LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The death of a 7-year-old boy at a children’s residential center in Kentucky has been assessed as murder by a medical examiner and two center employees have been fired.
The Jefferson County coroner’s office has determined that Ja’Ceon Terry died on July 17 of “positional asphyxia,” meaning his posture prevented him from breathing. It provided no further details, other than that the child was pronounced dead in a hospital.
At the time of his death, Ja’Ceon was in the care of employees at Brooklawn, a pediatric treatment center in Louisville. The facility provides care for “Kentucky’s most vulnerable youth and their families,” and provides therapeutic foster care to children recovering from the effects of abuse and neglect, the website states.
No charges were filed in the case Monday.
Louisville Metro Police spokesman Aaron Ellis said the matter is the subject of an ongoing investigation.
“Once we have gathered all the facts related to this death, we will submit them to the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office to determine how to proceed,” Ellis said in an email.
In a statement, Seven Counties Services, which runs the center for children with emotional or mental health needs, said it has fired two employees involved in the incident.
The agency did not respond to a request from USA TODAY for the names of the employees, their titles and how long they have worked for the company.
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In the statement, the company said it was “completely devastated by the unspeakable loss of a child entrusted to our care”.
“He should not have died under our watch,” the statement continues. “As protectors of Kentucky’s most vulnerable children, we are committed to making sure this never happens again.”
Nearly all the children in the centers are in the state foster care system and placed there by the state cabinet for health and family services. Last week there were 93 foster children at the agency.
In a separate statement, the cabinet said it was “mourning the death of a child or person of any age entrusted to its care”.
“This sadness was heightened upon learning of the results of the autopsy, which identified asphyxiation as the cause of death,” said spokesman Susan Dunlap said.
The cabinet is investigating the death, but did not want to release any findings, because the investigation is still ongoing. A “full review” of Brooklawn continues, Dunlap said, and the cabinet has suspended placing children at the center for the time being.
Increased staff training
The Seven Counties statement said it has taken a number of steps since the death.
It said the agency has expanded training for staff who provide immediate care to children, including de-escalation and relationship-building strategies. It also said staff are being retrained in therapeutic approaches.
It also wrote that it had increased the presence of leaders and supervision in homes where children live and increased the screening and assessment of young people before they were admitted to Brooklawn.
“We are still looking for answers to the many questions about what happened that Sunday afternoon,” the statement said, referring to Ja’Ceon’s death. “Brooklawn’s leadership will continue to work with state and local officials investigating this tragedy.”
Contributing: Natalie Neysa Alund, USA TODAY.
Reach out to reporter Deborah Yetter on Twitter at @d_yetter.