At least a decade ago, Hawaii Child Welfare began sending foster children to live in the Hilo home of Yvonne and Paul Caitano. Eventually, the Caitanos adopted five of them, which allowed them to have five more nurturing children, according to one of the adopted children.
The Caitanos were known in their community because they seemed to be compassionate and ready to take care of other children.
One woman, new to fostering her babies, met Yvonne Caitano around 2015.
“Yvonne was very supportive and very knowledgeable about the services and helped me answer questions that even the workers weren’t,” the woman later wrote to a federal judge, referring to the State Children’s Services.
But in 2018, the idyllic image was disrupted by abuse accusations, questions about the state of social workers got into the wind that something was wrong in a family that took in so many educated children. This account consists of federal and state court documents in cases involving Caitanos, media reports and an interview with one of Caitanos’ adopted sons, whom Civil Strike is not naming because she is the victim of alleged sexual abuse.
First, one of the children, after returning to her biological parents, told Paul Caitano that she had been sexually assaulted. 10 children were removed from the home and placed with other families or facilities. In April of this year, Paul Caitano was charged with 23 felony counts of sexually assaulting two girls in a family.
Eighteen months after the children were removed, Yvonne Caitano and four others were indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of illegally getting pharmacies to supply large quantities of opioids and powerful drugs and illegally distributing them for profit.
The defendants included Dr. Ernest Bade, 80 years old at the time, and later found to be incompetent due to dementia, and four women who worked in his medical clinic – Caitano, his then 80-year-old mother, his we ended up with a grown-up daughter and women. A federal judge found Caitano’s office official at the heart of the operation and sentenced her to five years in prison until 2020.
One point of aggravation was that one of the boys living with Caitanos, 14 years old at the time, was forced to participate in a drug operation. He told the girl to count the pills and put them in the envelope of the customers who drove home to buy them. If he cheats on pills or money, the girl is told, scolded or beaten.
One of the children who lived in the Caitano family told Civil Beat that physical and mental abuse was common. The boys were forced to stand against the corner for perceived infractions, sometimes all day or all night, she said.
“Pulling or banging or something in the distance – the phone bowls,” he said.
Bade’s drug ring is gathering widespread media attention. But Caitano’s connection to foster care for the state went unnoticed.
Civil Beat asked the Department of Human Services, the parent of CWS, how long the Caitanos had to foster and adopt the children, how many years they were paid by the state, whether the state received other abuse or neglect before February. 2018 Removal of children and how often CWS visited the children to check on their welfare.
The department declined to answer most questions, citing a provision of Hawaii law that keeps the identity of foster parents confidential. Specifically, the department refused to say when it first received reports of abuse in the Caitano family.
Some 1,000 children in Hawaii enter foster care each year. The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform in Virginia, based on federal data, ranks the number of children entering foster care as the percentage of those living in poverty, with the majority of families caught up in the child welfare system. . By that measure, Hawaii’s student achievement average is about 43% higher than the national average, ranking it 20th among states.
The department said that in order to foster care for children, monthly visits are required. But Hawaii has developed over the years as a national standard of visiting 95% of children in foster care at least once a month to see how they are doing. The most recent data shows the state of monthly visits in 84% of cases, somewhat higher than in previous years, but still well short of the goal.
Many national studies have shown that foster care, even by exceptionally supportive parents, can cause long-term trauma to a child. Researchers and legal scholars have argued that those consequences must be balanced against the dangers of leaving children with potentially abusive or neglectful parents.
Sometimes the trauma of being torn away from all familiarity — not just parents, but friends and school and siblings — goes well beyond when foster parents and adoptive parents abuse or neglect their own children. In six cases in 2020, abuse and neglect victims in Hawaii were raised by parents who were supposed to pay the restitution, according to federal records.
One high-profile case involved Isabel Kalua, a 6-year-old girl whose abduction outraged the community when her adoptive parents were charged with second-degree murder. Prosecutors allege that Isaac and Lehua Kalua kept Isabella, who was born Ariel Sellers, in a dog cage with duct tape over her mouth and refused to feed her.
Kaluas brought her in to foster the children, along with some of her siblings, despite Isaac’s felony convictions for terroristic threats and assault. Lehua Kalua had a previous felony drug arrest. These records could be a reason for the state to disown the parents, even if the offenses were not automatically alienated.
A search of eCourt Kokua, Hawaii’s court records system, did not show any criminal charges against the Caitanos other than traffic infractions prior to 2018. So the city had no reason to doubt that the Caitanos would be good parents.
But with 10 or more children enduring an allegedly abusive home, weren’t they warning signs until 2018?
A teenage girl who spoke with Beat Civil said she did not report the abuse, saying it started about five or six months after she was placed there.
“We were sure that if we opened our mouths, we would be hit more,” he said. She believes that CWS social workers “always go back and tell the caregivers everything that was said.”
Once, he said, he was washing a little girl’s hair at home, when Paul Caitano was angry because he had not gone to bed. He said: He threw her against the wall and struck her in the eye, blackening him.
“If I told anyone, I’ll do it across the board,” he said. Therefore, when the teacher asked about the black eye, he affirmed that it had only fallen.
But she believes that this was happening to the other children in the home, even before five of them were adopted.
He also said that the Caitanos received a lot of money from the state to foster and adopt children, both because of the number of children, and also because some of them in general required extra care. Monthly public benefits for children in foster or adopted care range from $649 to $776, depending on age, but those figures do not include extra payments for children with exceptional needs.
A federal judge in the case of Yvonne Caitano at one point raised the possibility that the city had fined the Caitanos $120,000 even after the children were removed from their home. Yvonne Caitano’s lawyer, at his sentencing, said that the charge of malicious intent was cleared. DHS would not disclose what it learned about the payments.
However, that overall question gives a sense of how much the Caitanos would get from the state to support their role as foster or adoptive parents of 10 children.
Court documents explain how one of the sons was used as a runner in a drug scheme.
Caitano, while working at the Bade clinic, would call his mother, Maria Benevides, at his house to tell her that someone was coming by to buy pills. Telling the welcome girl to put certain pills in the package, take it to the customer’s car and collect the money. If the pill counts or the cash went wrong, according to the criminal complaint, Caitano’s grown daughter, Sheena Fortis, verbally or physically abused the girl.
He told investigators that “the money they bought from selling the pills was used to buy random stuff to store in containers at the store or to pay off credit cards and bills,” according to the complaint.
It is clear that Caitano’s role as a foster parent was well known in the community, as evidenced by the letter a federal court judge wrote to grant clemency for Yvonne Caitano.
“Over the years, I have witnessed Yvonne conduct herself in a loving and nurturing manner – without fostering her five children, later adopting them and giving them a loving home,” he wrote.. “Yvonne, in addition to her five children, was always there for many other less fortunate children.
The teenager who spoke to the Citizen’s Beat thought otherwise. When his adoptive parents were working, he said: “I’m blessed. It was a start for them to get what they gave us so many years ago.
This project is supported by the Fund for Critical Journalism.