Why did an in­fant starve to death on Christ­mas?

D.C.’s Child and Fam­ily Ser­vices Agency should un­der­take a re­view to see how this tragedy could hap­pen.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

WHEN TRIN­ITY JABORE died on Christ­mas Day, she weighed 10.5 ounces less than when she was born nearly two months ear­lier at United Med­i­cal Cen­ter in South­east Wash­ing­ton. The D.C. Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner found she died from mal­nu­tri­tion and hy­pona­tremia from con­sum­ing large amounts of wa­ter mixed with con­cen­trated milk. That an in­fant starved to death in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal on a day cel­e­brated with un­re­strained feast­ing re­veals fis­sures in a sys­tem that is sup­posed to serve as a safety net for trou­bled and dys­func­tional fam­i­lies.

Trin­ity’s par­ents, Tr­ishelle Jabore, 26, and Jay Crow­der, 33, have been charged with first-de­gree mur­der in con­nec­tion with her death. Ac­cord­ing to an ar­rest af­fi­davit, the baby had suf­fered mul­ti­ple rib frac­tures from three trau­matic events that oc­curred prior to her death. The doc­u­ment de­tailed how the par­ents al­legedly failed to fol­low the hospi­tal’s ad­vice in tak­ing the child to a pe­di­a­tri­cian and af­ter the hospi­tal-sup­plied formula ran out even­tu­ally ended up feed­ing her con­densed and pow­dered milk mixed with wa­ter. The re­frig­er­a­tor was stocked with food, po­lice noted, but noth­ing “suit­able for a seven-week-old to con­sume.”

Le­gal pro­ceed­ings will de­ter­mine the out­come of the charges against the par­ents, set to ap­pear in court May 22. That, though, won’t ad­dress the is­sues that sur­round the fam­ily’s en­counter with hospi­tal and so­cial work­ers and the ques­tion of whether this tragedy could have been pre­vented with more ag­gres­sive in­ter­ven­tions. Hospi­tal of­fi­cials ap­par­ently met their le­gal re­quire­ment in re­port­ing to the city’s Child and Fam­ily Ser­vices Agency that the baby tested pos­i­tive for the main chem­i­cal in mar­i­juana. But did they miss other warn­ing signs?

Records ob­tained by Post re­porters Keith L. Alexan­der and Paul Dug­gan de­pict a mother and fa­ther, each with a his­tory of se­ri­ous psy­chi­atric prob­lems, in fi­nan­cial dis­tress and ill-equipped to care for a new­born. So should a 4-pound, 11-ounce new­born have been dis­charged with­out a bet­ter home eval­u­a­tion or a fol­low-up visit to see how mother and baby were do­ing? Child pro­tec­tive ser­vices had re­ceived mul­ti­ple calls about the par­ents over the re­ported ne­glect and en­dan­ger­ment of other chil­dren in the fam­ily; should more at­ten­tion have been fo­cused on Trin­ity?

We know it’s easy with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight to sec­ond-guess how agen­cies re­spond to ter­ri­ble events, and we ap­pre­ci­ate the dif­fi­cult — of­ten thank­less — work of un­der-re­sourced so­cial work­ers. Suc­cesses rarely make head­lines. But if there are to be lessons learned from what a child pro­tec­tive ser­vices worker called this “hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble tragedy,” it is crit­i­cal that of­fi­cials not go into a de­fen­sive crouch or hide be­hind con­fi­den­tial­ity. In­stead, they should un­der­take an un­spar­ing and dis­pas­sion­ate re­view.

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