Three charged in girl's death

September 1, 2009 4:12:28 PM PDT
The parents and grandmother of a baby girl who died months ago now face criminal charges, accused of neglecting serious injuries that eventually took her life. Now some children's rights advocates are criticizing Child Protective Services for not intervening before it was too late.Two-year-old Amber MacCurdy died back in April. It's a death that authorities say could have been prevented. CPS officials paid numerous visits to the girl's Katy home before her death.

Authorities say the autopsy revealed Amber died from an untreated staph infection. The medical examiner also found she had broken ribs and a fractured arm.

When Amber's parents and grandmother were arrested and charged with injury to a child, Randy Burton's first thoughts were "that the case was preventable, that we could have saved this little girl's life," he said.

The former prosecutor and child advocate with Justice for Children doesn't argue charges needed to be filed, but he also wonders why CPS isn't taking some blame.

Burton said, "To me what's unforgiveable is that the system we put in place to protect these children when we know that they're at risk, has failed to do anything to keep them safe."

That criticism comes in light of the fact CPS visited MacCurdy's home four times prior to her death. In 2003, when Amber's then three- year-old brother had wandered from the home, CPS recommended a change of locks. In 2006, when that same brother was found dirty and unsupervised, the case was investigated, but later closed. In 2007, when Amber's other brother, a one-year-old, had a fractured arm, a doctor ruled it was not abuse. And in March of this year, when Amber's older brother was the focus of a child abuse case, a CPS caseworker ruled the allegation unfounded, although Amber's mother prevented the caseworker from fully inspecting her daughter.

Gwen Carter with Child Protective Services said, "There was no indication from our visit to the home that the other children were in danger."

The MacCurdy case comes in the wake of the death of four-year-old Emma Thompson, who just weeks before she died with bruises covering her body and a skull fracture, tested positive for herpes. A caseworker decided not to remove her from her home because she didn't have any other signs of sexual abuse. Then just this week, a three-year-old Montgomery County boy died from blunt force injuries. CPS had visited his guardians three times before his death.

"We are taking a hard look at the work that we do and we are making no excuses, if there is something we could have done," Carter said.

CPS says it will be reviewing these cases with oversight from Austin, fully aware that people like Randy Burton will be watching, hoping this time things will change.

"We expect and we assume that when we call CPS they are the white knight that charges to the child's safety," Burton said. "It's not what happens."

All three of the defendants in the MacCurdy case have plead not guilty. The case is moving forward and the defendants are due in court later this week.

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