Report on abuse got no response

Sun Staff

The latest case of fatal child abuse in Baltimore is raising another roundof questions about how the system attempts to protect children from theirabusive parents.

One-month-old twins died last week, after their 17-year-old mother - whosefirst child had been taken away because of abuse - had been allowed to leaveJohns Hopkins Hospital weeks earlier with the girls despite an effort by aconcerned hospital social worker to find information about her past.

The call to Child Protective Services apparently failed to produceinformation about either the prior case of abuse or the outstanding warrantfor the young mother for running away from her foster home. A month later, theteen-ager and her boyfriend were charged with murder for allegedly breakingthe twins' skulls and ribs.

A spokeswoman for the city Department of Social Services conceded yesterdaythat the agency could have handled the case better, and said that officialsare discussing ways to improve their computer system.

Baltimore Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson said yesterday thatrecommendations he offered more than four months ago to better protectchildren from parents with documented histories of abuse have been ignored bythe Social Services Department and the state agency that runs it.

"If these recommendations had been put in place - in particular, followingthrough with monitoring women and men who have previous abuse histories - Ithink they would absolutely prevent a significant number of child abusecases," Beilenson said. "But I can't even get a response from them."

The social services spokeswoman, Sue Fitzsimmons, said the agency had notresponded to Beilenson because the copy of his report that they received wasstamped "Draft" and was unsigned, suggesting it was not an official document.

State lawmakers said yesterday that they were appalled by the beatingdeaths of Emonney and Emunnea Broadway, whose bodies were found May 11 in anabandoned Northeast Baltimore basement with no toilet or electricity.

Beilenson's Jan. 21 report, which was compiled by a panel of expertsincluding Dr. Allen Walker of Johns Hopkins Hospital, listed 18recommendations. One was: "Design measures to protect future children of aparent who has been convicted of abusing previous children."

Other recommendations were to station child abuse caseworkers in hospitals24 hours a day, scrutinize the mental health history of foster parents andguardians, improve the computer technology at the Department of SocialServices, and end the department's policy of secrecy after the death of achild.

At the time of the report's release in January, Henry Fawell, a spokesmanfor Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said the governor "would welcome thesuggestions, and they will certainly be reviewed at the departmental level, bythe Department of Human Resources."

After Beilenson heard no response for three months, Mayor Martin O'Malleywrote a follow-up letter May 3 to Christopher J. McCabe, secretary of thestate Department of Human Resources, which runs the city's social servicesagency. O'Malley asked if Beilenson's report had been ignored, saying: "I amanxious to hear your administrative team's reaction to these ideas."

Two weeks later, the department is still working on a reply to O'Malley'sletter, said Fitzsimmons. "We are in the process of responding to the mayor,and part of our response will be that we never received an official, signedcopy," Fitzsimmons said.

Children die of abuse in Maryland at a rate that exceeds the nationalaverage, according to federal statistics released last month. Much of theabuse is concentrated in Baltimore.

Sierra Swann, 17, and Nathaniel Broadway, 24, the parents of the mostrecent pair of victims, had been listed in a computer database maintained bysocial services.

The agency previously investigated allegations that the couple abused andneglected their first child, a 2-year-old girl, who was placed by the state infoster care Dec. 12.

The mother delivered the twins last month, and a social worker at JohnsHopkins Hospital was troubled enough to call social services to inquire aboutSwann's history.

The social services employee who answered the phone told the hospitalworker that there was no record of "active" child abuse cases concerningSwann, Fitzsimmons said.

The employee did not mention that Swann was in the system twice - once, asa missing foster child who had an outstanding warrant for running away; and asecond time, for when her 2-year-old had been taken away because of abuse.

The couple was allowed to leave the hospital with the newborns, and thebabies were found bludgeoned to death a month later.

Fitzsimmons acknowledged that, ideally, her agency would have prevented afoster care runaway such as Swann, who had abused a child in the past, fromleaving the hospital with twin infants.

"In an ideal world, we would know, we would show up at the hospital, makesure they get medical care and then return them to a foster home," Fitzsimmonssaid.

The state's Client Information System has a private database that allowssocial services workers to find out if someone has been involved in abuse orfoster care cases, or has received food stamps, medical assistance or otherservices.

Fitzsimmons said state officials will discuss ways to possibly improve thesystem by issuing an alert when a runaway foster child shows up at a hospitalfor care.

Norris West, a spokesman for the state Department of Human Resources, saidyesterday that the agency does not have a policy requiring social workers tocontinually monitor parents after their children have been taken away and putin foster care.

"There are almost 2,200 cases of child abuse in the city a year, and thatwould be a lot of monitoring, to monitor everyone with a history of abuse,"West said.

He added that it's doubly hard when parents like Swann try to hide fromsocial workers. "I think it's a difficult matter when there is an abusiveparent who then has children outside of your purview, and avoids the systemand goes underground to avoid case workers," said West.

Legislative leaders said yesterday they are unsure whether the case exposesa defect in the law or whether it was a case of administrative failure.

Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, chairwoman of the state Senate Education, Healthand Environmental Affairs Committee, called the handling of the case"unbelievable" and said "all the signs were there."

Hollinger, a nurse, said hospital officials should have been looking atmore than just the physical condition of the mother before releasing her andthe babies.

Sun staff reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this report.

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