9.17.2008

TheCabin.net Log Cabin Democrat

A more indepth article about today's meeting:

Ark documents detail abuse claims on foster parent
ANDREW DeMILLO
Associated Press Writer

CONWAY, Ark. — A Bella Vista foster parent who admitted having sexual contact with boys placed in his care and filming the incidents told a state review team that he was "led by God" to open his home to children, according to an assessment released Wednesday.

The state Department of Human Services placed 2 1/2 dozen boys in Brian John Bergthold's home over two years. Bergthold pleaded guilty Tuesday to a sexual assault charge and pleaded guilty last year to producing and distributing child pornography.

Legislators are reviewing allegations of abuse within the state's foster care system. After Bergthold's assessment was released at a hearing Wednesday, DHS demanded that copies of it be returned to them, saying some information was confidential.

A redacted version released later included no details about how Bergthold was approved as a foster parent, saying only that an unnamed applicant spoke English.

The unredacted version described Bergthold, now 46, as a single white man who lived alone in a brick home at Bella Vista.

"Brian wants to be a foster parent because he feels led by God to do so," the report said. "He says that he has the abilities, both personal and financial, and the space."

"He says that he has been blessed and wants to share those blessings with others. He is open to either gender but feels that based on his experience, boys would be better," said the report.

Reporters from The Associated Press, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Stephens Media refused to return the original packets and state agency lawyers later asked them to not disclose information about the accusers. Associated Press policy is to not identify victims of sexual crimes.

DHS spokeswoman Julie Munsell said the assessment was blacked out because state law says foster home records are confidential. State law allows the release of some records in abuse cases that result in fatalities or near-fatalities, she said.

Detective Barb Shrum of the Bella Vista Police Department had released the documents to Rep. Donna Hutchinson, R-Bella Vista, saying they were part of the investigative file on Bergthold.

Shrum complained about the way Human Services handled its investigation of Bergthold and said she was concerned that his alleged victims were interviewed at the home where they said the abuse took place.

"Brian just kind of schmoozed his way through things," Shrum told the panel.

Bergthold pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree sexual assault. He also pleaded guilty last year to two counts of producing and transporting child pornography and was sentenced to 70 years in prison.

Bergthold passed several criminal background checks to become a foster parent in Arkansas, according to DHS. According to police, he was a foster parent in Arkansas for two years, keeping 30 boys between the ages of 9 and 17 over the period.

State and federal officials began investigating Bergthold after a boy in his care filed a complaint saying Bergthold had sexually abused him.

Among the documents released was a report on a complaint Human Services received on Dec. 12, 2006, from an informant who told the agency that a child in Bergthold's care said that the foster parent touched him sexually.

"Reporter stated if this is true Bryan is a perfect pedophile," the report said.

The foster home assessment is used by state officials to determine the appropriateness of a home for foster children and what types of children should be placed in the home.

Lawmakers discussed the Bergthold case as the state is undergoing a review of its foster-care system following the deaths of four children in state care this year. The system had already been under a review ordered by Gov. Mike Beebe but that review was accelerated by the reported deaths, a spokesman for Beebe said.

Hutchinson said she believed the state's foster care system is in "disarray." Hutchinson said she was encouraged by Beebe's review but said she looks forward to finding out by the time the legislative session begins in January whether real change is occurring at the agency.

"The truth is, the governor is the CEO of the state and he makes sure the agencies are run correctly and properly," Hutchinson said. "It's Governor Beebe who will have to wake up every day and ask 'What is happening with foster care?'"

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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