Conn. child welfare worker charged in baby's death
Associated Press Writer
HARTFORD - An employee of the state Department of Children and Families has been charged in the death of a 7-month-old foster child placed in her care, prompting the agency's leader to seek the worker's firing and announce reforms.
Suzanne Listro, 40, of Mansfield, received a foster care provider's license from DCF earlier this year, despite having been investigated twice in the past two years on allegations she abused a 3-year-old child she adopted, DCF Commissioner Susan Hamilton said. Those accusations were not substantiated.
State police charged Listro with manslaughter Wednesday in the May 19 death of Michael Brown Jr., who suffered a blunt trauma head injury at her home.
She was presented yesterday morning in Superior Court in Rockville, where a judge set bond at $1 million and ordered her to return to court on July 25.
"We don't expect her to be posting bond today," said her attorney, Matthew Potter of Manchester. He declined to comment further.
Listro told authorities that the baby fell off a bed onto the floor, went limp and stopped breathing, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. But the chief medical examiner's office said the child's injuries were not consistent with that explanation and ruled the death a homicide.
Hamilton said yesterday that she's moving to fire Listro, who has been on unpaid leave since May. Listro has been at DCF for 15 years and most recently worked as a children's services consultant.
Hamilton also said she will require an outside firm to review DCF workers who want to be foster parents beginning Oct. 1.
There are 28 DCF employees who have been licensed to be foster parents and 15 are going through the licensing process.
DCF has about 3,400 full-time workers, and they undergo the same background checks as other potential foster parents, she said.
"The death of any child for any reason is difficult to comprehend, but when it comes at the hands of someone who has been entrusted with their care by the state it is an unspeakable and unacceptable tragedy," said Hamilton, who has run the department for the last year.
Hamilton said she also plans to dismiss a DCF investigator who handled the two previous abuse probes in 2006 and 2007 involving Listro and her adopted child. She called those investigations "substandard and unacceptable."
A manager who approved both investigations will be suspended for 20 days, Hamilton said. Others who work in DCF's Special Investigations Unit are also being reviewed and further discipline could be imposed.
Because the alleged abuse was unsubstantiated, Listro's name was not listed in the automated child abuse and neglect registry when she was being investigated for a foster care license, the DCF commissioner said.
"Although it's impossible to determine whether this information would have changed the licensing decision, it's clear that it should have been easily accessible to the licensing staff," Hamilton said.
State Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein called the death of a foster child under a DCF worker's watch "an unconscionable atrocity."
She said it should not take a child's death to force officials at the troubled agency to review and investigate its practices.
"After more than eight years of experience in child fatality investigations, I am deeply troubled by the repeated, fatally flawed responses by DCF to a child's death," she said. "DCF is once again reacting to a child fatality rather than proactively addressing its systemwide failures and reforming its practices to prevent future horrific tragedies."
Milstein's agency is now involved in several investigations of DCF involving what she calls "major health and safety implications" for the agency.
"Until then, another tragedy is inevitable," Milstein said.
Hamilton said she has placed the Special Investigations Unit under new management and has directed all staff to be retrained on policies, practices and procedures. She is also requiring that all unsubstantiated reports of abuse involving DCF employees who are currently foster parents be reviewed. Many of those reports will now be added to the database.
The foster child, Michael Brown Jr., had been in Listro's home for a week before his death. It was Listro's first placement. The boy had been living in another foster home before being placed with Listro, the commissioner said.
An independent group, the Child Welfare League of America, has been asked to conduct an independent review of the case to see whether the agency should make other changes.