Friday, January 11, 2008

Mother whose children tested positive for meth had history with CPS

Mother whose children tested positive for meth had history with CPS
State officials say Melody Whatley had exposed children to drugs in the past.
By Isadora Vail, Andrea LorenzAMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFFFriday, December 21, 2007
The Florence mother of three young children who tested positive for methamphetamine last month has exposed her children to drugs in the past, state officials say.
Melody Lorraine Whatley, 29, also has a felony conviction for methamphetamine, for which she served nine months in prison in 2005. Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said two of Whatley's children tested positive for marijuana at birth, in 2001 and 2006.
Whatley was the subject of a Child Protective Services investigation in 2006 after her newborn tested positive for marijuana. The state deemed her a fit parent after a six-month investigation, but Van Deusen says the agency will now review her case to see what investigators might have done differently.
Whatley and her husband, Michael Joseph Denson, 29, were arrested Tuesday after authorities went to their home in Florence last month in response to a disturbance and found their three children, ages 1, 2 and 3, living in filthy conditions, officials said. The couple were charged with endangering a child.
According to an arrest affidavit, Denson admitted using methamphetamine and was taken to a hospital.
Child Protective Services workers took the three children because of "garbage, filth and a stench all about in the house," according to the affidavit. All the children tested positive for methamphetamine, though authorities don't know how they were exposed to the drug. They are in foster care.
In 2001, Whatley's baby who tested positive for marijuana died of asphyxiation, Van Deusen said. There didn't appear to be trauma to the baby, he said, and there were no other children in the home at the time. Van Deusen didn't know who fathered the baby, whose last name was Whatley.
No charges were filed against the parents in connection with the death, Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley said.
After the second baby tested positive for marijuana at birth, in 2006, the state determined that Whatley's drug abuse wasn't excessive enough to put her children in danger, Van Deusen said.
The agency followed up for six months, requiring Whatley to take random drug tests, attend parenting classes, go to therapy and allow home visits by a caseworker. Whatley was cooperative, Van Deusen said.
At the end of the six months, "it seemed like the child was going to a safe home," Van Deusen said.
Normally, both parents would be required to take drug tests and attend classes, Van Deusen said, but Denson was apparently not subjected to follow-up action. Van Deusen said he didn't know why Denson wasn't ordered to complete the requirements.
Van Deusen said that although the agency will review the case, no immediate changes will be made to its procedures.
Whatley was arrested in 2002 and charged with felony possession of methamphetamine. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years of deferred adjudication. In 2005, her probation was revoked for failing to comply with many of the conditions of probation. She served nine months in prison.
Whatley and Denson remained in the Williamson County Jail on Thursday, with bail set at $25,000.
One children's advocacy group says the agency should have taken away the children earlier because of the history of drug abuse.
"This is an egregious failure of what the organization should have done," said Jerry Boswell, executive director of Citizens Commission on Human Rights of Texas, a private nonprofit organization. "This is a call to investigate the department. Why weren't they on top of this?"
In 2004, after the high-profile deaths of some children in the state's care, Gov. Rick Perry ordered a review of Child Protective Services and concluded that failed investigations had left children in dangerous situations. Lawmakers mandated changes in 2005.
Since then, the agency has hired more than 3,200 caseworkers, supervisors and clerical workers and has strengthened investigations by, for example, expanding training for employees to work with law enforcement officers.