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Parents Not Notified of Child Death

March 4, 2010 permalink

After Calel Mayland Wheeler died in the care of New Jersey DYFS, they failed to notify the parents until the next court hearing. They did though find time to apply (unsuccessfully) to the court for a gag order preventing the parents from discussing the case with the press.

A DYFS lawyer told the mother: "In 22 years we have never had this happen." Here are 1384 cases in which this happened, 29 of them in New Jersey, drawn from reports in the press. And only one foster death of every twenty gets into the press.



Baby in Brick foster home suffocates; parents told in court

BRICK — A 17-month-old boy in the care of the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services suffocated overnight in his foster home, and his parents were told of the death when they went to court to try to regain custody of him.

Calel Mayland Wheeler died early Tuesday after apparently becoming trapped between the mattress of the toddler bed in which he was sleeping and the bedroom wall.

His parents, Carmen E. Cotting, 24, and Timothy J. Wheeler, 34, both of Claremont, N.H., are blaming the child welfare agency for their son's death.

"This is negligence," Wheeler said. "DYFS was negligent."

Cotting and Wheeler were scheduled to appear before state Superior Court Judge Robert A. Coogan on Tuesday morning.

"Our intention was to bring our kids home," Cotting said.

Instead, they were ushered into a room off of the courtroom and told the boy had died just hours before.

"Why weren't we called when this first happened?" Wheeler asked. "Why did they wait to tell us in court?"

Cotting says Calel and a 5-year-old son of the couple were placed in DYFS custody on Nov. 2, after she had come to New Jersey from New Hampshire but then was left homeless.

She had become embroiled in legal issues involving Carl Ray Smith, 53, of Laconia, N.H., whom Middletown police have accused of trying to pass a bad $54,000 check. Police say the check was from a closed account of Cotting's, and she had disposed of it in a Dumpster. Both are facing charges in the case. Smith is in the Monmouth County Jail in Freehold Township on $20,000 bail, and Cotting was released on a summons.

Wheeler said he was unable to take custody of the boys in November because he was in a New Hampshire jail on a simple assault charge. He was released at the end of January.

Meanwhile, the boys were placed in a foster home in Brick. Wheeler said he learned a DYFS worker recently told the foster parents to remove the boy from a crib because it was on a recall list, but a new crib was not brought into the house.

Wheeler says his 17-month-old son apparently was put to sleep with a blanket in a toddler bed Monday night. Around 6 a.m. Tuesday, the boy was found dead in that bed.

Brick Detective William Ruocco and Ocean County Prosecutor's Office Detective Thomas Tiernan handled the investigation into the child's death.

An autopsy determined the death was accidental, caused by positional asphyxia, said Prosecutor's Office Deputy Chief Michael Mohel.

He said no foul play is suspected.

Federal and state laws require DYFS to release certain information about child deaths or near-fatalities that result from child abuse or neglect, according to a news release issued by DYFS in July.

A DYFS spokeswoman declined to comment.

"Under state and federal law, only under specific circumstances can we acknowledge or discuss any involvement with a child in the child welfare system," Lauren Kidd said. "At this point, there is no comment or information we can offer."

Wheeler says he was given the same information on the boy's death by DYFS. But the parents want more answers.

"Why did they have a 17-month-old baby in a toddler's bed? And why was a 17-month-old baby alone in a room without a baby monitor? He should have been in a crib," Wheeler said, demanding answers about his son's death.

Instead, Wheeler says DYFS officials tried to get a gag order to keep him from speaking to the media.

He vowed, "Somebody is going to pay for this."

Cotting's father, who lives in in New Hampshire, was awarded temporary custody of the couple's 5-year-old son Wednesday afternoon, and the pair returned to their home state Wednesday evening to begin making arrangements for Calel's funeral. They are waiting for their youngest son to be picked up by a New Hampshire funeral home.

The couple say they are troubled by the way DYFS handled the situation.

"I knew before they told us because of the way they were acting," Cotting said in explaining the chain of events leading up to DYFS officials giving her the news.

She said a DYFS lawyer told her, before breaking the news, "In 22 years we have never had this happen."

Source: Asbury Park Press