DCF protocol changes, 1 year after 3 y/old’s wrapping death in Lee County

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LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Michael McMullen died in October 2013 after being suffocated while wrapped in blankets as a form of punishment. At the time, the Department of Children and Families admitted they made mistakes in McMullen’s case, and said they’d make changes. Now, WINK News took a look to see if those changes were made.

“The most telling statement here today is referring to this as an accident, which it was not. Every adult in that little boy’s life failed him, from moment one all the way to the end of his life.”

Lee County Judge Bruce Kyle spoke to Gale Watkins, moments before he sentenced her to 25 years in prison for her role in the death of her 3-year-old grandson, Michael McMullen.

Watkins told the judge it was an accident, when she watched McMullen’s godmother, Donella Trainor, wrap him in six blankets and tie the ends together so he couldn’t move.

Watkins was McMullen’s legal guardian, after he was taken from his mother.

“I’m sure DCF didn’t intentionally put him in your care knowing something like this would happen,” said Judge Kyle.

But DCF told WINK News at the time of his death in October 2013, that they did fail to do background checks on Trainor and Watkins. They also failed to see where Michael’s mother and stepfather, Douglas Garrigus, were living after they lost custody. Garrigus was actually living at the home with Michael, and was there when he died.

WINK News asked a DCF spokeswoman Monday, what has been done to change case management policy since.

DCF released documents showing a new protocol, called Rapid Safety Feedback, began a few months after McMullen’s death. It means that investigators now go through a process that automatically flags key risk factors in open cases, that could cause harm.

Risk factors could include the age of a child, and their parents, a significant other, substance abuse or previous criminal history.

DCF also hired an outside agency in November 2013, to review all child fatality cases, including McMullen’s. The agency found investigators did not do a good job of looking beyond the incidents they were called out to investigate. That changed with the Rapid Feedback Protocol as well as new Safety Methodology training.

Supervisors must also approve all safety plans within 24 hours.

When it comes to DCF, the agency says it has made an effort to hire more investigators. Currently each investigator is in charge of an average of 25 cases at one time.

As for Donella Trainor? She will spend 20 years in prison for McMullen’s death.

Garrigus was sentenced to 10 years.

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