- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A judge has approved a $500,000 settlement to the father and estate of a child whose death helped spark major changes to the state’s child protection system.

Two-year-old Dezirae Sheldon, of Poultney, died in February 2014 of severe head trauma. Her stepfather, Dennis Duby, pleaded not guilty to a murder charge. The family was under supervision of Vermont’s Department for Children and Families.

Two months after Dezirae’s death, 15-month-old Peighton Geraw, of Winooski, died in April less than an hour after a DCF worker had visited the apartment where he had been living.

The deaths prompted the Legislature to examine the state’s child protection laws.

In June 2015, Vermont enacted a law that shifted the state’s priority in protecting children to their well-being from an imperative to reunite them with their families.

The law was written after a special legislative committee took testimony from more than 1,000 witnesses, who highlighted the flaws in the system. DCF also hired 18 more social workers and 12 more administrative personnel to keep better track of the cases of at-risk children.

After Dezirae’s death, her father, Willis Sheldon, sued the state, saying it breached its duties to protect her.

Lawyers for Sheldon said on Thursday the state agreed to pay $500,000 to settle the case on Nov. 10. They said Sheldon has taken part of the money to create a trust fund for Dezirae’s half-sister.

Deputy Attorney General Joshua Diamond confirmed a judge approved the settlement. He said the state is pleased the matter is being brought to a closure so it can move forward with its important work to protect children.

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