3 more with DHS files died

The commissioner pointed to added urgency for change. In one case, a 9-month-old was reportedly left alone in a tub.

Posted: June 02, 2007

Three more babies whose families had been under the supervision of Philadelphia's troubled child-protection department died last month, prompting new investigations and a pledge to push forward with promised change.

Arthur Evans Jr., the acting commissioner of the city Department of Human Services, yesterday pledged "an exhaustive internal review.

"While we don't yet know all of the facts in these cases," he said, "in keeping with our refocused mission and heightened emphasis on child safety, I will take decisive action if the facts reveal any failure in our system."

Two of the deaths took place in the week before the release Thursday of a blue-ribbon report that called for an overhaul of DHS. The third took place on the day that the report was made public.

"The timing of these deaths . . . underscores the urgent need to fully implement our reform agenda," Evans said. "That's exactly what we are going to do."

Officials summarized the cases as follows:

The May 23 death of 3-month-old Zion Richardson, which appears to have been a sudden unexplained infant death, but with aspects of a "co-sleeping" death. Zion's family had been under DHS oversight until March 2006.

The May 26 death of 2-month-old Sania English, who died without any obvious signs of trauma. Investigators said an unsafe sleeping environment - a cluttered crib - may have been a factor. The family was under active DHS supervision.

Thursday's drowning of a 9-month-old baby, Seaser Tiller, whose mother left him in a bathtub so that she could check her e-mail. The family was under the active oversight of DHS.

The latest deaths came in the same week that a DHS review panel released a report saying the agency had failed in its basic mission to protect "some of Philadelphia's most vulnerable children."

Authorities yesterday disclosed the most information about the death of Seaser Tiller.

They said the baby boy drowned in an apartment near Roosevelt Boulevard and Rhawn Street in the Northeast after being left in the tub with two brothers, ages 2 and 3.

An uncle of the dead child's mother said yesterday that his 26-year-old niece, whom he identified as September Tiller, had left the three children for five or six minutes to respond to a newly arrived e-mail.

When the mother returned, the two older children had climbed out of the bathtub, and the baby was underwater. The mother called 911 at 11:40 a.m. The baby was later pronounced dead at Frankford Hospital-Torresdale Campus.

Police said the mother had not been charged with any crime. Capt. John Darby, commander of the police Special Victims Unit, said there were no indications that Tiller had been drinking or using drugs at the time of the death.

Police and other officials said yesterday that the children in the family had been under DHS care because of allegations of abuse over the years.

One official said a DHS investigation in 2006 determined that a child in the household had been abused. Key details of that case - such as which child had been hurt and the identity of the alleged abuser - could not be learned.

Darby said that officials investigated in 2002 after DHS received a complaint that a child in the family received a bump on the head in an abuse incident. He said his investigators could not resolve whether the bump came from abuse or an accident. The case is listed as inactive, Darby said.

Darby could not immediately specify which child in the family had been injured or say who might have been the alleged abuser.

The review panel, appointed after Inquirer articles spotlighted the deaths of children whose families were known to DHS, urged sweeping changes.

The panel scrutinized the deaths of 52 children whose families were known to DHS between 2001 and 2006 - and found that 27 had died of abuse or suspiciously.

A dozen more died in unsafe sleeping arrangements, and four in accidents, the panel said.

As is true nationally, the city's victims were disproportionately infants.

"The children who are most vulnerable due to their age are most likely to be alleged victims of fatal child maltreatment," the report said.

Yesterday, DHS workers were interviewing Tiller. The uncle, Larry Gilliam, 59, said his niece would not talk to reporters.

Gilliam said Seaser Tiller was the youngest among five sons of September Tiller. The oldest is 8, he said. "She loved her kids. It's just a tragedy," Gilliam said. "She was a good mother."


 

The blue-ribbon panel's full report plus an online Q&A with the co-chair are posted at


Contact staff writer Craig R. McCoy at 215-854-4821 or at cmccoy@phillynews.com.

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