Less than a month before 3-year-old Elijah LaJeuness died in what police have ruled a homicide, the Howard County Department of Social Services agreed to allow supervised contact between the child and his “alleged maltreator,” according to a document released Friday by the Maryland Department of Human Resources
LaJeuness died April 13 of asphyxia at his Columbia home, 9685 Basket Ring Road, according to a death certificate. No charges have been filed.
A showed that the year before, doctors, social workers, police and day care providers investigated several injuries to the child, ranging from bruises to his forehead and ears to second-degree burns on the tops of his feet.
According to a document released Friday by the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which oversees the Howard County Department of Social Services, the agency that investigated abuse complaints against Elijah, Howard County social service officials allowed supervised contact with the boy and a man identified as his “alleged maltreator” after the child’s mother requested it on March 21, 2011.
"The child’s mother asked the department to update the safety and service plans to allow supervised contact between the alleged maltreator and the children," according to the document. "The department agreed. "
Elijah’s mother’s request for the "alleged maltreator" to have supervised contact with her son came after an administrative law judge determined a child abuse allegation on behalf of Elijah to be “unsubstantiated,” according to the state document.
Five months before her request, the Howard County department had created a plan to limit contact between the “alleged maltreator,” who is not named in the document, and her children.
The plan also included “guidance to the children’s mother regarding her primary role in protecting her children.”
“Typically, the local department will work with families to develop a plan focused on creating and maintaining a safe environment for all of the children in the household,” said Maryland Department of Human Resources spokesman Ian Patrick Hines.
Hines could not say whether Elijah's mother currently has custody of her other child, an 8-year-old girl.
Additionally, the Howard County department referred Elijah’s family to a local services agency to obtain twin beds for Elijah and his sister. Also, Elijah’s “alleged maltreator” was referred to an outside agency for parenting classes, according to the Maryland Department of Human Resources document.
The state document confirmed a Patch story detailing child abuse complaints regarding Elijah's treatment in the year before he died.
On May 5, 2010, the Howard County Department of Social Services received a report of unexplained second-degree burns to the tops of Elijah’s feet.
Second-degree burns affect both the outer layer of the skin, as well as the second layer of skin, causing redness, pain and swelling, according to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. In these cases, pain can be “severe,” according to the hospital.
Child Protective Services made a finding on the burns, which is not detailed in the state report. Later, according to the report, an administrative law judge ruled the burns were “unsubstantiated child abuse.”
Efforts to reach Joaquinia LaJeuness, listed on Maryland Child Protective Service documents as Elijah’s mother, have been unsuccessful.
Elijah's father, Robert LaJeuness, whose marriage to Joaquinia has been annulled, has declined to comment, on the advice of his attorney.
On Nov. 3, six months after the burn allegations, the Howard County Department of Social Services investigated allegations regarding a bump on Elijah’s forehead and bruising to his ear.
The agency also heard allegations from his day care that he had shown up with soiled underwear, according to the state document. Child Protective Services made a finding in this case of “indicated child abuse,” but “did not name a maltreator and no one person could be identified,” according to state documents. The agency also said the child neglect claims were “unsubstantiated.”
The May and November cases involving Elijah were also reported to the police department, said spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn. Both were conducted as child abuse investigations, but no criminal charges were filed in either case, "indicating there was not sufficient evidence to do so," she wrote in an e-mail.
On Monday she said charges could still be filed in those felony cases, which are also part of the homicide investigation into Elijah's death.
At the time Elijah died, the Howard County Department of Social Services was still providing services to the family, according to the state document.
The Howard County department has an annual budget of $8.5 million, with an additional $500,000 of that coming from Howard County. Its director, Charlene Gallion, jointly reports to the Howard County executive and the secretary of the Department of Human Resources, Hines said.
Eighty percent of child abuse and neglect fatalities nationwide occur with children under the age of 4, said Cheryl Ladota, Family and Children’s Services of Central Maryland’s assistant executive director. She was citing data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.
“There’s a lot of contributing factors, but the biggest one is they are defenseless, they are fragile,” said Ladota, whose organization provides counseling to child abuse victims. “When older, they are better able to defend themselves.”
She called Elijah’s death a “tragedy” and said it underscores the need to report suspicions of child abuse to the authorities.
“I think people are afraid to get involved, to get someone in trouble, to cause somebody problems if there isn’t any abuse, but I think that trouble is worth it in a case like this,” she said.