Report clears NJ workers in beheading of toddler

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A new state report concludes that New Jersey child services workers could not have prevented the death of a 2-year-old boy who was decapitated by his mother.

The Philadelphia Inquirer (http://bit.ly/TRCoZj) obtained the three-page report that was issued late Friday afternoon by Department of Children and Families Commissioner Allison Blake. She states the agency used consistent and thoughtful practices to determine that 34-year-old Chevonne Thomas of Camden should regain custody of her son, Zahree.

"Overall, my review of this matter does not find evidence that (child protection workers) would have had any indication that Ms. Thomas was in distress or that they could have prevented this child's death," Blake wrote.

The report notes that some improvements are needed for better supervision, improved coordination of clinical assessments and new guidelines for forensic evaluations. But it does not say how often child-protection workers visited with Thomas, how often she was tested for drugs or how frequently she was supervised interacting with her son.

Police found Zahree's body in his mother's row house Aug. 22. Authorities say Chevonne Thomas fatally stabbed herself in the neck minutes after placing a rambling 911 call in which she said she stabbed her son.

Thomas' parents, Wendell and Jerlaine Birch, disagreed with the report's findings. The couple had previously been awarded temporary custody of Zahree and told the newspaper that their daughter had been asking for help she never received, claims disputed in the state report.

"I don't like the way they are handling this either," Wendell Birch said after reading the report.

Custody had been taken away from Thomas in 2010 after police found her incoherent in Camden, the report said. She told authorities she smoked PCP and did not know where she left her baby, authorities have said.

Zahree was placed with his grandparents, who had previously helped care for him. Thomas lost custody a second time after she tested positive for PCP during a random drug test, and Zahree was placed again with the grandparents.

"This was a complex child-protective-services case made more difficult by the mother's ongoing struggle with co-occurring mental-health and substance-abuse disorders," Blake wrote. "Ms. Thomas struggled with bipolar disorder and was taking medications to address this condition. However, she also admittedly used drugs."

Thomas was given treatment for her mental health and drug addiction, Blake wrote. The report notes that child care was provided for Zahree while Thomas received a number of services.

Thomas had regained custody of Zahree on April 3.

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Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.philly.com

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