DCF says system breakdown preceded unexplained Pasco baby death

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A DCF report says a breakdown in communication preceded the July 25 death of a newborn in Pasco County who was found unresponsive while sleeping next to its mother.  

That’s the fourth time an infant has died in in Pasco and Pinellas counties this year while under the scrutiny or protection of DCF or the network of agencies it contracts with to provide social services.

In this case, a Pasco Sheriff Child Protection investigator told Eckerd Connects to initiate safety services. Eckerd told Gulfcoast Jewish Community Services to make contact with the family but that agency failed to take any action for eight days prior to the infant’s death.

“Those case managers are supposed to see the family within 48 hours and that did not happen,” said Eckerd Connects spokesman Doug Tobin.

The cause of death is still under investigation.

“We have not been able to come up with a definitive answer as to what happened in those eight days other than the fact that we’re working with Gulfcoast on that personnel issue so we can figure it out so it doesn’t happen again,” Tobin said.

The mother and father of the child have not been publicly identified but a DCF Critical Incident Rapid Response Team report says both had a history of drug abuse and DCF scrutiny.  The DCF report also says the baby aspirated in the hospital and showed signs of drug withdrawal after birth.

When the child died three weeks later, the mother who had been sleeping next to it admitted taking a sedative that she could not provide a prescription for, according to the DCF report. The father told investigators he’d been smoking spice.

“It’s unconscionable what happened in this case,” said attorney Robin Rosenberg, who runs a not for profit advocacy organization called Florida’s Children First.

“This child had every major red flag risk factor and should have been followed from the time of birth.”

Rosenberg insists the infant should never have left the hospital without more oversight from child protection authorities, given the parents’ drug history, prior involvement with DCF and the baby’s withdrawal symptoms.

“Every baby that’s born substance exposed should not leave that hospital without a plan of safe care,” Rosenberg said.

Tobin says the Pasco Sheriff’s Child Protection investigator was responsible for the initial oversight at the hospital and Eckerd only became involved two weeks later at the request of that investigator.

Tobin concedes that Eckerd failed to follow through after contacting Gulfcoast to initiate services, something that is supposed to happen within 48 hours.

“We’re not sure exactly what happened in this instance. I’m not sure someone needs to be fired,” Tobin said. “We need to make sure the procedures are changed so this doesn’t happen again.”

Tobin insists that Eckerd has changed its protocols so that four people receive emails instead of one to ensure there are no missed messages. He says Eckerd is now targeting a 24 hour response time in cases like this.

Meanwhile, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the case and has not released the baby’s cause of death or determined whether anyone involved should face charges.

Rosenberg says the case underlines an even bigger problem. Sleep-related deaths are the leading cause of infant mortality in Florida. Seventeen babies have died so far this year just in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

Nov. 7, a Pinellas family buried their newborn son in St. Petersburg. He died in October while sleeping in an adult bed in a Pasco County foster home managed by Eckerd.

Investigators had removed the infant from its mother shortly after birth when she was temporarily living in a motel and had little means of support. That case also remains under investigation by the Pasco sheriff.

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