A village too small, the death of a baby

Relates to:
Date: 2008-07-26

The Willimantic Chronicle

The death of 7-month-old Michael Brown Jr. and the subsequent arraignment of his foster mother, Suzanne Listro, on manslaughter charges is both heart-breaking and troubling.

The death of any baby is tragic. The death of a baby who represents the plight of countless other infants, children and teens in desperate need for stable, loving homes makes Michael's death even more distressing.

It is understandable that faced with a such a shortage of foster homes, the state Department of Children and Families leaped at the chance to place a baby with one of its own. Listro was a 12-year veteran of DCF and was currently working as a DCF consultant.

In hindsight, it may have been a mistake.

DCF workers overlooked danger signals when placing Michael with Listro. DCF Commissioner Susan Hamilton said after Listro's arrest that she had identified "both procedural and individual performance concerns" in regards to the check of Listro's background.

That is bureaucrat speech for overlooking two earlier investigations - one in 2006, the other in 2007 - of allegations Listro had abused her adopted son. The allegations were not substantiated at the time but Hamilton characterized that investigation last week as "substandard and unacceptable."

Even more disturbing was the revelation that complaints against DCF workers were not entered into a centralized database if the investigators found the allegations to be unsubstantiated. Maintaining a record of complaints against employees only in paper copies makes it more difficult to do background checks.

To her credit, Hamilton disciplined two workers involved in Listro's background check and ordered some immediate procedural changes. The most profound is the outsourcing of licensing checks of DCF employees. This will help ensure the same sort of arm's length review to which other prospective foster parents are subject.

The full details of this particular case will be revealed in the trial - and in the long run are not really that significant.

The significance of the death of Michael Brown Jr.

is that the village is too small, or too uncaring, to care for all its children.

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