Baby born on drugs, quick case closure spark DeWine to review agency

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. (Karl Kuntz/Columbus Dispatch/TNS)

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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. (Karl Kuntz/Columbus Dispatch/TNS)

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s ordered a review of how Montgomery County Children Services handles abuse and neglect cases after he learned the local agency closed the case of a baby born with marijuana in its system after only 12 days and without talking to both parents, DeWine said Friday.

Information on how the case was handled reached the governor late Wednesday, he said, along with news of the infant’s death.

RELATED: Deaths of infant, Takoda Collins prompt DeWine to order review of county child welfare cases

DeWine said he saw similarities with the death in December of 10-year-old Takoda Collins after what police say was a period of abuse: both cases were handled using a softer “alternative response” approach, were closed quickly and after talking to only one parent.

Children Services case file are confidential, said Kevin Lavoie, spokesman for the county agency.

RELATED: Coroner: Dayton 2-month-old suffered skull, rib fractures

“So we can’t respond with any specifics of this case,” he said. “Alternative response and traditional response cases close at varying rates depending upon the circumstances of the case.”

DeWine ordered the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to work with Montgomery County to conduct a review of the last six months of alternative response cases. Children Services officials say there were 1,236 such cases between Aug. 25, 2019, and Feb. 25, 2020.

Timeline: The tragic life and death of Takoda Collins

“We need to look at each one of these to determine if the mistakes we saw in the two tragic deaths— were these same mistakes repeated in any of the other ones? And if they were, then Children Services needs to go out and reopen the cases and at least do the interviews and make sure the child is in a safe position,” DeWine said.

DeWine’s office said this week that Collins’ death in December was 19 months after his alternative response case was closed by Montgomery County. Dayton Public Schools officials say workers there reported suspected abuse and neglect of Takoda 15 times over several years. The last time was May 2018, when a school employee and Children Services worker asked a Dayton police officer to check on Takoda but the officer found no one home.

The identity of the second child DeWine referenced isn’t known.

RELATED: Agencies meant to keep abused boy alive rarely spoke

State officials say Montgomery County has reported four fatalities to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services this year related to possible child abuse or neglect. The coroner’s office has deemed one of those cases a homicide: a two-month old who died in February from blunt force trauma. That case is still under investigation and no one has been charged.

Alternative response is supposed to be used when reports to Children Services do not allege serious harm. The alternative response doesn’t involve the courts or include substantiating the allegation. Instead staff members provide services to the family and a safety assessment.

Children services agencies also can open a traditional investigation, which leads to official findings, a case plan and possibly court intervention.

A Dayton Daily News investigation earlier this month found that most Montgomery County Children Services cases that are opened are handled as alternative response. Our investigation found the local agency fell short in state reviews of meeting standards for both alternative response and traditional response cases.

RELATED: County children services fail state standards as abuse claims rise

Of the 10,450 reports of possible abuse or neglect received in 2019, 3,782 led to an agency investigation. Most of these — 2,036 — were handled as alternative response cases.

Data provided by Children Services shows a reduction in Alternative Response cases from 2,440 in 2015 to 2,036 last year. Total investigations grew during these years.

The decision about whether to screen in a case and designate it alternative response or traditional investigation falls to agency supervisors and is guided by state law, according to Montgomery County officials.