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DCF blames caseworkers for Tampa toddler's death

TAMPA — Caseworkers failed Ronderique Anderson and his mother, ultimately leaving the 16-month-old unchecked in a dangerous home where police say his father fatally beat him earlier this month, according to a report released Friday by the Department of Children and Families.

The findings have led to the removal of two case managers and reviews of cases involving other young children.

The complex case involves two agencies under the DCF's oversight. Children's Home Society conducts the face-to-face review of families for Hillsborough Kids Inc., which manages child welfare in Hillsborough County for the DCF.

The report criticizes both agencies for not thoroughly understanding and addressing the family's issues, which included a mother who was also a ward of the state.

The caseworkers' notes, also released on Friday, reveal that they struggled to help Fredreda Scott, a teen mother who repeatedly fell short of their requests. Also, caseworkers trusted the child's father, Dwayne Poole, who has a history of battery arrests.

Poole, 23, faces aggravated child abuse and first-degree murder charges. He is expected to plead not guilty at an arraignment Tuesday.

His 29-year-old girlfriend, Tonya Myers, also is charged with aggravated child abuse after police say she admitted knowing that Poole had previously knocked out his son's teeth.

The documents released Friday reveal new details into Ronderique's turbulent 16 months. Two days before he was born, Scott's then-boyfriend kicked her in the ribs. That man, for months thought to be the father, is the source of Ronderique's surname of Anderson.

In March, DNA tests proved Poole was the father, and he began regularly visiting his son.

On July 7, after a scrap between Scott and another woman she was living with, Scott tried to move with Ronderique into her grandmother's home.

But a judge refused to place Scott and Ronderique — both minors under state care — with the grandmother because of an incomplete home study.

The next day, case managers Kathleen O'Connor and Laurie Vincent went to inspect Poole's home. Poole was not there, but they spoke with his girlfriend. Though state regulations require caseworkers interview all adult caregivers in any home study, O'Connor and Vincent approved the home and placed Ronderique there without court authorization.

A month later, the court approved the placement per their recommendation, but ordered monthly visits. Poole's criminal history was supplied to the judge, but it was not brought up in court, according to the DCF report.

For the next four months, caseworker notes depict a bonding father and son — "Ronderique will say dada." Meanwhile, Scott struggled. She missed required parenting classes and allowed Ronderique to be around people unauthorized by the state.

In a letter sent to the state after Ronderique's death, a caregiver from his day care said he was "always clean and well dressed" and that Poole and Myers "were always loving and caring," according to the report. Indeed, things went so well between father and son that by November the caseworkers recommended a judge terminate state care for Ronderique and leave him unchecked with Poole. On Dec. 7, the judge complied and caseworkers' monthly visits stopped.

Less than two months later, Ronderique was fighting for his life after police say Poole brutally beat him for playing near an electrical socket. Faced with a brain-dead son, Scott decided to remove him from life support on Feb. 5.

Scott's family said Ronderique's permanent placement with his father in December began the downward spiral that ultimately ended in his death.

The DCF report says caseworkers should have provided Scott with better services, more closely examined Poole and Myers and their criminal backgrounds, and required Poole to complete tasks similar to those required of Scott, such as parenting classes. It also says the case supervisor did not provide sufficient oversight or instruction on the case.

The Children's Home Society has temporarily removed O'Connor and Vincent from casework, and disciplined two other employees. The agency also said it has begun a review of all its cases for children under 2 years old.

DCF Secretary David Wilkins said he is ordering a broader scale review, including every case involving children under 5 and of all home studies for families with young children. Department spokesmen did not know how many cases such a review would entail.

Times staff writer Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report. Jack Nicas can be reached at (813) 226-3401 or jnicas@sptimes.com.

DCF blames caseworkers for Tampa toddler's death 02/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 18, 2011 11:57pm]
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