Chicago Social Services Takes Four Months to Rescue Starved Disabled Teen Darlene Armstrong

Darlene Armstrong, pictured here in the hospital, weighed a mere 23 lbs and was unable to walk or talk. Law enforcement officials leaked this picture to the press. (Source: Daily Mail)

The mother of a severely disabled 16-year-old with cerebral palsy allowed her daughter to nearly starve to death inside their family home in Chicago. When she was finally rescued, Darlene Armstrong weighed only 23 pounds and stood just 3-feet-10-inches tall, The Chicago Tribune reports.

She was brought into an emergency room in “serious” condition, unable to walk or talk as hospital workers stood shocked by her ghastly appearance, hardly more than skin and bones.

However, the most disturbing part of this case may be the fact that it took the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) roughly 4 months to save the disabled teenager, according to the Tribune.

She was treated at Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago, where doctors confirmed Armstrong had been starved for “some time.”

“Darlene has suffered from severe, long-standing, life-threatening malnutrition/starvation combined with unacceptable medical neglect,” a hospital record stated.

The mother, Rosetta Harris, previously told hospital officials that she had fed her daughter eggs and grits for breakfast, steamed rice and chicken, chocolate protein shakes and snacks throughout the day, which was obviously not the case.

The Chicago Tribune has more on the story’s developments:

It’s now clear that the severely disabled teen could have gotten crucial help four months earlier if an investigator and her supervisors at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services had done their jobs properly, the Tribune has learned.

The agency had gotten a Nov. 17 hotline call that Darlene wasn’t being fed — an urgent matter under DCFS rules — but the investigator repeatedly walked away from the family’s South Side home without seeing Darlene and without enlisting other resources, records show.

It wasn’t until her fourth visit in March that she heard whimpering, confronted the mother and called 911.

The case underscores continued problems at DCFS as it deals with high child-abuse and neglect caseloads. In recent months, the newspaper also has examined troubling child deaths and the agency’s failure to inspect many day-care facilities as required — issues that have raised new questions about whether a system designed to save children is failing them.

Documents obtained by the Tribune indicate Darlene Armstrong’s case was mishandled from the beginning:

•Although the investigator went to the home within the required 24-hour hotline-response period, she failed to follow other procedures to help workers locate the child. Nor did she return each day as required until that happened.

•Before Darlene was rescued, there is no evidence the worker looked up the family’s history with DCFS as required. If she had done so, the investigator would have realized the agency took protective custody of Darlene years earlier due to the same allegations of medical neglect and malnourishment.

•A supervisor failed to alert two later shifts, as required, to continue looking for Darlene on the first day the investigator didn’t make contact. The supervisor and her manager also improperly granted extensions beyond the initial 60-day period set to resolve such cases, despite minimal effort to find the girl.

Chicago Social Services Takes Four Months to Rescue Starved Disabled Teen Darlene Armstrong

Pictured above is reportedly the Chicago street where Darlene Armstrong was nearly starved to death. (Source: Daily Mail)

DCFS appears to be taking accountability for the oversight, though it was a giant one.

“An investigation this badly neglected is a failure of supervision and management,” said DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe. “We are taking appropriate actions to right that ship and ensure this organization places the proper priority on child safety.”

Chicago Social Services Takes Four Months to Rescue Starved Disabled Teen Darlene Armstrong

Darlene's mother, Rosetta Harris was given 18 months of probation after pleading guilty to child endangerment charges. (Source: Daily Mail)

In 1996, the agency took Armstrong, then 1-year-old, and her 15-year-old sister into protective custody after it was revealed that the baby was not being fed properly. Armstrong was also diagnosed with “fetal alcohol syndrome” at birth, records show.

“Mother does appear to provide all care necessary for siblings, but has a problem following through on the care of her special needs child,” a 1996 case note from the incident read. Harris won back custody of the children approximately three years later.

Armstrong, who is recovering at La Rabida Children’s Hospital, and her 15-year-old sister have been taken into protective custody. DCFS workers may face disciplinary action, but no steps have been taken thus far.

Harris’ 23-year-old daughter, Delichia Armstrong, seemingly justified her mother’s actions, telling the newspaper that she ‘does the best she can.’

You can read the entire Chicago Tribune Report here.

(H/T: The Daily Mail)

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