Dollars or sense for Carroll family children?

August 3, 2015
Elizabeth Carroll with her children in 2001.

Elizabeth Carroll with her children in 2001.

By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN

Editor’s Note: This is the last of a three-part exclusive series detailing how three children were taken from their parents and placed in a home with a man now accused of sexual assault. Find part one here and part two here.

San Luis Obispo County expects $21 million in revenue from the state and federal government for its foster parenting and adoption programs for the 2015-2016 budget year. That provides agencies such as the county, affiliated non-profits such as Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO), psychologists, attorneys and the courts with a financial stake in taking children from their birth parents.

The Adoption and Safe Family Act, passed in 1997, provides bonuses of $2,000 to $6,000 to state and county governments for moving foster children into adopted families. Additionally, the county receives monthly subsidies for adopted families of up to $1,450 per child. The county keeps a 40 percent administration fee from the foster and adopted children’s subsidies before sending the remainder to be used for the child’s needs, according to a report by the California State Auditor.

The cost to the county for foster children deemed un-adoptable can top the 40 percent administration fee, as many of these children require costly ongoing county oversight and multiple services.

But, adoptive children provide a county funding source that allows the county to forego the costly oversight required for foster children. A child qualified for adoption subsidies can bring in revenue of up to $300,000 to be split between the county and adopted parents if the child is taken from its birth parents as an infant, according to California’s current adoption subsidy funding schedule.

CalCoastNews has been reporting in this series on three children who were taken from their birth parents and adopted by a couple in Nipomo. The husband and adoptive father, Robert John Bergner, 51, has been charged with 126 counts of child abuse, rape and sodomy of the eldest child.

The Carroll family before the court terminated Richard and Elizabeth Carroll's parental rights.

The Carroll family before the court terminated Richard and Elizabeth Carroll’s parental rights.

Questions have been raised about the process that appears to have led Superior Court Commissioner Sidney B. Findley to terminate the parental rights of Richard and Elizabeth Carroll and permit the adoption of the children by Bergner and his wife.

The Carrolls were homeless and the Bergners had their own home.

“I am convinced these children need permanency and that is what the law requires,” Findley said in his ruling. “All decisions that I make, I make because I believe they are in the best interest of the children.”

But a review of the process suggests that Findley may not have been given a complete or accurate picture of the birth parents.

Shortly after taking their three children into custody, social workers ordered Richard and Elizabeth Carroll to have a psychological exam with Jeffrey J. Lille, Ph.D. According to Lille’s report, the county provided him with information first generated from former Prado Day Center Manager Dee Torres. Torres claimed that Elizabeth Carroll punched her 5-year-old daughter.

San Luis Obispo Police Officer Mike Brennler responded to the call and, based on his own questioning of the child and his direct observation, determined that Elizabeth Carroll had not punched the girl and had not abused her younger brother. That information was not in Lille’s report.

The Carrolls met with Lille on Dec. 31, 2001 for a little less than an hour, they said. Lille discussed their childhoods and gave them several tests, according to court records.

Foster and then adoptive parent Robert Bergner was arrested for rape and sodomy.

Foster and then adoptive parent Robert Bergner was arrested last month for rape and sodomy.

Lille’s report says he ran four tests – the MMPI-2, the Rorschach Psychodiagnostic test, the Thematic Apperception Test, and sections of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale – on each parent.

The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale assessment takes from 42 minutes to an hour, clinical trials have demonstrated.

The Thematic Apperception Test involves showing the test subject 31 picture cards and having the subject tell a story about each picture.

The Rorschach Psychodiagnostic test requires a test subject to look at 10 images/inkblots. The subject tells the medical professional what the subject sees. The test then requires the subject to look at the images again and explain how the subject saw what was reported.

The MMPI-2 test alone takes between 60 minutes and 90 minutes to administer causing several mental health professionals to question Lille’s report in light of the Carrolls’ memory of a visit that ran less than an hour.

In Lille’s 17-page report, he says Richard Carroll has socialization deficits stemming from his childhood and a low to average IQ, and is likely to have future legal issues. In the almost 14 years since Lille saw Richard Carroll, he has not been arrested or had other legal issues. Richard Carroll has been employed  as a security officer, a job requiring a clean police record, since 2008.

Lille states Elizabeth Carroll should attend parenting classes and only have supervised visits with her children.

Lille lists himself as a licensed psychologist. It does not mention that he was on probation at the time he met with the Carrolls, and required to inform all current and potential parties in a signed release about his probation and its effects on his patients’ and employer’s confidentiality.

On Nov. 2, 1999, the state revoked Lille’s license following an investigation into charges he received oral sex from a patient during a session; that he had sex with several patients after sessions; that he smoked marijuana with patients; and that he performed exorcisms, according to court records.

“While serving as Crystal B.’s treating psychotherapist, respondent told Crystal B. he observed a three-headed monster above Crystal B.’s head during a hypnotherapy session,” according to a Dec. 14, 1998 accusation by the Attorney General of the State of California. “Respondent told Crystal B. the monster indicated that she was possessed. Respondent then worked for over a year to exorcise the demons.”

In the process that led to have the revocation stayed and five-years probation, Lille admitted to inventing the “monster” and smoking marijuana with patients.

On Jan. 21, 2000, Lille received five-years probation which included a six-month license suspension, oversight of his practice, and a requirement to have all clients sign a release stating that they were aware of issues related to Lille’s probation, according to a stipulated settlement and disciplinary order.

In Lille’s report that the county’s Department of Social Services provided to the court, it does not mention his probation.

Throughout California, multiple lawsuits have been won against counties for returning seriously abused children often deemed un-adoptable to abusive homes. At the same time, birth parents have won suits against counties and social workers who fabricated or withheld evidence in order to permanently remove adoptable children from their birth parents.

County social workers often describe in reports that children are dirty, have lice, and are acting strangely, while probing parents’ histories. Any past history of mental illness or drug or alcohol treatment can result in actions to terminate parents’ rights, county records show.

In the case of the Carroll family, even though there was no report of any physical abuse by Richard Carroll, witnessed or documented injuries consistent with abuse, county social workers told the court the father was extremely abusive to his eldest daughter, court records show.

In addition, the Carrolls have no adult history of non-traffic-related legal issues, though Richard Carroll admitted that several years before his eldest daughter was born, he had used drugs. Court documents subsequently revealed that county staffers (and others representing entities receiving monies from social services) noted repeatedly that the father’s participation in Narcotics Anonymous and admission of prior use were concerning — even though the Carrolls had not tested positive for drug use,

In 1998, The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect reported that six times as many children died in foster care than in the general public and that once removed to official “safety,” these children are far more likely to suffer abuse, including sexual molestation, than children raised by their birth families.

In 2003, the California Little Hoover Commission reported that 30 percent to 70 percent of the children in California group homes did not belong there, and should not have been removed from their homes.

Allegations and actions of child welfare services workers and the juvenile court are shrouded in secrecy to protect children. However, the lack of transparency also protects the actions of those who benefit financially from having little or no oversight, critics say.

In the case of the Carrolls, unfounded claims that a child was “punched” and of physical abuse by the father were reported by a non-profit agency that receives county funding. The assertions were then repeated by county staffers to a psychologist paid by the county.

The psychologist repeated the initial claims by Torres at the non-profit in his reports, which county social workers memorialized in their statements to the court

On Aug. 18, 2003, Christopher Monza, a San Luis Obispo County social worker, noted psychologist Lille’s report eight times in his testimony to the court, though he never mentioned the doctor was on probation for allegedly having sex with his patients, or that he invented monsters in order to keep a patient returning to him for an ongoing exorcism.

“I’m relying on Dr. Lille’s report as well and what he found,” Monza testified to the court, according to the court transcript. “Dr. Lille, even though he finds that there are, there is bonding between the children and the parents, he makes a conclusion at the idea that the birth parents’ relationship promotes the well-being of the children, but does not exist to such an extent that it would outweigh the permanent home of the adoptive parents.”

Shortly after listening to Monza’s testimony, Superior Court Commissioner Sidney B. Findley terminated the parental rights of the Carrolls paving the way for the adoptions.

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60 Comments

  1. tabatha bergner says:

    No one knows what happened. You would of had to be there to know. So if everyone could just stop making assumptions that would be great

    (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  2. south says:

    The cynic in me is thinking that Mr. Hill is running for re-election instead of an open Assembly or Congressional seat in order to better protect his wife. As a Supervisor he is in a better position to intimidate department heads (through the budget process) and manipulate the system (work his cronies). He not only can protect Ms. Torres-Hill from criminal inquiry but also his finances (community property) from civil suits.

    (0) 4 Total Votes - 2 up - 2 down
  3. Cindy says:

    Look what I found in the Grand Jury Reports. While the GJ investigated many complaints in the report, see if this 1st case sounds almost identical to the Carrolls, right down to CWS withholding records from the court that would have exonerated the parents.

    According to the SLO Grand Jury 2005-2006 Final Report page 58

    “We received two complaints about a case where the issue was one of failing
    to provide reunification services for a mother and her four children. The
    complainants alleged that CWS did not provide the mother with adequate
    services before terminating her parental rights. Once the mother’s rights
    were terminated, CWS proceeded quickly to finalize adoption of the children.
    However, information that could have influenced the decision seems to have
    been ignored by CWS. There is documentation that this information was di-
    rectly delivered to CWS, although it was not in any of the CWS reports to the
    court that we reviewed. Less than two years after the adoption was finalized,
    the adoptive father was arrested on charges of child molestation and was
    found guilty on several counts.”

    Also from page 58
    ” The complaint in this case alleges a cover-up by CWS, the sheriff/coroner,
    and a police department regarding the death of a child while in foster care.
    In our investigation of this case, we reviewed CWS files, police reports,
    medical records, autopsies, and coroner’s reports. We interviewed police
    officers, social workers, deputy district attorneys, and a deputy sheriff.

    Child Welfare Services placed two siblings into a foster home that was licensed
    to care for high-risk children. A minor with a long history of assaultive
    behavior was already a foster child in this home. That minor had
    been in many foster homes in the system during the last several years, had been
    assessed as a high-risk child, and was on medications for a variety of emotional illnesses.

    Three and one half weeks after placement of the two siblings for their protec-
    tion, the older sibling was found in a ditch in the backyard of the foster home
    and was dead on arrival at the local hospital. Although the cause of death
    was undetermined, and there were emergency shelter beds available, the
    younger child was ordered by CWS upper management to remain in the
    home that had already failed to protect her sibling. The other foster child
    immediately ran away, but was later picked up by law enforcement “

    (9) 23 Total Votes - 16 up - 7 down
    • Mike Byrd says:

      Thanks, Cindy. I believe the department is required to respond to grand jury reports. It would be helpful if someone were to share that response in order to put this into perspective. Also, if you could share the link to the GJ report so we could see their conclusions and recommendations that would be helpful.

      It will be interesting to see if the grand jury investigates the case reported by CCN. I’m told they tend to rely on advice from the district attorney when deciding what to look into.

      (7) 19 Total Votes - 13 up - 6 down
      • Kevin Rice says:

        Responses are posted on the Grand Jury web page.

        Here are the responses to the 2006-06 reports:
        http://slocourts.net/downloads/grand_jury/reports/2005/responses-2005-2006.pdf

        (1) 11 Total Votes - 6 up - 5 down
        • Kevin Rice says:

          Cindy errently cited the 2005-06 G.J. report. The correct report is 2003-04:

          http://slocourts.net/downloads/grand_jury/reports/2003/final-2003-2004.pdf

          The responses are here:

          http://slocourts.net/downloads/grand_jury/reports/2003/responses-2003-2004.pdf

          (-2) 10 Total Votes - 4 up - 6 down
          • unlisted says:

            Why would anyone dislike simple facts like these??? Thanks Kevin. And, thanks Cindy for the original information.

            (4) 8 Total Votes - 6 up - 2 down
        • Cindy says:

          Sorry Every Body. It is actually in the 2003-2004 reports.

          Link to all GJ reports is

          http://slocourts.net/grand_jury/reports/past

          For the responses to the GJ recommendations click that report and the CWS portion starts on page 20.

          Lee Collins disagreed with almost every thing and it is a rather scathing review. In fact the GJ recommended that the BOS get involved. The GJ had previously tried to investigate CWS and had been stone walled in 2001 as the Director insisted that the records were confidential. The court had to step in and compel CWS to turn over whatever records the GJ wanted so the investigation didn’t take place until 2003! The report is mind boggling to say the least. Back then CWS was short on funds as the adoption program incentives were scare and so they were returning abused children to homes where severe abuse was taking place and marking complaints from reporters (Dr’s, Teachers, Attorneys) as unfounded even when in some cases there had been up to 18 complaints against the same home. When Doctors and Teachers would contact CWS to find out why nothing had been done about the children that they were reporting , CWS would tell them that it was all confidential ! The management was also going into the records and changing the SS workers notes on reports (or so the the SS workers told the GJ). People should read it all for themselves.

          (0) 10 Total Votes - 5 up - 5 down
    • DragonLady says:

      Stuff like this might just help the attorney’s looking into the Carroll’s case (that you mentioned in an earlier comment) I hope there is a way you provide the GJ case info to them. It seems that more and more proof that our county CWS has a long history of doing things how they seem fit with no one holding them accountable. When will this madness end?

      (5) 15 Total Votes - 10 up - 5 down
      • Cindy says:

        I think it will definitely help them in their law suit. After reading the 2003-2004 final GJ report, I believe that the Carroll’s were singled out and I have no doubt that it was because someone (ie: Dee Torres) didn’t like them. During that time, CWS was low on funds and the Director had under estimated his budget which made it all the worse. From a fiscal stand point, it was cost effective to return children to parents or not remove them at all and that’s exactly what they did even in some of the most severe cases. They even broke the SCAR mandates which is against the law and the fine can be $5000 per incident. There were many of these incidents where CWS didn’t forward the abuse reports to the police for investigation or they waited over a week which would give a beaten child time to heal before the LE went to investigate. Then CWS would determine that the reports of abuse and even molestation were unsubstantiated even in some of the most severe cases. It’s all in the report.

        Likewise, The GJ found that CWS was not including reports from other agencies that were in opposition to the CWS findings to the court. CWS was operating as it’s own fiefdom and using confidentiality to avoid all inquires, even the inquires brought forth by other county agencies, physicians, psychologists and attorneys for the defendants.

        The confidentiality laws have got to be reformed if we are really going to protect children and parents rights. No agency should be allowed to operate behind a veil such at what has been afforded to CWS.

        ABSOLUTE POWER DOES AND ALWAYS HAS ENGENDERED MANKIND.

        Read the report here

        http://slocourts.net/downloads/grand_jury/reports/2003/final-2003-2004.pdf

        (2) 12 Total Votes - 7 up - 5 down
        • DragonLady says:

          Well I am not shocked to say the least. Aside from the parents looking in to a case, I hope that the young lady who suffered greatly through all this is also planning a law suit of her own. I would say all 3 kids but I have no clue how it would work for those under age. :( Thank you for always providing great information Cindy

          (6) 10 Total Votes - 8 up - 2 down
    • bigfoots says:

      thank you cindy,for the infromation ,i will see if my lawyer can use it in any way,and thank you to everyone for their comments,maybe some day my kids will come home.

      (5) 15 Total Votes - 10 up - 5 down
      • Mike Byrd says:

        Yes, thank you Cindy and Kevin. Maybe a fourth article is necessary to put this all into historical perspective.

        (4) 8 Total Votes - 6 up - 2 down
      • Cindy says:

        You’re welcome bigfoots.

        Hopefully, he can use it to raise the question of whether you were singled out to the extent that your case was treated differently as compared to the majority of other cases, where families were reunified under far greater accusations. Also the failure to include the report from the investigating Officer, Mike Brennler. Clearly, they chose to use the opinions of their crony friend, Dee Torres rather than the facts from an unbiased professional like the investigating officer and they clearly omitted his testimony from the court records.

        God Bless and Best Wishes. I pray that you are reunited with your children.

        Also, once your case becomes public, I think it will open the door for other good/innocent parents who had their children kidnapped to come forward. I have no doubt their are more than a few of them. I’ve seen the atrocities. We need reform and more transparency.

        (2) 8 Total Votes - 5 up - 3 down
        • bigfoots says:

          thank you agian Cindy, My name is Richard Carroll thank you

          (1) 5 Total Votes - 3 up - 2 down
  4. 2much says:

    WOW!!! Great Job reporting CCN!

    I remember Sid Finley, a good dude, trying to do the right thing. This broken down system gave him bad information based on self serving, self righteous goals. This seems criminal to me, falsifying official documents and testimony to justify the existence of a corrupt agency.

    Isn’t Hill the wife of the guy who is trying to dig up dirt of the Husband of Mrs. Higgingbotham (SP?) . Whole family seems suspect to me.

    I only hope that the LAME DA would look further into this mess, I know Tim Covello would have, but then again Tim wasn’t part of the problem. If the testimony is perjured, as this seems, then the parties involved ( Hill and Torres) would be guilty of furthering this criminal act of Rape and Sodomy. I say… Put em all in Jail, along with the FREAKY Lily and Monza, and let em point the finger at each other all the way to prison with Bergner.

    Bottom line is that it’s not a crime to be poor (Ms. Hill) and just because someone has a nice house or nice things doesn’t equal a happier life.

    (13) 25 Total Votes - 19 up - 6 down
  5. obispan says:

    Got spanked until age 7. Then psychological punishment:) Worked out OK., glad the County didn’t take me away. In truth, they couldn’t have. My parents were of the professional class and the state “child bounty” did not exist.

    (6) 14 Total Votes - 10 up - 4 down

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