Agency desires justice
for Peter Boy

State officials also hope for reform
after releasing 2,000 pages
of documents

Justice for "Peter Boy" Kema Jr. and reform within the Department of Human Services: Those are the goals of department head Lillian Koller in releasing about 2,000 pages of documents on the case tomorrow.

Until Koller changed department rules early this year, almost all information in the department on missing and abused children was closed to the public.

"Eight years of secrecy have gotten no justice, and there have been no improvements at all to the way we handle these things," Koller told the Star-Bulletin.

"This is a terrible tragedy. We cannot tolerate the disappearance of a child and have nothing come of it," she said.

Peter Boy, the third of four children in a Big Island family, was about 6 years old when he was last seen publicly in 1997. His father, Peter Sr., later told police that he left the boy in the care of an Aunty Rose Makuakane during a trip to Honolulu in mid-1997 to seek work.

Police could find no evidence that the woman exists or that Kema and his son took a flight to Honolulu around that time.

Kema and his wife, Jaylin, did not report their son missing until January 1998, and then only at the urging of authorities.

With suspicious circumstances around the disappearance, Peter Sr. said in an April 27, 1998, press conference, "I did not kill my son. As far as I know, no, I did not kill him."

Without naming anyone, Koller told the Star-Bulletin that she wants to see prosecution of "the people who are responsible."

A week after Peter Boy was born on May 1, 1991, his older half brother and half sister were removed from the Kema family because of child abuse. Peter Boy was removed at the age of 3 months.

Peter was returned to the family in 1994, and the older children in 1995. There is evidence that abuse resumed.

Koller noted that her department's Child Welfare Services, then called Child Protective Services, makes recommendations for reunifying a child with his or her family, but only a court can issue an order.

And in the early 1990s, federal law required CPS to make "reasonable efforts" to return a child to the family.

But nationwide "horror stories" like the Peter Boy case prompted Congress to change the law in 1997. Officials across the country were required to put the safety of the child first.

The 1997 change was too late for Peter Boy. That was the year he disappeared.

But Koller does not accept the idea that only Congress was responsible before 1997.

Even since 1997 only a small group of people -- her agency, the courts, lawyers -- have had access to information, she said.

"We've been talking to ourselves too long," she said. She is not the one to make proposals. "I can't tell you. I'm one of the people on the inside."

But on the strength of the congressional mandate for safety of the child first, Koller did change her department's rules on confidentiality.

In the past, the lengthy process of getting a court order was required before information was released. Information could not even be shared with medical providers, Koller said. "Now we are able to exercise our own discretion," she said.

This change in rules is what allows tomorrow's release of 2,000 pages about Peter Boy.

The department will set up a process to take public comment generated by the Peter Boy papers, and those comments will be used to shape the department's Program Improvement Plan, she said. They will also provide a basis for legislative proposals next year.

Child Welfare Services begins reform after federal mandate

The Child Welfare Services branch of the state Department of Social Services is moving "aggressively" to reform itself, based on an internal desire for change and an external mandate from the federal government, says acting administrator Amy Tsark.

While the department has rewritten and liberalized its confidentiality rules, permitting release of "Peter Boy" Kema documents, it is also engaged in a federally required Program Improvement Plan. The department is responding to a federal review done in 2003, similar to one carried out in every state.

Four priorities have been identified, said program coordinator John Walters.

Where a child's safety is at risk, the department will report to police and alert news media in one day, he said. Existing cases will be reviewed in light of putting the child's safety first. More people will be involved, such as the father of a child, even if he is not married to the mother. And families will be visited by a social worker at least once a month.

The department will also look for ways to offer services to families before a crisis arises, such as a missing or abused child.

People who want to report trouble in a family can call the department's hot line, 832-5300 on Oahu or 800-494-3991 anywhere in the state.

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