Health and Welfare defends handling of abused baby case

The agency is firing back after a 3-month-old baby died.

BOISE -- The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare on Friday challenged accusations they had not done enough to protect a three-month-old Nampa boy who died in 2014 after suffering horrific abuse at the hands of his father.

An autopsy performed after Sylys Hernandez' Dec. 30, 2014 death revealed he was underweight, bruised, and had more than two dozen fractures to his ribcage, as well as two broken legs.

The baby's father, 26-year-old Isaac Hernandez, was sentenced Wednesday to 27 years in prison.

Prosecutor Erica Kallin said in court someone had reported the child was being abused the month before he died.

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"There was an anonymous call to the Department of Health and Welfare, expressing concerns that Sylys was being shaken," she told the judge. "The Department of Health and Welfare did not put eyes on Sylys, spoke to a couple of people, then closed it out as unfounded."

That's not true, IDHW spokesman Tom Shanahan told KTVB Friday.

Shanahan said reports of abuse involving a child under the age of six is automatically classified as a Priority One case, triggering an immediate response. When the call about Sylys came in Nov. 3, a social worked dropped by Isaac Hernandez' home the same day for an unannounced visit, he said.

"The social worker goes into the home, they observe the child, there were no apparent injuries," Shanahan said. "The baby appeared healthy - the baby was actually eating when we were there."

Shanahan said the social worker interviewed the baby's father, other adults in the home, and multiple other people who had seen Hernandez interact with the infant. Everyone said nothing was wrong.

The social worker also pulled medical records from  Sylys' checkup just a week before, in which a pediatrician noted the baby was a good weight and had no health concerns.

"At that point, there was nothing we could do to substantiate any physical abuse," Shanahan said. "We didn't see anything that set off any warning signals at all."

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The case was closed. Shanahan said his office never received another report of abuse between then and Sylys' death five days after Christmas.

He said the baby's fate has been hard on social workers.

"Our social workers take it very personally, because they were called once, and they did respond and then - I don't know what else they could have done at that point," he said.

The Canyon County Prosecutor's Office says the only report they received from Health and Welfare indicated the social worker hadn't seen the infant. Shanahan said that report did not come from his department.

He said he plans to meet with prosecutors next week to determine whether there was a breakdown in communication, and if so, how that can be addressed for future cases. 

READ: Questions persist after beaten baby's death

Shanahan stressed that all reports of child abuse are taken seriously. He encouraged people to call and keep calling if they suspect a child is being hurt.

"The public sometimes gets the wrong ideas: There's almost an urban myth out there that the Child Protective system isn't working, it's broken," he said. "It's not. We have a good system, we have good people, and they have one of the hardest jobs in the world."

To report abuse or neglect of a child in the Treasure Valley, call 208-334-KIDS.

Copyright 2016 KTVB


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