Kansas child welfare officials say they received repeated reports about a Wichita toddler before he was found dead in a motel of a methadone overdose in the latest high-profile tragedy involving the agency responsible for overseeing young children.
In response to a records request from The Associated Press, the Kansas Department of Children and Families released a summary Tuesday of its involvement with 2-year-old Zayden JayNesahkluah. He is at least the ninth child age 5 or younger since 2017 to die in the Wichita area under suspicious circumstances, several of them after state welfare officials had contact with the family.
Zayden's mother, 23-year-old Kimberly Compass , was charged last month with first-degree murder following her son's overdose of the addiction treatment medication. She previously has denied any wrongdoing. Her attorney, Casey Cotton, didn't immediately return a phone message Wednesday.
The child welfare agency says Compass was assigned to a program designed to keep the family intact almost continuously from August 2016 to September 2018, although the state contractor working with Compass lost contact with her during the second year after she moved. It was unclear from the summary why she was participating in the program. But Mike Deines, a spokesman for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said her participation was voluntarily.
The agency says it then received reports in December 2018 and January 2019 about neglect and lack of supervision. Later, the agency received reports that Compass' then-partner was physically abusive, and that Compass was neglectful and failed to provide supervision. At one point, Compass refused a drug test, the summary shows.
Although the reports weren't substantiated, Compass received a mental health referral. The agency says a service provider attempted to contact her on May 31, the day Zayden was found dead at a motel. It was just three days before his third birthday.
Laura Howard, secretary of the Department for Children and Families, said in a statement Wednesday: "The death of a child, whether in DCF custody or not, is a tragedy and I am committed to doing everything possible to prevent this from happening again."
After his death, Zayden's older sibling was placed in protective custody.
Compass' cousin, Shelby Curry, cared for Zayden for about a year of his short life.
"His mom, she would go say, 'Can you watch him for an hour?' and come back three days later," she told The Wichita Eagle in June. "That was pretty much how it went."
Curry's phone rang unanswered Wednesday.
Compass told the newspaper in July that she believed Zayden's death was the result of a medical condition. He had been hospitalized two weeks earlier after having a seizure, she told the newspaper in a Facebook message.
Howard said in her statement that DCF is reviewing critical incidents to identify an agency, policy or procedure that needs to be addressed. She also noted the department has several new policies, including a universal infant referral policy, new family preservation and foster care grants and instituting a Family First Prevention Act.
She said she is confident the changes will put the agency "on a trajectory toward a strong system for Kansas children and families."
Other children to die after involvement with the state welfare agency include 3-year-old Evan Brewer, whose body was found encased in concrete after his relatives repeatedly reported abuse. His mother was convicted of second-degree murder and her boyfriend of first-degree murder.
In the Kansas City area, 7-year-old Adrian Jones was tortured, starved, killed and fed to pigs in 2015 despite extensive involvement with welfare officials. His mother and stepfather are serving life sentences.