Mother of Boy Who Died Was Trained, Agency Says

by Michael M. Goldberg on Apr. 26, 2021

Accident & Injury Personal Injury 

Summary: Boy in foster care of NYC system dies. NYC employees knee the foster home was a danger before his death and did nothing!

A Brooklyn woman whose 16-month-old son drowned in a bathtub had received instruction on supervising children that most likely included warnings to never leave a child alone in water, officials with the city's Administration for Children's Services said yesterday.

The woman, Tracina Vaughn, was trained as part of a program to allow her to regain custody of the child who died, Dahquay Gillians, and his older brother, Tramel Vaughn, who was scalded with hot water by a former companion of Ms. Vaughn's in 2004. She regained custody of the boys in March.

The children's services agency yesterday laid out in detail the steps it said it had taken to safeguard against the kind of accident that happened Sunday night. Prosecutors say Ms. Vaughn left her two children alone in a bathtub, in a bathroom with no working light, for up to 40 minutes while she listened to CD's and searched for sanitary napkins in her apartment. She checked on the children only once, prosecutors said, before she found Dahquay face down in the water. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Ms. Vaughn, who lives at 355 Herkimer Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, has been charged with endangering the welfare of a child and reckless endangerment.

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One of her cousins, Latisha Bond, who briefly cared for the children, has said the agency returned Dahquay and Tramel to their mother too soon. Michael M. Goldberg, a lawyer Ms. Bond has hired to try to gain custody of Tramel, said in a statement yesterday that the agency "continues to fail the very children that they have been appointed to protect."

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But in an interview yesterday, the agency's executive deputy commissioner, Zeinab Chahine, described the training it had given Ms. Vaughn and regular visits to the apartment by caseworkers.

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Although witnesses have described a fetid, urine-stained basement flat, Ms. Chahine said caseworkers had found that the apartment was comparable to other apartments that the agency has visited in lower-income neighborhoods.

The agency, she said, has no record of a broken light in the bathroom -- something a caseworker would certainly have helped the mother to fix -- and has no record of a relative's calling to complain that Ms. Vaughn was endangering the children, as Ms. Bond has said.

"That's something we would take very seriously," Ms. Chahine said.

The worker assigned to visit Ms. Vaughn's apartment was very experienced, Ms. Chahine said, and had previously served in the child protective unit, which investigates abuse. Records show the caseworker was in the house for at least an hour every two weeks to make sure that children were well cared for. She would have also searched for bruises, burn marks or other signs of abuse, Ms. Chahine said.

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However, the agency acknowledged that the caseworker did not know about Ms. Vaughn's current boyfriend, who neighbors said had been living with her.

There were other safeguards, Ms. Chahine said. Ms. Vaughn was undergoing drug testing as part of her probation for reckless endangerment in the case of Tramel's scalding. Before getting Dahquay and Tramel back, she completed weeks of training in being a parent. Ms. Chahine said the training would have been tailored to meet Ms. Vaughn's particular shortcomings, but she said confidentiality laws prevented her from discussing specifics.

Ms. Chahine added, however, that most parent training taught how to properly supervise and discipline children. Supervision of a child in a bath or near other water would almost certainly have been included. "We have even started an ad campaign around this issue because it is so dangerous," she said.

Tamara Steckler, who leads the juvenile rights division of the Legal Aid Society, which is representing the interest of the boys in family court, reviewed court records and agreed with Ms. Chahine that no obvious warning signs had been missed.

Yesterday, child welfare advocates and some lawyers spoke in A.C.S.'s defense because they said they were worried that the agency might come under pressure to be more aggressive in removing children from their biological parents as a result of Dahquay's death. In the past, when such a reaction has occurred, many children have been harmed in foster care, they said.

"It is important not to lose sight of why we try and keep children in their homes," said Sue Jacobs, executive director of the Center for Family Representation, a nonprofit that represents biological parents in foster care cases. "Lots of years of experience have taught us that in most cases, this is the best outcome. It is not done lightly."

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