Falling through the cracks of our system? KSLA News 12 investiga - KSLA News 12 Shreveport, Louisiana News Weather & Sports

Falling through the cracks of our system? KSLA News 12 investigates

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Undated, LA(KSLA)- It's been one month since the death of 5-year-old Anna Celeste Lowe was officially classified a homicide.

Her stepmother, Catherine Lowe, is in jail charged with her murder. Her father, Wesley Lowe, is charged with negligent homicide.

We questioned why critical communications didn't take place between Bossier and Ouachita Parish investigators - and pointed out a lack of oversight over the department of children and family services.

We looked into what's being done to keep our children from falling through the cracks of the system. KSLA News 12's Doug Warner has discovered one crack in our state , which you might think looks more like a canyon.

A different story, that took place miles apart from where Anna Celeste Lowe's died, but is really not all that far apart, the child welfare system here in Shreveport-Bossier is the same one they use all across the state, including Lake Charles.

A case getting set to hit a courtroom there, has locals and authorities stunned.

A Lake Charles mother is accused of starving, mistreating and keeping her stepson locked in his bedroom.

Acting on a tip, the then 9-year-old was allegedly discovered by a deputy on a pallet covered in blood and urine. He reportedly weighed only 38 pounds.

"It just bothers me that I kept my mouth shut," said bus driver Tammy LaFleur.

It's not that school bus driver Tammy LaFleur thought she had missed anything. She just wasn't sure what to make of it.

"He would grab the bar and take his legs like this, up the steps," added Tammy describing how tough it was for the child to climb the bus.  

Tammy thought he was just making the best of what was a bad medical situation.

However last fall , her mild concerns turned into suspicions right before the Thanksgiving break.

"He got on my bus and had a big bruise on his face. I asked what happened and he said, I can't tell you. When we came back from over the holidays, I never saw him again," said Tammy. 

Then 3 months later, February of 2010, her suspicions were answered.

Tammy feels awful for not taking action before. But many before her did.

We've confirmed the 9-year-old's school and others in the community had reported bruises, other injuries and his severely malnourished condition to children's services 17 different times.

Yet the child remained in this home, the home of his father Murray Day, and step mother Jaime Day.

But potentially ignored , or under investigated claims of abuse in this Lake Charles case, isn't the only controversial thing we discovered.

"I'm Doug, with the CBS affiliate."

Out on bond, Ms. Day didn't agree to an on-camera interview.

I go into the house to talk to her.

"Oh, you have a little one? How old is he?"

She admitted to now caring for a newborn, a 5 month old of hers.

Some of you might be thinking, how in the world is she getting away with this? Facing serious cruelty charges, 3 children removed from her home, yet she's allowed to keep a newborn in that same home.

But she's not getting away with anything. Everyone knows, the Sheriff's Department, the courts who ultimately made the ruling and the Department of Children and Family Services.

"It is the judges responsibility to air on the side of caution," says Britten Follet co-author of the book 'Who Killed Kelsey?'. 

The 2005 death of Kelsey Briggs in Oklahoma and the high profile trial that followed prompted the former TV news reporter to share problems she uncovered within their system.

"It sounds to me a judge is playing a very scary game of roulette," adds Britten.  

In Louisiana, that game works like this: No matter child services' recommendation, a judge makes the final custody decision.

And by law, the judge can base that decision on whether there's any history of abused against the child in question.

"A lot times it's on a case by case basis, if there is a newborn, no record of abuse on that individual," says Trey Williams with the Louisiana Children and Family Services.

 "Even if the child's record on earth, Is only a few days old, to think he was in that house."

But when transparency gives way to privacy, no one would have known about the multiple reports to children services, nor the fact a hearing took place over the custody of the newborn.

Infact, the only way Britten was able to gain access to case files to write her book - was because of a decade old law in Oklahoma, that requires the state to released a summary report on all cases ending in death.

So we asked: Is their an agency outside of OCS that keeps tab on your department?

"From a state agency standpoint, no one is looking at the cases," says Sheriff Tony Mancuso Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office.

"In many states, there are oversite departments. In Oklahoma, there is the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth," says Britten.

There are over 2000 new cases every month, and only 200 case managers statewide.

"How many open, active cases is any one case manager dealing with? Really hard to say," says Trey.  

There's really no way for us outsiders to know if those on the inside are overworked or underpaid or both. So until that day comes.  

"I just wanted to tell him I was sorry that I didn't help him," says bus driver Tammy. 

Tammy can at least enjoy her visits with her bus riding buddy, who is now a much healthier and happier 10 year old.

"He just has a special place in my heart."

Family and children's services also tells Doug they feel they're on par with their average case loads.

Mr. Williams adds that the state offers plenty of mental health assistance to case workers, who see and deal with a lot.

He also says part of the oversight responsibility, lies with the judges involved in the cases.

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