By David Madden
CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) - New Jersey child welfare officials are releasing more details about how they handled the case of a Camden mother who decapitated her two-year-old son earlier this week before taking her own life.
In a statement, the Department of Children and Families went more into detail into how they dealt with Chevonne Thomas and her son Zahree. Chevonne’s drug problems caused the state to place the boy with a relative twice.After staying clean for eight straight months, Zahree was returned to Chevonne by court order last April.
Her last drug test, at the end of June, also came back negative. The last caseworker visit was July 3rd, with the case reviewed again 20 days later. A federal court settlement over prior childcare concerns mandates two caseworker visits per month. The statement indicates plans were to close the Thomas file at some point, and there were no clues that the mother showed any sign of a possible problem.
Read the complete statement from the NJ Department of Children and Families:
When a child dies, words alone cannot express the collective sorrow felt throughout the entire Department of Children and Families. This was especially true as we learned of the tragic deaths of Zahree Thomas and his mother Chevonne Thomas in Camden earlier this week.
Even for our child welfare professionals, the circumstances surrounding the deaths of this mother and child were especially hard to comprehend. I know I speak for all DCF employees when I share our pain and condolences for this senseless loss of life.
It is our responsibility to initiate a thorough and comprehensive case review of our history with the Thomas family, and I can assure you that process is currently underway. As is always our intention, we plan to provide you with as much information as possible within the confines of the law.
At this time I can provide the following details surrounding DCF’s involvement with Ms. Thomas and Zahree.
On November 28, 2010, the Department received an allegation of neglect when Ms. Thomas left her son Zahree unattended in a parked vehicle. Ms. Thomas was later found and admitted to using marijuana and PCP. Ms. Thomas was substantiated for neglect by DCF related to this incident. The child was placed with a close relative from November 28, 2010 through July 11, 2011 when Zahree was returned to his mother’s custody via a court order with DCF support after she had successfully completed substance abuse, mental health and other counseling services.
On August 2, 2011, Ms. Thomas tested positive for PCP in a random urine screen and the child was removed that day and placed with the same relative until April 3, 2012 when he was returned to the mother’s custody via a court order. This return was supported by all parties to the litigation, including DCF, as Ms. Thomas had consistently negative urine screens over an 8 month period, and had successfully completed numerous other supportive services including therapeutic visitation, parenting capacity evaluation, early intervention, therapy and medication monitoring.
Zahree was returned to Ms. Thomas with in-home supportive services, therapeutic community resources, and a strong kinship support system. Court-ordered care and supervision of the Thomas family was terminated pursuant to court order on April 3, 2012, with the condition that Ms. Thomas complete in-home services through an approved children’s services organization. Additionally, random urine screens continued to be conducted after reunification, with negative results received as recently as June 28 and 29, 2012.
A caseworker from the Department of Children and Family’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency Camden North Office last visited the Thomas family on July 3, 2012. After receiving continued favorable reports from Ms. Thomas and Zahree’s providers, the case was reviewed again on July 23, 2012 and was being prepared for closure. Our ongoing review does not reveal that any support systems involved with Ms. Thomas had any indications of relapse or noted any behaviors that could foreshadow harm to Zahree.
As the Department continues its review of the Thomas case, we will continue to offer supportive services to relatives.
At such time we are able to provide additional information, we will do so. We owe Zahree and the Thomas family nothing less than a diligent, careful review of the facts, and we anticipate that process to take some time to ensure accuracy and thoroughness.
As always, the Department of Children and Families remains steadfastly committed to doing all that we can to ensure the children and families of New Jersey remain safe, healthy and supported.