Vt. lawmakers probe child protective services - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. lawmakers probe child protective services

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Dezirae Sheldon Dezirae Sheldon
MONTPELIER, Vt. - The February death of 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon is the subject of a criminal and administrative investigation. Wednesday, lawmakers began looking into whether state child protection laws need an update.

"The history of abuse and involvement with the state's protective services has raised serious questions and concerns," said Sen. John Campbell, D-Vt. President Pro Tem.

Sheldon's stepfather is charged with her murder. Her mother lost custody of Dezirae last year, after she pleaded guilty to child cruelty for failing to get Dezirae prompt medical care for a broken leg.* Many wonder why social workers returned the child to the family months later.

"While this is certainly a tragedy and a horrific crime, the agency, the department, the division are dealing with many, many cases like this every day," Doug Racine said.

As secretary of the Agency of Human Services, Racine oversees the Department for Children and Families. He says social workers can always use more resources, but he does not believe Sheldon's case represents institutional failure.

"But bad things do happen and if there's something that can be done and we can learn out of this and you can learn out of this where we can do even better, than we would welcome that," Racine said.

"I know that we would love to say that this will never happen again. Unfortunately, I don't think that's reality," Campbell said.

Campbell says lawmakers can make a difference, but emphasized a focus on the system and child abuse cases generally, not just Sheldon's.

Lawmakers launched a similar investigation in 2009 following the Brooke Bennett tragedy. The look prompted a series of reform proposals, which became the first legislative act the next year. Bennett's case is just beginning to reach its conclusion and legislators noted that fact as a reason why they shouldn't wait for a verdict in the Sheldon case before considering changes.

*Editor's note: Authorities brought to our attention on June 26, 2014, that WCAX News previously reported Sandra Eastman was convicted of breaking Dezirae Sheldon's leg. That was incorrect. Eastman was convicted of child cruelty by medical neglect. We apologize for the error.

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Click here for complete coverage of the Brooke Bennett case.

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