Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Report: Nassau botched New Cassel mom's case

Over the course of five years, Nassau Child Protective Services repeatedly missed red flags and performed incomplete investigations into allegations against Leatrice Brewer before the New Cassel mother drowned her three children last year, a state report on the deaths said Monday.

Accusations that Brewer, 28, neglected her children on eight occasions from 2003 to 2007 were all assigned the agency's lowest risk rating, the report said, despite "repeated issues . . . such as lack of supervision, inadequate guardianship, domestic violence and substance abuse." Caseworkers failed to conduct thorough safety assessments on the children, which could have led to more urgent action, the report said.

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services report also said Brewer's mental health problems were known to CPS as far back as 2003, but she was not referred for psychiatric evaluations; two allegations of neglect against Brewer were deemed "unsubstantiated" without a full investigation; CPS failed to offer Brewer adequate help during two cases in 2007; and, two days before the children's Feb. 24 death, caseworkers did too little to find Brewer after a report she was threatening to harm the children.

Brewer killed her children - stabbing Jewell Ward, 6, before drowning Michael Demesyeux, 5, and Innocent Demesyeux, 18 months - "to protect them from evil spirits," the report quoted her as saying. Monday, she pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

The state probe - technically, a Child Fatality Report automatically triggered by deaths in the child welfare system - stopped short of saying the county could have prevented the children's deaths. But it offered a more detailed look at the history of contacts between child welfare agencies and Brewer, and ordered the county to issue a "corrective action plan" within 30 days.

Nassau officials, who have acknowledged Brewer's cases were mishandled, said there were no surprises in the report. "I think it is a fair assessment," said John Imhof, commissioner of the Nassau Department of Social Services, which includes CPS.

The state report praised Nassau for making changes after the Brewer case, including a stepped-up focus on mental health, reviewing more than 200 cases for problems and retraining caseworkers.

"They took immediate steps to implement new initiatives right away," said Edward Borges, a spokesman for the Office of Children and Family Services.

Mary Brosnan, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Social Services, said 13 new investigative CPS caseworkers have been hired, reducing caseloads to 12 per month, a nationally accepted benchmark. Civil Services Employees Association officials and CPS workers said caseloads remain a problem, saying workloads were at least 15 per worker and as high as 30 for some.

Brewer's long and troubled contacts with CPS began in 1992, when she was reported to the agency as a "maltreated" youth, the report said.

In April 2003, Brewer again came to the attention of CPS, this time as the mother of 2-year-old Jewell and 2-month-old Michael, the report said. The allegation: "The mother suffered from a mental illness and consistently abused an illicit drug hindering her ability to adequately care for the two-month-old child."

Two months later, a drug counselor told a CPS caseworker that Brewer was testing positive for marijuana and "demonstrated a need for a mental health evaluation," but one was never performed, the report said. Still, the state said the allegations were deemed "unsubstantiated," the state said, because she didn't use drugs at home.

In October 2005, Nassau police were called because Brewer apparently left her daughter and son alone at home. CPS caseworkers investigated and "inappropriately" closed the case as unsubstantiated, the report said, without talking to the police or a key witness, the children's aunt.

Brewer was again accused of leaving her children home alone in September 2006, but the report said CPS "inappropriately" deemed the accusations unsubstantiated based only on an interview with Brewer and the children, who denied it.

In 2007, CPS caseworkers twice found Brewer was neglecting the children - the report said she let them play in a park while she slept in her car, was withholding food from Jewell as a punishment and made the two older children sleep on a mattress on the floor. But each case was closed, the report said, the second on Dec. 15, 2007 "without exploring court action or offering any services."

Much more -- Report: Nassau officials botched New Cassel mom's case -- Newsday.com

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