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State Tried To Take Custody Of Baby Before Alleged Attack By Mother

A 3-week-old baby is in critical condition after police say he was shaken by his teenage mother. The Department for Children and Families had flagged the South Burlington mother as being unfit to care for the infant. But administration officials say that despite their best efforts, the department was unable to assume custody of the child.

Ken Schatz is the commissioner of the Department for Children and Families. And he says social workers recently sought to place the baby under state care.

“At some point we became concerned that the mother was not appropriately protecting the child, or there was a risk of harm to the child, and so we did initiate proceedings to have the family court get involved,” Schatz said Tuesday.

Schatz says he’s prohibited by state law from discussing the Family Court proceeding at which the state sought to intervene. But he says it did not result in the infant being removed from the custody of his 17-year-old mother.

“Obviously this has all happened very recently,” Schatz said. “But at this point what I know it seems like the social workers did what they could to protect the child.”

DCF came under heavy scrutiny last year after the deaths of two children formerly under its watch. Lawmakers are working on a bill designed to improve child welfare safeguards. But Schatz says the provisions in that bill likely wouldn’t have changed the outcome of this most recent case.

Gov. Peter Shumlin addressed the incident at his weekly press conference Tuesday, and called the case “incredibly upsetting.”

While Shumlin said he was unable to disclose the specifics of this particular case, he used a “generic” description of the process to intimate that a family court judge had blocked the state’s efforts to remove the child from the home.

“DCF makes the request, obviously family can make their wishes know, and a judge makes a judgment,” Shumlin said. “That’s how generally these processes go forward.”

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