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Tampa Police Investigating Baby’s Death as Homicide

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(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The death of an 8-month-old disabled child last month is being treated as a homicide and a state investigation reveals a glaring failure by caseworkers to monitor the baby and his twin brother while under the care of their unstable mother.

A friend called Tampa police in a panic in December after waking up to find that Gabrielle Crawford wasn’t breathing. The child’s mother tried CPR, but it was too late. Gabrielle, who was born with water on the brain and used a feeding tube, also had a fractured arm and a large bruise on his face.

The 32-year-old mother’s four other children had been removed from her care because of her substance abuse, concerns about physical injury, inadequate supervision and domestic abuse, according to a report by The Department of Children and Families.

Gabrielle is the ninth child with an active case to die in the Tampa area in the past two years, the agency said.

The mother’s name has not been released, and police Friday declined to give details about their investigation. The woman did not appear to be under the influence at the time of Gabrielle’s death, but she refused to take a drug test, according to DCF. The surviving twin was removed from her care and the mother failed to show up at a court hearing about his placement the following day.

When Gabrielle and his twin brother were born premature last March, their mother was receiving court-ordered services to work on her substance abuse, mental health and parenting skills. Nearly a dozen abuse allegations against the family were reported to DCF in the past decade, according to the report.

State policy requires a caseworker to visit the home after a new baby is born into a family with an open case to make sure it is safe and enter the child’s name in the statewide database. But caseworkers didn’t do that and a judge monitoring the family didn’t even know about the twins until four months after their birth.

The state had contracted with a private company called Hillsborough Kids Inc., for case management services. It then contracted those services out to other agencies. The organization lost its multi-million dollar state contract last month after officials said they were alarmed by the nine deaths.

“We aren’t satisfied with the level of intervention and support we were providing to these families … and the overall quality of case management,” said Mike Carroll, DCF’s southwest regional director.

State officials have asked the new contractor, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, to review all 2,500 child cases by reading their files and making any necessary home visits to make sure cases are being handled correctly.

Case workers visited the twins at the hospital shortly after they were born and determined them to be high risk.

In September, the mother told caseworkers she didn’t need any therapeutic services in a meeting about reuniting with one of her other children. Gabrielle was also released that month from the nursing home where he had been and was living with his mother in special housing for mothers in crisis. But the child was not mentioned in case plans, according to DCF report. The shelter where she had been living said Gabrielle’s medical needs were too severe and she would have to live somewhere else. She moved into her own apartment, where she no longer had on-site staff to oversee her.

The report highlights poor decision making by case workers using low quality and inconsistent documentation. It was unclear from the family file whether the mother was taking her medication for mental health or being drug tested. Caseworkers visited twice in October, but the notes were bare bones. Two months later, the mother arrived at a friend’s house saying Gabrielle had been crying all day. She placed him in the bed with her and the friend. When they woke up, Gabrielle wasn’t breathing, according to the report.

“You’re really looking at a communication breakdown…and as a result nobody galvanized action in a way that should have been taken,” Carroll said.

Hillsborough Kids said several case management policies that were not followed and that the organization has performed an extensive review into the details of this case and is working with the new contractor to assist in the transition to ensure cases are being managed correctly.

The crux of DCF’s report on Gabrielle’s death echoes the same themes as several other horrific child deaths in the state in recent years.

“It does not appear that any adult was a champion for these children.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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