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Fla. Girl’s Death Prompts Changes

December 4, 1998

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ The beating death of a 6-year-old girl and mistakes by child welfare workers who didn’t realize she was being harmed have led to immediate changes in Florida’s system of investigating child abuse.

Disciplinary action also is likely against some of the welfare workers involved in Kayla McKean’s case, said Edward Feaver, secretary of the state Department of Children and Families.

``I think this is a horrendous case,″ Feaver said Thursday. ``No child should suffer like this child suffered.″

State documents show that child welfare workers missed several chances to intervene and perhaps save Kayla’s life in the months before she was allegedly beaten to death by her father.

The documents show that in one instance, welfare investigators withheld information that could have led to Kayla’s removal from her father’s home. They apparently failed to interview a doctor who said the girl’s life was in ``imminent danger.″ And they didn’t challenge her father’s contention that bicycle accidents or the family dog caused her injuries.

``They all had pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, and no one had all of the pieces to see what was going on,″ said Janice Johnson of the child welfare agency.

Under changes announced Thursday, state officials will make sure that doctors and nurses who are part of child protection teams examine the child instead of making a judgment by telephone on whether a child is being abused.

And judges deciding whether to remove a child from a home will have access to the child’s entire case file instead of just a petition prepared by an attorney and investigator.

Kayla’s father, Richard Adams, confessed Monday to the Nov. 25 killing, according to investigators. He remains in jail on charges of murder and aggravated child abuse. Bond was denied.

Prosecutors said Adams, 24, slammed Kayla against a wall and struck her with a paddle after she soiled her underwear. He buried her in a forest some 50 miles from his home, police said.

In October, an agency supervisor said in a report that Adams could benefit from parenting and anger-management classes. No one told Adams about the recommendation.

Lake County child welfare workers first investigated when Adams took Kayla to a hospital in May. He had assumed custody of the girl weeks earlier after her mother, Adams’ former girlfriend, entered a battered woman’s shelter. Kayla had two black eyes and a broken nose and left hand.

In the emergency room, Adams said Kayla had fallen off her bike. As is the policy when a child is taken with suspicious injuries to an emergency room, child welfare workers placed her in a foster home and asked for a hearing on whether she should be removed from Adams’ home.

But in a report to Judge Jerry Lockett, a child welfare investigator mentioned only Kayla’s black eyes and swelling, not the other injuries, and recommended the girl stay with her father. The judge agreed.

In June, Kayla was taken to a doctor for treatment of an eye injury and for bruises all over her body. Adams admitted he had hit Kayla with a paddle but denied bruising her, according to department records.

The doctor said Kayla was ``in imminent danger″ while in her father’s care, according to a subsequent report. Apparently, no investigator interviewed the doctor, state officials said.

The month before she was killed, child welfare workers investigated a bump on Kayla’s head, a chin abrasion and black eyes.

Adams told them the abrasion was from a fall in the bathtub and her swollen eyes were the result of the family’s golden retriever stepping on her face while she slept, according to the records.

Investigators believed his story.

On a stop in Orlando, Gov.-elect Jeb Bush said he realizes child welfare workers have tough jobs but said the agency could perform better with more money and ``the passion and commitment of new leadership.″

``I think we can do a better job,″ Bush said. ``It’s a definition of who we are as a state when this happens.″

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