Report on toddler death finds communication lapses at DCF - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Report on toddler death finds communication lapses at DCF

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BURLINGTON, Vt. - Communications break down -- that's one of the biggest issues revealed in the Attorney General's review of the Department for Children and Families, and how the agency handled the case of Dezirae Sheldon, the toddler murdered earlier this year.

It's a case that raises questions about the lack of communication within a department responsible for the state's children.

"The report's profoundly disappointing. I mean, you want to do your best to protect kids and when you see the state drop the ball like this, it's nothing to be proud of," said Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

A criminal investigation into the death of two year-old Dezirae Sheldon found DCF case workers knew the child sustained two broken legs back in 2013. She was then removed from her home. The child's mother, Sandra Eastman, pleaded guilty in connection with the abuse, but eventually blamed the incident on her then boyfriend -- and current husband -- Dennis Duby. The AG's report says Eastman told DCF, but the Rutland County State's Attorney and Dezirae's attorney were never made aware of her accusation, or of Duby's presence in the home.
"Clearly, that should've been caught and it wasn't, but what I'm trying to think about is going forward in the future, how to minimize human error when people are getting an awful lot of information thrown at them -- how to have the checks and balances in place," said Vermont Department for Children and Families Commissioner Dave Yacovone.

Eastman took parenting training to get her daughter back, but Duby's name still wasn't mentioned in DCF reports, so that information was not available when a judge ruled the girl could go back home. Just weeks later Dezirae Sheldon was killed. Duby is now charged with murdering the little girl by crushing her skull.

In the report, Rutland State County State's Attorney Marc Brierre said:  "If we had been made aware of these details and Dennis Duby being in the home, he would have asked to have him included in the case plan all along."

Reporter Melissa Howell: Do you think this case might have had a different outcome had Dennis Duby been named in the case?

Dave Yacovone: I think so, yes.

Sorrell and Yacovone say more transparency when it comes to confidentiality would allow for more accountability. "We gotta find that right place and the balance between privacy and a public right to know, and to oversee actions being taken that are supposed to be in the best interest of a child," Sorrell said.

DCF is currently conducting its own investigation into how the case was handled. No one has been fired as a result. "No question, these were serious mistakes and whether people should lose their jobs as a consequence, I'll leave that to their supervisors," Sorrell said.

Yacovone says changes are already in the works to prevent another child death -- from hiring more staff to requiring employees get a second set of eyes on a case before making big decisions. "I can either create a culture of blame or a culture of support. I choose support. That doesn't mean that we won't hold people accountable, we will and we do,"  he said.

 Attorney General Sorrell and Commissioner Yacovone say they are currently working on a number of recommendations for process changes and legislative changes that will help improve the system and hold child abusers accountable before it's too late.

Click here for the complete report.

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