Referencing “57 pages of well documented chronic incompetence,” House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Patricia Serpa expressed disbelief Thursday night that not one employee of the Department of Children, Youth and Families was terminated in the wake of a young girl’s death.
“We take babies from the delivery room, we take children from their biological parents, because we say, ‘You’re at risk. You’re not safe.’ We take them with the sacred charge of keeping them safe. And what did we do here? We buried this little girl.”
The committee heard a review of a report that found DCYF staff had ignored several dangers facing eight special needs children who had been placed in the home of Michele Rothgeb of Warwick. One girl, Zha-Nae, 9, died in her custody. She was found lying face down naked in a bathtub by a rescue crew.
“People need to be held accountable and responsible,” Rhode Island Child Advocate Jennifer Griffith told the committee. “Too many employees showed poor judgment and just reckless disregard, not only for this one child who died, but the other children who became her siblings.”
The Office of Child Advocate is tasked with the review of all fatalities or near fatalities involving abuse or neglect of children involved or recently involved with the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
“We maintain that the actions, or inactions of DCYF staff contributed to the death of this child,” the report said.
“How many more children have to die?” asked Representative Serpa. “This is a tragedy. This is injustice. This is murder. There is blood on this department’s hands.”
Chairwoman Serpa told DCYF officials that the committee would reconvene in about six weeks to take up the matter again.