BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts child protection workers failed to thoroughly investigate earlier reports of neglect involving a 2-year-old girl, who became known as "Baby Doe" after her body washed up in a plastic bag on a Boston Harbor beach, a state report released Wednesday said.
The report from the Office of the Child Advocate, an independent state agency, was critical of the Department of Children and Families in its handling of 2012 and 2013 complaints against the little girl's mother, Rachelle Bond.
The girl, Bella Bond, was known only as "Baby Doe" for three months after her remains were found in June by a woman walking her dog on Deer Island. State police launched a massive investigation to find out who she was and how she died.
A composite image of the brown-eyed, chubby-cheeked girl was shared by millions on social media.
In September, authorities finally learned her name after her mother allegedly told a friend that her boyfriend, Michael McCarthy, had killed her daughter. McCarthy, 35, was charged with murder, while Bond, 40, was charged with being an accessory after the fact. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Gov. Charlie Baker asked the Office of the Child Advocate to conduct an independent review of DCF's involvement with the family. His request came after the high-profile deaths of several children who had been monitored by DCF.
Maria Mossaides, the new director of the Office of the Child Advocate, told reporters at a news conference Wednesday that she does not believe DCF should be blamed for the girl's death.
"It is not this clean black and white," she said. "A lot of the families that the Department of Children and Families works with have very complicated histories. So things are not as clean as the good guys bad guys that we somehow think that they are."
The report says DCF social workers knew that Bond's parental rights had been terminated for her two older children, yet did not adequately investigate the neglect reports involving Bella.
"In both 2012 and 2013, DCF missed opportunities to gather pertinent information from professionals providing services to the family, and they did not properly consider the little information they did receive when making their final determination of risk to Bella. DCF relied on Ms. Bond's own statements in some cases and did not delve deeper by contacting professionals or agencies with whom she should have been working," the report states.
The report said social workers received conflicting information about Rachelle Bond's ability to be a good parent. Bond had a long history of substance abuse and prostitution. She had been arrested numerous times and served time in jail, including several months while she was pregnant with Bella.
After giving birth in August 2012, Bond was discharged from the hospital to a family shelter, where mother and daughter received services from a home visiting program until May 2013.
The report says that during Bond's involvement with DCF in 2012 and 2013, social workers received both positive and negative feedback on her ability to parent Bella.
"However, her past history of arrests, substance abuse, mental health issues, instability and the termination of her parental rights for two other children should have triggered higher-level conferences at DCF, and closer attention," the report states.
"DCF's knowledge of her history should have also dictated the need to thoroughly check recent information from all known collaterals and not rely on Ms. Bond's own statements."
Mossaides said at the news conference that DCF often faces situations in which there are mixed messages about parenting abilities.
"I think it is impossible for anyone to say that continued involvement with the department would have prevented the tragedy that happened in that case," she said.
In a statement, DCF said in a statement that system-wide reform is already underway, including increased management oversight of cases.
"DCF is committed to providing staff with the necessary supports that child protection work demands and deserves," said Andrea Grossman, a spokeswoman for DCF.
The report made a series of recommendations, including that DCF's intake policy should require that when a report of abuse or neglect is filed for someone whose parental rights were terminated on other children, the report will be screened for an investigation and a managerial case review and legal consultation will occur.
Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc contributed to this report.