Woman accused of killing baby was not covered by oversight law

Defendant had lost custody of children before law took effect

March 17, 2010|By Brent Jones | brent.jones@baltsun.com

Starting at least eight years ago, child welfare officials had been involved with the Baltimore woman now charged with killing her infant son and burying him in Druid Hill Park, but they had "no idea" that she had recently given birth.

And despite a new state law designed to expand oversight in similar cases, Lakesha Haynie escaped supervision. The reason: Her four other children were removed from her care before the law took effect in October.

State Human Resources Secretary Brenda Donald said caseworkers were not actively involved with Haynie, charged with first-degree murder in the death of her son, Rajahnthon, whom authorities found Sunday buried at the park. She was ordered held without bail Tuesday morning at a hearing, as prosecutors said that medical and psychological evaluations were ordered, and that she was considered suicidal.

Haynie lost parental rights for three of the children dating back to 2002, and gave up custody of the fourth child, a 1-year-old, last year, DHR officials said. Since that time, caseworkers had not been in contact with her.

The law that took effect in October requires state agencies to check birth records against a database with names of individuals who have had their parental rights terminated. Matches are investigated by child protective services workers.

Three names have been submitted by the city's Department of Social Services since the law took effect. Haynie's case is the first alleged child-abuse death since then, but Donald said Haynie was not under supervision because she lost her children before the law's passage. "I have no reason to believe that we knew this woman was pregnant," Donald said.

Some observers say the law does not go far enough.

Julie Drake, a Baltimore prosecutor who works on family violence cases, said the law should have included people convicted of child abuse or those who have been found to have initiated abuse. Still, the law's passing was a start, she said.

"This certainly shows that the law was needed, that's for sure. Back when we saw much higher numbers, almost all of the victims were born to parents already known to [the Department of Social Services]. So implementing something like this in order to protect children was really a no-brainer," she said.

Richard Barth, dean of the University of Maryland, Baltimore's School of Social Work, said the law should extend to parental terminations that occurred before the law took effect: "The law needs to be changed to be retroactive with regard to terminations."

According to charging documents, Haynie's last known address was in the 2300 block of Whittier Ave., a stretch of run-down homes that is within view of Druid Hill Park and the forested area where the month-old child's body was found. Tuesday, no one answered at any of the three apartments inside the rowhouse listed as her address, and the first- and ground-floor windows were covered.

Haynie was located Monday at a home in the 900 block of Sandalwood Road in Essex, and public records indicate she has lived in the city, Essex and Prince George's County.

Court papers say two of Haynie's children are under the care of Baltimore City Child Protective Services; the other two are under the watch of the county. State Human Resources officials, who oversee the city agency, would not provide the ages of the children or the reasons Haynie lost custody.

But all four children, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation, live in the same home and are being raised by a foster mother. The foster mother is in the process of gaining legal custody of the two youngest children.

Rajahnthon's death - he was at least the 11th child to die of abuse-related causes in Baltimore since 2004 - is the latest in a series of incidents some activists have called preventable.

In June 2007, 2-year-old Bryanna Harris died after being given a lethal dose of methadone and being beaten by her mother, Vernice Harris, whose older children were in state custody. Harris was arrested in the toddler's death.

Three years earlier, Emonney and Emunnea Broadway, twin girls who were less than a month old, died of malnutrition while living with their parents in an abandoned rowhouse. Six months earlier, the girls' parents lost custody of a 2-year-old girl removed from their care for abuse.

Legislators introduced bills in 2006 and 2007 that would have matched up caseworkers with troubled families before, or shortly after, a new child was born. But those bills died in committee because of several factors: political disputes between state and city officials, budget woes and concerns that they might prove too invasive for families that had rebuilt their lives.

Support built in the General Assembly, and the law to extend parental supervision passed in 2009. Although the law's backers say it should keep unfit parents from raising children, social-services workers stopped short of saying a removal in all cases would be imminent.

Molly McGrath, Baltimore director of social services, said mothers who have lost parental custody will face closer scrutiny. But children born later will not automatically be removed from their custody.

Baltimore Sun reporters Justin Fenton and Joe Burris contributed to this article.

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