Davenport woman's baby dies while in foster care

Originally Posted Online: March 31, 2011, 6:45 pm
Last Updated: April 01, 2011, 11:22 am
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By Stephen Elliott, selliott@qconline.com

DAVENPORT -- Dawn Burkhardt has had a life of bad: bad checks, bad boyfriends, bad stints in jail.

But the worst came March 4 when her 9-month-old son, Brandon Jordan, died at the home of his foster parents.

"I was just getting out of jail for not paying a fine, and DCFS (the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services)told me, cold heartedly, 'Dawn, your son's dead,'" she said.

"It didn't sink in. The more I think about it, the more it hurts, the more pain and suffering I'm going through," she said."They took a baby from a parent that's fully functional."

Ms. Burkhardt, 29, is no stranger to DCFS. Shehas had six children; DCFS has placedtwo in foster care. Two live with an aunt and another is with its father. In June, DCFS also took Brandon from Ms. Burkhardt and placed him with foster parents,Deandrea and Roshanda Washington, in Peoria.

Now, Brandon is dead.He died from asphyxiation, according to Peoria County Coroner Johnna Ingersoll, who said the babyapparently had been left alone in his crib for nine hours.

"It is under investigation with the Peoria Police Department and the Peoria Coroner's Office," Ms. Ingersoll said Wednesday. "An inquest will likely be within the next couple of weeks.

"Perhaps it may be necessary to delay the inquest if the investigation is not complete within the next couple of weeks," she said."But, hopefully, it will be."

DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe confirmed the agency began investigating Brandon's death on March 5. He also said two other foster children living in the same Peoria home have been placed with another foster family.

The court granted temporary custody of Brandon to DCFS on June 17, 2010, Mr. Marlowe said. Custody is granted based on either abuse or neglect, he added.

There have been subsequent hearings on Brandon's status since his foster care placement, Mr. Marlowe said. Those hearing's files, he noted, generally are not open to the public.

Ms. Burkhardt said she left the Quad-Cities last year after an abusive relationship with Brandon's father.

"He's in prison right now," she said. "He's a very bad person. I don't bring him up. I had a baby by him, but when I got pregnant by him, I had already left him.

"But, things got worse," Ms. Burkhardt said. "He started beating on me, showing up at places I was at."

So she moved.She got a bus ticket to Peoria, where she contacted and resided at a domestic violence shelter.

"I felt if I didn't leave town, me and my baby wouldn't be alive," she said.

Ms. Burkhardt said that, after Brandon was born at OSF St. Francis Hospital in Peoria, he was taken from her by DCFS and put into foster care.

"DCFS took my child away at the hospital," Ms. Burkhardt said.

"I don't see how I can be unstable," she said. "It (the shelter)was a domestic violence place.They provided transitional housing, transportation if needed, clothing. They helped you get to the food stamp place to sign up for cash assistance. I had not had a chance to get everything situated."

Currently in Illinois, there are 15,540 children in foster care, according to Mr. Marlowe. That's down markedly from 1997, he said, when the state had more than 52,000 kids in state care.

"We've made tremendous progress through adoptions, guardianships, in reunifying children with their families," he said. "There is a large body of research showing children do better when they maintain ties to community and maintain their family ties to the family."

Mr. Marlowe said he could not comment specifically on Brandon's case. But he noted that every Illinois foster parent goes through a criminal background check and a DCFS background check.

DCFS takes numerous variables into account when determining a child's safety, he said.

"The difficulty is, neglect is very closely linked to poverty," Mr. Marlowe said. "Parents highly impoverished who may not mean to harm children may still place them in a neglectful situation."

Ms. Burkhardt believes Brandon was betrayed by the system. And she said she feels she's getting the run-around from authorities.

Until Thursday -- when she said she was told to leave -- Ms.Burkhardt had lived at the Humility of Mary homeless shelter in Davenport. She said she is working on her GED and plans to enter the massage therapy field.

For now, she and her current boyfriend, Tyrone Stewart, stay at shelters while seeking some footing. She said that, without Mr. Stewart, "I don't think I would be able to handle this."

On Thursday afternoon, the two were at Vander Veer Botanical Park as parents and grandparents passed, holding their children's hands or pushing them in strollers. Although children played close to where she on a bench, their two worlds were miles apart.

Ms. Burkhardt shared that she doesn't even know where Brandon is buried.

"Somewhere in Peoria," she said, her voice crackingslightly as she reached back for a memory of her son, trying to connect with a reality that never was.

"I was planning on getting Brandon back and making a healthy home for him," she said.

"He never got a chance to know his mother," she said."Part of me feels guilty; my son didn't get a chance to live in this world.

"My son cannot rest until something is done," she said. "I just want my son to have some justice."


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