The head of the state's social services agency defended yesterday his workers' performance in attempting to protect the children of Keisha Carr, who was convicted of killing one infant son and breaking the arms and legs of another.
"It is tragic every time a child dies, whether in our system or outside of it, but we can no more prevent all child abuse than highly competent police officers can prevent all homicides," Christopher J. McCabe, secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources, wrote in an e-mail to The Sun.
Carr, a 23-year-old former security guard from West Baltimore, was on probation for breaking the arms and legs of her oldest son, James Carr IV, when she killed her second child, David, on Feb. 12 last year, by breaking his skull, ribs and leg, according to court records.
Keisha Carr pleaded guilty Wednesday to second-degree murder in Baltimore Circuit Court and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
In his agency's first public discussion of the case, McCabe wrote that caseworkers objected to a juvenile court judge's decision to place James Carr IV with his father, who lived with Keisha Carr. And McCabe said his agency's caseworkers made numerous visits to the family's home.
An article in The Sun on Jan. 25 pointed to David Carr's death as the most recent in a series of child abuse cases that could have been prevented if the Baltimore Department of Social Services and the juvenile courts had acted more aggressively to remove children from families with records of abuse.
Critics of social services have questioned why the agency never asked the court to remove David from his parents' home based on Keisha Carr's guilty plea June 28, 2002, to child abuse charges for breaking her other son's arms and legs.
When Keisha Carr dropped out of a court-mandated psychiatric treatment program, a health counselor telephoned social services, warning that she might harm her children again. But neither that call in November 2002, nor Keisha Carr's record of mental illness or conviction for child abuse, moved the system to put David Carr in foster care for his protection, according to records and interviews.
In his e-mail to The Sun, McCabe criticized the accuracy and thoroughness of the reporting on David Carr's death.
McCabe called the article, and earlier stories about the death of 15-year-old Ciara Jobes, "distortions that muddled the public's understanding about social services."
McCabe said that Carr's family did not fully cooperate with his agency's efforts to place James Carr IV in a safe environment and then check up on him.
After Keisha Carr broke her older son's arms and legs, the juvenile courts put that child in the custody of his father, James Alexander Carr, who was living with his wife. As a condition of the custody, the father was not supposed to leave the child with Keisha Carr unsupervised.
"Our records show that caseworkers objected to placing Keisha Carr's first child with the child's father twice - on Feb. 22, 2002, and on Nov. 6, 2002 - after she was found to have severely abused the baby," McCabe wrote.
That objection was not heeded by Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan, who on Oct. 1, 2002, allowed James Carr IV to return to the home of his father and mother in West Baltimore, according to records and interviews.
"At no time did any party, agency or judge advocate returning the child to [the] mother," McCabe wrote in his e-mail, which was submitted to The Sun unsolicited as a possible article to run in the newspaper's opinion pages.
Jann K. Jackson, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth, said yesterday that it was "absurd" for the system to return the child to the father, thinking this would protect the baby from his mother, when the couple was married and living together.
"If the mother and father are sharing the same home, what have you accomplished?" Jackson asked. "This is just another damning piece of evidence of the dysfunction of the system."
McCabe also wrote that caseworkers made at least 30 visits to the Carrs' home in West Baltimore in an attempt to check up on the child between Feb. 8, 2002, and Feb. 5, last year.
"Sometimes family members did not answer the door when the caseworkers arrived to visit, although workers saw signs that someone was home," McCabe wrote.
"Workers followed up diligently," he added.
Until McCabe's e-mail arrived yesterday, officials at the Department of Human Resources refused to discuss the Carr family case.
The agency's spokesman, Norris West, said over four days before the Jan. 25 article that his department could reveal nothing about the Carr case because the agency was obligated to protect the privacy of the family. Stephen Berry, manager of in-home services for the department, which includes child protective services, said Jan. 23 that he and his fellow officials could go to jail if they discussed cases like David Carr's.
But McCabe in his e-mail said that the law allows his agency to release "confidential" information if a child has suffered a serious injury, the abuser has been charged criminally, and he and other top officials conclude that "disclosure is not contrary to the best interest of the child."