Pubdate: Sat, 11 Nov 2006
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2006 The Advertiser Co.
Note: Letters from the newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority


BIRMINGHAM -- Department of Human Resources officials  have changed
some procedures following the death of a  1-year-old who was returned
to his mother despite her  positive drug test. The agency also denied
a former  worker's claims that DHR could have prevented the  death.

Janet Justice, a former Jefferson County DHR child  abuse and neglect
supervisor, said the department's  mistakes helped put Dominic Ware in
harm's way. The  baby died one month after a Family Court judge
returned  him to the custody of his mother, Sandra Ware, at DHR's

On March 11, emergency workers responding to a call  found Dominic
unconscious at an Ensley home. Police  noticed bruises on the child's
face. Dominic never woke  up, and he died the next day in Children's

Ware's ex-boyfriend, 24-year-old Jorge Latrice Carter,  goes on trial
Nov. 27 on a charge of capital murder. A  Jefferson County grand jury
indictment in June alleges  Carter killed Dominic by beating him with
an unknown  object.

DHR Commissioner Page Walley told The Birmingham News  in a story for
Friday's editions that the agency has  improved procedures for
verifying drug tests and now  requires that all potential perpetrators
of abuse be  listed on the Child Abuse and Neglect report.

Walley also disputed some of Justice's claims and  questioned her
credibility as a disgruntled former  employee.

Justice's comments were included in a four-page  affidavit filed in a
long-running federal court case  that placed DHR under a consent
decree to improve  services to abused and neglected children.

DHR has asked the federal court to lift the decree  because it says it
has made improvements required by  the court.

Justice's affidavit is part of the plaintiffs' argument  to keep the
decree in force and outlines findings from  her investigation after
Dominic's death.

DHR sent Dominic to live with his great-grandmother in  July 2005
after he suffered an unexplained black eye.  Ware was ordered to take
a drug test and three older  children also were removed from the home.
Those  children were returned to Ware after a hearing and  Dominic was
returned in February at DHR's request.

However, the department had never gotten Ware's test  results to
provide to the court. Justice said she  requested the results after
Dominic's death and it  indicated cocaine use.

"If the protective services unit (of DHR) had obtained  the results of
the drug test as required in a timely  manner in advance of the
February 2006 court hearing,  the court would have possessed
additional relevant  information and likely would not have returned
custody  of the children to the mother," Justice said in the
affidavit. "As a result, in my opinion, Jefferson  County DHR could
have prevented the toddler from  dying."

Justice started work with DHR in February 2003 and  resigned in April.
According to DHR, a complaint she  filed with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission  was dismissed. Justice said she decided not to
pursue  it.

Her affidavit says DHR also failed to make monthly  unannounced visits
to Ware's home, and failed to  interview Carter.

Ware said DHR required her to take a drug test, but she  never learned
the results. She said she did not use  cocaine.

But Carter, her boyfriend at the time of Dominic's  death, used
cocaine regularly before his arrest,  according to a motion filed in
Carter's criminal case  by his lawyer, John Robbins.

Ware said DHR made one or two unannounced visits to her  home, but she
did not know whether DHR talked to Carter  before returning Dominic to
her custody.

She said she would not have allowed Carter to be around  Dominic if
she had considered him dangerous.

"I would have put him in check," Ware said. "He would  not have been
around my child."
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