Esther Jacobo Hopeful That DCF Has “Learned a Lesson” From Jayden Villegas-Morales Case

The death of a Homestead toddler this summer has been under review by a national child welfare organization.

The preliminary draft of the findings and recommendations were discussed Tuesday by Our Kids, the Department of Children and Families and other agencies involved in the case.

Two-year-old Jayden Villegas-Morales died in July. DCF documents show Jayden had been removed from his mother in June and custody was given to his father. Angel Villegas is now in jail, accused of his son's murder.

"That assumption that a non-custodial parent is safe, that should not be automatic. That any placement of a child should be done with a full home study," said consultant Etta Lappen Davis.

That is one of the recommendations from the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), which has been analyzing the case since October. While the final report won't be released for another two weeks, Davis shared some preliminary results with NBC 6.

The most concerning finding was the family's long history with DCF and case management agencies.

"There was not a point at which somebody said wait a minute – how many reports does it take before we do something different?" said Davis.

Interim DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo also weighed in on the handling of this case.

"The worst thing about a case like this is that we had the opportunity to do the right thing and have this child be alive today. So I'm hopeful that now we’ve learned a lesson from this and that we're going to be able to do better in the future," said Jacobo.

Another concern noted by CWLA is the child protective investigators not having the qualifications required to make decisions about safety of at-risk children.

"In order to protect kids best the people who are doing the investigations are the ones who need the most knowledge of child welfare, the most knowledge of how to evaluate a safe situation," said Davis who added that is not always the case.

DCF says it has changed the way it's conducting some investigations of the most vulnerable children – those who are young and can't talk.

"We are testing a model where two protective investigators go out instead of one so that there are two pairs of eyes on the family, so that they can have much more robust conversation about what the right thing to do is," said Jacobo.

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