The child who had been known as "Baby Doe" after her body was found at Deer Island in June should have been kept on DCF's radar in the months leading up to her death, according to a report released Wednesday, which called the closure of her child welfare case in 2013 "premature."
The state Office of the Child Advocate had been reviewing the Department of Children and Families' contact with Bella Bond and her family. Two DCF cases involving the child, one in 2012 and 2013, had been closed before Bond's death, the report said.
"Given the long history and totality of factors, DCF should not have closed the case at the end of the assessment" in 2013, the report found.
The infant’s mother, 40-year-old Rachelle Bond and her boyfriend Michael McCarthy, 35, were being held in connection to her death. McCarthy had been charged with murder, Bond with helping cover up the child's death. They were due back in court Nov. 19.
“[T]his review reinforces the safety and well-being of a child is the shared responsibility of the family, community and entities responsible for providing assistance to children and families,” the report said. It was “not intended to place blame,” according to the report’s authors, a group independent of the DCF.
But the seven-page document outlined the number of ways the OCA believe the state’s involvement with the Bond family went wrong.
The DCF did not adequately collect information about Bond and assess risks to the child, the report found. Bond had a lengthy criminal record and history of drug use and mental illness. The state had previously taken custody of two of her children, born a decade before Bella.
Instead, investigators relied too heavily on Bond’s own statements and the outward impression of a happy family and a mother on the right path, the report found. There were “mixed messages,” the report said.
Information in the Bond family’s file was also out-of-date — much of it had been “cut-and-pasted from prior years,” according to the report. Caseworkers reviewing the Bond family did not consider, for example, that Bond and her daughter were about to leave a shelter and move to an apartment on their own, and wouldn’t have known when McCarthy, reportedly also a drug user, moved in, the report found.
“Within 20 months, her old patterns reemerged and things fell apart, and no one from the community was watching out for Bella,” according to the report.
Bond’s last contact with the state was in October, 2014, the report found. The DCF received reports of neglect in 2012 and 2013, but hadn’t received any since then.
“The horrific death and tragic life of two-year-old Bella reminds us all of our responsibility to be watchful and to say something to authorities if a helpless child is mistreated,” said Acting Child Advocate Linda Carlisle in a statement when the investigation began. “Children under the age of 5 may not be able to communicate their experiences, and may not be visible in the community because they aren’t in day care or in school. They are especially vulnerable and require the vigilance of the entire community.”
The report includes recommendations for the DCF, saying it needed to ramp up investigations of parents with a history of losing children to state custody, update standards for deciding whether a case is “high risk,” label how old information is in reports and update policies for analyzing parents with histories of drug use.