CPS: Social workers acted quickly but did not find enough for a removal petition, an official says.
01:10 PM PDT on Thursday, August 17, 2006
By SANDRA STOKLEY
RIVERSIDE - An Aug. 15, 2005, report of suspected child abuse against 3-year-old Michael "Mikey" Vallejo-Seiber was given the highest priority, and social workers responded within hours to check on his safety, child-welfare officials said Wednesday.
"The most important thing is, we did a lot of things right in this case," said Sharrell Blakeley, assistant director of Riverside County Child Protective Services.
"We designated (the call) in the right category, and we got out there," Blakeley said.
Two weeks after that intervention, Mikey was dead of massive internal injuries, and his mother's boyfriend was in custody, accused of inflicting a beating that led to the tot's death.
Blakeley and Cynthia Hinckley, director of the Department of Public Social Services, said they felt "absolute grief and tremendous sorrow" when they heard about the boy's death but stressed that the agency had done all it could to help the boy.
"When our staff responds, they are looking at one particular point in time of a child's life," Hinckley said. "We can't predict what the conditions in the home will be after we leave. We wish we could."
On Tuesday, doctors at Inland Empire Children's Medical Group in Riverside expressed frustration that Child Protective Services did not do more to protect the boy after Mikey's pediatrician reported that she had seen a suspicious bruise.
A Riverside County Superior Court judge ruled this week that there is enough evidence to try Inland-area rapper Alex Kermith Mendoza on a charge of first-degree murder with a special circumstance of torture and assault on a child resulting in great bodily injury or death.
Mendoza's roommate, Richard Daniel Cox, is charged with assault on a child resulting in great bodily injury or death.
Mendoza, 27, and Cox, 20, both have pleaded not guilty.
Mikey's mother, 23-year-old Pamela Seiber, pleaded guilty in May to child endangerment in connection with the case, and she was sentenced Monday to six years in state prison.
Blakeley said that hours after the Aug. 15, 2005, report came into the call center, social workers made two visits to Seiber's Riverside home but found no one there. They left a card.
Seiber made contact the next day, and social workers visited the home. They physically examined the boy, checked the condition of the home, looked to see whether there was food in the refrigerator and talked to Seiber.
Seiber told the social workers that Mikey had injured himself when he tripped and hit the corner of the kitchen counter.
"Based on those facts, the workers concluded we could not support a petition to remove the child from the home," Blakeley said.
She said she did not know whether the social workers interviewed any other family members.
And while it is standard policy to interview a child separately when a parent is suspected of abuse, Blakeley said she did not know whether Mikey was ever questioned alone.
Hinckley said that after the agency received word that Mikey had been admitted Aug. 28 to Riverside Community Hospital in grave condition and was not expected to live, a "critical incident review" was initiated.
A critical-incident review examines the agency's response and can lead to disciplinary action, policy changes or additional training for personnel, Hinckley said.
She declined to say whether the social workers assigned to Mikey's case were disciplined, citing personnel issues.
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