Threats against DCF workers as Vt. toddler death investigated - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Threats against DCF workers as Vt. launches probe into toddler's death

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Dezirae Sheldon Dezirae Sheldon

A prominent Vermont doctor will lead the investigation into practices at the Vermont Department for Children and Families after the death of a Poultney toddler. The toddler's family says the department ignored warnings.

Meanwhile, reaction is verging on violent in Rutland, where police tell us DCF employees found threatening notes left on their cars.

Current and former administrators say when you receive thousands of reports of child abuse-- about one every 33 minutes according to current data-- tragedies are bound to happen. They say even in the absence of a bureaucratic mistake, the results keep social workers up at night.

Vermont Agency of Human Services Secretary Doug Racine says he doesn't know if the death of 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon represents a lapse in the state's child protection services. Despite a conviction of Sheldon's mother for child abuse, Dezirae landed back in her care. Now, stepfather Dennis Duby is charged with murdering the toddler.

"These things are not supposed to happen and it's obviously very tragic and sad when they do," Racine said.

The Department for Children and Families will conduct its own investigation, but the independent Vermont Citizen's Advisory Board will be charged with reviewing it.

"It's a group that is not connected with state government. They will use some of our state government folks for information, because they have to gather the information, but it's a citizens group with some expertise in looking at child protection statutes policies and decisions," Racine explained.

Prominent pediatrician Dr. Joseph Hagan of Burlington chairs the currently 14-member advisory board. The group meets quarterly but also has a federal mandate to investigate individual cases like Sheldon's when they arise. Hagan and the rest of the board are expected to begin examining the case next week.

"I know from my own experience over 18 years, that sooner or later, no matter how good a job you do, you're going to experience one of these," said Bill Young, who previously oversaw the department now known as DCF.

Reporter Kyle Midura: Are there cases that still keep you up at night?

Bill Young: Oh, yes.

In 2001, police found a child in state custody dead in New York City, and the department appeared to have no knowledge she was involved in prostitution. Though he can't address her case specifically because of confidentiality requirements, Young says reviews are essential to restore the public's faith.

"Maybe you did everything right and it still went wrong," he said. "Well, then is there something else we could be doing."

Young says if that is the case, it's up to the governor and legislators to act as well.

The VCAB may also split into a subcommittee or add more members before it begins its work. That's because three of the current members are state employees, though not with DCF.

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Protest targets DCF in case of slain child

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Vermont's foster care system and claims of child abuse

Family of slain 2-year-old speak out

UPDATE : Police investigating Vt. toddler's death

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