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More on Murdered Toddler

August 23, 2006 permalink

In this story the significant facts follow the usual spin from the agency, reorganizing so this will never happen again. The press has caught on to the serial nature of the deaths, and has identified the high-profile lawyer, Jeffrey Fieger, hired by the family. That ensures that this case will not be forgotten. The state attorney seems to think that its murder of one child is justification for permanently taking another. Before the mother was silenced by her attorney, she said that the girl tested positive for hepatitis B. Sequestering evidence may be one reason for the state to keep the girl.

To give you an idea of who really cares about children, the picture published twice by the Detroit Free Press comes not from the foster parents, but from the website of the real parents. According to the mother, the first girl taken, a case complicated by multiple birth-defects, resulted in termination of parental rights when the foster-care clock ran out. Later terminations were based on the doctrine of once and abuser, always an abuser.



Foster care agency is shut down

2-year-old was killed in home overseen by center

Detroit Free Press, BY JACK KRESNAK, FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER, August 23, 2006

Isaac Lethbridge
Isaac Lethbridge died last Wednesday. The Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office ruled he was beaten to death.

The state Department of Human Services on Tuesday shut down a private nonprofit foster care program that had placed a 2-year-old boy in a Detroit home where police say he was beaten to death last week.

The program was run by the Lula Belle Stewart Center in Detroit, which worked with more than 80 licensed foster homes and supervised nearly 150 abused and neglected children who are wards of the court, the center's interim director Janet Burch said last week. She did not return calls Tuesday.

State social service workers began visiting each of the Stewart Center's foster homes on Tuesday to check on foster children and to inform foster parents that their licenses were being temporarily assigned to the DHS, meaning the department will supervise those homes for now, said DHS spokeswoman Maureen Sorbet.

The DHS summarily suspended the Stewart Center's child-placing license and said it will seek to permanently revoke it.

The shutdown came less than a week after 2-year-old Isaac Lethbridge stopped breathing in the home of licensed foster parent Charlise Rogers, a single mother and retired autoworker who has been a foster parent for nine years. Isaac died during emergency treatment at Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit last Wednesday.

The Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office said Isaac was beaten with a blunt object or a fist. Detroit police, who are investigating, did not return numerous calls for comment Tuesday.

Sorbet said she could not comment on the investigation into Isaac's death.

"While we can't go into the specifics of the child protective services information, any time that there's something like this going on and the safety of children in licensed foster homes is questioned, then licensing has to move immediately to investigate and take appropriate action, which they did," Sorbet said.

Court records indicate that Isaac's 4-year-old sister may have been abused in the same home. She has been moved into a foster home in Washtenaw County where her younger sister was already living.

At an emergency Wayne County Family Court hearing Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Yasmin Abdul-Karim began by offering her sympathy to Isaac's parents, Matthew and Jennifer Lethbridge, who now live in Whitmore Lake. Then she told the parents -- who lost custody of Isaac and his 4-year-old sister last September -- that the DHS would soon ask a judge to terminate their parental rights altogether for the 4-year-old.

Two Washtenaw County judges already have terminated the Lethbridge's parental rights to their six older children who later were adopted by foster parents. The oldest of their children, Ashleigh Lethbridge, died of natural causes in her adoptive home in February at age 12. Court records said Ashleigh was born blind and had mental retardation as well as muscle and nerve conditions.

The Lethbridge children began entering foster care in 1997 and the parental rights for the older six were terminated because of environmental and medical neglect and the parents' failure to fix the problems that led to the children's removal from their home, according to court records.

The youngest girl remains a temporary ward of the court in Washtenaw County.

Attorneys assigned by the court to represent the Lethbridges asked Wayne County Family Court Judge Leslie Kim Smith on Tuesday to delay the hearing so they could subpoena Isaac's foster care case worker at the Stewart Center. Smith postponed the hearing until Aug. 31 to decide whether the case should be transferred to Washtenaw County and whether to accept the DHS' petition to terminate the couple's parental rights to the 4-year-old.

The Lethbridges left the courtroom in tears.

"My child was killed and now they want to kill my family," a distraught Matthew Lethbridge said after the hearing. "How is this protecting kids?"

The Lethbridges have hired the law firm of Geoffrey Fieger to sue the agencies, social service workers and foster parents involved in Isaac's death.

Detroit Free Press

Addendum: Social workers routinely tolerate higher levels of abuse from foster parents than from real parents. In this case, that led to the death of their ward.



Workers could have saved boy

Center didn't report bruises before child died, state finds

Detroit Free Press, BY JACK KRESNAK, FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER, August 29, 2006

Isaac Lethbridge
Isaac Lethbridge died Aug. 16 of a beating. Police have not named a suspect in the 2-year-old's death.

Just 12 days before 2-year-old Isaac Lethbridge died of a beating in a Detroit foster home, two social services workers let his foster mother keep the boy despite noting that he was covered with "greenish, blue and black" bruises and had two black eyes.

The foster mother, Charlise Adams-Rogers, told the workers at the Lula Belle Stewart Center that Isaac had been injured during a visit with his biological parents at a McDonald's restaurant on July 21, even though the child's case manager had supervised the visit and reported seeing no such thing.

Nevertheless, according to a state licensing report obtained Monday by the Free Press, the workers sent the child back home with Adams-Rogers on Aug. 4 and failed to report Isaac's suspected abuse to Child Protective Services as required by law.

By the time a Stewart Center licensing worker went to the Adams-Rogers' home on Aug. 9, two days after hearing about Isaac's bruises, she reported that she "did not see any marks other than a light bruise on his forehead," according to the state report prompted by Isaac's violent death nearly two weeks ago.

Wayne County medical examiners say Isaac died of blunt-force injuries to his head and body on Aug. 16. His clavicle also was broken. Detroit police have not identified a suspect in his death.

Adams-Rogers, who declined comment Monday, told the Free Press on Friday that Isaac was put down for a nap at 4 p.m. Aug. 16 and was found unresponsive 45 minutes later. She said there were nine people in the home at the time and she did not know what happened.

The report prepared by the Office of Child and Adult Licensing, a division of the Michigan Department of Human Services, lists several failures by the private, nonprofit Stewart Center to report and investigate child maltreatment in the Adams-Rogers foster home.

Janet Burch, interim chief administrator for the Stewart Center since Aug. 1, did not return several phone calls Monday.

The center's child-placing agency license was suspended by the DHS last week, based on the details in the licensing report. A hearing on the DHS request to revoke the center's license is set for Sept. 19 in Detroit.

DHS spokeswoman Maureen Sorbet said Monday she could not comment because of the ongoing investigations.

Last Friday, after a juvenile court hearing for her two adopted daughters, ages 1 1/2 and 12, who were removed from her care, Adams-Rogers denied abusing Isaac and again blamed Isaac's father, Matt Lethbridge, for dropping the boy on his head during his July 21 supervised visit.

Matt Lethbridge said Monday that Isaac fell while in the McDonald's play area but did not hurt his head.

Adams-Rogers' attorney, Marc Shreeman, said last week that his client had passed a privately arranged lie detector test and is telling the truth when she says she doesn't know what happened to Isaac on Aug. 16.

However, the licensing report provides disturbing details about the apparent lax supervision of Adams-Rogers' foster home by the Stewart Center and raises questions about why Isaac and his 4-year-old sister were placed in the home.

Though the home has only three bedrooms -- and just two are available for children -- Adams-Rogers' foster care license with the center since 2002 allowed her to operate a foster family group home with a capacity for six children, according to the licensing report.

The Stewart Center's records indicate that placing medically fragile children or children with emotional disorders in Adams-Rogers' home "would not be appropriate." Yet earlier this year, Adams-Rogers adopted two of her foster children -- biological sisters ages 18 and 12 -- each of whom has behavioral and emotional problems, Wayne County Family Court records show.

The records describe the 12-year-old as having "aggressive behavior, both physically and verbally." The girl takes three medications to control her attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, the court records said.

On Sept. 17, 2004, Stewart Center workers also placed a 13-year-old foster child, a girl with cerebral palsy who had a history of being sexually abused, in Adams-Rogers' home.

Adams-Rogers later told the agency that the 13-year-old had been diagnosed with leukemia, scoliosis and arthritis, and had been prescribed several medications and was to be treated at a hospital twice a month.

Yet, the Stewart Center could produce no documentation that any of those diagnoses or treatments ever occurred, according to the licensing report.

On April 4, 2006, the report said, the now-15-year-old girl left Adams-Rogers' home and went to the Stewart Center on West McNichols -- about 1.5 miles away -- to report abuse. She told workers that Rogers had whipped her 12-year-old adopted daughter and said she was afraid to go back, the report said.

A center worker then called Adams-Rogers by phone, the report said, and Adams-Rogers denied abusing her adopted daughter but refused to come to the agency to pick up the 15-year-old.

The report said the center's workers "instructed the 15-year-old foster child to walk back to" Adams-Rogers' home alone.

No one at the agency reported the incident to Child Protective Services as required by law, the report said.

Detroit Free Press