ENQUIRER INVESTIGATION: Baby Brittany not only area child who perished despite open case
Sheila McLaughlin reports:
Brittany Humphries died in her crib Jan. 14, six days shy of her first birthday.
At first, investigators believed the brown-eyed, dark-haired toddler had choked on a hotdog. But an autopsy revealed Brittany’s skull was fractured, the result of blunt force trauma days before her death.Butler County Children Services was supposed to be watching over the child.
A three-month Enquirer investigation revealed that caseworkers left Brittany and her siblings with their mother’s unemployed live-in boyfriend – a 23-year-old man with a history of contacts with police that included allegations of theft, criminal damaging and heroin use. He’s now a suspect in the baby’s death, police said.
The Enquirer further learned that Brittany’s 2-year-old sister also was found to have a healing skull fracture, according to juvenile court records.
Brittany’s death under the watch of an Ohio children services agency was not an isolated event. In 2010, the latest year for which state information is available, eight children died from child abuse or neglect while children services agencies had open cases on them.
“That’s a tragedy. I know our system has really worked very hard to develop the best tools possible (to determine) safety risk,” said Crystal Ward Allen, executive of Public Children Services Association of Ohio and also a member of the state Child Fatality Review Board. “Even though our science has gotten better, nothing is predictive of human behavior totally.”
Details of Brittany’s case were pieced together with limited information from children services records, juvenile court transcripts, a report by the children services agency ombudsman, Middletown online police records, and interviews with police officials and Brittany’s grandmother, who said she asked to keep Brittany and her siblings while their mother was in jail.
Minimal information from children services is available because officials are barred by state confidentiality laws from talking about or providing records about specific allegations of abuse and neglect.
The Enquirer’s investigation revealed that children services had an open case on the family for four months when Brittany died. It also showed that caseworkers by law were supposed to make twice-monthly visits with Brittany and her siblings, including one in the home. It is unknown, because of confidentiality rules, whether those checks occurred.
A report written by the agency ombudsman also suggested that agency staff mishandled complaints by not assigning them to an intake worker.
No one has been arrested in the child’s death. (more…)