Widespread, systemic communications failures and a lack of accountability on the part of the Vermont Department for Children and Families and other authorities contributed to circumstances that threatened the life of Poultney 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon, according to a state police investigation into DCF's handling of the case.
Dezirae died Feb. 21. Her stepfather Dennis Duby is charged with killing the toddler. Duby allegedly crushed her skull.
Dezirae was slain a little more than a year after both her legs were broken in an abuse incident that was never resolved. DCF originally determined that her mother, Sandra Eastman, perpetrated the abuse, but later, in an appeal, she blamed Duby. Eastman was charged with medical negligence because she waited two days to take the toddler to the hospital; no one was charged with the abuse.
The couple married when Eastman became pregnant with Duby's child, shortly after Dezirae was removed from Eastman's home in February 2013. Yet DCF officials were unaware of Duby's presence in the household when they reunified the toddler with her mother in October 2013. Four months later, Dezirae was dead.
The 40-page report, released late afternoon Friday in response to a VTDigger.org public records request, details the failure of caseworkers, state's attorneys, Rutland police and others to communicate effectively about Dezirae's case. A Vermont State Police investigator found that crucial information was ignored or withheld that would have led workers and attorneys to block the reunification of Dezirae with her mother and stepfather and likely would have prevented the toddler's death.
The Vermont State Police investigation documents more than a dozen communications breakdowns between officials. Detective Lt. James Cruise, the author of the report, calls into question DCF's overarching policy to reunite children with their families if at all possible. Social workers and law enforcement have said the policy puts parental rights before child safety.
The purpose of the probe was to determine whether DCF workers could be charged criminally for neglecting their duty as public officials. Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell announced earlier this week that "there is no evidence of criminal misconduct on the part of any individual involved in the investigation and handling of Dezirae's case and no charges would be filed."