By Ed Runyan
An assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor says she thinks Trumbull County Children Services “could have acted more quickly” to ensure that an 8-year-old former Warren boy got medical care in the months before he died in Cleveland from undiagnosed Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
But Anna Faraglia, who prosecuted Willie Robinson’s parents in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court for failing to provide medical care for the boy, says the real blame lies with the parents.
“I think they tried,” Faraglia said of Children Services. “When they went to the home, they [Willie’s family] gave the impression that everything was hunky- dory,” Faraglia said.
“Could [Children Services] have acted more quickly? Perhaps,” Faraglia said by telephone recently.
Willie’s parents, Monica Hussing and William Robinson Sr., pleaded guilty to attempted involuntary manslaughter, and each was sentenced last month to an eight-year prison term.
Hussing, Robinson and their six children lived on York Street Northwest in Warren until late February 2008, when they moved to Cleveland, apparently because Children Services had threatened to take the parents to court to force them to get Willie medical care and to send four of their children to school.
Faraglia said the appalling decision by Willie’s parents to refuse medical care for Willie in spite of obvious signs that he was seriously ill places the blame for Willie’s death on them.
As parents, “you have a responsibility to care for a child,” Faraglia said, adding that doctors indicated that there is a 96 percent survival rate for Hodgkin’s lymphoma for children who are diagnosed early.
Willie “never once saw a doctor from the time he was born — no wellness checks, nothing,” Faraglia said.
Willie died March 22, 2008, in a Cleveland hospital, where his father took him after Willie collapsed at home.
The autopsy done on Willie’s body determined that Willie died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a highly treatable form of cancer. The coroner reported that Willie’s body was emaciated, which the judge in the case said should have indicated to anyone seeing him that Willie was seriously ill in the months leading up to his death.
Faraglia said evidence shows that toward the end of Willie’s life, including his final months on York Street, “Willie wasn’t able to walk, and he was always in the bedroom.”
Children Services first began to visit Willie’s home in July 2007 and continued the visits multiple times per month until Feb. 14, 2008, the agency told an ABC News reporter in 2009.
Children Services was called there by Hussing’s sister, Sheila Slawinski, who lives in a Cleveland suburb. Slawinski said she called Children Services out of fear for Willie’s health because of a lump on his neck and because Willie and three of his siblings had never been to school.
Faraglia said the Children Services caseworker observed a lump on Willie’s neck when he first visited the home in July. The caseworker told Hussing to get Willie to a doctor and to get the four children enrolled in school, Faraglia said.
But Hussing, whom Faraglia called a “big liar,” never took Willie to a doctor or enrolled the children, Faraglia said. The two oldest children did attend school, Faraglia noted.
How, then, did a Children Services worker miss the apparently obvious signs that Willie was deathly ill?
Faraglia says it’s because Willie had a brother one year younger, and the caseworker apparently saw the younger brother without realizing it during most of his visits.
Faraglia said prosecutors concluded that the caseworker was seeing Willie’s little brother because, he said, “Willie would always draw me pictures.” From family members, it was learned that Willie never drew pictures, but his little brother frequently did.
“I think the social worker thought he was seeing Willie when he was actually seeing a younger brother,” Faraglia said.
“I believe [the caseworker] saw Willie at least one time, but toward the end I don’t believe he did see Willie.”
Nick Kerosky, executive director of Trumbull Children Services, said it’s possible that Faraglia is right and that the caseworker wasn’t seeing Willie.
And because Willie reportedly had “good days and bad,” Kerosky said, it’s possible Willie looked healthy part of the time.
“It’s possible we didn’t see the right kid. There were a lot of kids, and the kids looked alike,” Kerosky said.
Children don’t have identification cards, so it would be impossible to know whether the caseworker is seeing the right child, he said.
It’s rare for a family to try to hide one of their children from Children Services, Kerosky said. And rather than assume that a family is lying, “We pride ourselves on having a relationship with the family. It’s unusual that we don’t have a good rapport. I’m sure if our worker would have perceived that the child was at risk, we would have acted quicker.”
Kerosky noted that the worker on that case “is no longer here,” saying he believes the worker retired. Kerosky said he doesn’t believe any employees were disciplined for their work on the case.
Asked whether several high-profile cases in recent months suggest that the agency failed to recognize how devious the offending parents could be, Kerosky said the opposite is also true.
“I could show you just as many cases where the family said we went too far and the family was unhappy.”
Last year, Children Services was criticized for allowing two Warren parents to have an essentially unsupervised visit with their biological daughter, who was 9 months old, when the agency knew the father had been previously convicted of a sex offense against a child.
The parents are both accused of raping the child at the Children Services offices on Reeves Road during the visit. Police say the couple videotaped the rapes on a cellphone.
Defense attorneys for Hussing and William Robinson Sr. said Hussing tried to get treatment for Willie from a Warren health clinic, but she declined the treatment because it was going to cost $180.
Faraglia said investigators checked into those claims, however, and found them to be false.
Hussing did make a visit to a Warren health clinic, but all the clinic asked her to do was fill out a paper and make an appointment for Willie — things she never did, Faraglia said.
“A single blood test would have determined that the child had Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” Faraglia said, adding that testimony given at the sentencing indicated that there were a variety of locations where Willie’s parents could have taken Willie for medical care that would not have cost any money, such as the emergency room of the two Warren hospitals or “many clinics in Trumbull County.”
“I don’t fault anybody,” Faraglia said of Children Services. “They claim they followed their protocol, and I respect that,” Faraglia said, adding that Children Services was cooperative throughout the investigation and prosecution of the case.
Slawinski told reporters she thinks the reason Hussing and William Robinson Sr. didn’t get medical care for Willie was because it was easier for Hussing to stay in bed during the day and do drugs. Both parents have abused drugs, their attorneys told the judge in their case.
“The reason they chose not to take care of this child is known only to them,” Faraglia said.