It’s horrifying to think what life must have been like for a little girl named Alexandra, so hungry that she ate cockroaches off the floor. So beaten up that a piece of her skull showed through her forehead.
Alexandra Velazco Tercerro died last year, just a week before her fourth birthday.
Died, after the state Department of Child Safety had taken custody of her younger sister -- having been assured by the children’s mother that Alexandra and her brother were someplace safe.
For a year, I’ve wondered just how far DCS went to verify the story told by Alexandra’s mother, a woman who had repeatedly lied about her drug use.
DCS assures me that the agency did its job.
“Clearly, DCS made several attempts to ascertain the whereabouts of the children,” a department spokesman told me. "And it bears repeating that the parents went as far as to defy the court when ordered to produce information as to their whereabouts."
How DCS failed this child
Clearly, it's also worth noting that when the parents defied the court, nobody did a thing about it.
A year after Alexandra’s death, after finally getting to read the DCS records in this case, the only thing that seems clear to me is that the agency failed this child.
How she was born in May 2011 with methamphetamine in her system. How she and her brother were taken away from their parents, Rosemary Velazco and Carlos Tercerro Cruz, but were returned 11 months later.
How two years later, in June 2014, Rosemary gave birth to another meth-exposed baby, who was taken away and put into foster care. How Alexandra and her brother were supposed to be taken, too.
But they were nowhere to be found.
Did anyone call the consulate?
“Mother’s other two children are in Mexico right now with their (redacted) but will return soon,” the caseworker noted on June 27, 2014, shortly after the baby’s birth.
The children’s whereabouts came up during a July 1, 2014, DCS meeting and again in a July 11, 2014, progress report to the court: “Due to the older children being in Mexico for the time being, DCS was not able to assess their safety (and) allowed the TCN (temporary custody notice) to expire. The department will continue working on this situation by contacting the Mexican consulate in order to determine what the next steps will be regarding these children.”
But did anyone make that call?
At a July 14, 2014, court hearing, a judge ordered the parents to provide DCS with an address for the children. However, there’s nothing in the case file to indicate the judge did anything about it when the parents defied the order.
On Aug. 6, 2014, DCS noted that the children “are still residing in Mexico” and that the parents had not provided contact information.
On Aug. 14, 2014, the caseworker wrote a “to-do list” with the following notation: “Follow up with Mexican Consulate to ensure other two siblings are safe.”
Alexandra was never mentioned again
But there are no case notes documenting that anybody actually made that call – or if somebody did, what happened as a result. This, in an agency that documents everything.
The only mention is contained in the minutes summarizing a case manager’s comments at a Dec. 10, 2014, Foster Care Review Board meeting. “She has made contact with the consulate in the country in which the biological mother’s oldest children reside.”
In a Jan. 21, 2015, report to the court, DCS again notes “The older children are stated to reside in Mexico.”
By that time, DCS was working on severing the parents’ rights to the baby, given their refusal to take drug tests and participate in other services.
As for Alexandra, she was never again mentioned in the DCS file – other than the cut-and-paste “in Mexico for the time being” status that investigators reported month after month.
Until May 23, 2015, that is. On that day, Surprise police were called to the parents' home after Alexandra's uncle found her unresponsive.
She was dead by the time paramedics could get her to the hospital.
Actually, the kids were here all along
Alexandra had injuries or scars to most every part of her body, including a forehead gash so deep that it exposed her skull. She weighed just 16 pounds.
Police said the home was crawling with cockroaches and the bedroom had a padlock on the door, along with a paint can that police believe the children used as a toilet.
Alexandra’s brother would later tell authorities that he watched his sister eating cockroaches off the floor.
Turns out the children had been there all along.
“Rosemary said she would take the kids to (a) family member’s house when she knew DCS was coming,” police wrote. “Rosemary admitted the kids have never been to Mexico.”
One would think DCS might have known that, had it contacted the consulate the previous year. Or that if DCS couldn’t get confirmation, that the agency might have called the police to get help in finding the children.
Why didn't DCS show up unannounced?
Or maybe even showed up unannounced at the house, where DCS might have found that the parents were high and the kids were right there all along.
According to a summary of the case by a psychologist -- brought in by DCS to consult on whether to pursue severance after Alexandra’s death -- DCS never took any action.
“There was no additional follow-up with regard to Alexandra and (her brother) nor was contact made with the Mexican Consulate to locate the children,’’ she wrote.
For 11 months, the parents were able to hide Alexandra from DCS and a Superior Court juvenile judge, who apparently wasn’t prepared to back up her court order with actual consequences for ignoring it.
For 11 months, that child suffered right under DCS’s nose.
Whether DCS didn’t look for those children or didn’t look hard enough, the fallout is the same.
Alexandra never made it to the ripe old age of 4.
Postscript: DCS won’t say what has happened to the other two children. Actually other three children, as Rosemary was pregnant (and yes, on meth) when she was arrested, records indicate. The parents are in jail awaiting trial for murder and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Meanwhile, "A communication was sent to all DCS staff reinforcing the use of the Office of Child Welfare Investigations (OCWI) as a resource for additional assistance when it appears a child is missing, unsafe or information about the child's whereabouts is being withheld."
The "communication" was sent out on June 29, 2015 -- 37 days after Alexandra died.
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