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$45 million jury award in child’s death could be a blessing — or a curse

Lavandis Hudson | Supplied photo

“This is the day that the Lord has made.

“Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

That refrain will ring throughout our houses of worship today as we celebrate the holiest day on the Christian calendar.

For me, it will mean going to church and watching my beautiful granddaughter be baptized into the faith community.

OPINION

While I am grateful, I am also painfully aware that all of God’s children are not so blessed.

Unless you’re a social worker, you probably don’t think about the plight of unfortunate children until one of them is caught in the crossfire or becomes a victim of child abuse.

But children that come into this world handicapped by a birth mother’s bad choices are totally dependent on our network of social services.

Those agencies and the people who work there are the hands of God.

But as we have seen time and time again, these hands fail.

When they do, innocent childaren suffer. Innocent children die.

For instance, 2-year-old Lavandis Hudson was killed in 2011 because a social service agency failed to do its due diligence.

Having been born with opiates, marijuana and cocaine in his system, Lavandis was facing a steep uphill climb just to survive.

He was his mother’s sixth child and the third to be born substance-exposed, according to the Child Death Report submitted to Governor Pat Quinn and the General Assembly in January 2013.

None of Lavandis’ siblings were in his mother’s care and he was shuttled off to foster care.

In December of that same year, however, the mother gave birth to a substance-free baby girl and she was allowed to take the baby home. Lavandis was returned to his mother 10 months later and the DCFS closed the case in March 2011.

That meant that this single mother — having already struggled with substance abuse — had two toddlers to care for.

That task would have been difficult for a sober mom — let alone one fighting drug addiction.

Only three months after Lavandis was returned home, he ended up in the emergency room with “bruises, scratches and swelling,” according to the Illinois Inspector General’s Child Death Report.

The mother, Marles Blackman, claimed he had fallen off of his bed.

A month later, the mother said she found the boy “lying in the middle of the floor foaming at the mouth” and believed he was having a seizure.

But an autopsy concluded Lavandis suffered “head injuries and multiple other injuries caused by abuse.”

Blackman was charged with first-degree murder and is scheduled to be in court next week.

But we would not even have heard of this child had a jury not returned a $45 million award in a civil lawsuit brought by the “boy’s estate, which included his biological father and eight siblings.”

It is the largest award in the state’s history in a case involving the death of a toddler, the law firm said in a statement.

Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, the social service agency that will pay the lottery-sized award, is not expected to appeal the judgment.

Obviously, the child welfare system failed in its mission to protect Lavandis.

Lawyers successfully argued the agency “continually failed to follow state guidelines and regulations in their oversight of the boy’s case.”

But money doesn’t solve all the challenges these children are facing, and this award could be a blessing or a curse.

With caring guardians in place, the siblings could benefit from the windfall, but that’s not a guarantee and there is no living grandmother to stand in the gap.

Quite frankly, I don’t know how the boy’s biological father could spend one dime of the jury award.

After all, where was he when Lavandis was going through this terrible ordeal? If he put up a fight for custody of his son, obviously he should have fought a lot harder.

The jury award is certainly a victory for the law firm. Still, it feels like the shameful exploitation of an unfortunate child’s death.

If this father wasn’t there for his son, his portion of the multi-million dollar awards should go to the people who are actually doing the work to save children in similar circumstances.

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