Damning report details DCF failure in near-starvation of Groton toddler

New London — The mother of a toddler who nearly died of starvation in a Groton foster home said she pleaded for help for her son but no one would listen to her.

"I feel alone," said Kirsten Fauquet, 24. "I begged people to hear me."

The Office of the Child Advocate released an investigation Tuesday that found that Department of Children and Families employees failed to protect the child, whom they call "Dylan," despite repeated warnings that something was wrong. The caseworker assigned to the child did not see him awake for 102 days, the report found. 

The mother said she plans to sue the state on behalf of her son.

The foster mother, Crystal Magee, 32, of 181 Mather Ave., Groton, was charged in February with risk of injury to a minor and cruelty to persons. Police said the child — who had been in her care for five months — was so malnourished, he couldn't walk, talk or feed himself.

DCF placed Dylan with Magee and her husband in Groton despite the agency's information that she had been the subject of multiple prior allegations of abuse and neglect, she previously had been cited with neglect of her own son, her husband had a criminal history including a prior conviction for assault, that both Magees had "health issues" and both adults' driver's licenses indefinitely were suspended, the report said.

The DCF licensing unit "utterly failed in every imaginable way to assess the safety and appropriateness of Dylan's foster home or even record its work activities," the report said.

Magee is Fauquet's cousin. Fauquet said she was worried about her son but no one would pay attention to her.

The boy had developmental delays when he was placed with the Magees, the report said, but during the five months he lived with them, he received "almost no medical follow up, almost no developmental supports and no structured child care," the report said. The child missed numerous appointments, including multiple visits with his family, the report said.

A provider who was supposed to help the boy make developmental progress called or spoke with DCF nine times between July and November 2015, often saying the foster parents had canceled appointments or would not let her into their home, the report said. On Sept. 17, she called DCF and asked a caseworker to check and make sure the boy was all right.

But the case worker didn't visit the child for another 11 days, the report said. Then, the caseworker only found that the boy was "sleeping," the report said.

On Oct. 29, the caseworker found Dylan again sleeping in a play pen, "curled up into a ball," the report said. "The caseworker wrote in his visit note that he was 'able to confirm that (Dylan) was indeed breathing,'" the report said.

The report also sheds light on the conversations among caseworkers and supervisors in the case.

At one point, caseworkers exchanged an email about Crystal Magee having called police, asking if she could get into trouble for allowing a baby to cry for a long period of time, the report said.

A supervisor wrote on July 15, 2015, "Is it possible the baby has colic? (I am being lazy, don't know how old Dylan is, but that is a possibility.)"

The caseworker replied, "He is 15 months old. I don't think he should be crying non-stop. Crystal is very difficult, she left me a long message and I understood all of about two words she said."

The supervisor wrote back, "OMG, I cannot stop laughing. (emoji smiley face). Advise her to bring him to the pediatrician, or we can look for another placement for him. Way too much drama with this family."

The report called the supervisor's remarks, including the lack of knowledge and concern, "breathtaking in its complacency."

On Nov. 10, 2015, DCF took steps to have the boy moved to a different relative's home, because concerns continued to mount.

The next day, "the new relative foster mother attempted to dress and give Dylan breakfast, looking at him for the first time in the morning light. Startled by his appearance, 'just skin and bones,' she later told doctors, she saw that Dylan's eyes were sunken in, his skin was sagging from his body and his arm looked swollen," the report said.

Doctors described the child as "significantly emaciated," the report said.

"He had loose skin on his body, his ribs were very prominent, his eyes were sunken in and his temple muscles appeared wasted. He had swelling in his face and hands. His left elbow was swollen, and he could not extend his arm completely. His right wrist was swollen and he had an old scar that appeared to be from a burn. His hair and skin were extremely dry from malnutrition and low protein, and he had developed a fine hair over his body that grows when a child is starving."

At 19 months he weighed 17 pounds, less than he weighed when seen by his pediatrician seven months earlier, the report said. Specialists at Connecticut Children's Medical Center also found broken bones in both arms, injuries that were several weeks old, as well as torn tissue under the tongue and multiple bruises.

"Doctors concluded that Dylan's extreme malnutrition and the failure to seek care for his multiple fractures constituted gross neglect, and that this pain, suffering and condition should have been obvious to caregivers," the report said.

"What happened to this baby boy is both troubling and unacceptable," Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz said through a spokesman. "Thankfully (Dylan) C. has recovered. That does not, however, diminish that our work with him did not meet our standards. It is important to note that all staff involved with (Dylan) have accepted full responsibility."

Three employees were subject to "appropriate disciplinary action" and a fourth employee retired after the department's human resources investigation, she said.

Two of the staff members involved in the case were suspended without pay for three weeks and another was suspended for four weeks, according to the Connecticut Mirror; all three are now back to work at the agency.

Elizabeth Duarte, who supervises the licensing of relatives and is a 31-year veteran of the agency, was suspended in relation to the case.

"The Department is taking all possible steps to ensure that the problems identified have been addressed, and we will continue to evaluate and adjust these actions to achieve our goal of safely maintaining children in care with kin whenever possible. In addition, the work with this family was transferred to other offices," Commissioner Katz said. She said she remains committed to placing children with family members.

The report also said that the lawyer appointed to represent "Dylan" failed to do so. Documents showed that the lawyer saw Dylan one time between June 12 and Nov. 11, 2015, during a sibling visit, did not see him in his foster home, and filed no motions in court on the child's behalf, the report said. The lawyer was not identified in the report.

The boy is one of Fauquet's five children. Four children were removed from their home due to allegations of neglect on June, 12, 2015, according to DCF documents. The department also later took custody of a fifth child, born on June 8, 2016, shortly after Fauquet gave birth, documents showed.

The department cited the family's financial problems and the mother's mental health issues among the reasons for removal in its petition of neglect to the court.

The petition said the agency had been involved with the family since 2011, and that a Norwich police officer told the department in 2011 that there was a fight between the father of one of the children and the maternal grandmother. It also cited, among its allegations, concerns raised in 2012 by a staff member at The William W. Backus Hospital that the woman's daughter was being cared for by a grandmother and uncle with mental health issues.

In 2014, a staff member at Norwich Human Services reported that the family had three children under age 3 and no housing, the affidavit said. The petition said several agencies had tried to help the family and that department and staff from three agencies "have observed the children to appear dirty and disheveled at times."

On June 11, 2015, two weeks after Fauquet delivered her fourth child, a social worker visited the woman's apartment, the petition said. The social worker "observed the home to be unsanitary with food and garbage on the floor, the sink full of dirty dishes and the children being dirty," the petition said.

The social worker saw the 2-week-old with a bottle propped up on a blanket while another child was unbuckled in a swing, the affidavit said. The mother "seemed to be disconnected and unresponsive to the children's needs," the affidavit said, adding that one child picked up food off the floor and ate it, and the mother did not intervene.

Fauquet said she'd just had a baby. She said she had four children age 4 and younger and the social worker watched her struggle. "I'd just fed my kids lunch. I was nursing. So the floor was a mess. I'd just fed three toddlers lunch and I was honestly still in pain," she said.

Fauquet said that, at the social worker's suggestion, she agreed to let the social worker take the children to a relative for the night so she could go to the doctor. She learned the next day that the department had filed an Order of Temporary Custody, she said.

The two oldest children, a 4-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy, were placed with a relative and her husband in Groton, according to a Sept. 2 letter by a social worker. The other two children were placed elsewhere, including the baby boy, who was placed with Magee.

On Dec. 27, 2015, after being unable to see her son, Fauquet expressed desperation over her children's pain in an email to her attorney. She wrote, "why do i have to keep playing dcf's games while they kill my children slowly. i had a apartment and i lost it (because) I had a hard time meeting ends (meet) when they stole my children."

Lisa Vincent, Fauquet's lawyer, said details of cases are confidential, but in general, child neglect has broad definitions.  They include that "the child is being permitted to live under conditions, circumstances or associations injurious to well-being."

A parent can make DCF prove its case at trial, but the standard of proof is lower than "beyond a reasonable doubt," as in a criminal case, Vincent said. Once a parent is charged with neglect, there are only a few ways to resolve the case: The state drops the allegations, the parent demands a trial or the parent enters a plea of no contest.

"It is almost impossible to win a child neglect case because the definition of neglect is so broad and because the standard of proof is so low," Vincent wrote in an email. Trials challenging orders of temporary custody "can be won, but are more often not won because judges err on the side of caution," she wrote.

Fauquet lives with the father of four of her children in New London, and said she is fighting to get her children back. She said she has a job and stable housing. Neither Fauquet nor the children's father has a drug issue, Vincent said.

Fauquet said her children have been traumatized by being removed from their home, bounced from foster home to foster home and separated from one another. Her son "Dylan" has been in five different foster placements, the report showed.

"I plan to be the one who will fight for them and make sure all the parties involved are held accountable," Fauquet said. "My children, especially (Dylan), deserve this justice at least."

d.straszheim@theday.com

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