Update: Big changes coming for Louisiana agency after malnourished Baton Rouge teen found living in deplorable conditions
State child services workers visited but had done little for a malnourished 15-year-old boy who weighed 47 pounds when police found him Wednesday covered in bodily fluids and insects inside a dilapidated Baton Rouge residence, the teenager’s aunt said.
Edna Mitchell, 54, said she was present during one of the three times over the past few years representatives from the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services checked in on the boy.
She said agents were only concerned with whether the child’s family had access to food and running water, which they did, and didn’t intervene further in a situation that eventually led to the boy’s declining health and the arrest of his mother, 49-year-old Rose Holland, on drug and child cruelty charges Wednesday.
Grace Weber, a Children and Family Services spokeswoman, said because of laws protecting the case’s confidentiality, the agency cannot comment.
The boy was found by chance after a Baton Rouge police officer responded to a loud music complaint Wednesday at 1762 N. 46th St., and noticed Holland and another woman, 54-year-old Cathy Fort, sitting in a vehicle, according to a court affidavit.
The officer spotted a glass pipe and other evidence of crack cocaine use in the automobile and arrested both women on suspected drug possession, the document said.
Based on the narcotics discovery, the officer decided to check inside the home, where the boy was apparently having a seizure on a cot that was crawling with roaches, according to the document. The boy was described in the affidavit as being “very small and extremely malnourished” and “stuck to the cot from his feces and urine.” He’d allegedly been lying there “for days at a time,” the document said.
The boy, who had a large bed sore and insect bites, was taken to a hospital.
Holland is being held in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison without bail.
On a visit inside the residence Wednesday, a roommate, who declined to be named, said she knew the child was living in the same room as his mother but rarely saw the boy leave the room and didn’t even know his name. A toilet smell mixed with cigarette smoke thickened the air of the six-room “rent house,” where several tenants each pay a small fee for a room and share a kitchen and a bathroom. A padlock was visible outside one of the interior doors.
“I used to do patty cake with him. He has some understanding. He just couldn’t talk,” Mitchell said, who added the “baby,” as the family called him, still wore diapers and drank milk from a bottle. “He couldn’t really chew food. It had to be like creamed potatoes or grits,” she said.
Mitchell said she visited with the boy a few weeks ago. She’d previously notified Children and Family Services concerning the boy but never police, she said. There was no reason Holland, who is her sister and has six children, couldn’t take care of him properly, Mitchell said.
“She had more than enough money,” Mitchell said, noting Holland receives public assistance checks. The boy attended school in St. Gabriel at one point, she said, but his mother removed him after he’d been ignored and was found lying on a mat in a corner.
“She stopped letting him go to school” and to therapy, she said. “She wasn’t doing nothing for the baby.”
The boy’s father, Lavear Andrews, said Wednesday he was involved in his son’s life and was trying to track him down at a hospital.
“I’m really shocked,” he said.
Neighbors on the quiet dead-end street where the teenager was found Wednesday said they rarely saw the boy, if at all.
“I’ve never seen him talk, never seen him run, never seen him outside. Never seen him until I went in that one time,” said 43-year-old Joseph Byrd, who lives across the street and fixed a radio inside the residence once. “He was in the bed laying down watching TV. He didn’t open his mouth. He didn’t say nothing.”
Mary Roberson, a neighbor a few doors down, was flabbergasted by news of the malnourished boy.
“I didn’t know a child was in there. As close as we are, didn’t know a child was in that house. That’s terrible,” she said, leaning against a pickup truck, talking with other neighbors. “If I had known it, I surely would have reported it.”
The child is being treated at a hospital, said Baton Rouge police spokesman Cpl. Don Coppola.
Both Fort and Holland face charges of Schedule II drug possession and drug paraphernalia.
Holland was additionally booked with second-degree cruelty to a juvenile.
Fort’s bail was set at $10,000.
According to East Baton Rouge Parish court records, Holland had never been charged with a crime, only with minor traffic violations.
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.