News Article Details

DCYF employee placed on leave after child's death; director promises full investigation

Providence Journal - 1/16/2019

Jan. 16--PROVIDENCE -- One employee of the state Department of Children, Youth and Families has been placed on administrative leave and three others are on limited duty following the death of a 9-year-old girl with cerebral palsy in a Warwick home earlier this month.

An emotional DCYF Director Trista Piccola met with reporters Wednesday morning and said that the deplorable conditions that the Warwick police found in the home of Michelle Rothgeb were "completely unacceptable" and amounted to neglect for all eight special needs children living in the Oakland Beach Avenue home.

"We want what everyone wants, especially those that loved and cared most about her, answers," said Piccola. "We want to understand what happened."

Piccola said she knew of no other case in the state where a single person was allowed to care for eight special-needs children.

Asked why Rothgeb was allowed in July 2018 to adopt another child after the agency had concerns about supervision six months earlier, Piccola said: "It's a fair question and it's part of the review. It is something I think everyone is asking: How is it that we have a group of very well intended, intelligent, caring people [at DCYF] who at this point seemed to have made a series of unreasonable decisions, in my estimation."

A rescue crew found Zah-Nae Rothgeb unresponsive when they rushed to the home on Jan. 3.

Michelle Rothgeb, 55, the child's guardian, received about $4,800 a month from the state for caring for the eight children. On Monday, Rothgeb was charged with cruelty to or neglect of a child. A judge set Rothgeb's bail at $25,000 surety. She did not enter a plea, as is customary during felony arraignments.

Piccola said DCYF social worker inspected the home last in July of 2018, just prior to Rothgeb's adopting another baby and at that time Piccola said the home was not in the condition as described by police.

However, Piccola conceded that the social worker did not have access to the second floor bedrooms where months later police would find bedding soiled with feces and urine. Piccola said Rothgeb refused to give the social worker access to the second floor. It's unclear what the social worker did next.

"I don't understand why it came to be this way," Piccola said.

A social worker can return to a home with police or some other authority and demand access.

"It seems inexplicable," Piccola said, that this situation had been allowed to linger. She promised a full investigation so that something like this doesn't happen again.

Piccola said of the eight children, only six of them were adopted, the other two were under Rothgeb's "guardianship" and had a relation to her.

Piccola would not further identify who the DCYF workers were or what role they played in this case.


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