Foster care agency is shut down
2-year-old was killed in home
overseen by center
BY JACK KRESNAK
August 23, 2006
state Department of Human Services on Tuesday shut down a private
nonprofit foster care program that had placed a 2-year-old boy in a
Detroit home where police say he was beaten to death last week.
The program was run by the Lula Belle
Stewart Center in Detroit, which worked with more than 80 licensed
foster homes and supervised nearly 150 abused and neglected children
who are wards of the court, the center's interim director Janet
Burch said last week. She did not return calls Tuesday.
State social service workers began
visiting each of the Stewart Center's foster homes on Tuesday to
check on foster children and to inform foster parents that their
licenses were being temporarily assigned to the DHS, meaning the
department will supervise those homes for now, said DHS spokeswoman
The DHS summarily suspended the
Stewart Center's child-placing license and said it will seek to
permanently revoke it.
The shutdown came less than a week
after 2-year-old Isaac Lethbridge stopped breathing in the home of
licensed foster parent Charlise Rogers, a single mother and retired
autoworker who has been a foster parent for nine years. Isaac died
during emergency treatment at Children's Hospital of Michigan in
Detroit last Wednesday.
The Wayne County Medical Examiner's
Office said Isaac was beaten with a blunt object or a fist. Detroit
police, who are investigating, did not return numerous calls for
Sorbet said she could not comment on
the investigation into Isaac's death.
"While we can't go into the specifics
of the child protective services information, any time that there's
something like this going on and the safety of children in licensed
foster homes is questioned, then licensing has to move immediately
to investigate and take appropriate action, which they did," Sorbet
Court records indicate that Isaac's
4-year-old sister may have been abused in the same home. She has
been moved into a foster home in Washtenaw County where her younger
sister was already living.
At an emergency Wayne County Family
Court hearing Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Yasmin Abdul-Karim
began by offering her sympathy to Isaac's parents, Matthew and
Jennifer Lethbridge, who now live in Whitmore Lake. Then she told
the parents -- who lost custody of Isaac and his 4-year-old sister
last September -- that the DHS would soon ask a judge to terminate
their parental rights altogether for the 4-year-old.
Two Washtenaw County judges already
have terminated the Lethbridge's parental rights to their six older
children who later were adopted by foster parents. The oldest of
their children, Ashleigh Lethbridge, died of natural causes in her
adoptive home in February at age 12. Court records said Ashleigh was
born blind and had mental retardation as well as muscle and nerve
The Lethbridge children began
entering foster care in 1997 and the parental rights for the older
six were terminated because of environmental and medical neglect and
the parents' failure to fix the problems that led to the children's
removal from their home, according to court records.
The youngest girl remains a temporary
ward of the court in Washtenaw County.
Attorneys assigned by the court to
represent the Lethbridges asked Wayne County Family Court Judge
Leslie Kim Smith on Tuesday to delay the hearing so they could
subpoena Isaac's foster care case worker at the Stewart Center.
Smith postponed the hearing until Aug. 31 to decide whether the case
should be transferred to Washtenaw County and whether to accept the
DHS' petition to terminate the couple's parental rights to the
The Lethbridges left the courtroom in
"My child was killed and now they
want to kill my family," a distraught Matthew Lethbridge said after
the hearing. "How is this protecting kids?"
The Lethbridges have hired the law
firm of Geoffrey Fieger to sue the agencies, social service workers
and foster parents involved in Isaac's death.
Contact JACK KRESNAK at