Politics & Government

Judge wants more details about state's investigation of baby's death

A Franklin Circuit Court judge wants Kentucky's child-protection agency to provide more information about why it decided last week that the 2010 death of a 4-month-old Jefferson County boy was not the result of neglect.

In a Friday order, Judge Phillip Shepherd requested that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services provide additional testimony and documents explaining why it re-classified the death of Rafe Calvert, reversing a previous determination that Rafe's parents neglected the baby by failing to get appropriate medical treatment.

Rafe was born 26 weeks premature, and his lack of medical care could have resulted in his death, the cabinet previously determined.

Shepherd's order came after a three-day hearing earlier this week in a legal case the state's two largest newspapers brought against the cabinet to obtain documents about children who were killed or critically injured as a result of abuse or neglect.

Shepherd has previously ruled that the state must release the records to the Lexington Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal of Louisville, but the newspapers remain at odds with the state over what information can be removed from the files.

During the three-day hearing, it was revealed that the cabinet only recently obtained an autopsy report on Rafe. After receiving the medical examiner's report, which could not determine a cause of death for Rafe, the cabinet rescinded its earlier decision to substantiate neglect on the part of Rafe's parents.

Department for Community Based Services Commissioner Teresa James testified that her agency requested the autopsy report as it was preparing for this week's court hearing. There is no indication that the cabinet had previously obtained the report.

James said Rafe had multiple health problems at the time of his death, leading the agency to determine that Rafe's death could not be tied directly to neglect. But James also acknowledged that social workers may have made mistakes in the investigation of a previous neglect complaint regarding Rafe.

On Feb. 19, 2010, medical personnel contacted the cabinet to report that Rafe's parents had missed eight medical appointments and there was concern that Rafe's parents had taken him off oxygen. However, there is no indication in Rafe's file that social workers immediately investigated the neglect call.

Rafe's case file shows that social workers didn't call to follow-up on the initial complaint until March 5. That's when a medical worker informed the state that Rafe had died on Feb. 25. The medical worker had seen the baby's obituary in a newspaper.

The file notes that social workers made an unannounced visit to the home of Rafe's parents on March 9 and learned Rafe had been sleeping on an adult pillow in a bassinet. The records also indicate that the home was in poor condition, with a large hole in the living room floor.

James testified that if social workers waited 14 days before checking on the initial complaint involving Rafe, then they would have violated the cabinet's protocol for investigating possible abuse and neglect in a timely manner.

Christina Heavrin, the cabinet's general counsel, said during the hearing that documents regarding Rafe's death were no longer subject to the state's Open Records Act because the cabinet did not consider the baby's death to be the result of neglect.

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