What's behind Vt. child deaths? DCF officials testify in Montpel - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

What's behind Vt. child deaths? DCF officials testify in Montpelier

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Concerns about a string of child deaths in Vermont, some involving children who spent time in DCF custody, prompted lawmakers to spend Wednesday reviewing Department for Children and Families policies.

The hearing comes as we learned a Shelburne boy died Tuesday and a Burlington baby is fighting for life. It's a story officials are saying has become all too familiar. As lawmakers met Wednesday to discuss child protective services, there are now four incidents involving children on the table.

Prosecutors say suspicious circumstances led to one child's death and another's hospitalization Tuesday.

"We will remain committed to releasing as much information as we can, being completely transparent as we can, as to what happened not only in these two previous cases, but in these subsequent investigations in order to get answers so we can improve our systems to better protect Vermont children," Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan said.

Tuesday morning, police were called to a home on Hunters Way in Shelburne for reports of an unresponsive 2-year-old boy, Aiden Haskins. He later died at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington. Police say he was in the care of his mother's boyfriend, Josh Blow, 26.

Police also responded to reports of an unresponsive infant in Burlington, who is now in stable condition.

The Chittenden Unit for Special Investigation says it treats all child deaths as suspicious until they can figure out what really happened. And some information is being withheld. Donovan says criminal investigations are ongoing in both cases, but no word yet on whether anyone will face charges. And Donovan says the circumstances may sound familiar.

"Certainly consistent with those two previous cases, they are criminal investigations," Donovan said.

Donovan draws the parallel to cases earlier this year. Authorities say toddlers Dezirae Sheldon and Peighton Geraw were both murdered after being returned to their homes from the custody of the Department for Children and Families.

"From the outset, mistakes were made in Dezirae's case. It's a low point for our department and it's unacceptable for a department for keeping children safe," DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone said.

Yacovone testified before the legislative committee on child protection Wednesday. The deaths of Peighton and Dezirae prompted multiple investigations into DCF practices and policies, and the committee conducted public hearings across the state. One question repeatedly raised-- is reunification of families always in the best interest of the child?

"Our goal is not reunification. Our goal is the safety of children and permanence, of which reunification may be part of, adoption may be part of it, kinship relationships may be part of that," Yacovone said.

Both DCF and Gov. Peter Shumlin say the rise in opiate use has put a new strain on the child protection system. And it's time to adapt.

"These are heartbreaking circumstances. They are being driven by addiction and abuse that comes with addiction. And we all have a challenge together, in ensuring that we work together and make Vermont a state where we have less folks who are addicted, therefore less children whose lives are being ended and compromised," said Shumlin, D-Vermont.

Officials hope to have the medical examiner’s reports Thursday in the Shelburne and Burlington cases, which should shed light on cause and manner of both incidents.

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