Press one of the expand buttons to see the full text of an article. Later press collapse to revert to the original form. The buttons below expand or collapse all articles.
July 19, 2008 permalink
On May 19, seven-month-old Michael Anthony Brown Jr died in the Mansfield Connecticut foster home of Suzanne Listro. Initial reports said he fell out of bed.
Investigators do not believe the story of the fall, and Listro has been criminally charged. The agency claims it is implementing policy changes to prevent such incidents in the future. They are doing nothing of the sort. They are following the child protection script, brought out in all cases of public failure by social services. Don't expect any real improvements. We include a cartoon published in the Hartford Courant following the death of three-year-old Alex Boucher on September 25, 2000. Things never really change.
Agency Worker Arrested; Investigation Reveals Past Allegations
DCF Worker Charged In Death Of Infant
By MATT BURGARD And HILDA MUÑOZ, Courant Staff Writers, July 18, 2008
A state Department of Children and Families employee who appeared in court Thursday to face charges that include manslaughter in the death of her 7-month-old foster child had been investigated twice by DCF since 2006 in response to allegations she had abused her adopted 3-year-old son. In each instance, the allegations were found to be unsubstantiated by DCF investigations, which the head of the agency described Thursday as "substandard and unacceptable."
Commissioner Susan I. Hamilton said one of the DCF investigators who looked into the abuse allegations against Suzanne Listro in 2006 and 2007 has been fired in the wake of the death of Listro's foster child, and a manager who supervised the investigations has been suspended without pay for 20 days. Another investigator and a senior manager are also expected to be disciplined in connection with the earlier abuse complaints, Hamilton said.
"As commissioner of this agency, I not only feel the enormity of the loss but have the responsibility to do something about it," Hamilton said Thursday at a press conference at DCF headquarters. "The death of any child for any reason is difficult to comprehend, but when it happens at the hands of someone who has been entrusted with their care by the state, it is an unspeakable and unacceptable tragedy."
Listro, 42, a 15-year DCF employee who was granted a license to be a foster parent earlier this year, was arrested by state police Wednesday night at her home in Mansfield in connection with the May 19 death of the 7-month-old boy who had been placed in her care for a week before he died.
Listro appeared Thursday at Superior Court in Rockville to face charges of first-degree manslaughter and risk of injury to a minor.
Her bail was set at $1 million, and she is to return to court on July 25.
According to the arrest warrant affidavit, Listro told investigators that the infant, identified as Michael Brown Jr., fell off a bed in a bedroom of her Mansfield home while she was ejecting a video and turning off her TV.
When she turned around, she saw the baby lying on his back on the floor, his eyes shut tight as if wincing, the affidavit says.
When Listro picked the boy up, he cried for a moment and then went limp, the affidavit says. Listro told investigators she tried unsuccessfully to revive the baby then called 911. The baby was taken by ambulance to Windham Community Memorial Hospital in Willimantic and then by Life Star helicopter to Hartford Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the affidavit says.
The prosecutor in the case, Matthew C. Gedansky, told Judge Patricia Harleston that Listro's story was not consistent with the baby's head injuries.
"The defendant's explanation for the victim's injuries are inconsistent and ... somewhat unbelievable," he said.
Hamilton said the agency granted Listro a foster care license in February in part because the agency's licensing division was unaware of the previous abuse complaints against her. The commissioner said that because those allegations had been found to be unsubstantiated, they were never included in the agency's computerized registry of child abuse and neglect. Instead, she said, details of the allegations were kept on file only in hard-copy form, and therefore the agency's foster care licensing division never saw them.
After the death of Listro's foster child, the agency launched a more intensive review into her history with the agency, and the files about the allegations involving Listro surfaced, Hamilton said. When she learned of the allegations that Listro had abused her adopted son, now 3, it became clear that the investigators who looked into the allegations had not been thorough enough to make a definitive finding either way.
"It is unclear whether those allegations would have been substantiated if a more thorough investigation had been completed," Hamilton said, adding that investigators failed to question several key witnesses, such as day-care providers, who might have been able to provide insight into the allegations.
The 3-year-old, now in DCF custody, was adopted through an international agency that also checked Listro's background, Hamilton said.
Along with the discipline imposed on the investigators and their supervisors, Hamilton said she has called for several other steps to make sure abuse investigations are conducted more thoroughly and to make sure licensing officials have access to all background information before granting foster care licenses in the future.
Hamilton said she has placed the special investigations unit that looked into the earlier abuse allegations under new management while ordering a complete overhaul for the unit, including retraining for all staff on the proper conduct of investigations.
In the meantime, she said, she has ordered her chief of staff to review all recent unsubstantiated investigations, as well as cases that have been substantiated but with recommendations that the case be closed, to make sure they were conducted properly.
To prevent background information from slipping through the cracks, Hamilton said, she has ordered all future abuse investigations, substantiated or not, to be entered into the agency's database and to cease keeping unsubstantiated files in hard-copy form.
She said she has also ordered a review of all DCF employees who have been granted foster care licenses to make sure they were granted properly.
The agency, which employs more than 3,400 people, has 28 employees who are licensed foster parents, as well as 15 who are in the process of obtaining a license, she said.
To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, the agency will also begin outsourcing all applications for foster care licenses involving DCF employees to a private contractor by Oct. 1, Hamilton said.
Lastly, the commissioner said, she has asked the Child Welfare League of America to conduct an independent, comprehensive review of the Listro case to identify any other systemic problems or possible solutions.
"I want to again stress that I and the entire department are responding as fully as we can to this tragic loss," Hamilton said.
Jeanne Milstein, the state's child advocate, said she welcomed the steps the commissioner outlined to address shortcomings within the agency.
But she leveled a withering criticism against the agency's record of reacting to tragedies instead of ensuring they don't happen at all.
"I am deeply troubled by the repeated, fatally flawed responses by DCF to a child's death," Milstein said. "Aggressively reviewing and upholding quality care should be common sense and commonplace."
Hamilton said the agency is now in the process of terminating Listro from her job at DCF.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Michael Brown Sr. said he is still struggling with the loss of his son.
"It's been hell, losing our son and ... the way he died," Brown said after Listro's court appearance Thursday. "She's supposed to be a foster parent and that's hard to swallow."
Contact Matt Burgard at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Source: The Hartford Courant