System Failed Infant Who Died In DCF Worker's Foster Care, Report Says

Relates to:
Date: 2009-05-06

The Hartford Courant

The system meant to protect 7-month-old Michael Brown Jr., who died last year while in the foster care of a DCF worker, failed him in multiple ways, according to a review of the child's death released Wednesday.

Although his foster mother, Suzanne Listro, had twice been the subject of unsubstantiated DCF investigations into allegations that she abused her 3-year-old adopted son, the DCF workers responsible for determining if Listro was qualified to be a foster parent were not aware of them because Listro was a DCF employee and cases involving her were kept out of the agency's computer system.

The review also found that the licensing process for the foster home failed to assess "powerful indicators" for successful fostering, such as support networks and the potential foster parent's ability to maintain enduring friendships. And the foster parent training didn't follow all of the prescribed curriculum.

The review also found that investigations into abuse and neglect by DCF employees fell below standards -- something state Child Advocate Jeannie Milstein said was not unique to Listro or department employees.

"It was just a substandard investigation," state Child Advocate Jeannie Milstein said. "But we see that more often than we'd like to see in other cases as well."

Listro, 43, was charged with first-degree manslaughter and risk of injury to a minor in connection with Michael's death last May, just a week after he was placed in her care. She has pleaded not guilty. Listro has been dismissed from DCF.

Michael's death prompted changes at the agency, including some recommended by the review, conducted by representatives from DCF, the Child Welfare League of America and the Office of the Child Advocate.

"The death of Michael badly shook the department and me personally," DCF Commissioner Susan I. Hamilton said in a written statement. "While several notable reforms have been implemented, I am determined that we learn everything we can so we can continue to improve the safety and well-being of children in foster care."

Milstein praised the recommendations, but noted that some of them -- including putting reports about DCF workers into the electronic database used by investigators -- had been recommended by her office years ago.

"It took a tragedy to get that implemented," she said.

And Milstein said there is more to be done, including in ensuring the quality of investigations


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