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Parents file $1 million suit after disabled baby drowns


A foster mother and Baltimore social services officials are being sued for $1 million by the parents of a handicapped baby who drowned in a bathtub while under the foster mother's care.

The lawsuit alleges that the Baltimore Department of Social Services failed to properly train the foster parent, Paula Donna Sachs, 48, of Owings Mills, in how to take care of developmentally disabled children.

On March 13, 1991, Ms. Sachs had undertaken to wash 17-month-old Antonio Maurice Younger Jr. -- who suffered from mental retardation and cerebral palsy -- but filled the bathtub "to an improper level . . . and left Younger unattended," the lawsuit says.

The child, who had been placed in Ms. Sachs' care two months earlier, was not secured in a pediatric bath chair as he should have been, and drowned, according to the lawsuit, filed by the infant's parents, Sharon Yates and Antonio Maurice Younger.

According to court records, Antonio Younger Jr. was born with serious physical disabilities, speech deficiency, and stomach problems that required a gastric tube. The infant had been cared for since birth at the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, court records say.

The lawsuit contends that the Department of Social Services "failed to exercise ordinary and reasonable care in the selection of Ms. Sachs as a foster parent for Younger" and that the agency "failed to provide proper or adequate training."

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that social services officials failed to instruct Ms. Sachs in the use of a pediatric bath chair into which an infant is harnessed and held above the water.

Reached at her home yesterday, Ms. Sachs said that protective services officials had conducted their own investigation and found no wrongdoing or negligence. She declined to answer other questions.

Sue Fitzsimmons, a spokesman for the city Department of Social Services, also declined to comment on any part of the lawsuit.

David F. Albright, an attorney with Horn & Bennett in Baltimore, said city social services officials have been remiss in their foster parent selection and training methods.

"This case is the tip of the iceberg. There are serious problems out there," he said.

In a police report of the incident, an officer wrote that he arrived at Ms. Sachs' home -- where she was caring for four adult children -- and found her attempting life-saving techniques on the Younger infant.

When interviewed by the police, Ms. Sachs said she had been bathing the infant and another child in the tub when she "turned around to get a towel that was hanging on the back of the door. She then heard the other child say, 'Mommy, Tony is down,' " the police report said.

A medical examiner performed an autopsy and ruled the infant's death an accident, the police report said.

Social services officials require training to be undertaken by prospective foster parents. The amount of that training varies based on the needs of the child in question; more stringent expectations are placed on those who care for handicapped foster children.

Ms. Sachs was investigated once before for a complaint of child abuse after a woman claimed in July 1989 that she noticed a 2-year-old boy lying on his back in her shopping cart at a grocery store, a police report said.

The child appeared to have scratch marks on its head, but an investigating officer concluded that "the child [was] well cared for and the child abuse is unfounded," the report said.

Ms. Sachs told police that she received the Younger infant through the Kennedy Institute in Baltimore. At the time of the incident, she said she did not know who the child's parents were.

In the lawsuit, the child's parents, who live in Baltimore, say they have suffered "grief, emotional loss" and incurred medical and funeral expenses for the child.

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