CLEARWATER – A 5-year-old Clearwater girl died Jan. 19, eight days after child protection investigators removed the child from her home and placed her in foster care.
During a press briefing Jan. 24, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced that an investigation is underway into the child’s death. The Sheriff also announced that he also had initiated a review of policies and procedures surrounding child removal.
The child did not receive a medical screening within the 72-hour period after removal as required by law, Gualtieri said.
He said while it is not known and may never be known if the death of the child could have been prevented with the medical screening, a review of the internal policies was the appropriate course of action to ensure that medical screenings of children will be done in compliance with the law in the future.
Deputies were called to a mobile home park at 2381 Gulf to Bay Blvd. in unincorporated Clearwater about 1 p.m. Jan. 11 after receiving reports that a small child had been seen wandering around without supervision.
Deputies found the child’s mother, Stephanie Judah, 35, under the influence of prescription drugs. They said the home was “unsuitable for the wellbeing of the child.” Deputies arrested Judah and took her to jail. She was released on $5,000 bond Jan. 16.
Child protection investigators then removed the child, Elizabeth Holder from the home and placed her in foster care. Her foster parent left her in the care of a babysitter on Jan. 18.
According to investigators, on the morning of Jan. 19, “the child awoke, played and watched TV. Later the same day the child passed away after she suddenly grabbed her head and began yelling that it hurt.”
The babysitter called 911 and the child was taken to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead about 5 p.m. The Medical Examiner’s Office is performing an autopsy to determine cause and manner of death.
Robbery/homicide detectives are currently investigating the death, and Gualtieri also is conducting a “self-initiated parallel investigation” to review the policies and procedures used by the child protection investigations division when children are removed from their homes.
The initial results of Gualtieri’s investigation show that the Sheriff’s Office failed to comply with state statute 65c -29.008, requiring a health screening within 72 hours of being removed from a home.
Gualtieri said as a result, the office is working on putting various procedures into place to ensure that medical screenings of children comply with the law in the future. An internal affairs investigation also has been opened.