DHHS shares interactions with family of 1-month-old killed by father in Milo

The non-profit Walk a Mile in Their Shoes criticizes DHHS for recent string of child deaths
Maine Department of Health and Human Services (File)
Maine Department of Health and Human Services (File)(WABI)
Published: Aug. 19, 2023 at 6:45 PM EDT
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MILO, Maine (WMTW) - Sylus Melvin was one-month-old at the time of his death in August of 2021. His father, Reginald Melvin, has now been sentenced to 25 years in prison for the death of his son.

Court documents show the infant died of blunt force trauma on a number of parts of his body.

Sylus’ mother, Desiree Newbert, says she contacted the Department of Health and Human Services with concerns about her son after Melvin threatened to kill the family. Newbert says DHHS never returned her call or visited her home.

A spokesperson for DHHS, Jackie Farwell, provided a log of the department’s interactions with Newbert.

Farwell says an Office of Children and Family Services caseworker observed Sylus following his birth on July 28, 2021 in the hospital and at the home after he was discharged on August 10th.

A public health nurse visited the home on August 11th, August 13th and August 23rd. The child was seen by a medical provider on August 19th. None of these providers reported concerns. On August 20th, an OCFS caseworker called Newbert to check in with her; Newbert reported she felt things were going well at that time. The child died on August 29th.

The log went on to say that there is no documentation of a call or other contact from Newbert or any member of her family after August 20th, until Farwell says Newbert was interviewed by the Department after Sylus’ death on August 29th.

Farwell says the documents show Newbert did not mention a request for a home visit during that interview, nor did she report that she had attempted to contact the Department with no response. Farwell says Newbert did indicate in the interview that she had kept important information regarding Melvin threatening and assaulting her from the caseworker during the investigation prior to Sylus’ death which contributed to the court-approved order at the time to take the older sibling into state custody.

Farwell says DHHS maintains their commitment to learning all they can from this death as they strive for a system that promotes the safety, stability, health and happiness of all Maine children and families.

Responding to DHHS’ claims, Newbert insists that both she and her mother called the department and left messages with a duty worker.

DHHS has faced criticism in recent years for the deaths of four children who died while in Child Protective Services. This includes Maddox Williams, whose mother Jessica Williams was sentenced to 47 years in prison for killing her 3-year-old son.

Former state senator Bill Diamond is the leader of the non-profit Walk a Mile in Their Shoes. The non-profit is comprised of more than 70 volunteers who work with law enforcement, teachers, foster parents, educators and former and current DHHS employees to figure out what the problems and solutions are within the Maine’s child welfare system.

Diamond says some of the major issues his volunteers are finding when it comes to DHHS is a lack of communication, disorganization within the system and a lack of training regarding child safety.

Once their current round of statewide listening sessions is complete, the organization will put together a report with stories from people across the state in the hopes that it will lead to legislative changes in Augusta. Senator Diamond says Walk a Mile in their Shoes will publish their findings in late fall.