Sarah Eagan, the state’s child advocate Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CtMirror.org

State regulators reported concerns about James Bailey’s drinking as early as 2011, nearly eight years before he drove his car into a telephone pole, killing his 17-year-old foster child.

But according to a new report from the state Office of the Child Advocate, those concerns didn’t result in any action that might have prevented state officials from placing more children in Bailey’s care.

The two agencies that allowed Bailey and his wife to be a state-licensed provider — the Department of Developmental Services and the Department of Children and Families — either knew about or investigated concerns about Bailey’s drinking, the report said, but failed to include those concerns in official records or communicate effectively with one another.

Bailey and his wife were licensed to provide care to developmentally and intellectually disabled adults and children as foster parents, first through DDS and later DCF.

Emails examined by the child advocate show escalating concerns at DDS about Bailey, until the agency decided in 2012 not to place any more clients at the home. But DDS employees didn’t make a formal record of their concerns in the family’s licensing file, the OCA report states.

As concerns about Bailey’s drinking developed at DCF, however, workers there didn’t seek further information from DDS, even though Bailey told DCF employees his drinking had been an issue in the past, the report states.

Despite these concerns, state officials continued to place children in Bailey’s home. He was behind the wheel in a September 2019 car crash in which his foster child, 17-year-old Alexander Medina, was killed. Bailey is charged with drunken driving and second-degree manslaughter.

The report describes Alex’s death as “unexpected and preventable.”

“One state agency that serves vulnerable people said ‘We aren’t going to place any more people here,'” said Sarah Eagan, the state child advocate. “The same caregiver was able to get licensed by a different agency to care for vulnerable people. Alex Medina died from the very concerns that the first state agency was worried about.”

Eagan added that there are gaps in state law and state agencies’ protocols that need to be addressed.

The report contains several recommendations for improving the state’s methods of investigating abuse and neglect as well as reporting and communicating concerns between agencies assigned to protect the children in their care.

Recommendations also include ways to improve documentation of concerns in case and licensing records and communication between agencies, among other measures.

One state agency that serves vulnerable people said ‘We aren’t going to place any more people here.’ The same caregiver was able to get licensed by a different agency to care for vulnerable people. Alex Medina died from the very concerns that the first state agency was worried about.

Sarah Eagan, Child Advocate

In response to a request for comment and questions about any policy changes as a result of Alex Medina’s death, DDS spokesman Kevin Bronson said the department is working with other agencies to ensure children and families in the system receive the support they need.

The report notes that following OCA staff’s conversations with DDS, staff concluded that “more work may need to be done to ensure DDS’s compliance with state laws regarding reporting and investigation of suspected abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults.”

It also references a 2016 report from the U.S. Health and Human Services Inspector General that says DDS didn’t comply with federal Medicaid and state requirements for monitoring “critical incidents” because staff weren’t correctly trained to identify and report suspicions of abuse and neglect, among other problems.

“The Department of Developmental Services takes seriously the concerns raised by the Office of the Child Advocate’s investigation into the death of Alexander Medina,” Bronson wrote in an emailed statement. “We continue to work with both the Office of the Child Advocate and the Department of Children and Families to understand how we can better align state systems and processes to best support individuals and families.”

DCF has worked with private providers “to fully understand the care and treatment Alex received in his foster home” and meets regularly with OCA to “enhance Connecticut’s child serving systems,” Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes said in a statement.

The agency conducted its own review of the case, which Eagan said was thorough.

“Our work continues with the Department of Developmental Services to further enhance communication regarding the children and families we jointly serve,” Dorantes’ statement said. “Our practice has already been reinforced based on our internal reviews of this case and we will continue to discuss any further applicable findings in today’s letter.”

Alex’s case

Alex was placed in Bailey’s home in 2017. He’d been in three foster homes before then, in addition to a residential program and a therapeutic group home.

He didn’t want to be adopted but did want to stay at Bailey’s house, the OCA report states.

The two summers before his death, Alex had attended a University of Connecticut program that helps kids in foster care with college readiness. In 2019, he got an award for improved study skills, the report states.

DCF Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes said her agency has conducted its own review of the fatality and is committed to improving communication with other agencies. Kathleen Megan / CT Mirror

Alex called home on Sept. 30, 2019, the day of the crash, asking to be picked up because he didn’t feel well. Bailey came to get him.

On the way home, Bailey allegedly veered off the road and hit a telephone pole, the report states. Alex was thrown from the car and critically injured. He died from a brain injury three days later.

Bailey was later charged with drunken driving, reckless endangerment, reckless driving and two counts of second-degree manslaughter. He was released on bail and is awaiting trial.

The state Department of Children and Families substantiated allegations of abuse and neglect of Alex, as well as emotional neglect of another child in the family’s home, against Bailey after Alex’s death. Allegations of physical neglect of Alex were also substantiated against Bailey’s wife, Sherron Bailey. 

That process of substantiating abuse and neglect allegations occurs through DCF and is separate from criminal charges.

Representatives of Ruane Attorneys, the firm representing Bailey, did not respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.

First concerns

The Baileys were state caretakers for years before Alex came to live with them. 

The Department of Developmental Services licensed them as a “Community Training Home” for people with intellectual and co-occurring developmental disabilities. In 2011, DDS investigators looked into a report that Bailey told a young man with an intellectual disability and behavioral support that he needs to “shut the f*** up.”

The young man, named Jonah, called his aunt and asked to be picked up because he was afraid and because Bailey “drinks too much.” Jonah’s conservator visited the Bailey’s home that evening, and although Bailey denied the allegations, the conservator thought he’d been drinking.

After an investigation, the allegation of verbal abuse was not substantiated.

The conservator also said Jonah’s family was concerned that “Mr. Bailey takes Jonah to the casino, sometimes Mr. Bailey is drunk and on occasion Mr. Bailey abuses Mrs. Bailey.”

The OCA report contains a recommendation that DDS staff be trained to identify, report and investigate all types of abuse and neglect, including spousal violence and verbal abuse.

Also in 2011, a DDS manager asked the private agency administrator assigned to Jonah’s case not to increase the Baileys’ licensing capacity from one to two people but didn’t note a reason. Investigators recommended that state regulators conduct periodic unannounced visits at the Bailey house and try to place Jonah closer to his family.

A case manager emailed a DDS foster care manager and said they’d been informed that Bailey wasn’t allowed to drive another client to a day program “because of possible drinking.” The manager questioned if Bailey should be allowed to drive Jonah.

DDS Commissioner Jordan Scheff with former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2017. ctmirror.org

DDS didn’t produce a response to that email for the OCA report.

In August 2012, Jonah was moved out of the home, and DDS told its foster care agency not to place anyone else with the Baileys. The foster care manager noted concerns about Bailey’s drinking, but there’s no DDS record of what happened afterward, according to the report.

The DDS manager said later that because Jonah was out of the house, it wasn’t a reportable issue. The agency also acknowledged that its 2011 investigation “may not have been as complete as it could have.”

The agency also lacks an electronic information management system for visitation records, field observations or emails regarding licensed homes, the report said, and there is no requirement that staff store emails.

The OCA recommends that DDS ensure all information related to the health and safety of its clients is included in case and licensing records.

That’s something we see across child services – ‘We won’t say anything bad about you but you can’t stay here. When you’re in a life and death business, you can’t do that.

Sarah Eagan

The report calls DDS’ decision not to communicate with DCF and take no formal action on the license “alarming” and notes the agency has expressed hesitation to document concerns that it can’t prove. But Eagan said the investigations should have been more thorough.

“That’s something we see across child services — ‘We won’t say anything bad about you, but you can’t stay here,'” Eagan said. “When you’re in a life and death business, you can’t do that. … The concerns that were raised about Mr. Bailey’s drinking and drinking and driving while he was a DDS caregiver needed to be investigated.”

After Jonah was removed, no further action was taken against Bailey.

“DDS voiced to OCA that it is not ‘illegal to drink’ and it is difficult to prove someone drinks to excess, and that a disparaging record or finding from DDS might open up the agency to legal action, including libel, and harm the former license-holder’s ability to seek approval from another agency,” the report states.

Switching to DCF foster care

Immediately after DDS made its informal decision not to place clients with the Baileys, the couple gave up their DDS license and applied to be licensed DCF foster parents through the contracted agency The Connection, Inc.

The Connection did not return requests for comment.

State regulations don’t require that license applicants undergo a multi-agency review to determine if they had regulatory issues with another agency, the report states.

In 2012, the DDS foster care manager emailed the DCF foster care manager to say that The Connection should ask for a release of information about the Baileys. The Connection’s subsequent request didn’t explicitly ask for information about drugs or alcohol, however, so “DDS internally concluded that its concerns about Mr. Bailey’s drinking could not be disclosed,” the report states.

The report states that a DDS manager also told The Connection’s foster care manager that they “should think twice about licensing the Baileys” but didn’t provide anything in writing regarding the alcohol use concerns. Records provided also didn’t reflect the abuse allegation from 2011.

With “nothing tangible” to prevent licensing, The Connection licensed the Baileys through DCF, and in 2013 they had two children with disabilities placed with them. One of the children particularly bonded with the couple and thrived in their home, according to the report.

Checklists for monthly inspections in the foster home did not include any reference to alcohol or other substances, the report states.

The OCA report recommends that Connecticut ensure that agencies request and receive complete licensing records regarding an applicant for custodial care. 

Another abuse/neglect report

In 2015, concerns were raised again about Bailey’s drinking when a DCF social worker saw several empty beer cans and other alcohol containers in the house. The state and The Connection decided to have the Baileys sign an agreement not to transport any children while under the influence and to drink responsibly.

The OCA report says that there’s no indication in DCF records that The Connection told the state about the earlier call with DDS.

Later that year, a nurse came to the house at 10:15 a.m. and described Bailey as “unsteady on his feet, having blood shot eyes and smelling of liquor” when a foster child was home. The Connection reported the incident to the state as a possible instance of child abuse/neglect.

During the investigation, Bailey told DCF investigators that he’d been in trouble with DDS for “having a beer,” but investigators didn’t follow up on the statement.

The report was unsubstantiated, and Bailey denied drinking the morning of the report. A child in the home said he saw Bailey drinking beer occasionally. 

A new safety agreement required Bailey to undergo a substance abuse assessment, which concluded with no reported treatment recommendations, according to the report.

Through 2015 and 2016, the Baileys asked for a child’s removal from their home because they were concerned he was smoking cannabis. After the child was removed, the Baileys closed their file with The Connection and were transferred to the Wheeler Clinic so that they could have one of their previous foster children placed with them again.

They were approved as a “family and community ties foster home,” the highest level of therapeutic foster care available through DCF. The file sent from The Connection to Wheeler Clinic didn’t include a complete DCF investigation report from the nurse’s report in 2015 or the safety agreements, according to the OCA report.

Foster care agencies don’t automatically receive full investigative records about prospective or transferring foster families, and the Wheeler Clinic didn’t request a full report.

The clinic received a 2017 intake document that referenced a 2015 incident in which “substance abuse with an adverse emotional and physical impact was alleged towards Mr. Bailey.” The document notes that the allegations were investigated and unsubstantiated, the OCA report states.

In its report, OCA recommended that DCF standardize what contracted foster care agencies are required to obtain and share regarding homes applying for licenses and that the state agency standardize home visits and address alcohol and substance storage at the licensed home.

In 2017, the relative of a youth placed in the Bailey home called DCF and told them the youth had been kicked out. The youth made several allegations, including that Bailey “drinks 24-7” and that Bailey threatened to cut off his hands with a machete, among other allegations.

He later recanted most of the allegations, and Wheeler Clinic staff reported that “the youth had a pattern of making allegations against the foster home to justify his [running away behavior] from home,” the report states.

DCF did not substantiate the report of abuse/neglect. The investigation didn’t include a significant assessment of substance abuse, the OCA report states.

Alex’s placement

Later that year, Alex was placed in the Bailey household. His DCF case plan is focused on his individual case and doesn’t include any references to the 2015 or 2017 allegations about Bailey’s drinking. The OCA report also says his social work team was not aware of Bailey’s history.

OCA’s report recommended that DCF revise its protocols to ensure that suspected abuse and neglect and any safety or service agreements at a foster home are documented and reviewed. It also recommended that DCF ensure that a child’s social work team review any prior concerns about a foster parent before a child is placed in the home.

After Alex’s death, a youth who was placed in the Bailey home a few months before the crash said that Bailey often drank and slept on the sunporch. He also said the Baileys went to the casino often, leaving their foster children to play vimedindeo games in the lobby of the casino.

As an additional safeguard, OCA recommended that DCF report to juvenile court the suspected abuse or neglect of a child in placement and any safety agreements with caregivers.

The agency will work with DDS and DCF and the state legislature to implement its recommendations, the report states.

Ginny Monk is the Children's Issues and Housing Reporter at CT Mirror, covering topics ranging from education and child welfare to affordable housing and zoning.  Ginny grew up in Arkansas and graduated from the University of Arkansas’ Lemke School of Journalism in 2017.  She began her career at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette where she covered housing, homelessness, juvenile justice, and investigations.  Along the way Ginny was awarded a 2019 Data Fellowship through the Annenberg Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California. She moved to Connecticut in 2021 and covered housing for Hearst CT.