Report: Decision to Close Bella Bond Case Was ‘Premature’

A new report released Wednesday claims the Department of Children and Families didn't do enough to protect Bella Bond, the 2-year-old who came to be known as "Baby Doe" when her body washed ashore on a Boston Harbor beach over the summer.

The report, released by the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate, claims DCF made a "premature" decision to close the 51a reports alleging Bella was abused and neglected in 2012 and 2013.

"It is clear that the Department of Children and Families should have not closed the case in 2013," said Child Advocate Maria Mossaides. 

"I think it is impossible for anyone to say that continued involvement with the department would have prevented the tragedy that happened in that case," she said.

State authorities began investigating the case after Bella's body was found on Deer Island in Winthrop, Massachusetts, in June. Police received a tip three months later after the child's mother, Rachelle Bond, allegedly told a friend that her boyfriend, Michael McCarthy, had killed Bella. Both Bond and McCarthy have been charged in connection with Bella's death.

The report released Wednesday claims DCF inaccurately gauged the risk to Bella and did not properly assess Bond's ability to parent. The report says Bond's history of arrests, substance abuse and mental health issues should have "triggered higher-level conferences at DCF."

"The OCA's findings regarding DCF casework in 2012-2013 are similar to those identified in other recent case reviews released by the Governor and OCA," said Child Advocate Maria Z. Mossaides. "These issues are being addressed by initiatives currently underway, including rebuilding DCF's management structure, quality assurance processes, and policies to provide clear guidance and oversight to staff in assessing risk to children and monitoring families."

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker ordered the child advocate to investigate the Bond family's involvement with police, child welfare agencies like DCF, executive agencies and other service providers. The goal was to discover what, if any, issues or opportunities should have been red flags in allowing Bella to remain in the home.

Court records show Bond was arrested more than a dozen times, mostly on prostitution and drug charges, before Bella was born. Also prior to Bella's birth, DCF terminated Bond's parental rights to her two other children, the agency said.

DCF has reported having contact with Bella's family for "support and neglect" twice: from August to December 2012, then again between June and September 2013. Both cases were closed, although the reasons were not made public. DCF has said that, to close the cases, a manager signed off on a social worker's assessment determining Bella's risk of abuse or neglect had been alleviated. 

DCF spokeswoman Andrea Grossman said in a statement Wednesday that the agency is grateful for OCA's review.

"Many of the issues raised in the report are already being addressed by the Baker administration’s aggressive systemic reform effort, including the need for clear and consistent policies and increased management oversight," she said. "DCF is committed to providing staff with the necessary supports that child protection work demands and deserves."

At a court hearing last week, all parties agreed to a second autopsy of Bella's body. The autopsy will be conducted by experts hired by defense and overseen by the state.

Bond remains held on $1 million bail and McCarthy is being held without bail. A probable cause hearing is set for Nov. 19, by which time the second autopsy will be completed, Bond's attorney has said.

McCarthy's lawyer has said his client knew nothing about Bella's death.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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