State did not do internal review of toddler's death

Law requires Internal report, but family services cabinet failed to comply

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.com bestep@herald-leader.comDecember 9, 2010 

Clarence Jones, stood beside the graves of his grandson, Bobby Shawn Jenkins, killed in an ATV wreck in 2004, and his great-grandson, Kayden Branham Daniels, who died in May 2009 after drinking drain cleaner left out in a home where methamphetamine allegedly had been made.

State social workers did not do a required internal review of the death of a 20-month-old Wayne County boy who drank drain cleaner in May 2009.

State law requires the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to conduct such a review of any case in which abuse or neglect has resulted in a child death or near death and the cabinet had prior involvement with the child or family.

The cabinet was involved with the boy, Kayden Branham, and his 14-year-old mother, Alisha Branham, before his death. Both had been in foster care, family members said, and social workers were monitoring the well-being of both at the time of Kayden's death.

The cabinet substantiated that neglect was involved in Kayden's death because Alisha's parents had let her live in a trailer where people made methamphetamine, according to a report the cabinet released this week after being sued by the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Courier-Journal.

The drain cleaner, which Kayden found in a cup in the trailer, can be used in making meth.

A cabinet spokeswoman did not answer questions Wednesday about why cabinet employees did not perform the review.

Purpose of review

The internal review is important to help the cabinet identify areas that need improvement to prevent other deaths or to establish training needs for cabinet staff employees.

"The internal reviews assign responsibility to staff members and supervisors and administrators," said David Richart, executive director of the Louisville-based National Institute on Children, Youth and Families. "It shows where the system had broken down with respect to protecting children"

Mark Stanziano, a Somerset attorney who represents Bryan Daniels, Kayden's father, in the criminal case that resulted from the toddler's death, said he saw no reason the cabinet could not have done the fatality review.

District Judge Michael Lawson issued an order Sept. 1, 2009, barring anyone except mental-health professionals and Alisha's defense attorneys from talking to her about Kayden's death.

But that was three months after Kayden died. The fatality review presumably could have been done before then, Stanziano said.

A blank copy of the child-fatality review form provided to the Herald-Leader on Wednesday does not indicate it would have been necessary to talk to Alisha to do the internal review.

Richart said the district-court order in Wayne County should not have precluded the cabinet from conducting the fatality review.

"The gag order does not restrain them at all from doing a fatality review, and it makes me feel they are trying to hide something, they are trying to use the judge's order to hide something," Richart said.

In addition, Circuit Judge Vernon Miniard issued an order Oct. 14, 2009, that barred enforcement of the lower court's gag order.

That would have cleared the way for the review if, in fact, the lower court's order had been an impediment, Stanziano said.

Indications of problems

Stanziano said an independent review of the file probably would conclude social workers didn't do enough to protect the child.

There were indications of problems with the child's living situation before he died.

Among other things, Kayden's grandmother, Melissa Branham, with whom Kayden and his mother were staying, failed several times to show up for drug tests requested by social workers, Stanziano said.

Despite that, Kayden and his mother continued living with Melissa Branham until moving to a trailer owned by Alisha's father, Larry Branham, who was divorced from her mother.

"They left the child at risk," Stanziano said of caseworkers.

Alisha later said she moved to her father's trailer about a month before Kayden died because there was no food, water or electricity at the place where she'd been staying with her mother.

The cabinet also is required to compile a summary of the investigation, including information from other agencies that might have been involved in the case.

The Herald-Leader sued to get access to the state's files on Kayden Branham, who was also known as Kayden Daniels, and his mother.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled the newspapers were entitled to see the records.

The cabinet has turned over only a 13-page report produced after the toddler's death. That was not the internal review.

On Tuesday, Shepherd ordered the cabinet to provide him with its files on Kayden and Alisha — and to give the newspapers an index of those records — so a decision could be made on what records the agency will have to release.

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