The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families failed to properly investigate child abuse claims in Bella Bond’s case, whose remains were discovered earlier this year, according to a new report released Wednesday by the state Office of the Child Advocate.
The report cited Bella’s mother’s previous history with child services in saying DCF prematurely closed the child’s case in 2013.
The mother, Rachelle Bond, previously had two children taken away from her between 2006 and 2011. One was placed in the custody of a grandmother and another was adopted by an unrelated family. Bond also has a lengthy rap sheet of arrests, substance abuse, mental health issues and instability, according to the report.
“The concerns about Ms. Bond’s ability to parent her older children were the same concerns raised in 2012 and 2013 regarding Bella,” the report says.
Bella’s body was found in a bag June 25 on a Deer Island shoreline in the Boston Harbor. The mystery of the unknown child — who became known as “Baby Doe” — captivated the nation for nearly three months. A computer-generated image made by police to help garner tips was shared on social media by more than 50 million people. One of those tips came from Michael Sprinsky, a longtime friend of Bond’s boyfriend, who ultimately helped put a name to the mystery girl.
Bond, 40, is charged as an accessory to murder after the fact. The boyfriend, Michael McCarthy, is charged with murder and unlawful disposition of human remains. Prosecutors say McCarthy thought Bella was possessed by a demon and killed her, either by suffocating, or as Bond has claimed, by repeatedly “punching her in the stomach until she stopped breathing.”
In 2012 and 2013, social workers failed to properly gather current information on Bond, mainly copying information from previous assessment reports, including one from 2006, the report found.
The OCA also found that DCF relied heavily on Bond’s own statements.
“DCF missed opportunities to gather pertinent information from professionals providing services to the family, and they did not properly consider the little information they did receive when making their final determination of risk to Bella,” it says.
In a statement, DCF spokeswoman Andrea Grossman welcomed the review.
“Many of the issues raised in the report are already being addressed by the Baker administration’s aggressive systemic reform effort, including the need for clear and consistent policies and increased management oversight,” Grossman said.
The report, which looked at confidential DCF records, called the decision to close the 2012 and 2013 cases premature.
At the time DCF saw Bella happy and well-cared for and professionals working with Bond portrayed similar observations.
“Ms. Bond was trying to be a good mother to Bella, despite her history and current issues,” report states. “Ms. Bond was functioning marginally well under the supervision of the family shelter and her probation officer. Both provided her not only the support and resources she need to care for Bella, but were able to hold her accountable for her actions.”
However, Bond was searching for an apartment and after getting one, she broke off all contact with voluntary services, which had provided oversight and eyes on Bella, the report found.
“None of this information was reflected in the 2013 assessment conclusion, which copied information from the 2012 assessment. Therefore the case closing was based on faulty information,” the report states.
The report gives insight on the gaps in Bella’s case but does not blame anyone in particular, saying lack of sufficient management structure contributed to the poor judgment. The report concluded that reduction in office staff and overflow of cases could have been a factor in some of the oversight of this case.
“The unfortunate loss of this child and other recent child tragedies represent systemic failures and have resulted in a complete and full agency reform which is underway,” said Rhonda Mann, Health and Human Services Spokeswoman in a statement. “There is no greater priority for this administration than to make sure we are doing everything possible to keep the best interests of children paramount in our work at DCF.”
McCarthy and Bond have both pleaded not guilty in the case. A probable cause hearing is scheduled for November 19.