Saturday, September 22, 2018
Public safety

Day before Jordan Belliveau’s death, case worker warned parents the 2-year-old could go back to foster care

LARGO — The day before 2-year-old Jordan Belliveau was killed, a case manager warned his parents that the toddler could once again be taken from them if they did not fix mounting problems.

The Aug. 31 reprimand capped a tumultuous summer for 21-year-old Charisse Stinson and 22-year-old Jordan Belliveau Sr.

After the boy was returned from foster care, the young parents broke up, fell out of touch with case workers and missed several counseling sessions. In July, Belliveau was arrested, accused of hitting Stinson during an argument over their son.

The case manager told them "these things need to be fix(ed) like ASAP" or else Jordan would be taken again.

A little more than 24 hours after the warning, Stinson reported the boy missing. Three days later, police found his body in the woods behind the Largo Sports Complex. Investigators said Stinson confessed to hitting Jordan in the head before leaving him outside and concocting a story about a stranger who had knocked her unconscious and taken her son. She is charged with first-degree murder.

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

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Guardian objected to Largo boy being reunited with mother

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

The case manager’s conversation with the parents is one of a series of revelations contained in hundreds of pages of records released Wednesday by two child welfare agencies that had contact with Jordan and his family during his short life. Notes, health reports and other files show how Stinson and Belliveau regained custody of their son after he thrived for more than a year in foster care — and how, shortly after the toddler’s return, things fell apart.

The family was working with Directions for Living, a social services and counseling organization that operated under Eckerd Connects, a contractor for the Florida Department of Children and Families. Leaders for both programs spoke Wednesday about their sorrow over Jordan’s death.

"This is the most difficult situation imaginable," said Chris Card, Eckerd’s chief of community-based care.

Despite public questions about missed chances to intervene, they blamed Stinson, and not the case workers who tried to help her.

"No one could have predicted the behavior of this mother," said April Lott, CEO of Directions for Living.

"The loss of Jordan will be heavy on our hearts for the rest of our lives."

• • •

Jordan was just a few months old when the state took him in late 2016.

Authorities had received reports of violence and gang activity around his home. Someone had recently shot at his father, and police spoke of stolen cars and drug dealing.

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

The boy was placed in foster care.

Florida’s welfare system, as a rule, works toward reuniting children with their birth families.

"The child-parent bond is something that is highly regarded in our society," Card said Wednesday.

Stinson and Belliveau continued to have visits with Jordan while he lived with a foster family. At four months, he was a "very happy child," records show, a boy who liked "to be held, nurtured and given a lot of attention."

To regain custody, case workers wrote that Belliveau and Stinson would have to move to a "stable and safe home," free of violence and gang members, and to show they understood why Jordan needed to live in a healthy environment. They would also have to cooperate with any social services in their home.

They saw Jordan in short sessions, often at Burger King where his father worked. The boy would eat french toast and cookies and drink apple juice while his parents played with him, trading hugs and kisses, case notes show. In June 2017, one unsupervised visit turned violent. Belliveau, records show, got into a fight with another woman. Stinson stepped in to pull back her boyfriend, but baby Jordan was in her arms and was hit in the lip. A child protective investigator wrote that Stinson did not seem to comprehend how she had put her son in danger.

Jordan stayed in foster care, learning to walk. Soon he was able to speak. Stinson and Belliveau bought him Christmas gifts.

The parents started attending counseling. They found jobs. Stinson got an apartment on East Bay Drive.

In April, she went before a special magistrate, who recommended Jordan could come home. In June, the magistrate recommended the boy could be reunited with his father, too.

Attorneys for both Stinson and Belliveau stressed that the parents were committed to a relationship.

"We go half on everything," Stinson said.

A lawyer for the state, along with Jordan’s guardian ad litem, shared concerns over a problem with Stinson’s background check and records of her attending counseling. Magistrate Jennifer Sue Paullin said they did not seem to have any direct worries for the boy’s safety.

"I’m hearing generalities," Paullin said, according to a transcript released Wednesday. "Without specifics, there’s no safety concerns."

Pinellas County Judge Kimberly Todd signed an order July 16, backing Paullin’s June recommendation that Jordan be reunified with his father.

But there was something officials didn’t yet know.

The day before, Stinson had called police. She said Belliveau hit her when he was trying to drop Jordan off at her apartment, after she told him she did not yet want the boy back.

Lott and Card said neither Directions for Living nor Eckerd Connects knew about the alleged domestic violence incident.

Largo police, they said, did not report the case to the state abuse hotline. A spokesman for the police department did not return an email requesting comment.

• • •

Soon after they got Jordan back, Belliveau and Stinson started having trouble. They missed knocks on the door and calls from a clinician. Lott said Directions for Living’s reunification program for the family involved 13 potential counseling sessions or home visits, and Stinson completed seven.

Records show the couple was eventually discharged from the program "due to noncompliance." But failing to cooperate with those services "doesn’t trigger anything," Lott said.

"Was it a concern? Absolutely," Card said. But it was not enough to take the boy from the home.

Jordan "was having more tantrums," according to his parents. They were out of work. They separated.

Stinson did not tell her case manager about the July report that Belliveau hit her. Instead, the case manager found out about the incident from a standard check of the 911 system.

A child protective investigator visited Stinson’s home Aug. 4. The mother refused to open the door until the police called to her with a public address system.

The apartment appeared bare but safe. Stinson, once a foster child herself, said she was afraid the investigator would take Jordan.

She received an eviction notice and said she was struggling with money. She indicated she still loved Belliveau. On Aug. 24, a coordinator for the local guardian ad litem program wrote to the case manager and a supervisor expressing concern over the parents’ lack of cooperation with case workers.

That Friday, the coordinator wrote, Stinson did not answer the door or phone for the guardian.

"Since we have not been able to lay eyes on the child," the coordinator wrote, "we may be calling the police to do a welfare check."

But no one moved to take Jordan back into foster care, according to records.

A week later, the case manager was visiting Stinson on a Friday night. Jordan was sleeping. Belliveau listened by phone as the manager admonished the parents about their issues with communication and counseling.

"That’s pretty standard dialogue during a home visit," Lott said.

Stinson "started getting emotional," the case manager noted, and said she was "trying her best" but it didn’t "seem like it (was) enough." She said Belliveau was not helping enough.

Case managers do not have authority to remove a child from a home, Lott said, and the worker in Stinson’s case had no reason to believe the mother would hurt Jordan.

He talked to her for more than an hour, then left.

• • •

The Department of Children and Families is reviewing Jordan’s death to determine if anyone made a mistake. Lott and Card declined to comment Wednesday on specifics or share their opinions.

"Every one of these tragic events does generate some changes," Card said.

In Florida’s byzantine child welfare system, with contractors and subcontractors, Lott said any number of workers who had contact with Jordan could have notified the courts of the recent incidents involving his parents before his death. But when asked who was ultimately responsible for the boy, she and Card answered almost in unison:

"We all are."

Times staff writers Caitlin Johnston, Divya Kumar and Christopher O’Donnell contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8804. Follow @ZackSampson.

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