Failures were made by child welfare workers in Manatee County when the decision was made to allow Ethan Thompson and his five brothers to return home, according to a Florida Department of Children and Families report.
Child welfare workers failed to properly assess the danger, safety and conditions for the boys’ return home, despite officials gathering enough evidence to support a different decision, according to the findings of the DCF’s Critical Incident Rapid Response Team, or CIRRT.
The decision to allow the boys to return home would be a deadly one for the 22-month-old.
Ethan’s stepfather, Montez Charles McNeal, 25, of Bradenton, was charged with second-degree murder in December, and he also is charged with aggravated child abuse in the child’s Nov. 15 death.
McNeal, who has a history of violence, including against Ethan’s mother, was first arrested Nov. 17 and has since been held without bond at the Manatee County jail.
Ethan and his five brothers — ages 6 months, 3, 4, 11 and 12 at the time of his death — were placed back in their mother’s home after being removed by DCF because of verified abuse in the home. But McNeal still had a court order preventing him from being in the home.
Their mother initially lied to law enforcement during the investigation into the toddler’s death because she had left Ethan and his brothers in McNeal’s custody knowing there was still a protective injunction in place, authorities said.
Because of the verified report of abuse within the last 12 months prior to Ethan’s death, DCF deployed a CIRRT to review the case and determine whether anything could have been done to prevent Ethan’s death.
The CIRRT assessment made three key findings:
▪ Child welfare workers did not follow DCF department policies or the child welfare practice model when assessing present danger, safety planning and conditions for return.
Training and the implementation of the child welfare practice model began in early 2015, but according to the DCF report, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, which handles all child welfare investigations in Manatee County, doesn’t have any experts in safety assessment or anyone proficient in the practice model.
▪ There was a lack of communication, especially when “multidisciplinary staffings” were called at important junctures in the case, and including the sharing of new allegations of abuse between workers.
When the decision to return the boys to the mother’s home, the Guardian ad Litem and assigned DCF attorney were not aware. The Guardian ad Litem, assigned DCF attorney and the court were also not informed of the new allegation received that McNeal was back in the home.
▪ Sufficient information was gathered in the case, but the assessment analysis and verification of information did not support the decision made in the case and lacked critical thinking, the report said.
“Throughout the life of the case, extensive information was gathered about the family; however, this information was not used in its totality to complete a thorough assessment of the family, especially with regard to the mother’s protective capacities,” the report said.
Several parts of the report were redacted, and identities of case managers and supervisors were unclear.
“DCF is prepared to work closely with our partners at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to make improvements that address the findings of the CIRRT to ensure child safety and family recovery in Manatee County,” said a statement issued Friday to the Bradenton Herald.