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City agency head: investigation into the death of 4-year-old Malachi Lawson allegedly at hands of mother and partner outweighs immediate public transparency

City agency head: investigation into the death of 4-year-old Malachi Lawson allegedly at hands of mother and partner outweighs immediate public transparency
A Missing Person poster for four-year old Malachi Lawson remains in the front window of his home in the 1800 block of N. Spring Street. The boy's mother, Alicia Lawson, 25, reported him missing last Friday, but his body was found in a dumpster on Saturday. The boy's mother, and her partner, Shatika Lawson, 40, have been arrested and charged with 11 different counts, including involuntary manslaughter, first-degree child abuse, reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence and giving false statements. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Nothing is more heartbreaking than the death of a child. All of us at the Baltimore City Department of Social Services join the larger community in grieving the tragic loss of Malachi Lawson. We at BCDSS are often the first responders and the last resort for our most vulnerable citizens. It is a public trust that we take seriously.

The Sun’s Aug. 9 editorial, “Maryland must release social services records for Malachi Lawson” raises important questions as we all struggle to more fully understand the circumstances that led to Malachi’s death. Most notably, was this tragedy preventable, and if so, what can we do to ensure it never happens again? In this case, we must carefully weigh the public’s desire for greater transparency with our legal responsibility to not hinder the pending investigation and legal proceedings.

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A thorough, internal review of Malachi’s involvement with our agency is underway, and we are partnering with law enforcement on their criminal investigation and any prosecutions. The responsibility for ensuring children are safe is shared by families, local departments of social services, police, prosecutors, teachers, the courts, medical professionals and religious and community leaders.

While we are not yet able to provide specific information about Malachi and his family, we are able to speak more broadly about the way that the child protection system works. When it is not safe for a child to remain at home, we seek court approval to place the child in foster care. In such cases, the department develops a plan with the family to address our safety concerns, such as referrals for therapy, substance use treatment and parenting classes. Ultimately, a hearing is held in court where a judge decides whether reunification is legally appropriate.

Nothing can undo the terrible death of this innocent child. But whatever the outcome of these investigations, we must all pledge to work together and take every necessary step to ensure that children like Malachi are protected by our entire community.

Randi Walters, Baltimore

The writer is director of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services.

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