The “near-death from starvation and abuse” of a toddler points to systemic issues with some of the state’s recently touted kinship foster placements, according to a report released today by the state Child Advocate’s office.
Child Advocate Sarah Eagan reported Tuesday that DCF placed Dylan (a pseudonym), who was then 13 months old, with his mother’s cousin, Crystal Magee, and her husband, Donald Magee, in Groton. The couple had no income aside from state disability and food stamps, and both had health issues, according to the report.
The report arrives about a month after a news conference during which Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz touted increased kinship placements for DCF-involved children.
The child was placed with the couple even though there were a half-dozen reports to DCF that Mrs. Magee had neglected her own child and Mr. Magee had a history of criminal charges including drug possession and assault, according to the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) report.
Dylan remained in the home for five months and missed doctor appointments and visits with his siblings. He was sleeping five of the seven times a DCF caseworker made a visit to the home.
According to Eagan’s report, “The [licensing] worker observed that Dylan ‘never smiled and did not make any baby noise,’ but the licensing worker also acknowledged that she did not document any concerns and she stated that she did not ‘interact’ with Dylan ‘because that is not part of her job’.”
Magee, who was charged on Feb. 4 with felony risk of injury, called the Groton Police and asked if she would get in trouble for allowing the baby to cry for a longer period of time. DCF workers discussed the incident in emails obtained by Eagan’s office.
One DCF worker said Dylan “is 15 months old. I don’t think he should be crying non-stop. Crystal is very difficult. She left me a long message and I understood all of about two words she said.”
The DCF case supervisor replies: “OMG, I cannot stop laughing. 🙂 Advise her to bring him to the pediatrician, or we can look for another placement for him. Way too much drama with this family.”
Magee’s case is still pending and she’s been released on bond after pleading not guilty. Her husband was not charged.
At 18-months, when Dylan was finally removed from the home, he wasn’t walking or talking and only weighed 17 pounds, according to the OCA report. There were bruises on his body, his skin was loose, and he had broken bones in both arms. There was also sparse hair on the back of his head, indicating that he was lying down for long periods of time.
“Doctors concluded that Dylan’s extreme malnutrition and the failure to seek care for his multiple fractures constituted gross neglect, and that his pain, suffering and condition should have been obvious to caregivers,” Eagan’s report states.
She said his “near-death from starvation and abuse — a stunning event in a state-monitored placement for a child — could occur only as a result of the utter collapse of all safeguards.”
DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said what happened to the boy “is both troubling and unacceptable. Thankfully [Dylan] has recovered. That does not, however, diminish that our work with him did not meet our standards.”
She said at the end of its human resources investigation three employees were disciplined and a fourth retired.
“The Department is taking all possible steps to ensure that the problems identified have been addressed, and we will continue to evaluate and adjust these actions to achieve our goal of safely maintaining children in care with kin whenever possible,” Katz said in a statement.
In the same breath, Katz dismissed Eagan’s report saying that “while there is much we can learn from a particular case, a system as large and complex as a child welfare system cannot be judged accurately by one or even a handful of cases.”
Even though Eagan’s report focuses on the incident involving Dylan, she said it points to a larger systemic problem within the agency that is not being addressed.
Between 2015 and June 2016, DCF granted 65 waivers to prospective foster parents with criminal or child protective histories. Those waivers involved the placement of 90 children, 49 of whom were age seven or under at the time of the placement. Eagan’s office has begun reviewing the waivers and has been able to complete 25 of them. Of those 25 cases, at least 14 foster parents had “previously been substantiated for abuse or neglect by DCF and 4 had their own children removed from their care.”
“The range of criminal histories included several foster parents with histories of assault and/or drug charges (charges may be old),” according to Eagan’s report. “A very concerning case involved a foster parent with multiple prior arrests for domestic violence, including assault and strangulation, and who had been the subject of protective orders with multiple intimate partners — he continued to present with such reactive and volatile behavior during the licensing process that the DCF worker asked for an internal domestic violence consult (a baby was placed in that home).”
According to a footnote in the report, “Regarding the latter placement, DCF requested that OCA include information that DCF took the concerns ‘seriously and immediately addressed and there is ample documentation supporting that’ and no additional reports of intimate partner violence arose. While OCA agrees that the licensing file contains ample documentation, OCA does not agree that these concerns were adequately resolved, and the placement of an abused/neglected infant in this home appears to have been grossly inappropriate and unnecessarily risky.”
Eagan noted that not all the waivers were as risky and that multiple placements did appear to be appropriate.
At the same time, no waiver was required for the placement of Dylan with the Magees.
DCF conducted a background check, though the record is not adequate about when or who was informed of its results, according to Eagan’s report. At the same time, the Magees filled out a written application for licensure in which they lied about their background, and these lies and discrepancies were never addressed, according to the report.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, called again for Katz to resign.
“Anybody who has children will find this report chilling,” Fasano said. “This case provides a window into an agency that fails to follow the law and properly protect children. This is a problem of agency culture, and Commissioner Joette Katz must take full responsibility for this environment and the pattern of disturbing failures throughout multiple levels of her agency.”
Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said Fasano’s comments are politically motivated.
“The fact that Sen. Fasano’s statement refers not once, not twice, but three times to political party affiliation speaks volumes about his motivations a month out from an election,” Donnelly said. “Here’s the reality: since the last time the Senator made this kind of purely political call, the federal court monitor has said that DCF has ‘made and sustained progress,’ and plaintiffs in the Juan F. case, a longstanding case against the state seeking better care for at-risk youth, have said that DCF is ‘moving in the right direction to reform the system for thousands of children.’ Rather than playing politics with Sen. Fasano, we’ll continue working with people who have an informed, nonpartisan stake in the welfare of our children.”