ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The family that helped raise a 9-year-old Albuquerque boy who died after police say his biological mother kicked him repeatedly claims the child’s death could have been prevented.
Police found Omaree Varela unresponsive in his family’s home Friday. His mother, Synthia Varela-Casaus, 38, was arrested after telling police she got angry and kicked him. She’s facing a charge of child abuse resulting in death. It wasn’t clear if she had a lawyer yet.
Varela-Casaus’ son and daughter lived with Essie Sotelo’s family on and off for several years until Sotelo said the state Children, Youth and Families Department ordered the children to be returned in 2011.
“I blame CYFD for what happened because they put him in that house,” Sotelo told the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/1hcpbd2 ). “I told them that girl (Varela-Casaus) was not ready to take care of those kids. He was doing so good when he was with us. He liked school, he loved sports, he was happy.”
Department Secretary Yolanda Deines said in a statement that her thoughts and prayers were with “this innocent 9-year-old child who was failed by the person who should have loved him most.
“These types of cases are always so troubling and send ripple throughout our community,” she said. “And they should, for we always strive to protect the innocent.”
Sotelo and police have said that the child welfare agency was well-aware of Varela-Casaus.
According to documents shared with the Journal by Sotelo and her daughter, Shana Smith, the agency’s Protective Services Division recommended in 2009 that Omaree and his sister, Neviah, remain in Sotelo’s care until interviews and assessments of Varela-Casaus’ caretaking ability could be completed. At the time, Smith alleged that Varela-Casaus was using drugs and leaving the children unattended for extended periods of time.
Although they weren’t licensed foster parents, Sotelo and Smith said Varela-Cacaus had given them permission to take the children with them when they moved to Arizona in January 2011. According to Sotelo and Smith, the agency contacted them two months later and ordered the children back to Albuquerque.
That was the last time Sotelo and Smith saw the children.
Children, Youth and Families Department spokesman Henry Varela, no relation to Varela-Casaus, said he couldn’t comment specifically about the case, but that the courts — not the agency — dictate where a child is placed.
“That’s another misperception, that CYFD can say where a child goes or where they’re placed,” he said. “Based on an investigation and based on what we find, we will present evidence to say it might not be a safe placement, but we just don’t have the authority to make those calls. We don’t determine who gets custody.”