Long before Angela Dufrene and her twin brother were born on April 25, 2014, child welfare administrators had warned in fatality reviews that it was dangerous to allow violent, drug-addicted or mentally ill parents to take home newborn infants when the infants’ older, and less vulnerable, siblings, had already been removed.
A Miami Herald investigation of the deaths of about 500 Florida children found about 20 cases in which a baby died after being placed with parents who could not be trusted to rear older siblings. Here are the warnings written by Department of Children & Families oversight administrators following the deaths three of those youngsters:
▪ Gabrielle Crawford was born on March 11, 2010, a frail and medically complex newborn with hydrocephalus, a condition in which fluid builds up in the brain. He was not expected to ever be capable of eating or sitting up by himself. He was, however, capable of living longer than 21 months.
His mother already had lost custody of four of Gabrielle’s older siblings, who were living with relatives or in foster care as a result of the woman’s long history of abusing and neglecting them. She had already amassed at least 10 reports alleging she was an unfit mother — including allegations of drug abuse, lack of supervision, domestic violence, untreated mental illness and physical abuse — when Gabrielle and his twin were born, and was being supervised by a private child welfare agency.
But a report suggested authorities were more concerned about returning Crawford’s older children to her than protecting the newborns, and Gabrielle was sent home to his mother without authorities ever telling the family’s child welfare judge of his existence. Gabrielle’s mom admitted to police that she used excessive force on him — breaking his arm and leg — and then left him to suffer before he died Dec. 2, 2011. A review of Gabrielle’s death recommended that DCF “institute a system-of-care mandate which requires agency leadership to review and approve a decision to not add a newborn child to an active services case.”
▪ When Jaiden David Washpun was born June 26, 2009, her mother tried to give him away to another couple as “a wedding present,” a report said. The day before his premature birth, his mother had been arrested for “shopping” at pill mills to obtain illegal drugs, and the newborn had tested positive for opiates. Jaiden’s older siblings had been removed from his mother because of her long-standing addiction. Yet child welfare administrators released Jaiden from the hospital into his mother’s care, and he died less than four months later.
A report said his mother accidentally smothered him in a Panama City motel room from which she was selling oxycodone.
A review of his death said:
“It is extremely difficult to understand why an infant would be considered safe in the care of a mother, with only voluntary services, while older siblings remained in out-of-home care, and there were even questions about them having unsupervised visits with her. It was also difficult to understand why there was no … legal sufficiency to file a [court] petition on Jaiden simply because the mother had cooperated with services for a brief period of time.”
▪ Six-month-old William Sloan came to the state’s attention on Dec. 7, 2008, when he was two days old. William’s two older siblings already were in foster care as a result of their parents’ severe drug abuse, and their mother’s mental illness. But child welfare authorities gave William’s parents a chance to raise him after William’s mother promised to stop taking drugs, and his father’s marijuana use was considered to pose “no harm” to the newborn.
He died on June 28, 2009, when his father drank a fifth of Lord Calvert whiskey, played video games, then passed out on the couch, smothering his infant son. The father was arrested and charged with manslaughter, but the charges later were dropped. In a review of William’s death, DCF wrote:
“Multi-disciplinary staffings should be held routinely when new babies are born into families in which the siblings are in [foster] care … Protective investigators and care managers should not make important decisions about safety based on recent, short-term parental cooperation or progress. Supervisors should ensure that the ‘big picture’ is considered, especially long-standing patters of behavior.”