BY LEE ROOD • REGISTER STAFF WRITER • March 26, 2008
Iowa lawmakers and top human service officials promised to review possible holes in the state's child-welfare system in the wake of the death of a Waterloo baby whose family was being monitored by the state for more than a year.
Kevin Concannon, director of the Department of Human Services, and about a dozen lawmakers provided few additional public details after meeting behind closed doors Wednesday morning at the Statehouse.
However, they did say they were reviewing the case -- in which Antwuan Williams Jr. and two young siblings were alleged to have suffered serious abuse prior to the death -- to see if and where the system failed.
"This is the absolute worst thing that can happen," Concannon said. "
We will be trying to find out if there was any other human way we could have picked up" on the abuse.
Lawmakers requested a face-to-face meeting with Concannon after a Des Moines Sunday Register investigation detailed how child-welfare officials found Antwuan Jr's parents fit to parent again just prior to the 8-month-old's death.
Both parents were deemed responsible in a "founded" DHS report for abuse of Antwuan Jr.'s sister, Ziarah, who suffered four to six fractures in 2006, when she was just three months old. DHS recommended their parental rights be terminated because of that abuse.
Instead, a judge, prosecutors and DHS officials all agreed to send Ziarah home from state-supervised care in January, more than a year after the initial abuse report. Antwuan Jr. died Feb. 12 of "non-accidental inflicted head trauma."
The children's 22-year-old father, the sole care provider when the baby was found unresponsive at home, has been charged with first-degree murder.
"We failed this child," said Ro Foege, a Democrat who serves as co-chair of the Legislature's bipartisan health and human services subcommittee.
Still unclear is whether child-welfare officials made an error in judgment or if greater safeguards could have prevented the abuse.
Concannon said the records obtained by the Register, which were cited in the Sunday report, did not show progress made by the family before Ziarah Williams was returned home.
He said the child's court-appointed lawyer, a DHS worker and private human-service workers all considered her safe to return home after the parents cooperated with child-welfare officials and remained open to unannounced visits to their home.
"The child would not have been returned home if that were not the case," he said.
However, infants and babies, who are universally considered the most defenseless in the child-welfare system, are supposed to receive special protection by DHS under a new design of the child-welfare system begun in 2004. Federal law also allows states to permanently terminate parental rights in cases involving serious abuse of babies after just six months in state care.
The DHS and court records obtained by the Register showed all three of the Williams's children had multiple fractures, bruises and/or bite marks at the time of Antwuan Jr.'s death. The abuse occurred in spite of a host of services paid for by the state.
Waterloo baby's death prompts state review of child-welfare system DesMoinesRegister.com The Des Moines Register