STAMFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — A report released Tuesday delving into the conditions prior to a toddler’s death found that “the State of Connecticut failed him at every turn,” according to House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora (District 68).
“Liam’s death is, unquestionably, a black mark on our state, and his case demands deep scrutiny of the agencies and personnel who touched his life—in particular, the Department of Children and Families, which bore primary responsibility for keeping Liam out of harm’s way,” a written statement from Candelora reads in part. “There’s no question that Connecticut has some real soul-searching to do when it comes to how it manages at-risk children in its care. This comprehensive report has given all of us who serve in the legislature a head start by raising topics that deserve our attention, such as the impact that state employees working from home has on case management and how notifications are made to attorneys handling existing cases when new allegations of abuse are reported.”
Liam Rivera was found buried inside a plastic bag at Cummings Park on Jan. 2 — about a week after it’s estimated that he died. The 2-year-old died from blunt impact injury to the head a few days after he was injured, according to officials.
At the time of his death, the family had an open child abuse case with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters, and he had a protective order in place against his father.
He was 17 pounds at his death — five less than in October, and seven less than when he left foster care a few months earlier.
The report released Tuesday from the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate chronicled abuse throughout Liam’s life and found that DCF violated laws in how it approached the case.
In January 2021, the then-6-month-old Liam had “multiple unexplained injuries,” including a broken arm, broken leg and bruising on his chest. His family had a history of allegations dating back to 2017, which included accusations of child maltreatment and child abuse. However, the report said, those “were not substantiated.”
A month later, Liam and a sibling were placed in foster care after the two were found to have “unmet medical needs.” Liam, who was in the 1st percentile for weight, was diagnosed as “failure to thrive.” Both he and his sibling were assigned a lawyer for their child protection case.
In the following months, more reports of child abuse were made against the family.
While in foster care, a doctor reported in July 2021 that Liam had gained weight and had made developmental advancements. A month later, his parents were living in separate households, and his mother was receiving support services. A plan was made to reunite Liam and his sibling with his mother.
That same month, Liam’s father was charged with assault after saying he hurt Liam while trying to keep him from falling off the bed, according to the state report. His father was issued a protective order with Liam.
In October, before Liam was returned to his mother, a call alleged that his mother was using drugs. However, there was never a follow-up, and Liam’s attorney wasn’t told about the claims. DCF did not have approval from the juvenile court to return him to his mother.
He was given to his mother in December. Then, in January 2022, his mother allegedly made a false report that Liam had been kidnapped. He was found late at night wrapped in a towel with his father, who was arrested. His mother then recanted the accusation that Liam was kidnapped, and admitted she’d given him to his father for a visit, according to the state report. She was charged with making a false statement to police.
In the following months, text messages from his caseworker said that they were concerned about his mother being able to keep him safe. Texts also showed that his mother thought the protective order for Liam against his father was “unjust and that DCF was cruel in keeping Liam from his father,” according to the state review. While there were meetings about if Liam should be placed in foster care again, his attorney wasn’t told about his father violating the protective order. The court thought he was still in foster care.
Prior to his death, his doctor called DCF to say he was concerned about Liam losing weight and being in poor health, but DCF records didn’t mention that call until after Liam died. His mother is also accused of lying to DCF about bringing Liam to follow-up appointments with his pediatrician.
DCF, in court motions to return him to his mother’s custody, didn’t note that she made a fake kidnapping report, and said that he weighed more than he did. It didn’t include information about his previous injuries.
Iris Rivera-Santos was charged in February with risk of injury to a minor, hindering prosecution, tampering with evidence and cruelty to persons. Authorities said that she’s claimed she didn’t kill him.
Liam’s father, Edgar Ismalej-Gomez, has been named a suspect in his death. As of court records on Tuesday, he has not been charged with killing Liam.
The state report includes multiple recommendations, including external oversight of DCF, changing state law to add transitional reunification plans for children to return to home, and adjusting law to require attorneys to be notified if the child they’re representing has been abused or neglected.