Man: DFCS is ‘responsible’ for baby’s death

Relates to:
Date: 2008-09-21
Source: ajc.com

Man: DFCS is ‘responsible’ for baby’s death

Couple’s daughter was taken away for alleged neglect, then died in foster car

September 21, 2008
CRAIG SCHNEIDER
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Robert Scovil and Evelyn Carter met on a blind date about two years ago. He liked her “ocean blue” eyes and she made him laugh. A few months later they moved in together.

When she became pregnant, it was the first child for both. She was almost 18, had learning problems, and took medicine to control depression and schizophrenia.

Scovil, considerably older at 32, wondered whether his job driving a forklift could support a family. He started working more hours. She took parenting classes. They read books about babies together.

On Dec. 3, 2007, Jessica Scovil was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens, weighing 6 pounds and 10 ounces. The couple were delighted, and nervous. Their life as parents, though, would last less than a year.

Like many new parents, they struggled to cope with their new family responsibilities. They lived in a government-subsidized home in Jackson County, about 60 miles northeast of Atlanta.

Then one day in March, the state child welfare agency appeared at their door, responding to an anonymous complaint that Jessica was not receiving proper parenting and supervision. The person said Evelyn Carter had not bonded with her child and that baby Jessica had not been kept clean, according to agency records.

About a month later, the state removed Jessica from her home and placed her with a foster family. The couple were devastated but determined to bring their daughter home, and they earnestly began working to fulfill the state’s demands that they take parenting classes, alcohol counseling and psychological evaluations in order to get Jessica back.

They had made progress and hoped to have Jessica back this month. They were baby-proofing the house, putting plugs in electrical outlets, making sure the smoke detectors worked.

The happy reunion never arrived. Jessica died while in the care of a state-appointed foster mother.

On Sept. 2, the foster mother, Wendy Osborne, failed to realize she left Jessica in her van, according to the police report. It was a day when temperatures reached 85 degrees. Two hours passed before Osborne checked her burgundy Dodge Caravan. Jessica, one day short of 9 months old, died in her car seat. Her body temperature reached 108 degrees, the police report said.

The next morning, Carter answered a knock on the door and saw several people from the Division of Family and Children Services and the Sheriff’s Office. Their news was horrifying.

Speaking recently at their attorney’s Atlanta office, the parents talked about the grief and anger they felt after Jessica died in the care of the DFCS, an agency that is supposed to protect children.

“They are responsible for this,” Scovil said.

If the state had done its job, Carter added, “she’d be alive.”

Now they dwell both on memories and some terrible thoughts of what happened the day their daughter died.

Evelyn Carter cherishes the memory Jessica’s birth in December. “She didn’t cry much. She didn’t fuss a lot. Just a normal kid,” she said.

Scovil, though, keeps thinking about the girl’s death, a child left alone in someone else’s van on a hot day, “crying until she couldn’t breathe anymore.”

Police and DFCS investigations into the girl’s death continue. No charges have been filed. The parents believe Osborne should face criminal charges.

“Every morning I wake up and I don’t have Jessica,” Scovil said. “She took that away from me.”

The parents also believe Jessica should never have been removed from their home, and they have other issues with the foster care mother.

Jessica’s parents say Osborne was overwhelmed with five children in her household, including three foster children. They were alarmed that, according to the police report, Osborne had told police that she had taken prescription drugs before she got behind the wheel that day, which may have made her groggy.

Osborne, 29, has declined to comment, according to her attorney, Phil Pilgrim, who issued a statement saying she is “devastated and heartbroken.” He also said she did nothing criminal.

DFCS spokeswoman Dena Smith said Osborne, who also lives in Jackson County, has been a foster parent for about five years and there has been no sign of trouble with her before.

In the days prior to Jessica’s death, Scovil and Carter said, they were preparing for a court hearing on Sept. 16. Carter had completed the parenting classes and Scovil was continuing the alcohol counseling, they said. Their supervised visits with their daughter, one hour a week, were going well, according to the DFCS file on the case, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through the state Open Records Act.

One report of a July 14 visit said, “Parents very loving and positive. … Baby babbled to father especially.”

DFCS spokeswoman Smith said the couple were making progress toward getting back their daughter.

When the DFCS had removed Jessica from the parents’ home in April, the agency pointed out problems with Carter’s abilities as a parent.

“They said I had the mind of a 6-year-old and that I would never grow out of it,” she said.

Carter acknowledged that she suffers from depression, bipolar disorder and that she has bouts of schizophrenia when she is not taking her medication.

Scovil said he had problems with alcohol in the past and had two DUIs, the last one about 10 years ago. He denied a complaint made to the DFCS that he had driven drunk with Jessica in the car.

The DFCS determined that the child had been neglected and that she could be in danger of further neglect if left in the home, according to the files. The agency’s plan was to work with the parents and eventually reunify the family.

For now, Jessica’s room at her parents’ home, with its crib and rattles and toys, remains intact. The couple don’t quite know what to do with it.

The couple, who are engaged, think about the memories they have of the blue-eyed infant who liked to stick out her tongue for photos: Jessica learning to crawl, sitting up for the first time, chewing on her rattle.

And they think about the memories they had hoped to make: Taking her fishing, teaching her to swim.

Carter wants to write a poem about Jessica.

“Every time I try,” she said, “I cry.”

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