BOSTON (CBS) — Five-year-old Neveah Gerrior was in her fifth foster home when an ambulance rushed her to the hospital last year, where she was pronounced dead. “They said as far as they know, that she fell down the stairs,” said her grandmother Nancy Rodriques, who is now searching for answers in a criminal investigation that’s gone on for nearly a year.
Rodriques says she spent years fighting the Department of Children and Families for custody of Neveah and three other grandchildren. “They said that the denial was because of a criminal record,” she said. WBZ’s I-Team ran a CORI background check on Rodriques. There were no felonies, but it only goes back a couple of years. It was her driving record that revealed the biggest problems. The I-Team found more than 40 road violations over three decades, including an OUI 14 years ago. She insists that it wouldn’t affect her ability to raise the kids in a safe home together. “I have a lot of support,” she said, including a home and income.
During visits, she said her conversations with the children were limited. “Not allowed to tell them anything about, you know, Nana’s trying to get you home,” she said. She said a social worker kept the kids from talking about their foster home. “One time I did ask the oldest grandson, and he looked straight at her and said, ‘I can’t, I can’t tell you.’”
They were placed in a home on Treehouse Circle in Easthampton. It’s a community of foster family housing mixed with senior citizen housing and is held up as a model for success, but no one in the community wanted to talk with the I-Team about what happened to little Neveah. Easthampton’s Mayor was the only one who would broach the touchy subject. “Oh, it was a grave loss,” said Mayor Nicole LaChapelle. “I think everyone wants to know or have some kind of resolution, given just the shock and the hurt of the loss.”
The State Medical Examiner’s office tells the I-Team it’s the subject of “a criminal investigation,” and the Northwestern District Attorney’s office says it’s “analyzing voluminous medical records.” A source tells the I-Team investigators are focused on bruising, and looking into whether people were staying at Neveah’s foster home who had not had background checks.
In a statement, DCF said it “…takes seriously its responsibility to keep kids safe, and continues to work with the district attorney…” Records obtained by the I-Team show 177 DCF-involved children have died in the last five years. 32 of them were in state custody. It’s the job of the governor-appointed Child Advocate to hold the agency accountable. “In other words, DCF reviews DCF,” said Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, who’s co-sponsoring proposed legislation that would create an office not tied to DCF, to review its cases. “The system is not working, and we need to take it outside the agency to bring that independent accountability and transparency to it,” she said.
Nancy Rodriques knows nothing can bring her granddaughter back, but she hopes the system can be improved. “I just don’t want this to happen to any other families,” she said. The Child Advocate tells us the state makes every effort to keep DCF-involved children with their families, and it works about 80 percent of the time. As for Neveah’s foster home, DCF says it has been shut down.