PHILADELPHIA – Two family caseworkers have been suspended after a 2-month-old boy starved to death at a Philadelphia homeless shelter.
Tanya Williams, 32, is charged with murder in last month's death of her son, Quasir Alexander. Police, though, say they are exploring whether criminal charges should be filed against any social-service workers involved with the family.
"Even though there's been an arrest, someone's been charged, we're also internally looking at some of the establishments that were involved in overseeing their case," Homicide Sgt. Tim Cooney told The Associated Press on Monday.
The infant, a twin, weighed less when he died on Dec. 23 than he did at birth, and had nothing in his belly, Cooney said. An autopsy concluded that he died of both starvation and dehydration.
His twin also was malnourished and treated at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for several days after the death, police said.
Williams and her six children had been living at the Traveler's Aid shelter in West Philadelphia since September. She had nearly completed a 90-day program, funded by the city, to help her with parenting skills. Her last session was Dec. 21, according to Richard Gitlen, executive director of Lutheran Children and Family Service, which had a city contract to run the program.
In the wake of Quasir's death, two case managers involved with the family were suspended, Gitlen said.
The nonprofit Lutheran agency worked one-on-one with the Williamses and 140 other families through the in-home program in 2010, Gitlen said. The program includes "parenting (skills), some level of counseling, and helping families secure resources," he said.
Asked if the suspended case managers had worked with the twins as well as Williams, lawyer Gina Smith, who represents the agency, said the program was family-based and "the twins were part of the family." Smith is a former city prosecutor on major child-abuse cases.
Williams, who received government assistance checks, may have had to contribute a portion of her income toward her living costs at the shelter, Cooney said.
The twins were being fed with formula, not breast milk, he said.
"However, the Travelers (shelter) said no one goes needing anything," Cooney said.
The director of the Travelers Aid Family Services of Philadelphia did not immediately return a call. The organization also provides case workers and counseling services at the shelter, along with community meals. There are 75 individual family units, and families stay an average of five months, according to group's Web site.
The case calls to mind the 2006 starvation death of another child under the care of city-funded case workers, 14-year-old Danieal Kelly. Case workers who skipped home visits to the disabled girl and contractors who invented phony paperwork after her death are serving long prison stints for defrauding the city, while her mother is serving 20 to 40 years for third-degree murder.
That case prompted the departure of several top city health and human services officials. On Monday, the city's Department of Human Services confirmed that it had opened its own investigation into Quasir's death.
"Like the Danieal Kelly case, it's going to be reviewed by pretty much everyone, public and private," Cooney said.
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