A nationwide review of over 260 fentanyl overdose cases involving babies, toddlers and young children found that about half of the cases involved families that had been reported to police or child welfare workers before the overdose, Scripps News reports. Many of these cases involved repeated reports to child welfare workers, yet children and babies, some as young as a few months old, still overdosed or lost their lives in at least 80 cases examined from 2018 to 2023. "I feel like the people that we vote in, (that) we hire as a community to protect our kids and us, dropped the ball," said Christina Forester, the grandmother of Madison Stodulski, a 22-month-old who died of fentanyl poisoning in 2019 in Rolla, Mo. The tragedy of Madison Stodulski's death is like many others around the country where child protective workers and police had information about parents' drug use in the weeks and months leading up to a death but did not prevent it. Forester said she believes child protective workers had enough information to intervene in a more significant way.
Forester filed a wrongful death suit against the caseworker assigned to Madison, alleging that she failed to complete critical paperwork that could have triggered additional protective measures for Madison before her death. Forester's lawsuit was dismissed after the defendant argued in court filings that she was protected by official immunity. "Anytime a child dies there is a clear indication of a system failure, whether it's due to parental negligence, a lack of coordination, or even circumstances that could have been overlooked, the truth is that we all have a responsibility to reduce the risk of loss of life,” said Adam Crumbliss, deputy director of the Missouri Department of Social Services’ children’s division. “We’re working to hire more caseworkers, retain more, and better compensate them. We’re also looking at how we can develop additional strategies to reduce deaths like Madison’s.” Crumbliss said that the department could also increase its engagement with community providers to see where resources could be better placed.