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Both sides blame children's agency

A boy in foster care is severely brain-damaged. The foster parents had begged for help.

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published September 13, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG — Just three months after becoming first-time foster parents, Marcus and Tenesia Brown wanted to quit.

The Browns told caseworkers they couldn’t deal with the two young boys unless they got more help for their severe behavioral problems.

By February , the Browns  wanted the boys removed from their home, according to Department of Children and Families records released Wednesday.

By the time authorities acted in March, it was too late for the youngest boy. He had suffered severe brain damage.

The 1½-year-old, identified in court papers as L.G., now lives in a persistent vegetative state.

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office is reviewing the findings from an investigation into how L.G. was injured.
The child welfare records released Wednesday show that the Browns repeatedly sought help in caring for L.G. and his brother.

By the time child welfare officials set up a special meeting with the Browns, L.G. was seriously injured.A lawsuit filed by L.G.’s birth mother blames the Browns and the Safe Children Coalition, the private agency that runs child welfare in Pinellas County.

John Trevena, an attorney for the Browns, said his clients had nothing to do with L.G.’s injuries. But he accused the Safe Children Coalition for not doing enough to help the Browns.

“It was wholly inadequate in terms of supervision and in terms of support,” Trevena said. “They basically placed these children and disappeared.”

***

Marcus Brown, 44, and Tenesia Brown, 38, seemed like great candidates when they applied to be foster parents last fall.

Marcus was a former Army Ranger who worked as a computer programmer. Tenesia was a certified nursing assistant who wanted to stay home with children.

Both had seen relatives fall under the influence of drugs or alcohol and had dealt with adversity in their lives. But they were now devoted churchgoers who lived in a roomy house.

“We love children, we want to be able to give children a good home with a stable environment,” they wrote in their application.

But they ran into difficulties soon after they became licensed foster parents in November and began caring for L.G. and one of his brothers.

Niccole Booze, 28, the mother of the boys, had agreed to give up custody temporarily while she entered rehabilitation for cocaine addiction.

L.G. and his brother, now 3, were troublesome for the Browns, who complained that one of the boys urinated on the floor and the other one constantly cried. The boys didn’t handle day care well, and the Browns had to pick them up frequently.

The Browns cared for two other girls as foster parents. But they mostly complained about the boys, saying they had “increasing difficult behaviors.” They corresponded frequently with Safe Children Coalition employees through e-mails and phone calls.

The Browns asked for more money, saying the boys had severe  emotional problems. They even began keeping a log to document the outbursts of the kids.

Safe Children Coalition employees responded by trying to schedule meetings with the Browns to work out the problems.

But it wasn’t enough.

“We have asked for help concerning the boys and it has been slow at best,” Marcus Brown wrote in a Feb. 21 e-mail to employees of Safe Children Coalition. “We have now contacted placement this morning … to have the boys removed from our home.”

The Safe Children Coalition scheduled a “disruption staffing” for March 13, a special meeting where the Browns and child welfare officials could work out their differences. If the meeting didn’t help, then authorities could take additional steps, including removing the children.

But the meeting never took place. L.G. became severely brain-damaged on March 4. St. Petersburg police opened an investigation, the Browns’ foster care license was deactivated and their foster children were removed.

Lee Johnson, the executive vice president of the Sarasota YMCA, which operates as the Safe Children Coalition in Pinellas, said the agency had followed standard procedures.

 Darryl Rouson, an attorney representing Niccole Booze, said the coalition did not do its job. L.G. requires 24-hour supervision in a special nursing home.

“These severe, tragic, traumatic injuries occurred while the agencies representing DCF were slow to remove the children,” Rouson said.

Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

[Last modified September 13, 2006, 22:39:23]


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