Mother Claims Missouri Child Welfare Failed Her Son, Department Admits Errors

Brooke Barnes’ son, Lucas Webb, is dead, and she claims that new details show the Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS) carries some of the blame for the four-year-old’s death in a 41 Action News report. According to Lucas’ autopsy, he died from blunt force trauma to his abdomen that went untreated. Prosecutors have charged both the boy’s step-mother, Melissa Webb, and father, Justin Webb, in his death. Court testimony details the abuse Lucas allegedly suffered:

The medical examiner testified in court that Lucas Webb had dozens of bruises and cuts all over his body, damage to his internal organs and injuries, like several broken ribs, that were weeks old.

Barnes’ allegations against DSS stem from a report she made in 2009 to the state’s child abuse hotline after Lucas returned home with bruises. DSS records show that Justin Webb claimed the bruising was caused by Lucas falling into a dresserand the case worker agreed that the “injuries were consistent with an accident.” However, Barnes wasn’t the only person concerned about Lucas’ bruising:

Despite additional calls from Lucas’ daycare to the hotline concerning bruising, DSS documents never show case workers consulted a doctor about Lucas’ injuries. They also did not ask for documentation that Lucas had a condition that caused him to easily bruise, as his dad claimed.

While DSS encourages case workers to consult a doctor when a child is reported for abuse, there is no legal requirement forcing them to do so–despite the fact that Missouri has designed clinics staffed by doctors with expertise in identifying child physical and sexual abuse. Dr. Jim Anderst works in one such clinic and he outlined some of the issues with DSS’ current policy:

“Not every child is automatically brought to us. I think they probably should be … but that’s not how the system is set up right now.”

Dr. Anderst added that some child welfare investigators don’t have the medical training to understand if something is an accident or not.

“If we are not accessed appropriately, I don’t know what happens to those cases. I fear there are people in jail who don’t belong there and those sorts of things. Conversely, in the other case, I think kids are returned home and the abuse continues.”

DSS review of Lucas’ case revealed that department policy was not followed in investigating the multiple reports of abuse made on his behalf. These errors included failing to interview Lucas alone and failing to address all allegations of abuse. Although DSS has fired at least two employees who were involved with the case and is taking steps to better assist its workers, Barnes’ loss remains:

“I just don’t know why nobody took him and nobody stopped it. Nobody,” Barnes said. “My heart is gone! Lucas was my world.”