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Vermont Public Radio 2015 PRNDI Continuing Coverage Entry: Foster Care

In 2014, Vermont Public Radio produced extensive coverage of Vermont’s child protective services, following the deaths of two children who were under state supervision. Our reporting revealed a system under severe strain, with caseloads larger than recommended, and a singular focus on reuniting families that has put some children at risk. 

News series: Protecting Vermont's Children, Part One: Reports Of Abuse

  • April 28, 2014
  • 5:52

HOST INTRO: This week, VPR looks at the strains on the state’s child protection system. The pressure includes new abuse and neglect cases caused by Vermont’s heroin problem.
The state’s Department for Children and Families has come under intense scrutiny following the death in February of two-year old Dezirae Sheldon of Poultney. The child’s skull was allegedly fractured by her stepfather Dennis Duby, who’s pleaded not guilty to second degree murder.

Dezirae had been abused and neglected before, yet the state’s Department for Children and Families chose not to permanently remove the child from the household.

As VPR's Nina Keck reports, foster parents on the front lines say that sometimes DCF is too ready to return children to abusive situations. 

The first in a five-part series.

Vermont Edition: DCF Faces Scrutiny Over Two Toddler Deaths

  • May 19, 2014
  • 45:48
vpr-vermont-edition-20140519.mp3

The recent homicides of two Vermont toddlers have fueled emotion and criticism of the Department for Children and Families. DCF had caseworkers in contact with both families before the deaths. On Vermont Edition, the DCF Commissioner David Yacavone is our guest to discuss how child abuse is investigated, and what authority caseworkers have when abuse is suspected. We also hear from Senator Dick Sears, who is co-chairing a Senate panel that is reviewing state policies and practices in protecting children from abuse.

News spot: Report Calls For New Staff, More Coordination, Accountability At DCF

  • Oct. 1, 2014
  • 2:58

dcf-keck-vpr-20141001.mp3

HOST INTRO: State officials say more staffing at the Department for Children and Families and more accountability to the public will go a long way to strengthen the state’s child protective services.

Those steps are part of an action plan Gov. Peter Shumlin requested after public outcry following the deaths of two toddlers under DCF supervision earlier this year.

VPR’s Nina Keck examines the report released on Wednesday.

Web story: Report: State Systems Failing To Protect Children

  • Nov. 21, 2014
  • Web only

A new report from the Vermont Citizens Advisory Board says systemic problems with the state’s child protection processes contributed to the deaths of two children this spring.
The 26-page report raises serious questions about communication, quality control, training and investigations at the Vermont Department for Children and Families, as well as within law enforcement and the state court system. Read the story here.

News spot: DCF Underestimated Impacts Of Opiates On Child Safety In Vermont

  • Dec. 18, 2014
  • 2:27
dcf-dobbs-20141218.mp3

HOST INTRO: A new report on the Department for Children and Families sheds light on the major difficulties the department has faced in handling the opiate crisis. As VPR’s Taylor Dobbs reports, a consulting firm and state officials say DCF was caught off-guard by just how much opiate abuse and addiction would affect the department's work.

Interactive web app: Timeline: A Year Of 'Systemic Failure' At DCF

  • Dec. 3, 2014

Limited resources, overburdened caseworkers and a culture that prioritized closing cases - often by returning children to their parents - over safety contributed to the death of 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon in February. It was the first in a series of tragedies and revelations about problems in the Department for Children and Families that led to legislative action, criminal investigations and statewide calls for reform.
As 2014 comes to a close, VPR looks back at the year's events. Explore the timeline.