- Associated Press - Saturday, May 6, 2017

RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) - Three years after two high-profile child deaths raised concern in Vermont, state officials said reforms have been made at the Department of Children and Families.

The agency tasked with protecting abused and neglected children has increased its staff by 25 percent and has established uniform protocols to determine dangers and risks of family situations, the Rutland Herald reported (https://bit.ly/2pROgSJ). But lawmakers and advocates say there’s more to be done.

The death of 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon, of Poultney, from blunt force trauma to the head in February 2014, sparked outrage in the state. Her stepfather, Dennis Duby Jr., pleaded guilty this week to second-degree murder and will serve 13 years in jail. Dezirae’s family was under supervision of the Department of Children and Families, and her father won a $500,000 settlement from the state after he sued them for failing to protect the girl.

Two months after the girl’s death, 15-month-old Peighton Geraw, of Winooski, died. Her mother, Nytosha LaForce, pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

The department has added 40 staff members since, bringing the total number to 180, said Karen Shea, DCF’s deputy commissioner. Workers in all cases involving serious physical abuse are now required to consult with central office staff to discuss options such as terminating parental rights or taking the child into custody.

The department has also put more uniform protocols in place around assessing a home’s dangers and risks, and staffers go through regular trainings to keep the information fresh. In the Legislature, a Child Protection Oversight Committee continues to meet regularly.

But Rutland County Attorney Rose Kennedy said child protection workers still have too many caseloads, and that the county could use more detectives to investigate abuse and neglect cases. Others say adding more mental health workers and victim advocates will help the overall system.

Former Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, told the Herald the changes that did happen were “desperately needed” and that the state has made good progress.

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Information from: Rutland Herald, https://www.rutlandherald.com/


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