Moon-shaped bruises marred a 5-year-old boy’s backside from “owies,” he told a social worker, according to a case report written by a Kern County sheriff’s deputy from an interview between the child and a social worker.
The boy marked three X’s on a body chart using a dark red crayon to show where he believed his father, Mr Bailey, had hit him. With a green crayon and a black crayon, the boy drew a belt in the corner of the page, according to the deputy’s report, which was filed in Kern County Superior Court.
Bailey turned him upside down and used that belt to “call him out,” the boy said, according to reports filed in court. He clenched his fist to demonstrate how Bailey punched him in the face about 10 times, according to the documents. Sabrina Martinez, the boy’s mother, also punched him in the face about 19 times, the child told the social worker.
(The boy) “doesn’t know why his mother … hits him in the face and doesn’t like being hit in the face,” the deputy wrote in his report.
The social worker then told the 5-year-old about blood at his house in Tehachapi, where he lived with his 3-month-old brother and sister, reports said. She asked where he was from, reports said.
“My brother is dead,” the boy reportedly replied.
Bailey and Martinez were charged in the 3-month-old’s death in 2020 and several counts of child cruelty. They are scheduled to appear at a dispositional hearing in January to determine whether the case will proceed to a dispositional hearing.
Child Death Review Team
Dozens of children die each year in Kern County, and if the medical examiner refers a case to the child death review team, then the incident is investigated by local first responder agencies and investigators to determine what went wrong.
In recent years, this team has published an annual public report of its findings. Collecting and discussing data on child deaths is critical for agencies to fully understand the causes of deaths, local trends and preventing future abuse, according to child advocates.
But the Kern County Department of Public Health, which is charged with creating and compiling the report, has not compiled one since its release in 2019 that looked at deaths in 2018. The number of child deaths in Kern is higher than the California average, according to data compiled by kidsdata.org, an online children’s health database.
The death of the 3-month-old child would be covered in that report.
“Without some of that information, it’s really hard to dig in to know” how to make changes to reduce deaths, said Jessica Haspel, associate director of child protection at Children Now, a nonpartisan nonprofit , focused on elevating children’s issues through advocacy.
Haspel spoke generally about child death review teams in California, not specifically about Kern County’s policies. She added that it is difficult to understand the effect of the pandemic on child abuse statewide without data.
“These child death review teams are the glue that holds everything together because they are interdisciplinary,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gordon, a retired family physician who advocates for child welfare.
The county public health response
Public health spokeswoman Michelle Corson wrote in an email Thursday that the COVID-19 pandemic has “significantly impacted” the operations of all participating agencies in the Child Mortality Review Team.
Corson wrote in a March email that all staff had been reassigned to “Covid-19 duties” shortly after the pandemic began.
“Although no report has been released in the last (two) years, during the pandemic (Child Death Review Team) meetings have continued and cases have been reviewed,” Corson continued in his Thursday email.
Corson added in that email that staff is developing reports from the “affected times” and should present them to the county Board of Supervisors “within the next several months.” The last report was issued in December 2019.
Inquiries of similar reports from child mortality review teams in other California counties show that Kern Public Health is not alone in opting out of public reports.
Tulare County does not have a child mortality review team, and Marin County “does not issue public reports” but tracks all child deaths, according to the respective county spokeswomen. Kings County has not issued a review team report on a child death in “some time” due to COVID-19, said Everado Legaspi, program manager for the Kings County Department of Public Health.
Legaspi added that the department is considering reconvening a child death review team, but it is a “pretty small department.” He also couldn’t find a Child Death Review Team report on his ‘servers’.
Santa Clara County released its latest 2020 Child Death Review Report on 2018 data. Los Angeles County released its latest report in 2021.
Corson wrote that Kern Public Health is working to prevent child deaths by launching initiatives such as the Water Watch campaign to teach parents how to watch children playing in and around pools, free and affordable hands-only CPR training and a conference for “safe baby, safe child” that happened in October.
This conference focused on health education regarding sudden infant death syndrome, adolescent suicide and fentanyl use, she added.
Tom Corson, head of the Kern County Children’s Network, did not respond to a request for comment. The Kern County Children’s Network advocates for children and is a member of the Child Death Review Team. Other team members include the Bakersfield Police Department, the Kern County Medical Examiner’s Office, the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, Bakersfield Memorial Hospital, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, the Kern County Department of Human Services and others.
“Exchange ideas, thoughts”
The Child Death Review Team was created in the early 1980s, and participants were not authorized to meet under the state law that outlined the team’s creation.
A wide range of experts, such as forensic pathologists, pediatricians who have experience in child abuse cases and criminologists, must cooperate and publish reports, according to California law. State agencies are required by law to track local data on child deaths.
“Everyone brings a piece to the puzzle,” said Colleen Friend, director of the Los Angeles Institute of Child Abuse and Family Violence, of the interagency effort. “… And often these things are very complicated. Often the medical examiner or the prosecution can bring something that the defense officer would not bring.
Past Kern County reports analyzed deaths as preventable or accidental and whether the death was a homicide. They set out solutions for individual agencies and social workers to prevent child mortality.
The intent was to create an “information array” to prevent child deaths, the law said.
Ruby Gillen, who participates in a citizen review group aimed at preventing child abuse and critical incidents and is part of the Los Angeles version of the Child Death Review Team, said a typical meeting in Los Angeles might include inviting the people investigating child deaths and trying to find out what happened. Guyen is part of the Interagency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, an independent body that develops and coordinates child abuse prevention, identification and treatment services in Los Angeles County.
The goal is not to punish or make a person feel stupid, she said. She learned that a red flag for child abuse could be broken bones, and suspicions should not be ignored because these injuries can lead to death.
“If you want to reduce deaths, we have to partner and we have to engage,” Guillen said. “We need to exchange ideas, thoughts. Again, it’s all about learning. You must learn only through knowledge.’
Friend wasn’t surprised when he was told about Kern Public Health and others missing the Child Mortality Review Team’s reports. She said a lack of money could contribute to counties not drafting them.
Child death review teams relied on the Legislature to provide dollars to establish these processes. However, the National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention notes that the state’s infant mortality review team was disbanded in 2008 when funding was cut.
Corson, the Kern Public Health spokesman, said the county does not receive funding to publish the Child Mortality Review Team’s reports.
Gordon, the retired physician, added that data is scarce statewide — the Department of Human Services was supposed to release a report detailing child deaths but hasn’t since 2016. That data could shape lawmakers’ policies, experts agreed.
Creating a data network will help reduce child mortality, Gordon said. A surveillance network was established to monitor births to develop new safety protocols. As a result, California’s maternal mortality rate is the lowest in the country, Gordon said.
“No one in the state of California can tell you how many children under the age of 18 died at the hands of their parents or caregivers last year,” Gordon said. “Monthly cycle. No one. No one has access to real data.”
Assembly Bill 2660, which was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2022, sought to make infant death review teams mandatory statewide to track that information. Newsom wrote in his veto message that the program is too expensive. Gordon disagreed.
“A hundred and more children … die every year … (and) it’s a low priority for the state,” Gordon said. “To me, it’s a cruel, horrible circumstance.”
A spokesperson for Newsom’s office reached out about the AB 2660 veto announcement in response to The Californian’s questions about his veto and steps to reduce child mortality.
“Helpful, corrective efforts can be made to make the system work,” Gordon said. “It’s not very expensive. It’s just been neglected since 2008 (when funding for the state program was stopped).”