Child-abuse, neglect deaths in Illinois remain high in DCFS-involved cases

January 20, 2014

By: Chris Fusco and Tony Arnold

Lamar Hayslett

Enoch A. Hayslett brought his 1-month-old son to a hospital emergency room in December 2008, saying the baby was constipated.

Instead, doctors found the infant had a broken femur — an injury Hayslett and the child’s mother couldn’t explain. So the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services took protective custody of the baby and his two older siblings, and a Cook County judge ordered that all three children be placed in foster care.

Also read: DCFS-involved abuse and neglect deaths: 61 children, 61 stories

Hayslett and their mother went on to have more children: a daughter, another son, then twin boys — all of whom lived with the couple in the south suburbs as they sought to regain custody of the three older children.

During that time, DCFS twice investigated complaints that Hayslett was abusing his children but found the allegations not credible, records show.

Then — a month after a child-protection investigator closed the second case — the 5-foot-10, 280-pound Hayslett was charged with beating one of his twin sons to death. The 20-pound boy’s skull was fractured, and he had multiple bruises.

Authorities said Hayslett also abused the other twin and their toddler brother, too.

They arrested the Lynwood man in December 2012 and charged him with first-degree murder, among other charges.

Last Father’s Day, Hayslett hanged himself at the Cook County Jail.

His 8-month-old son Lamar Hayslett was among 27 Illinois children to die from abuse or neglect in DCFS’ last reporting year after they or their families already had been involved with the agency, a Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ examination of newly released records from the DCFS inspector general's office has found. Five more cases were under investigation, those records show.

On Wednesday, the head of child-death investigations for DCFS Inspector General Denise Kane said that one of those five pending cases has now been determined not to have involved abuse or neglect. A second case remains under investigation, but not for abuse or neglect.

Still, the number of DCFS-involved abuse or neglect deaths could reach 30 for the third year in a row.

In the 2010 reporting year, there were 15 abuse or neglect deaths in which DCFS had had some involvement with the family within a year of the death, according to a Sun-Times and WBEZ investigation published in November.

Chris Fusco is a Chicago Sun-Times staff reporter. Follow him @fuscochris. Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.

 

The spike in deaths to 34 in 2011, 34 in 2012 and 27 or more in 2013 has sounded alarms with state lawmakers and some child advocates, who say the agency and the private contractors it hires to monitor child safety aren’t doing the job they should.

DCFS officials dispute that. They say the increase in reported deaths is largely the result of a policy change in late 2011, when the agency started pressing its investigators to discipline parents whose children had died as a result of unsafe sleeping conditions.

Still, in response to the Sun-Times/WBEZ reports, DCFS’ acting director, Denise Gonzales, ordered a review of all child deaths resulting from abuse or neglect between 2009 and 2013. That review revealed errors in the department’s tracking of how many children statewide died from abuse or neglect, finding that 11 more children had died in that time than the agency had reported.

Of the 27 DCFS-involved abuse or neglect deaths reported for the 12 months ending June 30, 2013, 12 were caused by abuse and 15 by neglect, according to the Sun-Times/WBEZ examination of DCFS inspector general records.

Of the neglect deaths, 11 involved infants smothered or suffocated after being placed in dangerous sleeping conditions.

In many of those cases, the children died even though their caregivers had been trained on safe-sleep practices, records show. They included a 3-month-old girl who died after sleeping on a mattress with her father, who “tested positive for cocaine, marijuana and prescribed benzodiazepines,” according to the inspector general’s case summary. A caseworker had provided the mother with a Pack ’n Play portable crib and saw the baby with the mother in August and October 2012. The baby died the following month.

Among the 12 abuse deaths:

● A 14-year-old autistic boy, Alex Spourdalakis, of River Grove, was found stabbed to death in his bed in June 2013. His 50-year-old mother and 44-year-old live-in caretaker lay unconscious next to him, “having taken pills” and “leaving a letter explaining their actions.” DCFS had opened a neglect investigation into his mother six months earlier but found the allegations not credible. The mother and caretaker survived and are now charged with murder.

● A 5-month-old girl, Angelina Rodriguez, of Chicago’s Far North Side, died in April 2013, four days after being hospitalized with a skull fracture and severe brain swelling. Her parents both were charged with murder after her father admitted suffocating her. Three months before Angelina died, school officials called DCFS’ hotline to report her 6-year-old brother had “marks and bruises on his face, neck and arms and after getting sick, he expressed fear of going home early.” DCFS cleared the parents of wrongdoing because the child later told an investigator the marks were made by his 2-year-old brother.

● In a case of the death of a child whose teenage mother had been an abuse victim, 3-week-old Emonie Beasley-Brown was killed in August 2012 when her mother ran away from her South Side home, taking the baby to her boyfriend’s house. When the police showed up, the mother hid in a crawlspace with the baby and her boyfriend’s mother, who placed her hands over Emonie’s mouth to keep her from crying. Emonie died two days later as a result of suffocation. Emonie’s teenage mother was convicted of endangering the life and health of a child and sentenced to five years of probation. Her boyfriend’s mother was convicted of the same charge and sentenced to four years in prison.

In January 2012, DCFS had determined that Emonie’s mother had been abused earlier that month by her 17-year-old brother, who was a ward of the state.

DCFS officials point out that they have some level of involvement with about 60,000 families a year. And other child-welfare experts caution the agency shouldn’t be judged solely on the fraction of children who die while they or their families are being monitored or under investigation by the agency.

Still, acting DCFS chief Gonzales says she’s convened “a team to read every case and tell me what happened. . . . What were the conditions that brought us to that child’s death? Was there substance abuse involved? Was there domestic violence involved? Was this just a tired mom with her infant?”

In the case of Lamar Hayslett, Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris says there were “missed opportunities” to stop the abuse. Besides the two abuse investigations against Enoch Hayslett that DCFS closed without finding wrongdoing, a Cook County judge was told in August 2011 of allegations that Hayslett had abused the three older children in foster care.

The judge left it to a private agency, Lutheran Social Services, to determine whether the parents should continue to have unsupervised visits with those kids. Those visits were temporarily suspended and then resumed, leading to more allegations from one of Hayslett’s children that he was abusing them — complaints DCFS deemed not credible the month before Lamar died.

A DCFS spokeswoman says agency Inspector General Denise Kane “is conducting a full investigation of this case” and that officials “cannot comment further pending that review.”

Says Harris: “The fact that there was a hotline call that was made just three months before Lamar died, in and of itself, which subsequently was ‘unfounded’ a month before he died, is definitely troubling to me, and I question some of the investigator’s work in terms of responding to the hotline call.

“I don’t just want to say ‘If the caseworkers were doing their jobs.’ But if they had kept their eyes open to all of these multiple factors, maybe there could have been — maybe Lamar wouldn’t have had to have died.”