7 Investigates: Mom who lost son to abuse seeks answers

7 Investigates: Tragic child abuse case.

BOISE --  Sylys Hernandez was 8 pounds, 8 ounces when he was born on Oct. 3rd, 2014. His mother, Jamie Young, was serving time in prison for grand theft and possession of methamphetamine when she gave birth.

"Usually you only get 24 hours with the baby after it's born, but Sylys was born early in the morning so I got an extra little bit of time," said Young.

KTVB talked with Young at the Pocatello Correctional Center, where she is scheduled to be released next October. Young says she was taken to the hospital for her son's birth, then returned to prison. 

That's when Sylys's father, Isaac Hernandez, came to get him. He had full custody and brought Sylys to prison for visits with Jamie. She saw Sylys just four more times.

"Very cuddly, he would always fall asleep on me during the visit," said Young.

The day after Christmas, Sylys came dressed in his best, and posed for a picture. It's still Jamie's favorite photograph of him, and marks the last time she saw her 3-month-old son.

"I got a call and was told that... and was told that he wasn't alive anymore," said Young.

Jamie was stunned. She said when she first talked to Isaac, he said he didn't know what happened. He told her he was sleeping on the sofa with Sylys and suddenly noticed he wasn't breathing. Jamie thought it was SIDS, a tragic and terrible accident. But, months later, after she was released from prison, she learned what happened. 

"On July 27th is when two Canyon County detectives came and told me they were issuing a warrant for Isaac's arrest, and I asked what the charges were and they said six counts of felony injury to a child with great bodily harm," said Young.

26-year-old Isaac Hernandez eventually pled guilty and was sentenced to 27 years. In court, the prosecution explained the horrible abuse little Sylys had suffered. They said he had 26 rib fractures and both legs were broken. They also said he was a child who was starving, dehydrated and bruised.

Jamie says she couldn't handle it, fell back into her drug addiction, and has been in and out of trouble since.

"I put a lot of blame on myself, if i hadn't messed up on probation I could have been there caring for my son," said Young.

But she was even more upset when she learned that an anonymous call had come in to the Department of Health and Welfare's Intake Center, on November 3 about Sylys.

"We responded immediately to the home and basically we observed the child, the child was eating when we got there, the child appeared healthy and thriving," said Tom Shanahan, with the Department of Health and Welfare.

Shanahan says Sylys seemed fine and medical records from a doctor's visit just days earlier showed a healthy baby.

"There didn't appear to be any abuse going on, so then we went and interviewing those who had frequent contact with the family and basically there was no indication from them that there was any abuse going on," said Shanahan.

Shanahan says it had been a priority-one call, that was fully investigated, but there was simply no sign of abuse and no reason to remove the child.

"We really had no grounds to go beyond that at that point - if we had gotten another referral and gone in and things were a little bit different, things would have ended much differently," said Shanahan.

But Jamie feels the Department should have done more to prevent her son's death less than two months after that call.

"Really frustrating, they could have saved his life that day," said Young.

Jamie says Isaac had been interviewed when DHW investigated abuse for her other two children years before.
At the time, she thought someone else was at fault, now she believes Isaac's history should have been a red flag.

"They told me they would keep an eye on Sylys because Isaac was part of the other case as well, so they said they would do the welfare checks and make sure everything was okay. and knowing that there was a call and nothing was happening," said Young.

We took that concern to DHW., who said Isaac's name would have shown up for his involvement in previous cases.

"Any individual whose name is associated with a report or an assessment in our system is forever associated with that report or that assessment," said Amanda Pena, with the Department of Health and Welfare.

But no one, including Hernandez, was ever charged in those cases. Shanahan says since there were no signs of abuse in Sylys' case, there was nothing more they could do.

"I think if we had gotten another referral that would have raised the flag more, if we had gotten another one, but the first one was anonymous, fairly vague and we never heard anything more," said Shanahan.

He, along with more than a dozen social workers at central intake agree, the biggest piece in making the system work is the community calling in.

"We get that question a lot people will say i don't know if this is reportable a lot, and we encourage people that anything is reportable any time you're concerned about a child please give us a call," said Kelly Shoplock with the Department of Health and Welfare.

The Department of Health and Welfare says there is a standardized process for every call that comes in, to make sure nothing is missed when determining if kids are safe.

"When tragedies like this happen you look at could it have been prevented I think we learn from them, but at the same time I hope people realize how good of a system we have and what good work our social workers do," said Shanahan.

So, we looked into that system and the process in place for reviewing it. The federal government does an assessment every five to seven years, but in addition, DHW. does its own reviews every six months.

"We continue to conduct the same level of depth and analysis of our cases every year in between federal case reviews, we use the same tools, we use the same process," said Jake Silva with the Department of Health and Welfare.

That includes comparing Idaho's statistics to national standards in safety outcomes like recurrence of maltreatment and placement stability.

"Idaho has three years in a row met or exceeded those measurements that's a big thing to celebrate from a system's perspective," said Silva.

But Jamie still wonders what more could have been done to save Sylys. She spends much of her time at the Correctional Center looking at pictures of her kids, trying to get over the guilt she carries, missing the little boy she couldn't protect.

"I miss him every day, I think about him all the time," said Young.

Young plans to move to Oregon to be closer to her family, and hopes to get custody of her two other children when she is released next year.

 

Copyright 2016 KTVB


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