Baby death spotlights services to disabled

The Baltimore Sun

From the start, social workers were concerned for Seth. They were present in the emergency room when he was born and visited his mentally disabled parents' Abingdon apartment in the days after he went home to make sure he was receiving proper care.

But after that, alleges the boy's maternal grandfather, Jesse Stacey, a retired Aberdeen police officer, the social workers didn't do enough.

He complained to them that his daughter, Giovanna Mosley, and her husband, Richard, who was left with brain damage from a car accident, weren't properly caring for his grandson. Social workers returned to the apartment in April and found the 7-week-old child unresponsive in his crib. Seth was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Last week, the Mosleys and a man who was living with them were arrested and charged with second-degree murder and first-degree child abuse resulting in death. The three were ordered held without bond yesterday during a hearing in which a prosecutor alleged the two men had "tossed the baby around" and the mother had not intervened.

The case is likely to draw new attention to the challenges faced by mentally disabled parents and the support agencies assisting them. As recently as 50 years ago, the mentally disabled could be forcibly sterilized, but today the government recognizes their rights and only intervenes if the parents request help or if there are allegations of abuse and neglect.

"It shouldn't be assumed that having a disability and an inability to parent are things that co-exist," said Lauren Young, director of litigation for the Maryland Disability Law Center. "There has to be a vigilant analysis, not focusing on disability but the parent's conduct, that needs to be examined. ... They have rights to have families, too."

Stacey said his daughter does not understand that her son is dead, underscoring her mental shortcomings and the need for social services to have kept close watch over the new parents. He believes Seth should have been taken from the couple at birth.

"There were enough issues raised [by the department] about their ability to take care of a child that they should've never been able to leave that hospital," said Stacey, 56.

Jerry Reyerson, the county's director of social services, said the agency was actively involved with the family and aware of "issues" that required greater scrutiny. He said he could not comment on specifics related to the case because social workers are likely to be called to testify.

"We were actively involved with this family," Reyerson said. In general, the agency tries "to do as much as we can while respecting fundamental parents' rights."

Though there is little research in the field, one estimate placed the number of children born annually to mentally disabled parents at 120,000 - with as many as 40 percent ending up in foster care.

A 1993 study by a quality care commission in New York found many parents with mental retardation had low self-esteem and resisted help from outsiders. Nearly half of the families were subjected to allegations of abuse or neglect, and one-fourth of the children did not receive adequate medical care, dental care or nutrition.

But in 2002, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that social service officials must offer services tailored to the needs of mentally impaired parents who do not want their children placed for adoption, siding with a Westminster man who officials said was well-intentioned but unable to care for his two children.

The man, identified in court papers only as "Mr. F," had limited intellectual capacity, resulting in his feeding his younger child pumpkin bread that was past its expiration date and wanting to take his children swimming at a pool that has no shallow section. But the court said social service officials must evaluate parents and refer them to suitable programs.

Social service agencies typically get involved through a referral from someone such as a health professional, neighbor or teacher who reports concerns about a child's care, and a Social Services employee investigates whether the child is in danger, said Elyn Jones, a spokeswoman for the Maryland department of human resources.

The number of programs available for mentally disabled parents has grown in the past 10 to 15 years, but advocates say they are still inadequate because of the large number of adults in need.

"The mandate of most child protective services is to support the integrity of the family," said Barbara Whitman, director of family services and studies at St. Louis University School of Medicine. "When you have to allow for somebody to fail, and that failure is the death of a child, that's where we question our laws."

At a bail review hearing yesterday, Assistant State's Attorney Bruce M. Smith told the judge that the man who had been living with the Mosleys, 21-year-old Daniel Evan Reilly, had "vigorously shook the infant saying 'Stop it. Stop it,'" on the day of the baby's death and that Reilly had told law enforcement officers that he and Richard Mosely had shaken the baby before.

Seth had suffered hemorrhaging, left and right optic nerve damage, and was severely underweight, Smith said.

Giovanna Mosley, a slight woman with a pale face and long, wispy brown hair, was led into court with her hands shackled. Her eyes welled with tears when she saw her father and gave him a quick wave and bowed her head throughout the hearing.

She was described to the court by her public defender, Howard Greenberg, as mildly retarded and schizoaffective, a psychiatric disorder that can cause hallucinations and poor attention. Stacey pleaded with the judge to release Mosley to their family's custody.

"She had nothing to do with the incident ... I don't see where she's a threat to anyone," Stacey said.

Smith countered that Giovanna Mosley should be held precisely because she did "nothing for the infant."

"While Daniel Reilly and Richard Mosley tossed the baby around, she did nothing to safeguard the infant," he said. All three were denied bond.

Both Stacey and Richard Mosley's mother, Denise Joseph, say social services let the family down. Joseph, who could not be reached by telephone for comment, said in an e-mail to a reporter that she told social workers she needed "more legal access to Seth and that the kids really needed help."

"They smiled at me and basically ignored me," wrote Joseph, who works for the public defender's office in Harford County.

Smith acknowledged that Child Protective Services and Social Services didn't have constant contact with the family, but blamed it on Richard Mosley's "violent outbursts" and an inability to reach the family for four weeks, a period of time Stacey said defies explanation.

"Child Protective Services came back at the very end and were alarmed by the grossly emaciated baby," Smith said.

Giovanna Mosley took special education courses growing up, and as an adult participated with the Alliance Inc., an organization for people with disabilities. Stacey said his daughter has never held a job and is unable to perform simple tasks, such as writing a check, but could follow spoken directions if given the proper structure.

After she and Richard Mosley were married, they moved into an Abingdon apartment. It took months until Giovanna realized she was carrying a child, and only when a family member noticed and told her to get a pregnancy test.

"If social services would've went there on a regular basis they say they did, then these things would've jumped out at them," Stacey said. "I'm not saying its their fault, but I think it's a contributing factor."

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