DHS social worker in Khalil Wimes case removed

Khalil Wimes with his foster mother, Alicia Nixon, with whom he lived until he was 3. Nixon family photo
Khalil Wimes with his foster mother, Alicia Nixon, with whom he lived until he was 3. Nixon family photo
Posted: April 25, 2012

The city removed a social worker from active casework Tuesday after The Inquirer revealed repeated failures by the city’s Department of Human Services to intervene in the ongoing abuse of 6-year-old Khalil Wimes that ended with his parents being charged with his murder.

In announcing the step involving the social worker, Mayor Nutter also said DHS would review all child-welfare cases handled by the worker and her supervisor.

“Our hearts are very heavy for Khalil,” Nutter said, adding, “We will conduct a complete review of everything that happened in this case. If systemic changes are required, we will make them.”

Khalil was dead from head trauma March 19 when his parents, Tina Cuffie, 44, and Floyd Wimes, 48, brought him to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. His corpse weighed only 29 pounds and bore a sea of scars across his face and the rest of his body, according to police reports. Authorities believe Khalil suffered beatings at the hands of his parents for as long as two years, and he was photographed with obvious scarring at the same time the social worker was visiting him and his siblings in 2011.

Cuffie told authorities that she had struck Khalil in the bathroom of their South Philadelphia apartment and that he had been knocked unconscious. She and Wimes waited 13 hours to take Khalil to the hospital, according to police.

Cuffie and Wimes face a preliminary hearing Wednesday on murder charges.

At the time of the child’s death, Nutter said, city social workers had no official oversight, or “open case,” on Khalil. That information was the result of an “initial” briefing by DHS, a city spokesman said Monday.

Unrecognized danger

The Inquirer review found that, in the last eight months of Khalil’s life, DHS saw the child eight times during visits to his home and a DHS facility, but did not recognize that he was in danger.

Though the agency had no active case on Khalil, they were engaged in official oversight of two of his siblings and, since August, responsible for supervised visits between Khalil, his siblings, and Cuffie and Wimes at the DHS center and at the Wimes’ apartment.

During those months, Khalil was regularly starved and beaten by his parents with extension cords, belts, books, and shoes, according to two of Khalil’s adult siblings.

Social worker Courtnei Nance questioned Cuffie about Khalil’s weight, the scars on his face, and other bruising, but took no further action, according to multiple sources aware of the inquiry into DHS’s handling of the case. On four occasions, Nance visited the apartment where Khalil, in the last days of his life, slept on the floor of a latched, empty bedroom on a soiled, plastic mattress, including a visit two weeks before Khalil was killed.

Khalil had been removed from Wimes and Cuffie’s care one week after his birth on Valentine’s Day 2006. By that time, DHS had removed seven of his older siblings from his parents’ care for neglect.

Khalil lived in the care of his foster parents, Alicia Nixon and J. Evans, until he was 3.

In 2008, over the objection of his social worker at the time, his child advocate, and his foster parents, Khalil was returned to Cuffie and Wimes. According to Family Court transcripts, DHS endorsed reunifying Khalil with Wimes and Cuffie since the couple had stayed off drugs for a six-month period, took a parenting class, and got an apartment. DHS monitored Khalil for one year after he was returned to Wimes and Cuffie. Investigators believe the abuse started immediately after the monitoring ended.

DHS reentered his life

DHS reentered Khalil’s life in August when the DHS-supervised visits with his siblings began.

It is not clear what, if anything, Nance told her superiors about Khalil’s appearance.

DHS’s division of performance management and accountability will handle the review of the social worker and her superior, Nutter said. The city is fully cooperating with the District Attorney’s Office investigation into Khalil’s death, Nutter said.

Khalil’s death comes after sweeping reforms implemented by the agency in the aftermath of the 2006 death of Danieal Kelly, 14, who was found starved and abused and weighing only 42 pounds.

Nutter said the findings of the inquiry into the agency’s involvement would be made public.

In 2008, Khalil’s foster grandmother, La Reine Nixon, pleaded with the city not to send Khalil back to Cuffie and Wimes. On Tuesday, she said, “It is outrageous that all of the adults he should have been able to count on failed him miserably.”

Contact Mike Newall at 215-854-2759 or mnewall@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @MikeNewall.

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