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Missed opportunity

No followup: DSS never checked on abuse charge

Investigation of brother’s case OK’d just before sister died, but no worker visited

The Patriot Ledger

The Department of Social Services never intervened in Michael Riley’s troubled family after he was charged with trying to rape a 13-year-old girl in 2005.

But a department social worker did try to make an unannounced visit to their new home in Hull last month after a new abuse allegation.

A supervisor approved the visit on Dec. 12, but the social worker never got a chance to make it.

The next day, Riley’s 4-year-old daughter Rebecca was dead. Prosecutors say her parents deliberately gave her overdoses of a potent medication for months.

Riley, 34, and his wife, Carolyn, 32, are being held without bail on first-degree murder charges. They pleaded innocent Tuesday.

A child psychiatrist at Tufts-New England Medical Center had diagnosed Rebecca with bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when the girl was 28 months old.

Her brother, Gerard, 11, and sister, Kaitlynne, 6, received the same diagnosis from the same doctor, an affidavit by a State Police investigator said.

All three children were taking the same cocktail of drugs: clonidine, Seroquel, an antipsychotic drug, and the epilepsy drug Depakote, also used to treat mental illness and migraines.

A medical examiner said Rebecca died from the combined effect of a fatal level of clonidine - which is prescribed to treat hyperactivity in children - as well as Depakote and two over-the-counter cold medicines.

Dr. Kayoko Kifuji, voluntarily agreed to stop practicing on Wednesday while the Board of Registration in Medicine investigates her actions. She did not admit wrongdoing and the hospital strongly supported her care.

Yesterday’s disclosures added to the litany of missed opportunities in Rebecca’s brief life.

After Weymouth police arrested Michael Riley on June 24, 2005, for allegedly molesting a teenage girl, the Department of Social Services investigated but never opened a case, spokeswoman Denise Monteiro said.

A court order barred Michael Riley from living with his children while he awaited trial, Monteiro said.

“The father was out of the house and we didn’t support an allegation of neglect by the mother, so there was no case,” she said.

Social workers found out a year later that a judge had lifted the order barring Michael Riley. Carolyn Riley told them that the court now allowed her husband to have unsupervised visits with the children.

The department checked with the court and found it was true, DSS Commissioner Harry Spence said at a press conference yesterday.

The court records have been sealed. Norfolk District Attorney spokesman David Traub said earlier that the judge had never ordered Riley not to see his children, only minors not in his immediate family.

But social workers didn’t check in November when Carolyn Riley said she had renewed a restraining order imposed after Michael Riley allegedly choked his son, Gerard, Spence acknowledged. There are too many restraining orders for social workers to verify such assertions, he said.

Michael Riley had moved back with his family in Hull at the beginning of December. His wife’s half-brother, James McGonnell, and his fiancee, Kelly Williams, who lived with the family, told investigators that Michael Riley “repeatedly told Carolyn to medicate the children when he determined they were ‘acting up,’” the affidavit said.

Patriot Ledger reporter Julie Jette contributed to this story.

Sue Reinert may be reached at

Kids in danger:
DSS says docs won’t help

Controversy, liability keep physicians from joining advisory panel

The Patriot Ledger

After doctors misled Department of Social Services caseworkers in the case of a Westfield girl who was almost beaten to death by her foster parents, the Legislature gave the department $1 million for a panel of independent medical advisers.

But the agency hasn’t been able to find physicians willing to serve despite six months of trying, Commissioner Harry Spence said yesterday.

Doctors have declined to join because the department’s cases are invariably controversial, Spence said. “There are also issues of liability, hospital privileges, and (getting access to) medical records,” he said.

Harry Spence, commissioner of the state Department of Social Services commissioner, discusses DSS involvement of the DSS in the case of Rebecca Riley, a 4-year-old whose parents have been charged with murder in her December 2006 death.
AMELIA KUNHARDT/The Patriot Ledger
Harry Spence, commissioner of the state Department of Social Services commissioner, discusses DSS involvement of the DSS in the case of Rebecca Riley, a 4-year-old whose parents have been charged with murder in her December 2006 death.

Spence spoke at a press conference called after the death of another child, 4-year-old Rebecca Riley of Hull.

In July, Rebecca’s doctors assured caseworkers that she was receiving the proper dose of psychiatric medication.

Rebecca died on Dec. 13 of an overdose of two of the three drugs she was taking and two cold medications, a medical examiner said. Prosecutors have charged her parents, Michael Riley, 34, and Carolyn Riley, 32, with murder for allegedly giving her repeated overdoses.

Her psychiatrist, Dr. Kayoko Kifuji, has agreed to stop practicing while regulators investigate her treatment of the child. Kifuji did not admit wrongdoing.

In the Haleigh Poutre case in Westfield, physicians told social workers investigating the girl’s repeated severe injuries that she was hurting herself because of her mental illness. They opposed the department’s efforts to remove her from her foster parents, Spence said.

Responding to Rebecca Riley’s death, newly appointed Health and Human Services Secretary Judyann Bigby, herself a doctor, said yesterday she will appoint a physician to advise the department temporarily.

The Rebecca Riley case shows that the department “needs the capability to provide an (independent) medical assessment” in cases where “there are questions or concerns about medical care” for children, Bigby said in a statement.

Spence said the department had 40 nurses on its staff two decades ago, but now has the equivalent of 1½ full-time positions.

Haleigh Poutre
Haleigh Poutre

Last July a social worker treating Rebecca Riley filed a complaint with the agency reporting that Carolyn Riley was “neglecting her children” and “appeared heavily drugged and unable to respond” on one visit.

The social worker said that during one visit Riley told her that a puddle of urine on the floor was from when Rebecca had taken a nap on the floor and urinated, according to an affidavit from investigators in the murder case. The social worker said she had to tell Carolyn Riley to clean the floor.

Spence said social workers investigating the report looked into Carolyn Riley’s and her children’s medications by questioning their doctors. Kifuji diagnosed all three children with psychiatric disorders and prescribed drugs for them.

All the doctors and a psychiatric hospital caring for one of the children in July said the drugs were appropriate, he said. There was no one else to consult, so the department did not substantiate the complaint, Spence said.

“If we get additional medical personnel our capacity to assess (medical treatment) will improve,” he said. “I would hope that lives would be saved.”

After Rebecca Riley died, doctors at Children’s Hospital in Boston agreed to evaluate the drugs given to her 11-year-old brother and 6-year-old sister, Spence said. Officials removed the children on the day Rebecca died, and have not said whether they changed their medications.

“In a case like this, where there is a huge public controversy, an institution like Children’s Hospital is willing” to step in, Spence said. “By and large there is resistance.”

Sue Reinert may be reached at

Harry Spence, commissioner of the Mass. Dept. of Social Services, speaks at a press conference at DSS headquarters.
AMELIA KUNHARDT/The Patriot Ledger
Harry Spence, commissioner of the Mass. Dept. of Social Services, speaks at a press conference at DSS headquarters.