Baby died after counsel overruled social workers for 'racial justice'

Baby girl died of fentanyl overdose after meddling California lawmakers overrode social workers’ decision to take her away from drug-abuser dad

  • Three month-old Baby Phoenix died from fentanyl and methamphetamine overdose after self-confessed drug addict dad was given sole custody
  • David Castro had eight previous drug conditions, and mother Emily De La Cerda was in rehab after suffering withdrawals during labor
  • But Santa Clara County had slashed child removals to secure ‘racial justice’ 

Soft touch California lawmakers boasted about their success in slashing child removals just days before a newborn baby died from a fentanyl and methamphetamine overdose in the care of her drug-addicted dad.

Baby Phoenix was too young to eat solid food when she was poisoned by the drugs found alongside her bottle in May at the San Jose home of David Castro, despite repeated warnings from neighbors.

Older children had previously been removed from a man with eight earlier drug convictions, but Santa Clara County had recently changed its ‘threshold’ for removal, citing a commitment to ‘racial justice.’

Officials insisted they were unaware of ‘a single example where a child was determined to be ‘”unsafe,” and subsequently left in the care of the offending parent.’

Two weeks later, Phoenix was dead.

Baby Phoenix ‘never cried, never cried,’ a neighbor said, ‘She was beautiful’ 

Mother Emily De La Cerda was in rehab after suffering withdrawals during labor and was dead from an overdose three months after her child. Self-confessed drug addict David Castro was given sole custody of the newborn despite eight previous drug convictions and repeated warnings from neighbors

‘There’s no reason why this baby had to die,’ neighbor Nancy Wetherington told Mercury News.

‘CPS or police or someone should have stepped in and taken this baby. How did this baby skate through, a beautiful baby girl?

‘The baby should be alive.’

Castro had met the child’s mother, Emily De La Cerda, 39, at an addicts’ recovery program.

She was in drug treatment after suffering withdrawal during birth at the time of Phoenix’s death and was dead three months after her child, also from a fentanyl overdose.

The number of children removed from their families had dropped from more than 60 in August 2020 to fewer than 20 in February 2022 as the new orthodoxy took hold in Santa Clara.

By the time of Phoenix’s birth, the county was under investigation after worried social workers raised the alarm about progressive lawyers overriding child welfare decisions. 

State social services demanded answers after county whistleblowers highlighted multiple cases of children removed by law enforcement and then quickly returned. 

Those children would be ‘immediately placed back in the care of the unsafe parent’ by the county’s Department of Family and Children’s Services after intervention by the county counsel’s office,’ it was claimed. 

Steve Baron, who worked on hundreds of child abuse and neglect cases in the county, called the findings a ‘scandal.’

‘It seems like the county counsel is making decisions that really relate to the safety of the child,’ he told the East Bay Times.

‘And they’re not qualified to do that. That’s not their role.’

The county told the state its change of approach was ‘based on increasingly clear evidence demonstrating the significant and lasting trauma children experience with even brief periods of removal from their family’.

Dan Little, the director of the county’s Department of Family and Children’s Services had told his social workers in 2021 they were now expected to show commitment ‘to racial justice and to healing the historical wounds underlying disproportionate representation of children of color in the child welfare system’.

County executive James Williams, who was lead counsel until July admitted on Saturday that ‘the county dropped the ball’.

‘My opinion is that baby Phoenix shouldn’t have been in the care of the father – period.’

He confessed that the county had botched its assessment of Castro’s fitness to look after Phoenix, but refused to say if counsel had overruled social workers in the case.

‘There’s extraordinary passion, I think on all sides, he added.

‘What are the best things to do to take care of children and their families?

‘We want to improve, we want to learn, we are deeply troubled. There’s nobody I’ve talked to who isn’t incredibly affected by the death of a three-month-old baby.’

Baron, a member of the Santa Clara County Child Abuse Prevention Council, said keeping families together is an ‘idealistic goal,’ but social service agencies are ‘rolling the dice on the safety of the child.’

County executive James Williams, who was lead counsel until July admitted on Saturday that ‘the county dropped the ball’

Police who found Phoenix unconscious also found fentanyl, broken glass pipes and aluminum foil next to her bottle in the kitchen of the home on Spinnaker Way.

Castro, 38, was charged with felony child neglect and possession of a controlled substance. His case is still pending. 

‘He was open with me about it,’ said neighbor Sandra Mack who had also warned authorities. ‘He let me know he was addicted to fentanyl and he’s been doing it for a long time.

‘If you can’t take care of one child properly, how can you take care of any properly?

‘I just thought that was absurd.’

Wetherington warned other children may fall victim to the progressive policy.

‘For every child that’s dead, how many children are left in very dangerous, or high risk situations?’ she demanded.

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