Braxton Case Highlights Child Abuse in Virginia Foster Homes

by J.D. Garrett on November 21, 2013

foster-care-abuseThe mission of the Virginia Beach Department of Human Services (DHS) is to “provide Virginia Beach citizens the opportunity to achieve the highest level of self-sufficiency, safety, and quality of life possible, through an array of coordinated services delivered in a climate of dignity, respect, and accountability.” But in the case of Braxton Taylor, a ten-month old in foster care, the DHS failed to live up to its mission. Braxton Taylor died at the hands of his foster mother, Kathleen Ganiere. Ganiere is now in jail and the City of Virginia Beach settled Taylor’s parents’ lawsuit arising from the child’s death for $450,000.

Virginia Foster Mother Causes Child’s Death

Kristen Wall gave birth to Braxton Taylor in April of 2009. According to the Virginian-Pilot, Braxton was placed into foster care while Wall worked on conquering her drug addiction. The first foster family cared for Braxton for seven months, but he was later placed into the care of first-time foster mother Kathleen Ganiere. Prior to Braxton’s death, Braxton’s biological mother noticed signs of abuse when she visited her son. Wall told the supervising social worker about the bruises on the baby’s head and back, and a gash on his lip. But Braxton’s foster mother said that the baby had fallen, and no action was taken. According to Wall, “the social worker brushed me off.” Two weeks later, Braxton Taylor died as a result of the abuse.

Ganiere was charged with second-degree murder and felony child abuse, but pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. She was ultimately sentenced to the maximum 10-year prison term for voluntary manslaughter, which exceeded the sentencing guidelines and the eight years the prosecution had sought.

Kristen Wall and Ralph M. Taylor Jr., Braxton’s biological parents, then sued the City of Virginia Beach for its failure to protect the child while in foster care, despite the signs of abuse. The City ultimately settled Wall and Taylor’s lawsuit for $450,000. According to a statement issued by Virginia Beach, it has since instituted sweeping changes to its Child Welfare Division, including: improved screening and training for prospective foster parents; weekly face-to-face visits by child welfare workers with young foster children; increased staff training for injury recognition; and increased involvement by Child Protective Services in suspicious cases.

Child Abuse in Virginia

Virginia treats child abuse and neglect very seriously. Under the Virginia Code, a parent, guardian, or anyone else responsible for the care of a child can be convicted of a Class 4 felony if they act or fail to act in a way that causes serious injury to the life or health of that child. The Code defines serious injury to include:

  • Disfigurement
  • Fractures
  • Severe burns or lacerations
  • Mutilation
  • Maiming
  • Forced ingestion of dangerous substances, and
  • Life-threatening internal injuries

Thus, even failing to provide necessary care for a child’s health can give rise to a felony charge if that failure results in serious injury.

As seen in the case of Braxton Taylor, personal injury claims, such as wrongful death claims, can also stem from child abuse cases. Taylor’s biological parents filed suits against both the foster mother for her actions, and against the Virginia Beach Department of Human Services for failing to respond to the signs of abuse.

If you have been charged with a crime related to child abuse or neglect in Virginia, or if you suspect that your child has been injured while in the Commonwealth’s care, it is important that you speak to an experienced attorneys. The attorneys at Garrett Law Group, PLC, have extensive experience in criminal defense, as well as in personal injury cases. For your free consultation, contact Garrett Law Group, PLC, today.

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