When 16-year-old Darlene Armstrong arrived at the emergency room, she weighed only 23 pounds. Unable to walk or talk and afflicted with cerebral palsy, the medical stuff was stunned by Darlene’s emaciated body. The Chicago Tribune reports:
The doctors at Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago agreed the girl had been starved for some time.
“Darlene has suffered from severe, long-standing, life-threatening malnutrition/starvation combined with unacceptable medical neglect,” a hospital record said of the March incident.
Documents obtained by the Tribune show that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) could have saved Darlene four months earlier, but failed to do so:
The agency had gotten a Nov. 17 hotline call that Darlene wasn’t being fed — an urgent matter under DCFSrules — but the investigator repeatedly walked away from the family’s South Side home without seeing Darlene and without enlisting other resources, records show.
It wasn’t until a fourth home visit in March that the investigator heard Darlene whimpering and called 911. Had the investigation been conducted properly, it’s likely that Darlene would have been saved from starvation and extreme neglect much earlier. The Tribune reports just how poorly her case was handled:
Although the investigator went to the home within the required 24-hour hotline-response period, she failed to follow other procedures to help workers locate the child. Nor did she return each day as required until that happened.
Before Darlene was rescued, there is no evidence the worker looked up the family’s history with DCFS as required. If she had done so, the investigator would have realized the agency took protective custody of Darlene years earlier due to the same allegations of medical neglect and malnourishment.
A supervisor failed to alert two later shifts, as required, to continue looking for Darlene on the first day the investigator didn’t make contact. The supervisor and her manager also improperly granted extensions beyond the initial 60-day period set to resolve such cases, despite minimal effort to find the girl.
The Tribune reports that repeated budget cuts have taken their toll on DCFS as more than 60 percent of the department’s investigators have been assigned more cases than allowed. They point to mishandled investigations such as Darlene’s as the tragic result of a system that has too many cases and not enough workers.
A public statement by DCFS shows just how badly Darlene was failed by the system that was supposed to protect her:
“An investigation this badly neglected is a failure of supervision and management,” said Kendall Marlowe, agency spokesman. “We are taking appropriate actions to right that ship and ensure this organization places the proper priority on child safety.”