Wednesday, February 22, 2012

DFCS acknowledges wrongdoing in child's death

By Craig Schneider

State child protection officials acknowledged Tuesday that they failed to properly watch over a 4-year-old Fulton County boy who died Feb. 6 of head injuries in a case that has been ruled a homicide.

The state Division of Family and Children Services had an open case on the family of Nasir Patrick, but there was confusion about which worker was to visit the home, said Acting DFCS Deputy Director Kathy Herren. Consequently no workers made a documented visit there in nearly two months before Nasir was injured on Jan. 25.

“We were remiss in visiting the child,” Herren told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday.

DFCS fired three employees after the boy died. The Fulton County Medical Examiner declared the death a homicide Tuesday, finding that Nasir died of delayed complications from blunt force head trauma. The Atlanta Police Department is investigating, but no arrests have been made.

Nasir’s mother, Yakerra Patrick, declined to comment when contacted by phone by an AJC reporter.

Nasir’s aunt, Mary Sewell of Coweta County, blasted DFCS for failing in its responsibility.

“He did not have to die,” Sewell said. “I blame them for not following up.”

Nasir’s death came to light through a joint investigation by the AJC and Channel 2 Action News. It was among 35 deaths in the past ten weeks of children whose families have a DFCS history.

The Patrick family came to the attention of DFCS in 2008, with allegations of neglect and inadequate supervision in 2008 and 2009. The agency could not substantiate those complaints, and the inquiries were quickly closed, according to DFCS records obtained by the AJC through the state Open Records Law.

Then, in August, Nasir and his younger sister were removed from the home after the little girl suffered a broken leg. The mother's boyfriend told investigators the injury occurred when the girl got her leg stuck between the bars of her crib.

But the doctor who examined the girl said that story did not wash, and DFCS classified the case as an instance of abuse. The girl was placed in DFCS custody and Nasir went to live with a relative.

DFCS officials say they asked the Atlanta police several times to look deeper into this girl's injury, but the department declined.

Atlanta Police spokesman Carlos Campos told the AJC Tuesday that police thoroughly investigated the girl's injuries at the time and found no evidence to support criminal charges.

In December, DFCS returned Nasir's sister to the home after a judge issued a protective order stipulating that some adult -- the name is redacted from the case file provided to the AJC -- would have no contact with her. At that point, Herren said, the case was supposed to be transferred from one caseworker to another, but each thought the other was monitoring the family.

At some point, the relative with whom Nasir was living returned him to his mother's home, without alerting DFCS. It is not clear whether DFCS workers ever discovered that he was living there.

The agency made no visits that documented the children's well-being between Dec. 9 and Jan. 25, when Nasir was injured. Caseworkers are supposed to visit families at least once a month. The DFCS record notes that a worker made a visit on Dec. 21 to deliver Christmas presents, but did not document that the children were seen.

Nasir was admitted to Scottish Rite children’s hospital Jan. 25 and diagnosed with a skull fracture. According to the police report, his mother told hospital staff that she had left Nasir with her boyfriend while she went to work. She said the boyfriend called her at work to say Nasir had suffered a seizure and fallen to the ground, striking his head on a toy truck.

Again, doctors said the injuries were not consistent with that explanation, and the case was turned over to the Atlanta police.

Herren said DFCS has been reviewing problems with internal communication for the past year, ever since its parent agency, the Department of Human Services, was put under the direction of a new commissioner, Clyde Reese. She said the handling of the Patrick case is being scrutinized and that the lessons learned will be communicated across the agency.

That’s small comfort to advocates who have monitored the agency for years.

“It’s a tragedy whenever people responsible for keeping children safe don’t do what they’re supposed to do,” said Normer Adams, executive director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children.

Sewell said her nephew's death should sound alarm bells throughout DFCS.

"This should be a wake up call for all DFCS workers," she said.

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