Lawsuit: LSS IL-Child Death
This case involves the death of Lavandis Hudson. The biological father, Herbert, is suing Lutheran Social Services of Illinois because they placed his child from foster care to his biological mother with whom he subsequently died at age 2 on July 21, 2011.
“Herbert Hudson, [age 56] claims his son was born with cocaine in his system and was immediately taken into protective custody—but a few months later Lutheran Social Services of Illinois returned him to his mother, according to the lawsuit filed Friday [July 27, 2012] in Cook County Circuit Court. The boy died just under a year later of “multiple blunt force injuries as a result of child abuse,” the suit claims, and his mother was charged in his death.
The suit claims Lutheran Social Services of Illinois helped the baby’s mother get him back a second time, after he had been taken to the hospital with some mysterious injuries. Medical records from his visit indicated the baby appeared “to be battered, bruises on the face and body not consistent with a single fall [off] the bed,” as the mother claimed, according to the suit.
Still, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois recommended the boy be returned to her, the suit said.
Less than a month later the baby was taken to the emergency room and subsequently airlifted to Advocate Hope Children’s Center in Oak Lawn, where he was declared brain dead, the suit claims.
The four-count suit claims negligence on the part of the foster care agency, in addition to violations of DCFS guidelines. Hudson seeks more than $200,000 in punitive and compensatory damages.
A spokesperson for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois could not be reached for comment Friday night.”
[Sun Times 7/27/12]
The mother’s name is Marles S. Blackman, 37. She “called 911 on July 20 to report her son had suffered a seizure in their Midlothian apartment, authorities said.” Lavandis died the next day. Her bail was set for $1 Million for a first degree murder charge on March 1, 2012.
[Chicago Tribune 3/1/12 by Christy Gutowski]
The autopsy results were published on July 23, 2011. He suffered “head trauma” and Cook County Medical Examiner’s office declared the case a homicide.
The history with Illinois DCFS
In June 2011, an ER doctor hotlined his case. Lavandis had a ” split lip, swollen eyes and bruised forehead cast doubt on his mother’s explanation that he fell off a bed.
The little boy’s younger sister, the mother said, had caused the scratch marks that peppered his chest.”
“But the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services chose not to put the boy back in protective custody after the June hotline call and, within days, allowed his mother to take him home, records indicate.
Three weeks later, on July 21, Lavandis died from a beating, officials said.”
“A DCFS official has confirmed his agency investigated Blackman twice before the boy’s death.
Interviews and confidential records obtained by the Tribune reveal that, despite the boy’s battered condition in the hospital and Blackman’s troubled past, DCFS accepted her explanation that the injuries were accidental. Warning signs were missed by the agency and others, the interviews and records indicate.”
“The boy’s father, who is estranged from the mother after a brief relationship, told the Tribune that he begged the DCFS investigator at the hospital in June to release his son to him. He said his pleas were ignored.
“They gave him to the wrong parent,” said Herbert Hudson, 56, of Blue Island. “If they had given me my son, he’d still be alive today.”
First DCFS Involvement
“Two days after Lavandis was born on Jan. 5, 2009, in MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island, a DCFS investigator described in her case notes the sight of the tiny 3-pound baby hooked up to a ventilator and other machines.
Born at 31 weeks, Lavandis was exposed to cocaine and opiates. Doctors also suspected fetal alcohol syndrome, records show. His prognosis for survival wasn’t good. But the boy was a fighter. He began breathing on his own within 48 hours.
Five weeks after his birth, DCFS placed him into protective custody, citing Blackman’s neglect, because drugs were found in his system, according to records. The department entrusted Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, a Des Plaines nonprofit agency, to find a good home for Lavandis. Officials placed him with a foster family in the western suburbs.
Records show Blackman cooperated with the state investigation in the hope Lavandis would be returned to her.
The woman, then 34 and living in Robbins, had a history of depression and had attempted suicide three times, according to state documents. She estimated having 30 physical altercations with different people, including one in which she drove over a violent drug dealer’s leg, records show. She was charged with battery and assault in some of the incidents but was never convicted, court records show.
She also admitted to starting a fire in her mother’s South Side home in 2003 by igniting a mattress after a family dispute, according to DCFS records. No one was injured, but the home was destroyed.
According to state records, she reported drinking alcohol at age 9, smoking marijuana at 13 and being a regular crack cocaine user by her 18th birthday.
At one point, she told DCFS authorities, she had been drug free for three years but relapsed while pregnant with Lavandis. She admitted twice smoking crack cocaine while pregnant, including two days before his birth, records show.
Lavandis was her sixth child and the third born with drugs in his system, according to records. She gave birth to her seventh child, a girl, in December 2009.
DCFS was involved with at least four of her older children, all of whom live with their fathers or other relatives, records show.
Determined to raise Lavandis, she sought drug treatment, counseling and parenting classes, and for nearly two years was compliant with all the court requirements involving her son, according to records.
Hudson, the boy’s father, is 20 years older than Blackman and once had his own problems with the law. In 1990, he went to prison for 27 months for attempted murder, court records indicate. He acknowledged his past but said he complied with court-ordered parenting classes and played an active role in his son’s life.
Hudson said he began noticing bruises, welts and scratches on Lavandis’ body months before the boy’s death. He repeatedly called the private agency caseworker to complain, he said. A spokesman for the agency declined to comment.
The last time he saw his son alive, Hudson said, was in MetroSouth Medical Center on June 28.
Records show Blackman brought their son to the emergency room on that date telling doctors he fell off a bed two days earlier while playing with his cousins.
Suspicious about the boy’s injuries, the doctor called the hotline to report suspected abuse. The child also had scratch marks on his left finger, left shoulder, chest and arm, “too many to describe,” a report states.
The DCFS investigator who was sent to the hospital initiated a safety plan with her supervisor’s approval whereby both children stayed overnight with a relative of Blackman’s live-in boyfriend.
Records show a new investigator, with her supervisor’s permission, made the decision June 30 to terminate the safety plan after interviewing Blackman and two former Lutheran Social Services caseworkers who said she had “changed her life around” and would not harm the boy.
The next day, July 1, the investigator observed Lavandis’ injuries when she went to the home of the boyfriend’s relative. When asked what happened, the child told her that he fell, according to records.
The investigator allowed the boy and his sister to go home with their mother. The investigator followed up with a visit five days later, cautioning Blackman to watch her son more closely, records show.
On that same day, July 6, Blackman’s mother died. Her brother died four days later of a heart attack. The funerals were July 13.
The next day, Blackman took Lavandis to Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest for a possible broken arm. The arm was fine, but hospital staff asked her about marks on his body and a bite on his abdomen, according to records. Blackman said she did not harm her son, saying his 18-month-old sister was responsible. Lavandis also frequently scratched himself because of dry skin, she said.
On July 20, she called 911 from her Midlothian apartment. She told responders that she was in the kitchen preparing dinner when she heard a “thump” and found Lavandis unresponsive.
He was airlifted to Advocate Hope Children’s Center in Oak Lawn, where tests showed he was brain dead.
Hudson told a Tribune reporter about rushing to his son’s bedside. He pleaded with the quiet child who loved playing with balls, cars and puzzles to overcome the medical odds yet again, he said.
“I said, ‘Come on, Lavandis. Come on, Lavandis. Your Daddy is here,’” said Hudson. “The nurse said, ‘He can’t hear you, sir. He’s already (brain) dead.’”
The child was taken off life-support and died the next day, July 21.
The death was detailed in the Cook County autopsy report. The pathologist recorded a serious brain injury because of blunt-force trauma, possible strangulation and several cuts, bruises and possible bite marks on his face, torso, buttocks, back and extremities.
The boy’s ribs were visible. Several injuries were healing, indicating a pattern of prior abuse.
The pathologist also noted defensive injuries on his right and left upper arms and hands.
DCFS then took the boy’s younger sister into protective custody.
Midlothian police Detective Sgt. Dan Delaney told the Tribune the 911 call originally came in as a possible seizure but, after the autopsy results pointed to child abuse, authorities began investigating the toddler’s death as a homicide. Local police were assisted by the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force.
Experts such as Harris, the public guardian, questioned whether opportunities to intervene were missed.
Agency records do not include documentation of any follow-ups from the investigator after her July 6 visit to the home, where she encouraged Blackman to pay closer attention to her son.
Other missed warning signs include the mother’s two-day delay in June to bring Lavandis to the emergency room, the inconsistency in her explanation of the boy’s injuries and the deaths in her family that impacted her emotionally.”
[Chicago Tribune 2/29/12 by Christy Gutowski]
REFORM Puzzle Piece