Child advocates speak out about abused three-month-old boy
By: Rebecca Turco
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Child advocates have more questions than answers, as a severely abused three-month old fights for his life.
DCYF officials couldn't get into the specifics of this case, citing privacy laws, but say the department's general philosophy is to assess safety and risk, and balance that with the parents' rights. If the child is deemed to be in danger, DCYF works with Family Court to come up with a solution: from supervised contact with the child, to removing the child from the home, and various scenarios in between.
In this case, the baby's mother, Arinola Olawusi, could not be with her newborn without supervision, prosecutors say. DCYF could not comment on why, only saying the department had been involved with the family since their first child was born a year and a half ago. That baby was taken away at birth and placed in foster care with a relative. Arinola and Olalekan Olawusi’s second child was found with broken bones and bite marks Monday.
"What happened?” questioned Peg Langhammer, executive director of RI Kids Count. “Did someone drop the ball?"
Langhammer wants to know why the Olawusi’s were able to have custody of their second child when their first child was placed in foster care. "The systems that are in place need to be working in the best interest of the child all the time,” she said. “Kids fall through the cracks usually because there are problems with the system."
RI Kids Count Executive Director Elizabeth Burke Bryant wonders how families’ prior history with the department is used to assess risk. “That's really the area of the utmost concern – that risk being assessed,” she told ABC6 News. “How are those determinations being made in terms of whether it becomes a case that’s investigated or not."
She’s optimistic of the work being done by DCYF and the Office of the Child Advocate, especially with a new law passed insisting on real-time coordination between the entities of investigations into cases like these.
"Time is of the essence,” Bryant said. “With everyday that goes by, any lessons learned from any of these cases just really need to be turned into more preventative policies that the department is using everyday."
At last check, the baby boy is still in the ICU. DCYF is conducting an internal review and has notified the Office of the Child Advocate.