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Crime & Courts

Report faults private agency in death of abused toddler


Published:   |   Updated: June 12, 2013 at 12:58 AM

TAMPA - A subcontracting firm tracking a 1-year-old boy and his siblings because of child abuse concerns failed in its review process in the weeks before he was killed, according to a report released Monday by the state Department of Children & Families.

The staff of Success 4 Kids and Families didn't properly check the historical file on the family of Jayden Sarria, according to the report. And the agency fell short in making sure its staff was getting the right information during its visits with the boy and his family, according to the report.

Jayden died in October after suffering severe brain damage from blunt head trauma. Charged with aggravated manslaughter in the case are his mother, Anjenette Lopez of Tampa, and her boyfriend, Viviano Pinto. Pinto was arrested in Ohio, where he fled after the boy was fatally injured.

"There were clear lapses in the assessment of case risk and information gathering from referral to case closure," wrote Bryan Lindert, director of quality management with Eckerd Community Alternatives. Eckerd contracts with DCF to provide child welfare services in the Tampa area and worked through Success 4 Kids and Families on the case.

A week after he was injured, Jayden's mother took him to the hospital and reported that he had fallen.

Jayden had bruises to his head and face, a black eye and a "depressed skull fracture."

His injuries didn't match with his mother's explanation, according to the Eckerd Community Alternatives report.

Lopez, a mother of four, had been investigated before and her children were temporarily removed in connection with child welfare concerns.

Just more than two months before Jayden died, investigators opened a case after receiving a report that the boy had several burn marks on his body. Investigators found burns on Jayden's back, right wrist and right little toe. He had two bruises on his left ear.

Lopez and Pinto told investigators Jayden was beginning to walk and was bumping into things. The burns on the wrist and toe were caused by a hot curling iron, they said, and the burn mark on his back came after Jayden bumped into an iron.

The suspicions in that investigation, opened July 24 and closed Aug. 27, were ruled unsubstantiated, although investigators categorized Jayden's overall risk as "intermediate."

In a statement Monday, DCF said it lacked any legal justification to remove Jayden from the home at that time.

"We did engage this family in services designed to strengthen parenting skills and improve their ability to provide a safe environment," the statement said.

"Unfortunately, it is difficult to predict human nature and in this case, we find the actions of the adults in this home intolerable."

Success 4 Kids and Families was brought in to help counsel Lopez and her family. Pinto wasn't home around this time because he had been arrested in a case outside Florida.

Success 4 Kids and Families conducted 18 visits with Lopez and her children between July 31 and Sept. 11, according to the Eckerd Community Alternatives report.

"While some strengths are noted in service provision ... significant concerns merit further review of S4KF (Success 4 Kids and Families) cases and immediate process change recommendations," Lindert wrote in the report.

The report revealed that when Success 4 Kids and Families staff spent time with the children, it was brief, as short as 10 minutes. What's more, only two sessions were held with Lopez and her children together, which gave "little opportunity to observe interaction of the mother and her children such as how she would react to challenging behaviors," the report states.

The relationship between Lopez and Pinto was deemed a strength by Success 4 Kids and Families, even though he had a "reported violent criminal history."

Success 4 Kids and Families never spent time with Pinto because he was incarcerated, according to the report.

Success 4 Kids and Families staff knew Pinto would return to the home on Sept. 15 but chose to close the case Sept. 11, 11 days earlier than originally scheduled.

The report also faults Success 4 Kids and Families for conducting only one session with the family on the subject of "healthy relationships" despite the history of child abuse concerns.

In a statement Monday, April Putzulu with Eckerd Community Alternatives said that as a result of Jayden's death, the agency reviewed all open cases involving Success 4 Kids and Families as well as other agencies it works with, "in an effort to mitigate the likelihood of any further tragedies."

jpatino@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7659

Twitter: @jpatinoTBO

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