County boy's death under investigation

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Department of Social Services (DSS) State Technical Assistance Team began an investigation into the death of DJ Parker on Dec. 7.

DJ, age 6, and his father, Dennis Parker, were killed in a two-vehicle crash on Highway 39 at Jenkins on Nov. 22.

According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the crash occurred when Dennis Parker drove a 1997 Buick across the center line and struck a dump truck head-on.

Dennis Parker, who allegedly had a long history of drug and alcohol abuse, was suspected of being impaired at the time of the crash. Blood samples have been sent to the state crime lab for an analysis report, which will be returned sometime next year.

"After a crash in which a child dies, I automatically call the Missouri hotline to see if there have been any calls made on the child's behalf," said Skip White, Barry County coroner. "When I called for DJ, it came up that there had been at least nine calls and that was too many for me. It told me that something was not right.

"When I investigated further, I found that the school had called the hotline four times on DJ's behalf," said White.

White reported DJ's death to DSS and asked that the state open an investigation into the fatality.

In response to the request, DSS has begun an investigation into DJ's death and released his records, which show numerous calls made to the Children's Division between August 2004 and November 2006.

The records reflect four child abuse and neglect complaints and four calls of concern, which are logged when the department has insufficient reason to believe a child is in immediate danger of abuse or neglect.

Another report, which was made sometime between DJ's birth and August of 2004, has been edited in the records.

The reports include allegations that Dennis Parker, who was disabled and prescribed OxyContin for pain, was at times intoxicated and incapable of properly caring for DJ.

On at least two occasions, the reports state, Dennis Parker had passed out from drug or alcohol use, leaving DJ unattended.

The reports also describe incidents when Dennis Parker drunkenly cursed Head Start staff members over the phone and drove DJ to school while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Each time Dennis Parker was interviewed by caseworkers he denied drinking alcohol, claiming that it made him ill because of his physical disabilities. He also denied abusing drugs and refused assistance from the Children's Division.

A risk assessment completed by the Children's Division on Nov. 17, showed that DJ was only one point away from being categorized as "high" risk of neglect, which would have resulted in an open case with the Stone County Juvenile Office.

Although many complaints and concerns were reported to DSS, the department never received concrete evidence, such as court convictions or firsthand knowledge, which would have forced Dennis Parker to accept help or allowed the local Juvenile Office to remove DJ from the home.

A report by the State Technical Assistance Team, which is a semi-autonomous agency within DSS that investigates questionable child fatalities, could be completed by early January of 2007.

"I would like to get in front of the governor or lieutenant governor to discuss this type of situation," said White. "I think people have ideas that would be helpful to keep this from happening again. I think there are solutions out there."

White would like to see programs implemented that would place children in the custody of other family members in the event of reported child abuse and neglect concerns.

"I hope we can get in front of someone who will listen to us so that something will come out of this and we will learn from it, so that it is not just another death of a child," said White.

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