One more heartbreaking failure from Arizona’s child-welfare agency.
One more child whose short, painful life makes the average person wince and try to wish it away.
Alexandra Velazco-Tercerro, 3 years old, weighed 15 pounds when she died. She’d been beaten, brutalized and sexually abused, according to court records. And on Wednesday, her parents were charged with first-degree murder.
She was a tiny, broken child. The state could have saved her.
She once had a chance. She and her brother were removed from their so-called home in May 2011 because their mother, Rosemary Velazco, tested positive for methamphetamine when Alexandra was born.
The baby was in state protection. She was safe.
Then she and her brother were reunited with their so-called parents in April 2012. The case was closed. Her torture must have begun shortly after that. In addition to extreme malnourishment, she had injuries all over her body “in various stages of healing,” according to the police report.
She would have been 4 this weekend. She was pronounced dead on Saturday.
That’s bad enough.
But this story gets much, much worse.
Last June, Arizona’s child-welfare agency was back in that hellish home. The agency removed an infant.
When Velazco and Carlos Cruz said Alexandra and her brother were out of the country with relatives, caseworkers took them at their word. Nothing was done to find the children. According to Department of Child Safety Director Greg McKay, child-welfare workers had no idea that Alexandra or her 6-year-old brother was in the home.
It’s jaw-dropping malfeasance.
Closing a case does not mean children disappear. There should be follow-up when children are returned to a home where the mother, according to DCS, has used methamphetamine.
If the state subsequently returns to a home with known abuse issues on behalf of another child, it should be of paramount importance to find out whether all the kids are safe. This is so basic it shouldn’t have to be said.
There were other opportunities to save Alexandra. As part of DCS “protocol,” spokesman Doug Nick says, a family aide tried to make contact with the parents after the infant was removed. After several attempts, “it appeared as though the family was doing their best to avoid” contact.
This did not trigger another investigative visit. Why? Because the case involving Alexandra and her brother had been closed, and the infant involved in the new, open case was in custody. Talk about going by the book and throwing away the child.
Where was the common sense?
DCS is “only empowered to look at allegations of open cases,” Nick says. So DCS took the word of a meth-abusing mom and never looked for a little girl who was being abused to death in the next room.
Heartbreaking. You bet. But just try to lay blame.
Addressing the roots of this egregious screw up gets caught in a labyrinth of bureaucracy.
The infant was taken from the home in which Alexandra was being brutalized in June, one month after DCS was created to replace an underfunded agency known for fatal mistakes.
The public was told to be patient. Real changes would take time, we were told.
Adding another layer of complication is the shakeup at the agency that Gov. Doug Ducey orchestrated in February when he fired the director and gave the job to McKay, whose lack of managerial experience has been a source of concern.
Once again, there was a call for patience. Give the new guy a chance to make changes, we were told.
Meanwhile, a little girl was suffering. She’s probably not the only one. After Alexandra’s death, her brother was put in state custody.
This story leaves Arizonans with an ache in their hearts. So many people would have held that little girl and tried to make her feel better. So many would have dried her tears and tried to make her laugh.
But the agency whose job it is to protect little ones didn’t even know she was there.