Child Welfare Officials Allowed Toddler Contact With Alleged Abuser One Month Before Death

The Maryland Department of Human Resources responded to a Patch exclusive on abuse complaints before the death of 3-year-old Elijah LaJeuness.

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.

Kristina Carberry August 16, 2011 at 01:00 PM
It makes me sick the CPS didn't do more when it was reported to them. As a person who was a part of the questioning that happened at his preschool, I know for a fact that they had more than enough information to clearly see what was going on.
Brenda Snyder August 17, 2011 at 01:13 AM
i as his grandma can say on this is that there was enough and as he was only 2 then 3 and saying what happened. Children of that age do not lie because of his age they did not listen to him and that is sad charges should be brought against the worker as well who did not listen
Elijah's Voice August 17, 2011 at 02:50 AM
Social Service had all the proof that they needed. When you have reports from doctors and professional daycare providers and others about abuse going on in the home, and you do nothing!!! Charlene R. Gallion (Director of DHR Howard County CPS), you and the people under you are responsible for allowing this tragedy to happen. DHR has the power and the responsibly for responding to the allegations professionally and in a timely manner. Ms. Gallion, your department could of prevnted this if you would of done your job. This is becoming all to common that CPS is involved with families way before a death of a child occurs, and doesn't do anything. We need to get the government to set more stringent guidelines governing the Department of Social Services.. In cases like this the case worker should have to prove that they did everything they could to prevent this. I believe in full disclose and if for some reason there was negligence on the part of the social worker, they them selves should face prison time.
Elijah's Voice August 17, 2011 at 04:41 AM
The three people that were reported to be in the home at the time of Little Elijah's tragic death were his older sister, his mother Joaquinia La Jeuness, and her boyfriend Christian Jenkins. We need to keep pressure on them to speak out about what really happened that horrible morning. Elijah was a bright kid that didn't deserve what happened to him.
Terrell Moore August 18, 2011 at 03:45 AM
I pray that God will work in the consciousness of every guilty affiliate!!! Incidents like this should not become the typical nomenclature of CPS!


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