Alex Boucher editorial
April 4, 2001
As they attempt to help people, medical students are taught they must "First, do no harm," for doctors make mistakes. That credo should also apply to state agencies.
The Connecticut Department of Children and Families made a series of terrible mistakes in the case of a 3-year old named Alex Boucher -- mistakes which led to his death. That was the opinion of the Child Fatality Review Board, which investigates the deaths of all children in state custody.
Alex, who was from Hartford, had spent almost all of his short life in foster care with a family in Maine. The child had medical problems, possibly cerebral palsy, but a couple from Florida, James and Jennifer Curtis, had applied to adopt him. As it turned out, that couple had not completed the licensing process required for adoptive families, which includes a home study and FBI background check.
Nonetheless, the DCF arranged for Alex to be taken from Maine and sent to Florida with the Curtises, whom he did not know. Then, the worst possible outcome: Within just a few days, the child was dead. Suffocated after being tightly wrapped in a blanket by James Curtis, who eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Last week he was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Following her investigation, Connecticut Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein was outraged that the DCF had sent a 3-year old 1,500 miles away to live with strangers. She said Alex Boucher was treated like a "case to be processed and not a child to be nurtured."
The DCF now has new procedures in place to avoid a repeat of such mistakes, but Milstein's right. Those mistakes -- the doing of harm -- could have been avoided if the agency had only acted like the responsible parent it is mandated by law to be.