with the ex-felon boyfriend and stays under the radar she should be fine. Just don’t write any articles about Adam Hill.

“after more than four months in foster care, one of the boys has reverted to infant behavior after begging to be reunited with his family, Waters said in a phone message to Powers.”

“Waters blamed the children’s deteriorating mental health on the one-hour-a-week visit with their mother, and said that was a reason to extend their time in foster care.”

I would suggest that the credentials of Ms Walters be reviewed and validated, followed by an investigation into her motivations and mental health. No competent social worker or even average citizen would deduce such a mean spirited causation or remedy to this child’s trauma and plea for HELP, that being the love of his family and mother..

Karen you’ve done the right thing.

What is wrong with asking the Board of Supervisors to commission an independent investigation? County Counsel, Rita Neal’s, explanation about this being the “courts jurisdiction” doesn’t equate to “hands off” for the Supervisors. These are county funded programs and agencies. A thorough investigation and audit must be done on taxpayer funds/political ties in this regard.

It is less expensive to the taxpayers to keep the children in their home. In the interest of the children “push in” programs work better than “pull out.”

The whole family needs grief counseling to deal with the 23 year old aunt’s death, the other pieces will fall into place when the healing and closure begins.

Join the Facebook page.

Good News Folks.

All three children were removed from the abusive foster home yesterday. Not sure if it was actually CWS or another organization that got involved but it happened. The next step is to send them home. Lets see what happens.

Just wondering… does Adam hill surf?

Is it just me, or does there exist a pattern when Karen’s life is impacted by “unfortunate events”?

She was popped for DUI; that was somehow a conspiracy between the SLOPD (a city department), and a member of the BOS. I don’t fault these children, but is this a “Karen Family issue” or one of the County?

Like her DUI incident, I suggest personal responsibility plays a significant role in our lives, laying blame on others is self limiting.

The only “pattern” here is one established by those benefiting from the SLO County status quo. Surfdawg, like others in this county, is able to look past the obvious and is practiced in denial.