More than 350 pages of documents have been released to NBC 6 by Our Kids and the Children's Home Society, which were involved with the Homestead family of Jayden Villegas Morales in the month before he died at age two and a half.
Child advocate attorney Howard Talenfeld combed through some of the records. He said there were documented warning signs that seemed to be dismissed by case managers.
“With Jayden himself you hear that he had a broken hand, you hear that he had a bump on his head when he comes into care and CHS takes over in case management, and then on July 5 you see explanations that he has scratches on his face,” said Talenfeld.
On June 18 Jayden and siblings were removed from their mother and placed with their father Angel Villegas. That happened after one of the children was reported to have a cast from his waist down to his leg. His mother and her boyfriend had inconsistent stories about how that happened.
A caregiver home study for the court conducted by a Department of Children and Families investigator recommended placing Jayden and his siblings with their father. Records show he himself was a victim of child abuse and neglect and some documents refer to a history of domestic violence. But in the home study the investigator wrote “Caregiver advised that he was falsely accused of hitting the mother and was arrested.”
Judge Michael Hanzman agreed the children could stay with their father.
Jayden died exactly one month later on July 18, and his father is now charged with second-degree murder.
Two days after Jayden moved in with his father, a case manager noted that nine children, two adults and a dog were living in the one-bedroom Homestead apartment. The kids were sleeping on the floor, according to the report, which also stated the father needed services to help him cope.
"Concerns about supervision should have been raised by this caseworker. Why aren’t these kids, all 10 of them, put in the shelter or safe placement where you know somebody can supervise these kids," said Talenfeld.
State records show seven prior cases with DCF involving the family before Jayden's death.
In February there was concern that his mother allegedly reported being married to a 15-year-old and was waiting for the certificate from Puerto Rico. Documents show emails were exchanged between caseworkers, and it was referred to police who found no evidence. The abuse hotline was not called.
On Friday the CEO of Our Kids, Frances Allegra, released the following emailed statement when asked what should have been done differently:
“Our Kids, DCF and Children's Home Society have been conducting a thorough review. It is important that we follow a methodical process to collect and review all data and that we do not yield to pressure to rush to judgement and blame.
"On Tuesday, 30 professionals who are key stakeholders in our local system of care spent the entire day engaged in an open, frank, and honest discussion about what happened in the years, months, weeks and days leading up to Jayden's murder. These discussions and the review of the documents and case files relating to Jayden is an extremely challenging but important process that will yield thoughtful and critical recommendations. We are also bringing in national experts from the Child Welfare League of America to conduct a 3rd party independent review.
"We owe it to Jayden, we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our entire system of care. We can never bring back Jayden but it may save lives moving forward."
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