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Daniel Ruth

System fatally fails, but no one's to blame

When it comes to children, bureaucracies love to give themselves warm and fuzzy names suggesting how caring, how vigilant, how much they love the most vulnerable among us as they carry out their mission.

The Department of Children and (all together now) Families. The Children's Home Society. And then there is the wonderfully whimsical Hillsborough Kids, which sounds like something out of Sesame Street with carefree tots playing with puppets and cavorting on a jungle gym.

But let one of these agencies' clients fall to his death through the paper-pushing cracks, and the finger-pointing deflecting blame begins to rival all the suits running for cover after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Ronderique Anderson was just 16 months old when he died over the weekend from a catalogue of injuries that read more like a combat fatality, and in a way it was. He also suffered from a massive explosion of government obfuscation. But the good news, especially if you are a taxpayer-funded apparatchik, is that while just about everybody admits "mistakes were made," apparently nobody is to blame for the dead child.

Whew! That's a relief. For a moment there one might have assumed — since the child died from a ruptured spleen, a head fracture and bleeding on the brain, not to mention the knocked-out teeth — that there was a problem with the state's child care system.

The 6-foot-tall, 170-pound Dwayne Poole, Ronderique's father, sits in a Hillsborough County jail on charges of aggravated child abuse and first-degree murder after admitting to spanking, whipping and beating the toddler, throwing him onto a bed to discipline a boy barely out of infancy.

Just how a man who had been arrested on several occasions for battery passed muster with the DCF to be named a custodial parent is a mind-boggling descent into the dark hole of buck passing. Poole was awarded custody of Ronderique after the child's mother, 16-year-old Fredreda Scott, gave birth to the child while she was a ward of the state.

For six months, a caseworker employed by the Children's Home Society, which conducts reviews of families on behalf of Hillsborough Kids Inc. on behalf of the DCF, checked on Poole and the child before recommending to a judge that the father be given full custody.

If there were any more bureaucracies involved here, Ronderique's care would have looked like something out of a Soviet-era farm collective.

In December, the home visits to Poole's residence ended. The child died Saturday morning.

Since the little boy's death, Scott and other family members have claimed they repeatedly informed caseworkers of their suspicions that Ronderique was being abused, only to have their concerns dismissed.

In the meantime, the DCF, the Children's Home Society and Hillsborough Kids have circled the clipboards, noting that while things might have been handled better, none of them are at fault for allowing a thug with anger management issues to be responsible for a 16-month-old child.

Jeff Rainey, president of Hillsborough Kids, foisted off culpability for Ronderique's demise on boo-boos committed by a few errant employees, not indicative of deeper, systemic problems within the agency.

And a DCF flack echoed Rainey's "not my job, man" excuse, noting that it does appear possible that perhaps a mistake, or maybe two, might have conceivably taken place.

Indeed, while the DCF stepped up to the plate and admitted that although the agency was completely responsible for Ronderique Anderson's care, the department, "technically" speaking, of course, was not actually involved in his case and therefore couldn't remotely be held to account for what happened to the child. Now there's a "buck stops here" moment for you.

After all, it's called the Department of Children and Families. You can only expect so much.

Other government agencies can completely botch things up, and the worst thing that happens is that a bunch of judges get a fancy new courthouse. Or maybe a political crony receives a fat contract.

But if the state is going to have agencies dedicated to the welfare of children, the margin for error is, by design, zero. Instead, what the DCF and all its various bob-and-weave subcontractors are saying is essentially: "Hey we do a really swell job and even though now and then the occasional child under our oversight is brutally murdered a vast majority of children we serve are alive and well."

Well, bully for you.

In the end Ronderique Anderson, who will never see the terrible twos, is dead. Those who might have prevented his killing feel absolutely lousy about the whole thing.

How comforting.

System fatally fails, but no one's to blame 02/07/11 [Last modified: Monday, February 7, 2011 7:17pm]

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