Child welfare agencies missed warning signs, failed to make home visits and said nothing when a mother lied in court about completing mandatory counseling classes to get her child back from foster care, according to a state review into the death of 2-year-old Jordan Belliveau.
The Florida Department of Children and Families report released Wednesday also criticized child protective investigators with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office who "failed to identify the active danger threats occurring within the household that were significant, immediate and clearly observable," while investigating the latest of several reports of domestic violence between the parents.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Mother faces murder charge in death of 2-year-old Jordan Belliveau
The most recent investigation — the third into the family — began in early August. It was still open four weeks later when police say Charisse Stinson murdered her son. She reported him missing on Sept. 2, sparking a frantic search that ended two days later when Largo police found Jordan’s body and arrested his mother.
As a result of the report, new department Secretary Chad Poppell ordered a comprehensive review of the foster care system in Pinellas County, which is run by Eckerd Connects.
“Despite multiple opportunities, no one changed his circumstances. DCF policies were not followed, communication throughout the process was poor, and several clear warning signs were missed,” Poppell said in a statement. “There were even specific concerns raised that were not acted upon. This report should be a call to action for the entire child welfare system, and I intend to treat is as one.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis released a statement calling the death of Jordan a tragedy: “Secretary Poppell has my full support to immediately conduct a comprehensive assessment of the Pinellas County child welfare system. Those responsible will be held accountable.”
In addition to the review, Eckerd Connects has been ordered to come up with a corrective action plan to address failures detailed in the report.
The non-profit agency was subject to the same sanctions in 2018 for its foster care operation in Hillsborough County after reports that children had to sleep in offices and other unlicensed facilities and that up to 35 older teens were being bounced from home to home because they had no permanent foster family or group home.
Chris Card, Eckerd Connects' chief of community care, said his agency has conducted a check on all children in Pinellas under the age of 5 to assure their safety plans are being followed, day care spots are available where needed and progress reports are up to date. Jordan's family was working with Directions for Living, a non-profit agency that also provides case managers, counseling and other social services through a contract with Eckerd Connects.
“We will work together to evaluate the lessons to be learned from this tragic case and the report from the review committee,” Card said in an email. “We will pull together to improve the safety of our children.”
Directions president and CEO April Lott said the case manager, along with everyone involved in this case, was placed on an immediate corrective action plan in September that may have included disciplinary action and extensive re-training.
Jordan was just three months old when the state first placed him in foster care in October 2016.
Authorities had received reports of violence and gang activity around his home. There was also concerns about escalating domestic violence between Stinson and Jordan's father, Jordan Belliveau Sr.
Records show Jordan lived with at least two different foster families. When he was four months old, he was described as a "very happy child," records show.
The state's foster care makes reuniting families a priority when possible. The parents were granted visits with Jordan and case workers urged the couple to enter counseling programs and move to a new home free of violence and gang influences. But Stinson and Belliveau Sr. were often uncooperative, authorities said. Reports of domestic violence and other incidents continued to raise concerns.
During one visit, the parents took Jordan to a Burger King where they got into a fight with family members of another gang, the report said. Stinson jumped in and attempted to strike a woman while still holding Jordan. The woman tried to hit back, the report said, but instead struck Jordan in the mouth, leaving a cut inside the baby’s lip.
That led to another investigation while Jordan was in foster care. Investigators said there was a need to drug test both parents due to concerns they were using marijuana and cocaine. The case management supervisor told the investigator that drug screenings of the parents weren’t finished because it wasn’t a part of their case plan.
At the next hearing, Stinson played down the injury, the report said, and there was no discussion about requiring supervision of the parents during visits with Jordan nor drug testing them.
The report also highlights that decisions were made without welfare workers knowing that Stinson had been thrown out of her counseling program for non-attendance. That included the April 2018 hearing where a magistrate recommended Jordan be returned to the mother. The child's Guardian ad Litem objected but was overruled because no one at the hearing produced documentation showing Stinson had kicked out of the program.
Even after she got her baby back, Stinson continued to be uncooperative. She missed seven of 11 required visits to a clinician who helps families transition back to being parents.
Jordan's father was also granted reunification in June. One month later, another domestic violence report was filed with Largo police on July 15. Stinson had visible swelling, a laceration was bleeding from her lip, police said.
The child’s father was staying with his parents. He was arrested after telling police "There is going to be a lot of dead cops tomorrow and I’m going to kill that b---- too.”
The incident was not reported to the state's abuse hotline until Aug. 3.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Wednesday the child protective investigator who responded the next day didn't identify the danger posed to Jordan as immediate and visible because the parent who was accused of domestic violence — the boy's father — was not living or present at the home during the assessment. The domestic violence incident also took place several weeks prior, and there was a no-contact order for the father stemming from the case.
“That's what the purpose of the investigation was,” Gualtieri said, “not whether the mom was somebody that was a threat to the child, but whether the father was because of the domestic violence incident.”
But, the sheriff said, his office will continue to look into concerns cited in the report over communication between the agencies that handled Jordan's case.
Child welfare's last interaction with Jordan was on Aug. 31.
When Stinson reported the boy missing, it triggered an amber alert. Days later, police found his body in the woods behind the Largo Sports Complex. Investigators said the mother 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 and awaiting trial.
Staff writer Kathryn Varn contributed to this story. Contact Christopher O’Donnell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times