LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The death of a 7-year-old boy at a Kentucky children’s residential center has been ruled a homicide by a medical examiner, and two workers at the center have been fired.
The Jefferson County’s Coroner’s Office determined Ja’Ceon Terry died July 17 of “positional asphyxia,” meaning his body position left him unable to breath. It provided no further details other than that the child was pronounced dead at a hospital.
At the time he died, Ja’Ceon was under the care of workers at Brooklawn, a children’s treatment center in Louisville. The facility provides care for “Kentucky’s most vulnerable youth and their families,” offering therapeutic foster care to children recovering from the effects of abuse and neglect, its website states.
As of Monday no charges had been filed in the case.
Louisville Metro Police spokesman Aaron Ellis said the case is the subject of an ongoing investigation.
“Once we have gathered all of the facts related to this death, we will present them to the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office to determine how we will proceed,” Ellis said in an email.
In a statement, Seven Counties Services, which operates the center for children with emotional or mental health needs, said it fired two employees involved in the incident.
The agency did not respond to a request by USA TODAY for the employees’ names, their titles and how long they worked for the company.
Live updates:Hurricane Fiona overwhelms Puerto Rico with flooding, mudslides, massive power loss
Queen Elizabeth II funeral:Emotional King Charles III bids farewell to queen at burial
In the statement, the company wrote it was “completely devastated by the unspeakable loss of a child in our care.”
“He should not have died on our watch,” the statement continues. “As protectors of Kentucky’s most vulnerable children, we are dedicated to making sure it never happens again.”
Nearly all of the children at the centers are in the state’s foster care system and placed there by the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. As of last week, 93 foster children were with the agency.
In a separate statement, the cabinet said it “mourns the passing of any child or any person of any age in its care.”
“This sadness was deepened more upon learning the results of the autopsy, identifying asphyxiation as cause of death,” said the statement provided by spokesperson Susan Dunlap.
The cabinet is investigating the death but declined to release any of its findings, saying the investigation is ongoing. A “full review” of Brooklawn is continuing, Dunlap said, and the cabinet has suspended placing children at the center for now.
Increased staff training
Seven Counties’ statement said it has taken a number of steps since the death.
It said the agency has increased training for staff who provide direct care for children, including de-escalation and relationship building strategies. It also said staff is being retrained on therapeutic approaches.
It also wrote it had increased leadership presence and oversight in cottages where children live and increased screening and assessment of youths before they are admitted to Brooklawn.
“We are still searching for answers to the many questions about what happened on that Sunday afternoon,” the statement said, referring to Ja’Ceon’s death. “The leadership of Brooklawn will continue cooperating with state and local officials investigating this tragedy.”
Contributing: Natalie Neysa Alund, USA TODAY.
Contact reporter Deborah Yetter on Twitter at @d_yetter.