Inquirer Editorial: Child's death demands answers from DPW

Isear Jeffcoat
Isear Jeffcoat
Posted: February 14, 2013

Why must it take the death of a child to spur corrective measures that should have been in place before a tragedy occurred?

It's not as if public officials in this state have not had enough experience with children dying because the adults supposedly in charge of their well-being neglected their responsibilities.

It has taken The Inquirer six months to obtain the details of a 7-year-old Philadelphia boy's drowning in a dirty swimming pool while he was supposed to be under the supervision of a day-care center. Now it appears that little Isear Jeffcoat might still be alive if state officials had shut down the day-care center after learning that its operator was a habitual con artist who had lied to get a license to operate the facility.

Inquirer reporters obtained documents that show the state Department of Public Welfare knew in December 2011 that Tianna Edwards - who had a record of convictions for fraud, theft, forgery, and illegal gun possession - had faked her identity to obtain a day-care license. But after turning the case over to the state inspector general for further investigation, the DPW didn't shut down Tianna's Terrific Tots.

Consequently, on June 30, Edwards was able to take 20 children, whose parents were depending on her to keep their babies safe, to a house (reportedly her mother's) with a filthy, 9-foot-deep, in-ground swimming pool. Then she allegedly took off with a companion for more stimulating activity at SugarHouse casino. The children were left with two adults, one of whom had a criminal background that would have prevented him from being licensed to work with children.

Fifteen children swam in the pool, including Isear. No one seems to know exactly what happened to the child, but at some point, he didn't surface from the murky waters. Edwards was called and returned to help look for the boy, though there are conflicting reports as to whether any of the day-care center's staff actually entered the water.

The police were called, and Marine Unit divers eventually recovered Isear's lifeless body. Edwards wasn't arrested in the case until last month, when Philadelphia police charged her with involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child.

Of course, she isn't the only one who seems to have shirked her responsibilities. After he was asked about the case by Inquirer reporters, Gov. Corbett announced plans to suspend an unspecified number of DPW employees.

That shouldn't be the end of it. Isear's death suggests the department should undergo the same institutional reflection and reorganization that Philadelphia's Department of Human Services began after the death of a child under its authority. Agencies charged with protecting children cannot become complacent.

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