August 20, 2016 – Miami Herald
by Carol Marbin Miller and David Ovalle
When Marjorie Dufrene’s hyperactive, developmentally disabled son refused to concentrate on his homework on Thanksgiving Day of 2011, she beat him with a belt so severely that he required surgery to restore vision to his left eye.
When, two months later, the boy had trouble spelling his words correctly, she beat him again with a pink belt, leaving scratches and scabs all over his face.
And when the boy spilled his mother’s juice 10 months after that, she punched him on his head. The then-6-year-old’s school called the state’s abuse hotline when the boy arrived at class with a “bloody head.”
The youngster was placed in foster care, and Dufrene had yet to regain custody of him and his younger sister when, in April 2014, the Department of Children & Families learned she was set to give birth to twins.
Whatever Dufrene’s demons, they were not yet tamed: A disabled family friend told DCF that Dufrene, homeless at the time, had commandeered his Miami apartment with an infant daughter, and terrified him into allowing her to stay.
Yet a committee of child welfare administrators who met in Broward County late that April 2014 made a fateful — and, in hindsight, inexplicable — decision: that newborn Angela Dufrene and her twin brother were safe, and should remain in their mother’s care. A follow-up visit to inspect the twins’ home was never done. Weekly or monthly visits to oversee the family weren’t ordered.
DCF walked away from Angela and her twin. And the agency never returned — until it was too late.
When those same authorities were told last month that Angela had vanished, and her mother admitted she had tossed the youngster’s remains in a North Miami-Dade McDonald’s dumpster, a DCF supervisor summed up the agency’s befuddlement this way: “It is not yet known why or how the children were overlooked.”
While the error was tragic, it was certainly not unique. A Miami Herald investigation into the deaths of about 500 Florida children whose families had a history of abuse or neglect revealed that about 20 children died after child welfare authorities allowed them to remain with parents who had lost custody of older siblings because of maltreatment. One of the babies was Diella Ludwig, and her Dec. 21, 2008, killing prompted the state to strengthen its policies toward vulnerable newborns.
Diella’s death “underscores the necessity of pre-planning for children born into active cases, including the assessment of the home environment and implementation of services to provide the family and children with the tools and resources they need to reduce any existing risk,” a post-mortem concluded. “The needs of the children must … be of paramount concern to ensure factors increasing risk are ameliorated to the fullest extent possible.” The report was written in January 2009.
Five years later, child welfare authorities in Broward County held what is called a “Ludwig staffing” to determine whether Dufrene should be allowed to leave the hospital with her twins after they were born. They had held a similar meeting in February 2013 for Angela’s older sister, who had been born only two months after Dufrene’s oldest two children had been removed. Administrators had decided they had no authority to act because the newborn herself had never been abused.
The authorities in Broward knew Dufrene had recently been in a shelter, and was on a wait list for housing. “The mother is in need of stable housing in order for her two [older] children in foster care to be reunified with her,” an April 2, 2014, case note said.
“At this time, removal is not recommended,” the report said. The notes, however, do not specify what, if anything, the family’s caseworker was expected to do to ensure the newborn twins were safe and well cared for by a mother with a lengthy history of child abuse.
No other hints of what occurred during the staffing were included in close to 2,000 pages of records the Herald reviewed of events that led up to Angela’s death. DCF now says the Attorney General’s Office, which attended the staffing, has no documents of the event, and the agency is unsure as to whether a Broward Sheriff’s Office investigator who attended took notes.
DCF’s review of Angela’s death said the privately run foster care agency ChildNet was supposed to visit Dufrene’s home to ensure she was ready to raise newborn twins. The home visit never took place. [READ MORE]