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New London parents file request on son's behalf to sue DCF for $20 million

New London — The parents of a toddler who suffered broken bones and starved in a Groton foster home sent notice to the state Thursday that they plan to sue the Department of Children and Families on their son's behalf for up to $20 million.

Kirsten Fauquet and John Stratzman of New London, the parents of the child, sent a request to the State Office of the Claims Commissioner on Nov. 10 on behalf of their son. Any monies awarded in an eventual lawsuit would not go to the parents but be placed in an account for the child and overseen by the probate court. New London attorney Shelley L. Graves mailed the claim on the family's behalf and said it should be received Monday or Tuesday.

The family needs permission from the Office of the Claims Commissioner to sue because the state, unlike an ordinary citizen, is immune from liability and from suit unless the office determines otherwise.  If the claims commissioner finds that the state's actions — in this case, the actions of the Department of Children and Families — led to the child's injuries and the state would be held liable if it were an individual, the commission would grant permission to sue and the case would proceed through the court system.

"The job of DCF is to protect children, and their conduct in their case, frankly, was shameful," Graves said Monday. 

DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt on Monday referred a question about the suit to the Attorney General's office. A spokeswoman for the attorney general, Jaclyn Falkowski, said, "We would decline to comment."

The Office of the Child Advocate released an investigation in October that found that DCF placed the child, whom it refers to as "Baby Dylan," in an unlicensed foster home with a relative, despite information that the relative had a previous substantiation for neglect of her own child, her husband had a criminal conviction for drug possession and assault and the couple had no employment income, suspended driver's licenses and chronic health issues. The agency then left the boy with the couple for five months despite growing concerns about their ability to care for him, the claim said.

The foster mother, Crystal Magee, was charged in February with risk of injury to a minor and cruelty to persons in connection with Baby Dylan's case. Three DCF workers were disciplined in the case.

The 18-page claim offers new details about the timing and extent of the child's injuries, as well as the actions of department employees as concerns escalated about his well-being in the foster home.

The boy was so ill when he was eventually removed from the home and brought to a local emergency room on Nov. 11, 2015, that he was admitted to Connecticut Children's Medical Center for 12 days, the claim said. He had a swollen upper arm because of a fractured elbow that had likely broken two to three weeks earlier, the claim said.  His other arm was also swollen due to a break and the forearm had likely broken six weeks earlier, the claim said.

The child also had bleeding of the brain and a hemorrhage of one eye, because of a traumatic head injury that likely happened two weeks earlier, the claim said. He was emaciated, with a swollen face and feet and balding on the back of his head from lying on his back for so long, the claim said. He had bruises on his elbow, abdomen, cheek, a burn mark on his forearm, and abrasions on his face, lip, and elsewhere on his body.

The state broke its own regulations by placing the child in an unlicensed home and failing to remove the child from the foster parents, "when DCF knew or should have known that they were not physically, intellectually and emotionally capable of providing care, guidance and supervision" of the child, the claim said.

Concerns about the foster home began almost immediately after the boy was placed with the Magees on June 12, 2015, when he was 13 months old, the claim indicated.

A family support worker who knew the Magees told DCF on June 22 that she felt caring for the toddler would be too much for Crystal Magee, the claim said. 

On July 15, Fauquet and Stratzman went, in person, to the DCF Ombudsman's office, saying they were concerned about their child and that he suddenly had an eating problem but hadn't been to a pediatrician, the claim said.

The ombudsman's office told the regional DCF office about the parents' concerns, but the office did nothing and the caseworker didn't visit the child for another two weeks, the claim said.

A DCF supervisor wrote an email to the caseworker after the ombudsman's inquiry, reminding him he was doing a nice job and to "keep up the good work" even though the "case is a pain," the claim said.

During the child's time with the Magees, the foster parents canceled appointments, refused to let workers inside or did not return calls. 

On July 30, the DCF special investigations unit started looking into allegations of substance abuse by Crystal Magee, the claim said. The special investigations and licensing units jointly recommended she consult with a substance abuse specialist and undergo a drug test, but she later refused the drug testing and it never occurred, the claim said.

The same week, on July 31, the program manager for DCF Child Protective Services emailed colleagues that Magee was going to different agencies saying DCF hadn't helped her and she needed more financial help or supplies, even though DCF had just given her two debit cards totaling $335 within ten days of the child's placement, the claim said.

The following month, on Aug. 14, a licensed worker visited the Magee home and observed the child "to appear sickly," according to the claim. But the employee didn't document it in the record or say anything about her concern to DCF, the claim said.

Then on Sept. 1, the DCF licensing unit emailed the caseworker, asking him to write a letter about the benefits of the child being in the Magee home. "The licensing unit advised the letter was needed because of Crystal Magee's prior substantiation for neglect, and that the commissioner of DCF would read the letter, 'so make it good,'" the claim said.

Providers continued to call the agency, concerned. On Sept. 29, a caseworker visited the house and was initially turned away; later, he returned and saw the child sleeping in his portable playpen, the claim said. The caseworker hadn't seen the toddler for 43 days, and the child had been sleeping during the previous visit, the claim said.

On Nov. 10, the agency removed the child from the Magees' home because of mounting concerns.

"The DCF caseworker saw (the child on Nov. 10, 2015) at that time (the child) was awake and the caseworker picked (the child) up. Despite his obvious malnutrition and other obvious injuries as aforesaid, the DCF caseworker did not seek urgently needed medical care on (Nov. 10, 2015)," the case said. The following day, the new foster parent, a maternal aunt, brought the child to Pequot Health Center emergency room in Groton.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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