Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Foster dad jailed, baby critical

Doctors say girl was shaken, dropped; twin had broken bones

By Sharon Turco
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Hamilton County foster father shook a baby girl so hard that she suffered swelling of the brain and is clinging to life, according to Cincinnati police and the baby's biological mother.

Mikinah Smith, whose first birthday was Monday, is in critical condition at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, according to a hospital spokesman.

Doctors at the hospital say Mikinah's twin brother, Michael Smith, may have broken bones that healed on their own, prompting the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services to investigate whether he has been abused, said Laurie Petrie, a spokeswoman for the agency. Michael has been placed in another home.

The children have been in the care of Norman and Robin White of Westwood since February.

Norman White, 37, was arrested Saturday on a charge of child endangering after taking Mikinah to the hospital because she was having trouble breathing. The hospital alerted authorities.

Police say White hit, shook and dropped Mikinah several times.

"(The county) said they needed to protect my kids," said Sakinah Thomas, Mikinah's mother. "And, look what happened. My baby is dying."

Hamilton County has 400 foster parents. The Department of Job and Family Services has investigated 117 complaints of abuse on a child in the agency's care since November 1998. Nineteen of those cases were substantiated; including eight that resulted in the agency finding children had been physically abused and two others where the child had been neglected.

Petrie refused to reveal details of those abuse complaints, citing state confidentiality laws.

Robin White said her husband did not intentionally harm Mikinah.

"He said he lost it," Robin White said as she waited for her husband to appear in court Monday. "I don't think he meant to."

Robin White said she was out of town on business when her husband called Saturday, concerned because Mikinah was not responsive. He even put the baby girl on the phone so Robin could listen to her breathing.

Robin told her husband to take the baby girl to the hospital. It was there the physical abuse was uncovered, according to court records.

Hamilton County Municipal Judge Heather S. Russell set bond at $50,000 Monday.

The Whites, who married two years ago, have been foster parents since August, Robin White said.

"We wanted children, this was a way to do that," said Robin, who has three children under the age of 21 from a previous relationship.

She said prior to caring for the twins, she and her husband had another foster child.

There were no problems with any previous placements with the Whites, Petrie said.

To become foster parents, a couple is thoroughly investigated, Petrie said. Norman and Robin White have never been arrested in Hamilton County on criminal charges or served time in Ohio's prison system.

"In this case, nothing indicated there was a possible problem with the foster parents," Petrie said. "This is an extremely abhorrent situation. Unfortunately we can't always predict human behavior.

"We thought we could trust them," she said.

Petrie would not give details about why Thomas' children were taken from her, but pointed out that a Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge ordered the children into temporary custody. Those hearings are closed to the public.

Thomas says she's had problems in the past, but trusted that the Department of Job and Family Services was properly caring for her children.

Thomas said she's been dealing with the agency for several years and had four other children, now ages 2-8, taken from her and adopted by other families. Because of her past involvement with the agency, Thomas said, when the twins were born, a caseworker immediately took them away from her.

They were first placed with her brother, Weldon Thomas, who has two children of his own. He had tried to get custody of Thomas' four older children, but was not permitted, he said.

Sakinah Thomas said the agency allowed her to keep the children for a short time last year after she found a home and was taking parenting classes. When she didn't fully comply with the program in August, the court placed the twins in a foster home.

Thomas saw them every Thursday during an appointed visiting time, she said.

Thomas visited with Michael Monday, but planned to spend most of her time at the hospital.

"I told (Family Services) I was sorry, we were supposed to protect her," Robin White said. "I pray she'll be OK. I have to believe that."

E-mail sturco@enquirer.com

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