Foster mother arrested after 19-month-old boy found with third-degree burns on legs: prosecutors

Shirley Verneus, 35, was charged with assault for allegedly scalding the toddler insider her Queens home.

Laurent Hamels/Getty Images

Laurent Hamels/Getty Images

Shirley Verneus, 35, was charged with assault after the toddler was discovered with the serious injuries during a visit with his biological parents.

A Queens foster mother was arrested for scalding a 19-month-old boy with boiling water until his skin peeled off, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Shirley Verneus, 35, was charged with assault for the disturbing incident in a tub at her St. Albans home.

“The child will be permanently scarred — both physically and emotionally — by the experience,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

The alleged abuse came to light when Verneus brought little Jaurelious Green for a meeting with his biological parents at the St. Christopher Ottile Foster Agency on Jan. 17. A case worker saw bandages on the boy’s legs and asked what happened.

The foster mom replied that she had left the toddler unattended in the bathtub with a 3-year-old two days earlier, court papers said.

She heard screams, then saw him in the tub with the water running and “observed the complainant’s skin peeling off,” according to the criminal complaint.

While Verneus claimed that she took the child to a clinic, she couldn’t show any record proving that, nor did she report the injuries to the foster agency, according to prosecutors.

And a doctor told investigators the second- and third-degree burns “from the top of his thighs down to the soles of his feet on both legs” and on his buttocks were more than a week old, the complaint said.

Jaurelious had to undergo surgeries and the delayed medical care exposed him to the risk of infections and other complications.


A version of this column originally appeared in:

House Ways and Means Committee Discusses Obama Plan on Psychotropics on Foster children

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources heard testimony yesterday on the disproportionate use of psychotropic medications on foster youths, and the president’s $750 million proposal to address the issue.

The hearing yesterday was spurred along by the presence of a celebrity witness, talk show host “Dr. Phil” McGraw.

“These drugs can change and even save lives,” McGraw told the committee. But with foster youths, they are “too often misused as chemical straitjackets,” prescribed to mitigate “undesirable behavior” and make foster youths “less inconvenient.”

The use of psychotropics on foster youths has received attention from several corners in both houses of Congress and the White House in recent months. President Barack Obama proposed in his fiscal 2015 budget a $750 million, 10-year plan to help states develop different ways to address mental health challenges among foster youths.

Last week, Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee said the committee plans to “play offense” on what Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) called “mind-bending drugs.”


Ways and Means leadership from both parties asserted an interest in addressing the issue. “This is a bipartisan issue,” said Subcommittee Chairman David Reichert, “We are together on this.”

A 2011 law shepherded through Ways and Means required states to share their prescription and monitoring protocols with the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Everyone agrees that these drugs are flowing too much,” McGraw said. “The real question is, why? Why is this happening?”

The president’s proposal is a two-pronged plan that focuses mostly on building the ability of states to treat foster youths without psychotropic drugs – or at least with less drugs – and then rewarding states for lowering reliance on the drugs.

The first part is a $50 million a year, five-year investment by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). That mandatory spending would “encourage the use of evidence-based screening, assessment and treatment of trauma and mental health disorders” among foster youth.

The second part is a $500 million Medicaid demonstration program that would provide performance-based Medicaid incentive payments to improve care coordination and delivery of evidence-based services for foster youth.

One key element of those demonstrations would be improved collaboration between child welfare and health services agencies.

“You’d think that child welfare and mental health systems would work together a lot; you’d be very wrong,” said Dr. Michael Naylor, who helps lead a medication oversight partnership between the University of Illinois-Chicago and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

ACF official Joo Yuen Chang testified that the agency found a services gap as it engaged more local systems about psychiatric medications.

“Child welfare agencies did not have access to the research-based, non-pharmacological, mental health treatments for the conditions for which many of these children were being medicated,” Chang said at the hearing.

The Dr. Phil Foundation is one of the 110 organizations to sign a letter in support of the Obama proposal, which ranking minority member Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) introduced for the record.

But McGraw also suggested a more nefarious reason for overreliance on medications.

“It’s pay for pathology,” said McGraw, who is also a spokesman for Court Appointed Special Advocates. “More prescriptions, less treatment. More prescriptions, less treatment. These children deserve better than that.”

Read More at: House Ways and Means Committee Discusses Obama Plan on Psychotropics | The Chronicle of Social Change:


A version of this column originally appeared in:

Foster mom charged in Catoosa County tot’s death

Saharah Weatherspoon is the little girl who died of injuries received while in foster care in Ringgold, Ga.

Saharah Weatherspoon is the little girl who died of injuries received while in foster care in Ringgold, Ga.

A foster parent has been charged with murder in the death of a 2-year-old girl who died on New Year's Day from injuries suffered while in foster care in Catoosa County, Ga.

Clara Louise Edwards was arrested Friday in Chattanooga after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation determined that the cause of Saharah Weatherspoon's death was craniocerebral trauma and the manner of death was homicide, Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk said at a news conference.

Saharah died Jan. 1 from injuries suffered Dec. 29, 2013, in what an unnamed foster parent described as a fall down some stairs at their Ringgold, Ga., home, according to redacted case documents from the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services.

An initial autopsy showed that Saharah had bruising on her back, arms, face and torso, as well as "retinal hemorrhages and both new and old brain bleeding."

Saharah and her 7-year-old brother were taken from their mother, Jennifer Palmer, in February 2013 after the children's father attacked Palmer and stabbed her in front of them. The state also found that the children were living in extremely substandard conditions at the time.

They were placed in Edwards' care in early March.

Read more at: Foster mom charged in Catoosa County tot's death


A version of this column originally appeared in: