Wednesday, September 19, 2012

CPS hands another young child over to die

She would have been 10 months old by now. She would have been sitting up and crawling and laughing, as babies do. Who knows what she might have become had she been blessed with halfway-decent parents or halfway-competent help from Child Protective Services. Instead, Vanessa Martinez got the worst of both and paid dearly for it. The infant's autopsy was released this month, indicating that she had 23 rib fractures and died of "multiple blunt-force injuries." Basically, somebody literally squeezed the life out of the child before dumping her into a shallow grave in the southern Arizona desert. This two weeks after CPS gave her back to her loving parents and walked away -- another family reunified. It's been four months since we learned of Baby Vanessa's fate and the state's role in dispatching her to the hereafter, so I figured it was time to find out how she went free-falling through the state's safety net. Or not. The matter, I am told, has been taken care of. "The majority of the individuals involved with this case are no longer with the department," Department of Economic Security spokeswoman Tasya Peterson wrote in a statement sent to me on Friday. "Agency officials conducted a thorough investigation in order to determine what happened and has taken appropriate measures to address the issues identified." What those "appropriate measures" are, we evidently aren't entitled to know. Just as it apparently isn't any of our business what specifically went wrong or how the agency plans to ensure that it doesn't happen again. We can know only that "the majority" of the workers are gone -- though not fired, as that would be public record -- and that "appropriate measures" have been taken. Translation: Trust us, CPS says. Vanessa was born on Oct. 21 in Tucson, the second daughter of Olivia Martinez, 20, and possibly her boyfriend, Jonathan Kesterson, 26. The infant had both methamphetamine and cocaine in her system. CPS records indicate that Martinez initially lied about her drug use, saying smoke from the meth and residue from the cocaine had somehow "seeped" into her system. But she later admitted being an addict. Tests show Kesterson also lied about his cocaine addiction. Confronted with the truth, the couple agreed to give up the baby for 90 days. For two months, they underwent parenting classes and drug testing. They even went to church once a week, a caseworker noted. So when Kesterson called on Dec. 20 and said the couple wanted their baby back, CPS handed her over. Two days later, the agency closed the case, at the parents' request. It's impossible to tell from the records what the CPS workers assigned to this case were thinking or why they would walk away, given the parents' lies and their drug histories and the fact that Mommy was a stripper who was around drugs every night. Yet on Dec. 22, the caseworker, the in-home therapist and a supervisor signed off on the deal. "We ... agreed that there are not safety concerns that would require CPS to keep the case open," the caseworker wrote a month later. By then, the child was dead. On Jan. 8, we would later find out, Vanessa was killed and buried in the desert. Her body was found in April after Kesterson was arrested in San Diego on an unrelated matter and told police about the child. Martinez told authorities that Kesterson killed Vanessa because she was fussy. He has since committed suicide and Martinez is awaiting trial for murder. And us? We're left to ponder how the state failed Vanessa and, more importantly, how to make sure that it never happens again. According to a source inside the agency, two CPS employees have resigned and a third retired. A fourth person remains under investigation. DES Director Clarence Carter -- he who talks of the need for transparency -- declined to comment, on the advice of the agency's attorney. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. For now. In recent months, he's demoted some of the CPS brass, including the longtime program manager in Tucson where so many babies turn up dead, and he fired the caseworker for 22-month-old Za'Naya Flores, who starved to death in January. Now comes Vanessa, handed over by the state to die. "The majority of the individuals involved with this case are no longer with the Department," CPS assures us. That's good to know. But it doesn't come close to explaining what happened here. Reach Roberts at
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