The Department for Children and Families is not to blame for the deaths of two children in its caseload that occurred less than two months apart, the DCF commissioner said Tuesday.
"The nature of this work is incredibly complex and despite our best work, sometimes tragic things happen," DCF Commissioner David Yacovone said.
In addition to the February death of Poultney 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon, the Burlington Free Press this week reported that a DCF caseworker visited a Winooski baby just an hour before the child died. Police last week ruled 1-year-old Peighton Geraw's death a homicide, the Free Press reported.
No one has been charged in Peighton's death, but the child's mother, Nytosha LaForce, 28, and her boyfriend, Tyler Chicoine, 24, are being held in jail on unrelated violations, the Free Press reported.
Dezirae's death made waves across the state and triggered four investigations: a state police criminal investigation, an internal DCF investigation, a citizen review panel investigation and a Senate panel that secured subpoena power to search for systemic problems within the department.
Yacovone said he could not talk about specifics of either case.
"This is sometimes generational stress and poverty that families are in where it's like a toxic stew and when you add substance abuse to the poverty and other traumatic stress it becomes overwhelming to many families," Yacovone said.
DCF is on pace to receive more than 17,000 reports of abuse or neglect this year and perform more than 5,000 investigations, he said.
"Sometimes no one's to blame, sometimes horrible things happen," Yacovone said.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Peter Shumlin said Tuesday that the citizen review panel has met and the governor will ask it to review the Winooski case as well.