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Boy's death prompts DFCS review
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Forsyth County News


* Mother's boyfriend charged with murder

State agencies are looking into what went wrong following the beating death of a 6-year-old boy in Forsyth County.

The state Office of the Child Advocate and Department of Family and Children Services, or DFCS, is investigating at least four reports of abuse in the Valley Lane home.

The reports include information about Bryan Guzman-Moreno, a special needs child who authorities say was beaten to death Thursday by the live-in boyfriend of his mother, Laura Moreno.

Eder Acosta, 20, is being held at the Forsyth County Jail on charges of felony murder, aggravated battery and cruelty to children.

Acosta, who was arrested Saturday, was the father of Moreno's 1-year-old son. Guzman-Moreno and his 11-year-old brother were siblings from a different father.

It was the 11-year-old brother who filed the third and most recent report with DFCS in January.

Thomas C. Rawlings, director of the child advocate office, which oversees DFCS and works to improve state and private services for children and families, said the boy was “afraid to go to his mother’s because she and her boyfriend were always fighting."

"And also, one time, Eder hit Bryan really hard in the leg with his fist because he wouldn’t go to the bathroom,” Rawlings said.

The report was consistent with a September 2008 account indicating Guzman-Moreno had a big bruise on his thigh that appeared to be caused by a hand.

It also supported a domestic violence report from 2006. Though DFCS investigated the September report, Rawlings said abuse could not be verified.

“I am of course concerned whereas the first incident was unsubstantiated, the third report ... seems to give some additional validity to that first report,” he said.

Between the September and January incidents, another report was made saying the 6-year-old had scratches on his face. The report, made in November, was “screened out,” Rawlings said.

“I mean, they didn’t even investigate that,” he said. “What we hope to get to the bottom of is, given the earlier two allegations that were of physical abuse, what exactly DFCS did in order to really get back to the bottom of those reports.

“I think if you have repeated reports that should give a reasonable social worker cause to look more carefully,”

The department's electronic files go back only a few years. Rawlings said it will take him a while to search farther back for possible previous incidents at the home.

In addition to gathering more information, Rawlings said the goal is to improve on the current system used by DFCS in responding to abused children.

The death of Guzman-Moreno, described in reports as being “significantly developmentally delayed,” could also lead to better handling of cases involving children with special needs, Rawlings said.

“It may be that we need to make sure that if you’re working with a child who is developmentally disabled or non-verbal or autistic ... that you need to do more,” he said. “It may be that there should be tighter policies and practices around repeated incidents of abuse.”

Taka Wiley, DFCS spokeswoman, said the case is being reviewed, adding Department Director Michael Washington is concerned.

“Maybe we missed some of the signs, maybe we missed asking the right questions or bringing in the right experts, the right specialists in making the right decisions at the time,” she said.

“We’re not exactly sure what was missed ... but it is very, very important that we learn what we missed, why we missed it and how we can improve our practice so that it doesn’t happen again."

Rawlings said he was encouraged by Washington’s concern over the case.

“We don’t necessarily want to fault people for not seeing in hindsight what might have happened,” he said. “You study bad things that happen in order to prevent more bad things from happening. That’s what we do.

“We look at this as an opportunity to learn.”