DCYF investigating another infant death in RI

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families is investigating the death of an infant in Warwick last month, though the child was not in the agency’s care at the time, WPRI.com has confirmed.

The baby girl was found “unresponsive” in a bed on March 2, according to DCYF spokeswoman Kerri White.

Warwick Police Maj. Christine Kelley said the incident was reported at 6:49 a.m., and the baby died despite being brought to Hasbro Children’s Hospital by the city’s fire department.

“The incident does not appear to be suspicious at this time,” Kelley said. “However, it’s still under investigation.” The investigation is being conducted by the police department along with the state medical examiner’s office, she said.

Kelley said police notified DCYF about the infant’s death, which is “standard protocol.” White said that under state law, “there is a duty to report a child death to DCYF where there is suspicion that the child died as a result of child abuse or neglect.”

White said the infant “was not known to DCYF prior to the notification” and the home where the child was found was not a foster home or a group home. However, she was unable to say whether the infant’s family had previously been involved with DCYF.

“We are prohibited from confirming or denying family involvement with our agency in the interest of preserving client confidentiality,” she said.

White said DCYF’s investigation into the infant’s death remains open, but a preliminary review “did not find signs of abuse or neglect” and “do not require DCYF to convene a child fatality review panel.”

Asked what would trigger such a panel, White provided this explanation:

The Department requires an immediate and thorough response to the fatality or near fatality, resulting from abuse or neglect, of a child who is under the care and supervision of the Department. The Director or designee will schedule an administrative meeting to gather all available information and review the incident.

When further investigation is necessary, a response team, which includes Department staff and community partners, is appointed to examine the circumstances surrounding the fatality or near fatality. This review enables the Department and the community to identify important issues related to child protection and take appropriate action to improve efforts to prevent child fatalities and near fatalities in the future. The Department is not alone in its responsibility to protect children; therefore, reviews and subsequent recommendations address issues of interagency collaboration, communication and decision-making. The Department may also review the fatality or near fatality, resulting from abuse or neglect, of a child who was previously under the care and supervision of the Department.

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) requires the Department to disclose the findings or information about the case of child abuse or neglect that has resulted in a child fatality or near fatality. A near fatality, as defined under CAPTA, is an act that, as certified by a physician, places the child in serious or critical condition.

DCYF’s confirmation of the investigation into the Warwick incident comes less than a week after the R.I. Office of the Child Advocate released a report criticizing the agency for its handling of five child deaths that took place in 2015. The agency laid off its chief of licensing earlier this week.

Gov. Gina Raimondo has never appointed a permanent director to run DCYF since she took office last year. Instead she has relied on Jamia McDonald, a veteran state official who is serving as the agency’s chief strategy officer. McDonald does not have the master’s in social work required to lead DCYF under state law.

In its report last month, the child advocate’s office said the deaths of six children came to its attention in 2015, and five of them were under the care of DCYF at the time. DCYF only directly reported one of those deaths to the child advocate, according to the report.

“It is unknown if this number constitutes the full number of fatalities at the department,” the report’s authors wrote in a footnote.

Separately on Thursday, the Rhode Island Senate unanimously confirmed lawyer Jennifer Griffith as the state’s new child advocate. She succeeds Regina Costa, who had held the position since 2011.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

Due to inaccurate information provided by DCYF, an earlier version of this story incorrectly said the infant was found in a crib.

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