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Agency had previous contact with family of child who died

The Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services says it received seven calls between 2014 and 2017 about the family of a Meridian boy with special medical needs. But the agency says it had no contact with the family after 2017 until the boy was reported missing this year.

The 5-year-old boy, Jakie Toole, was found dead in a basement in September.

After his death, reporters from The Meridian Star began examining how and when state agencies, law enforcement officers and community members get involved to protect children who are believed to be victims of abuse or neglect.

“This child was defenseless,” Meridian Police Chief Benny Dubose said. “That’s what hurts. He did not have any recourse at all. He had to take whatever was dished out.”

The Department of Child Protection Services is responsible for receiving, screening and investigating allegations of child abuse, neglect or exploitation. Anyone — not just a doctor, psychologist, minister, school employee or law enforcement officer — can report concerns about a child through a centralized hotline, online app or e-reporting system.

Information provided by CPS shows seven reports were made to the agency’s hotline between January 2014 and November 2017 in which Jakie was either the reported victim or a member of the family cited in the reports. All but two of the reports involved medical concerns or medical neglect concerns, the agency said.

CPS said that from January 2014 to September 2015, it provided services to help Jakie’s mother, Teasia Warren, get medical treatment for the child. Investigators found no evidence that Jakie was neglected, according to the agency.

“This was a low-income mom who struggled with transportation and because he was special needs, he had extraordinary medical needs and a number of doctor’s appointments with different specialties,” said Tonya Rogillio, the deputy commissioner for child welfare for CPS. “She didn’t always get to those appointments and so we worked with her a number of times on securing transportation and keeping appointments.”

CPS said it had no contact with the family after 2017, until Jakie’s mother reported him missing this year.

According to police, Warren left Jakie and his brother with a friend, Celeste Smith, in April and returned in May to check on them. Smith told Warren that Jakie had been sent to Jackson to stay with a relative of the person who owned the Meridian home where Smith was living, “so she accepted that,” the police chief, Dubose, said.

Police said Warren told them that four months later, Smith called Warren and said she had been lying to her — that the last time Smith saw Jakie, she and the child had taken a nap, and Smith awoke to find a note saying the child was with Warren. Warren filed a report with Meridian police and they began an investigation to locate Jakie.

Days later, Smith directed them to the boy’s decomposed body, behind plywood covering an opening in a basement wall, police said.

Smith was charged with capital murder and child neglect and Warren was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, The cases have not yet been considered by a grand jury. The Associated Press left a message Monday at the Lauderdale County Public Defender’s office, seeking to speak to attorneys representing Smith and Warren. An autopsy showed that Jakie died of blunt force trauma, Lauderdale County Coroner Clayton Cobler said in October.

CPS said it was unaware Jakie was no longer in his mother’s care and attempted to locate him after Warren reported him missing. Then, the agency learned he was dead.

If someone had noticed earlier that Jakie was missing and contacted CPS, that would have triggered an investigation, Rogillio said.

“We would have 24 hours to attempt to locate the child and if that child wasn’t located in 24 hours, we would continue looking. We would go to law enforcement, ask for help,” she said.

In Lauderdale County, 16 CPS workers are responsible for handling investigations. Records provided by the agency show that from Jan. 1 to Sept. 4, those workers completed 776 investigations in the county.

Dubose, the police chief, said CPS does not appear to have enough workers.

“I know the need far outweighs the people that are there to supply those needs,” he said.

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