Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
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Judge orders baby returned to mother

PLANTATION KEY -- A judge has ordered a 1-year-old Upper Keys girl to be returned to her mother next week after state-designated caretakers were slow to get the child medical treatment for a burn.

In addition, neither the state Department of Children and Families nor workers for Wesley House, the contractor which oversees state-ordered foster care placements in the Florida Keys, informed the parents about the burn until at least five days after it happened on Nov. 27.

"Wesley House should have called. I take full responsibility for that," Wesley House care worker Shane Stich said at a Dec. 12 court hearing.

"It was an incident that we can all learn from," added DCF attorney Lynda Costello, who told Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia that the state was also slow to hear about the incident.

The baby, whom the state placed in foster care seven months ago after her parents had a domestic dispute, was burned the day before Thanksgiving when foster parent Kim Ellis had a cooking accident involving sweet potatoes, Ellis said at the hearing. The potatoes hit the baby in the forehead, then rolled down her face to the shoulder.

"Within in a minute she wasn't even crying," Ellis said.

Still, Ellis said she quickly called a Wesley House worker, who came to the house within 30 minutes. They determined that the incident was minor enough that a doctor's visit was not warranted.

But the burn was significant enough to cause blistering. In the days after the incident, the baby's face also appeared raw, Garcia said last Thursday, referencing photos he had seen at court hearing three days earlier.

Ellis said the girl developed a blister on her forehead the day after she was burned, but it was gone in two days.

As it turns out, the burn might not be major. The baby was eventually taken to a doctor on Dec. 9, at the same time as Garcia was conducting an initial hearing on the matter. The doctor said that the child might not even end up with a scar. She's set for a follow-up appointment on Dec. 19.

Still, the case raised questions about communication and accountability within the Keys child-dependency system. Sandi Webb, the baby's advocate with the Guardian Ad Litem program, said she didn't learn anything about the burn until Dec. 5, eight days after the incident.

Rayme Suarez, attorney for the girl's mother, said her client also didn't learn about the burn for eight days.

"She should have been there with the child," said Suarez, who is the wife of Free Press editor Dan Campbell. "[E]ight days for her to find out, that's an issue."

Adding to the frustration was earlier confusion over whether paramedics were called on the night of the burn to evaluate the baby. The child's father told Garcia that Wesley House worker Mycle Hoffman had originally told him and others that medics had gone to Ellis' house.

However, as Ellis explained at the hearing, that's not what happened.

Asked outside the courtroom to explain the confusion over the paramedics, Wesley House's Stich declined to comment.

At the hearing, Wesley House and DCF asked to transition the girl to her mother over a 30-day period. The mother was seeking her daughter's return immediately. Garcia settled on a compromise, ordering that the girl move back home on Dec. 23.

rsilk@keynews.com

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