Following Death of Infant, Independent Review of Virginia Child Welfare Reveals Shortcomings

By CR Staff

732271000-300x224More than two years after 10-month-old Braxton Taylor was killed by his foster mother, an independent review of the case says Virginia’s Human Services Department needs to address several issues within its child welfare system. The review, conducted by the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), reveals troubling policies that have gone unchanged since Braxton’s death. The Virginian-Pilotreports:

Braxton Taylor died in February 2010 after being shaken by his foster mother, Kathleen Ganiere. She pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Kristen Wall, Braxton’s biological mother, said she alerted a social worker to possible abuse when she noticed bruises on Braxton during a visit before he died.

According to the review, caseworkers also noticed bruising on Braxton’s face, but failed to properly investigate. Among the CWLA recommendations is a call for the department to make sure the state’s foster parents are prepared to take on their responsibilities:

The department needs to better assess and train foster parents using established training models. Braxton’s foster father was not required to attend training due to his military schedule. And the foster family’s home study was inaccurate and misleading.

While some will be quick to point the finger at child welfare caseworkers, the CWLA points out the difficult reality of their job:

Many child welfare caseworkers complained that their workload is “impossible.” Some handle as many as 40 cases at a time.

To the department’s credit, some changes have been made:

The department made policy changes as a result of Braxton’s death, including foster children being automatically referred to child safety investigators if bruises or other injuries are noticed, and social workers meeting with foster children who don’t attend day care.

This appears to be a step in the right direction. It remains to be seen if the department will follow the CWLA’s recommendations, however the department has acknowledged that they failed Braxton:

… Bob Morin, director of the Human Services Department, formally apologized for the way his department handled the case.