A Department of Children and Families official said this weekend that a fax warning of possible harm to a Grafton infant was missed by state officials for six days not because the department left the fax machine unattended, but because the report was accidentally misplaced.
Initial reports last week suggested that the DCF office had missed the April 3 fax from Grafton police because the person who usually checks the DCF fax machine was off, and no one had been assigned to take over that duty.
But in a followup this weekend, the agency said that a designated supervisor completed assigned checks of incoming faxes during the week police sent the April 3 report, known as a 51A, on Aliana Lavigne. The fax from police concerning the infant was temporarily misplaced, the agency said, and added it is investigating why this happened and that the misplacement was an “unacceptable error.”
The fax was discovered April 9, two days before Aliana died. Initial reports on how it was missed were based on reports from DCF staff who told the Globe about the missed faxes.
The month-old newborn who was found dead in a Grafton apartment April 11. She lived in the unit with her mother, Andrea Lavigne.
A new DCF memo indicates the agency is working to improve its system for reviewing incoming alerts on potential dangers to children within its care.
Three days after Aliana’s death, DCF issued a new fax distribution policy for two Worcester-area offices, according to a copy of the memo obtained by the Globe. One of those offices received the fax regarding the child.
The memo stated there will be hourly checks by two clerks responsible for sorting and distributing fax materials. The memo also stated that any 51A reports faxed from mandated reporters — such as police officers, doctors, and teachers —will be sent to an intake unit supervisor, or a designee if a supervisor is not available. State law mandates a 51A report be completed to alert DCF of suspected cases of abuse or neglect.
Child protection officials have not said how the fax ended up missing for six days. But the agency maintains that it is working to link faxes and e-mails for faster delivery of reports to DCF staff.
A social worker was assigned to Aliana’s case April 10. However, the case did not receive an emergency designation, which would have required a visit within 24 hours, according to a person familiar with the matter.
A DCF spokeswoman declined to say Sunday why the case was not deemed an emergency.
The social worker who had been assigned Aliana’s case was off April 10 and began her review the following day, when emergency workers found Aliana dead, a source told the Globe.
Grafton police faxed the report April 3 after visiting the apartment of Andrea Lavigne, who had lost custody of her older child and had a history of mental illness and psychotropic drug use.
Police had visited the home multiple times for reports of Aliana crying. On April 3, officers initially had trouble getting Andrea Lavigne’s attention, said people familiar with the case reports.
Aliana did not appear harmed, but police still filed a 51A report, according to people briefed on the matter.
Cayenne Isaksen, a DCF spokeswoman, said Saturday in a written statement that the agency “was in the process” of investigating the report from Grafton police at the time of Aliana’s death, which she said was a “tragic incident.”
Isaksen declined on Sunday to provide details about the specific steps that were taken at the outset of the review.
She said mandated reporters “are required to verbally report” cases of suspected child abuse or neglect and, by law, follow up with a written report within 48 hours.
On Saturday, DCF said updated 51A forms will be delivered to law enforcement. The new forms will have more explicit reporting instructions along with phone numbers for DCF offices.
In addition, DCF maintained that medical professionals, social workers, and emergency personnel had numerous contact with Aliana and her mother, and none of them had reported concerns.
Despite multiple home visits by police, no 51A reports were filed before April 3, so DCF would not have been aware of the prior visits, according to the state agency.
Grafton Police Chief Normand A. Crepeau Jr. did not return a call Sunday, but he told the Boston Herald over the weekend that his officers “did what they were supposed to do.”
Law enforcement authorities continue to investigate Aliana’s death, and no criminal charges have been filed.
A spokesman for the Worcester district attorney’s office said Sunday that he had no updates on the case.
Andrea Lavigne, after initially telling television stations that Aliana inexplicably stopped breathing while they slept together, has since hired a lawyer and has declined interview requests.
Her attorney could not be reached for comment Sunday.