Hopefully, the appearance by the 37-year-old Peabody resident will lead to more details about the Nov. 21 death of Jocelyn Ward Anderson, and how the state Department of Social Services handled her case.
So far, there has been little helpful information on that account. We do know, according to an agency spokesman, that until her death, DSS considered the girl's case "a success story."
There are many unanswered questions:
* Jennifer Ward was allowed to take her daughter home from the hospital after the Feb. 22 birth despite the fact both had illegal drugs in their system. (This contradicts an earlier statement by the DSS that the agency took the baby into custody after the birth.) Is it common practice to allow newborns to go home when they and their mother have drugs in their system?
* The infant was taken from Ward late the next month by DSS, which was responding to a complaint of neglect. She was returned in July, after Ward went through drug treatment and a parenting education program. Is a little more than three months enough time to deal with problems of drug abuse and neglect?
* Did the agency continue to monitor Ward after July and, if so, how closely was she monitored?
It is important these questions be answered not only for this child's sake, but for other children. DSS, according to spokesman Richard Nangle, considered this a "typical" case.
"The mother has the baby taken away shortly after birth, successfully completes drug treatment, does very well, the baby is transitioned back to the family and the courts sign off on the case," Nangle wrote to reporter Julie Manganis in an e-mail. "The family has a good support network, and everyone involved believes it is right to return the baby to the mother."
But this was not a success story. It was another in a growing list of agency failures:
* In 2005, 4-year-old Dontel Jeffers of Boston was killed by his foster mother Corinne Stephen. Stephen was sentenced to eight years in prison last month.
* Also in 2005, Haleigh Poutre, 13, was beaten into a coma by her adoptive mother, who was under DSS supervision. She was nearly removed from life support just before her condition began to improve.
* Four-year-old Rebecca Riley of Hull died last year after her parents gave her a massive overdose of drugs meant to treat hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder. The parents were under DSS supervision.
DSS defenders make the good point that the agency handles more than 28,000 cases, many involving children in desperate situations. But that does not mean there should not be an investigation when something goes wrong.
That investigation should be done through an outside party, be it a legislative committee (as was the case after the Poutre debacle) or by the new Office of the Child Advocate, which Gov. Deval Patrick plans to create this year.
Reader Barbara Huntress-Rather, in a letter to the editor last week, said it best:
"I hope that this case sparks a review into whether there was sufficient monitoring of Jennifer Ward by DSS," she wrote. "We need to understand what went wrong, and whether other actions could have prevented this tragic outcome. This isn't just an issue for DSS, it's an issue for all of us."