Child Advocate director: State should’ve never let Fall River boys back into their father’s custody

SE Mass

FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — Massachusetts lawmakers grilled the leaders of several state agencies as the investigation into the death of a Fall River teen last year continues.

David Almond, 14, who was diagnosed with autism and in and out of state custody for years, died last October. He and his brother, who is also intellectually disabled, were both found severely malnourished in a one-bedroom apartment where six people lived.

The boy’s father, John Almond, and his girlfriend, Jaclyn Marie Coleman, have pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and neglect of a disabled person resulting in serious bodily injury.

The incident prompted a number of investigations into what led up to David’s death, and Tuesday’s oversight hearing hosted by the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons and Disabilities was the latest step taken in an effort to prevent future tragedies.

A report released in March by the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) revealed that a “multi-system failure,” complicated by the pandemic, contributed to David’s death.

His father, according to the report, misled DCF by staging the virtual check-ins, often keeping the boys out of frame. He also prevented the brothers from receiving a proper education, the report said, citing a series of school absences.

OCA Director Maria Mossaides said the chronic absences should’ve prompted the state to check in on the boys, but that didn’t happen.

“There were no notes in the case file of the various meetings that had occurred, other than the required notes of the mandatory quality assurance meetings,” she said.

Mossaides also said the state’s decision to allow John to once again take custody of both boys is unjustifiable.

“We were not able to get answers from the senior members of the DCF area office team regarding why they rejected the recommendations of their own staff and the recommendations of the provider serving this family to rush the reunification process,” Mossaides explained.

The OCA is now proposing a series of changes, all with the intention of keeping tragedies like this from happening again.

“David was a vivacious, smart and fun-loving boy who was often described as the ‘mayor’ of his formal school,” Mossaides said. “His impact on those who worked with him and loved him was profound and everlasting.”

Now every child supervised by the Mass. DCF will be seen in person by a social worker by the end of the month.

In-person visits, normally required monthly, were replaced with virtual ones due to the pandemic. Yesterday DCF Commissioner Linda Spears said social workers are now required to resume in-person visits for the more than 40,000 children in their supervision.

“Social workers are required to do monthly visits. They have been in the process of scheduling and getting out there,” Spears said. “I expect by the end of the month, everyone will have seen those kids.”

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