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Shumlin demands examination of DCF systems - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Shumlin demands examination of DCF systems

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Peighton Geraw Peighton Geraw
Dezirae Sheldon Dezirae Sheldon
MONTPELIER, Vt. - The family of 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon and an activist group is calling for the governor to fire the head of the Department for Children and Families and the secretary of Human Services.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, says he wants a sweeping review of the child protection system in Vermont and he says asking for a resignation at this point does no good.

Lisa Eastman lost her niece, Dezirae Sheldon, in February. The 2-year-old was allegedly killed by her stepfather, Dennis Duby, who police say crushed the little girl's skull. "They're just as bad as the abusers. They let it happen," said Eastman.

Eastman also says DCF could have prevented Dezirae's death. She says the agency removed the girl from her mother, Sandra Eastman, who pleaded guilty to child cruelty for failing to get Dezirae prompt medical care for a broken leg.* But once that criminal case resolved a judge ruled Dezirae could return to her mother.

"I'm infuriated. It’s frustrating having all these empty promises, all these government officials that pretend to care," said Lisa Eastman.

Adding to her anger was another child death. The case of 14-month-old Peighton Geraw of Winooski is being investigated as a homicide.

Police documents revealed that a DCF employee had been at Geraw's home just an hour before he died. The child had bruises around his neck.

Lawmakers launched an ongoing investigation into DCF practices and policies since the death of Dezirae Sheldon, but the review is not done. A series of public hearings will be held around the state in June.

"We try to step, back, take a little time, look at everything that happened. These may be totally different cases, there may be totally different people involved and we're going to be looking at the system. We're going to be looking at what's required," said Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington County.

DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone says he is heartbroken by these tragic loses and is in full support of reviewing current policies.

WCAX Reporter Shelby Cashman: Do you think some of the policies that were in place played a role in Dezirae Sheldon and Peighton Geraw's deaths?

Yacovone: I think it's premature for me to know that right now, but I want to wait for the review that the Vermont Citizens Advisory Board is doing, then I think we'll be in a better position with a second set of objective eyes looking at these issues then we can come to a conclusion and answer that question.

Lisa Eastman says that nothing can bring her niece back, but she and a group called "Justice for Dezirae" are separately calling for the resignation of both  Yacovone and Human Services Secretary Doug Racine.

"Obviously they're not doing what it takes to protect the children, and maybe we should get people in there that are actually up for the job," said Lisa Eastman.

But Shumlin, who has ordered an even broader investigation into DCF policies, says that resignations won't help now.

"It does little good to ask people who are working hard and have the best interest of our children at hand to step down and both Secretary Racine and Commissioner Yacovone care deeply about protecting Vermont's kids. It makes more sense to have an objective investigation. Not by the administration, by objective folks who have no connection with us-- that's exactly what's happening," said Shumlin.

That independent review the governor spoke about has not yet started, but he hopes it will tell us whether we need to be more aggressive on how we protect our kids.

The ongoing investigation into DCF policies will look at whether the budget played any kind of role and will also explore whether the federal mandate that requires the state do everything it can to keep families together is really the best practice.

*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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