Monday, September 24, 2018
Public safety

Guardian objected to Largo boy being reunited with mother

LARGO — Five months before Jordan Belliveau was found dead, the person tasked with advocating for his best interests told a magistrate that the toddler should not be returned to his mother.

Her objection was overruled.

Tuesday, 2-year-old Jordan’s body was found in the woods behind a baseball field. Police arrested his mother, 21-year-old Charisse Stinson, and charged her with first-degree murder. Investigators say she confessed to hitting Jordan in the head during a moment of frustration.

The more details emerge about the boy’s short life, the clearer his extensive involvement with the complex child welfare system becomes, raising questions about why he was returned to his parents and how he fell through the cracks. Even as Jordan’s guardian ad litem fought against his return to his mother out of foster care, records show, a case manager for a state contractor pushed for the boy to be given back to Stinson.

While the system prioritizes family reunification, one expert called it "a balancing act between difficult circumstances.

"It’s a difficult decision sometimes," said Irene Sullivan, a former judge and an adjunct professor of juvenile law at Stetson University College of Law. "I’m sure all the people in this case involved feel very sad about what happened, but it’s part of the process to make these calls."

•••

Jordan’s first contact with child protective investigators came in October 2016, just three months after he was born. Jordan was living in a home with family members including his father, who has the same name, grandmother and uncle.

The elder Jordan, whom police believe to be a gang member, was shot in his driveway, then again at the end of his street, a report says. A Clearwater police officer told child welfare investigators he had been to the home several times to respond to weapons complaints, track down wanted people and recover stolen cars.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Police: Mother faces murder charge in death of 2-year-old Jordan Belliveau

The report notes prior calls to the house, including a report of 145 stolen hydromorphone pills two months prior and, just before Jordan was born, a homicide suspect and sex offender hanging around. The elder Jordan also threatened a woman with a gun the same night he was shot, according to the report.

"The parents knowingly allow their infant son to reside in a dangerous environment," the report says.

The father was ordered by the court to move out. Stinson refused to take Jordan to a shelter. He was eventually placed into foster care. The report notes the parents "fail to understand the danger the baby is in when around gang members."

Even in foster care, the child couldn’t escape the violence brought on by his parents.

Stinson and Jordan Belliveau were allowed an unsupervised visit with their son on June 18, 2017, for Father’s Day, according to a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office incident report. The family went to a Burger King at 1888 Gulf to Bay Blvd.

Another woman, Danielle Ellis — with whom Stinson had an ongoing feud, deputies said — walked into the restaurant. Ellis and Belliveau began fighting. Stinson, who was carrying 10-month-old Jordan in her arms, tried to break up the fight. Ellis, who tried to punch Stinson, instead hit the child in his lip, deputies said.

Ellis could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

The baby suffered an injured lip and was seen by emergency medical technicians, though a child protective investigator said he was calm and "did not appear to be in any distress." Stinson declined to have her son taken to the hospital.

The child protective investigator noted that Stinson didn’t appear to think she had done anything wrong.

"She did not seem to recognize that being near the fight with the child in her arms put the child in an unsafe situation," the investigator’s report said.

Throughout the child’s stay in foster care, his parents continued to show up in sheriff’s office reports, mainly lobbing domestic violence accusations at each other.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Caseworker visited Largo family one day before child’s disappearance

During an interview Thursday, the elder Jordan, 22, admitted to the fight at Burger King but denied his son was ever living in a dangerous environment at home. He also denied being in a gang and denied he was shot, as documented in the first child protective investigation report.

There were "no guns in the house, nobody smoking in the house, no drugs being sold out of the house. It wasn’t dangerous," he said. "I just don’t like how everybody is calling me a dead beat."

•••

In April, almost a year and a half into foster care, a court considered whether Jordan should be returned to Stinson.

According to court records, child welfare workers inspected and approved Stinson’s home.

But the child’s guardian ad litem raised another concern: there was no documentation Stinson had been going to counseling. While Stinson testified that she had been going since November 2017, neither the guardian nor child welfare workers obtained the records. Still, the guardian’s objection about the process was overruled by a magistrate overseeing the case. The magistrate’s name was not listed in the report beyond an indecipherable signature.

Mother and son were reunited on May 31, and father and son not long after on June 11.

"No evidence was presented to show that the circumstances that caused the out-of-home placement have not been remedied to the extent that the return of the child to the mother’s care with an in-home safety plan ... will not be detrimental to the child’s safety," the court order says.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Amid strife, missing boy’s father says he doesn’t believe mother’s story

Mariela Ollsen, the circuit director for the guardian ad litem program, said she couldn’t comment on details of the case but said her agency plans to cooperate with a review being conducted by the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Records from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, which conducts child protective investigations in the county, provide more details about the guardian’s trepidation.

The guardian was "always against the reunification," an investigator wrote, but a social services case manager "was for the mother and wanted her to go forward with reunification."

The Times tried to reach the case manager for Directions for Living, a DCF subcontractor, late Thursday but reached his voicemail box, which was full and could not receive messages.

According to the Sheriff’s Office records, Stinson’s case manager with Directions said he last saw Jordan on Friday, and Stinson "was crying and upset because the father to the child is not helping her out and she is in the process of being evicted from her apartment." The case manager said he spoke to her for an hour and a half, and after, Stinson "appeared to be much calmer."

Jordan was asleep, the manager said, according to the note. The case manager said he was visiting the family twice a week.

But another investigator spoke Monday to a lawyer for the guardian, whom she had left a message for on Friday.

Had they spoken then, the lawyer said, "she would have indicated that there were concerns for the safety of the child and suspicion that the child did not reside with the mother.

"The mother and father had not done their case plan at the time of reunification," according to the investigator’s note. "The mother has been notoriously difficult to get a hold of and (the guardian ad litem) is rarely successful in seeing the child at the home."

The last time the guardian had tried to visit, the note said, Stinson would not let them inside.

Staff writer Josh Solomon contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or [email protected] Follow @kathrynvarn. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at (727) 893-8804 or [email protected] Follow @ZackSampson.

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