Child welfare chief on boy who begged not to be returned to parents: 'This death happened on my watch'

Amid intense questioning, Los Angeles County’s child welfare chief took responsibility for the death of a 4-year-old boy who suspiciously passed away under his birth parents’ care, the Los Angeles Times reports. 

On Tuesday, Bobby Cagle, director of the county Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), told the Board of Supervisors that he was at fault for not removing Noah Cuatro from his parents's home in spite of a recent court order. 

"This death happened on my watch," Cagle said. "I fully accept the responsibility for the work that was done. I also fully accept the responsibility for understanding what went wrong, what we can do better and to implement that as quickly as possible." 

On July 6, Noah's mother and father, Jose and Ursula, brought his lifeless body to a hospital and claimed that he had drowned in a pool at their apartment complex in Palmdale. The medical staff, however, expressed skepticism after they discovered signs of trauma on the toddler's body. 

In a number of interviews, Noah's maternal great-grandmother Eva Hernandez revealed that Noah was first removed from Ursula's care when he was just a baby. For the first three months, the child purportedly spent time in foster care before Hernandez was granted custody of the boy. 

Yet, six months later, Hernandez reportedly had to return Noah to his parents. Due to neglect and malnutrition, his stay with them only lasted for a short period — Hernandez reared the boy again for the next two years, while facilitating visits by his mother. 

"'Grandma,'" she recalled the child once telling her. "'You can't let me go. You can't let me go.' He’s looking at me, begging me not to let him go, and I had to let him go."

After Noah was inexplicably returned to his parents a second time last November, his demeanor changed extremely, Hernandez said. In a report, a DCFS caseworker similarly admitted as much, stating that the 4-year-old seemed withdrawn during a visit in February. 

Claims of abuse followed Noah's family for the next several months. In May, a caseworker finally filed a 26-page request to remove Noah from his parents's custody a third time, in light of allegations that Noah's father had kicked his wife and children in public. Although the request was granted, Noah was never returned to foster care.

At the time of the toddler's death, officials had received 13 calls from people who suspected that children in Jose and Ursula's home were being abused, according to the Times. Additionally, at one point, caseworkers confirmed an allegation that Ursula had fractured the skull of a girl related to her. The mother was not charged in that case due to lack of sufficient evidence. 

At a news conference on Tuesday, Hernandez's attorney, Brian Claypool, criticized DCFS and law enforcement for not being transparent about Noah's case and called for his parents, along with caseworkers who ignored the court order, to be prosecuted.

"His parents filed a false report," Claypool said, according to KTLA. "That's a crime, so why hasn't there been an arrest?"

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