1. Opinion

A dead baby was failed by many in the case of Gabrielle Crawford

Published Feb. 11, 2012

Gabrielle Crawford wasn't born into this world. He was born into a death sentence.

What his mother did; what the child protection network was supposed to prevent; what medical science is supposed to treat all eventually succumbed to neglect, rules and regulations and eventually to the grave.

It's a toss-up as to what is more amazing — that an 8-month-old boy had to suffer such a horrible life and death, or that he managed to last as long as he did?

Rosalee Crawford, the boy's mother, has been charged with two counts of aggravated child abuse in connection with Gabrielle's death. Those charges could be upgraded pending final autopsy results.

Those results will include information noting the child died after his mother broke his arm and leg while trying to stop him from crying. What the official coroner's report won't include is an additional cause of death by bureaucracy.

Gabrielle was born prematurely on March 11, 2011 with multiple birth defects, including hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. He wasn't expected to live to 2. But he never even got that far.

Officialdom knew Rosalee Crawford was hardly mother-of-the-year material. Over the years, Crawford's substance abuse problems, mental health issues and history of domestic violence were well known to law enforcement and the Department of Children and Families.

How well known? By the time Gabrielle was born, the state had removed Crawford's four older children from her care. Now one would think if you have a deeply troubled woman with all the maternal instincts of a tree stump, it would have been advisable to quickly make sure Gabrielle and his twin brother, Micha, also would have been placed in a safe environment.

Instead, the children were given to their mother, who at the time was residing at Alpha House, which shelters mothers in crisis. But who was truly in the midst of a crisis here?

Because of Gabrielle's severe medical issues, Alpha House refused to accept the child, according to DCF. Mother and sons had to leave.

Rosalee and her children got their own apartment. On Dec. 2, the day Gabrielle died, Rosalee took the children to a friend's apartment. Gabrielle wouldn't stop crying. Paramedics arrived to find an unresponsive 8-month-old with broken limbs and a large blue mark on his forehead.

Gabrielle became the ninth child in an active DCF case to die in just the past two years in Hillsborough. No other DCF region in the state has a higher child mortality rate.

That may seem like something is amiss. But the most important thing to remember is how bad everyone feels. It doesn't help Gabrielle, but isn't it the thought that counts?

Alpha House is an organization that does excellent work. But before the agency turned out Rosalee Crawford and her children, it might have been a good idea to move heaven and earth to make sure an already unstable woman had a place to go to that could provide care for her needy children.

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DCF pointed to Gabrielle's death as a perfect example of why Hillsborough Kids Inc., the DCF subcontractor for child protection, should have lost its $65.5 million state contract. To be sure, for $65.5 million it is probably not too much to ask that extremely at-risk children like Gabrielle be a priority for child protection.

Still, ultimately the buck and the coffin stops at DCF.

At last Gabrielle Crawford's short, miserable, violent life is over. At last he's in a better place away from his mother, away from Hillsborough County, away from all the bureaucracy that failed him.

But at least everyone feels just awful.