"We don't know if we'll even use it," explained State Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) co-chair of the Senate Panel on Child Protection that convened after the death of Dezirae Sheldon.
Sheldon was a 2-year-old from Poultney, killed in February after being returned to her home by the Department for Children and Families. She was previously taken away after her mother, Sandra Eastman Duby, was convicted of child abuse by breaking the little girl's legs. Shortly after she was returned, state prosecutors say her stepfather killed her.
The subpoena power would let the panel demand confidential documents, such as Dezirae's DCF case file. Though the panel has not secured the power or requested the documents, DCF sent the panel a memo that put the brakes on that possibility.
"The memo says, 'I want to share everything I can, but Vermont law and Federal law restrict me'," said DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone. The memo he sent warns the panel if members do try and subpoena records, they won't get any. DCF will be able to give aggregate data, such as the number of children returned to their homes after child abuse--but no individual records.
"I think it's somewhat premature to send out a memo suggesting what they would provide and what they can't provide," said Sen. Sears. "We haven't asked for anything yet."
"I don't know if it's premature," disagreed Yacovone. "I wanted them to know so if they want to change the law, they could do that if they wanted."
The committee is looking at potential policies within DCF that could be changed. Sen. Sears says temporary, volunteer legal guardians--also known as Guardian Ad Litems--have been coming forward with concerns.
"The idea that DCF is more interested in reunifying with the family than they are in protecting the child," explained Sears. That's one of the policies the committee has been looking into since its first meeting.
Right now, the only people who can see Dezirae's file are DCF and the police. There will be an external investigation into DCF by the Vermont Citizens Advisory Board, but that group has not yet met. That group will likely be given some of those confidential records.
Of course, any confidential records entered into evidence in the criminal trial against Dennis Duby will become public record. He is charged with 1st degree murder.
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