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Amid reform, a city agency too often fails to protect children

His name was Tymir. But he could have been Jayden, Jaquinn, Khalil, Nyree, Nylah, Aaron, or Albert, or any of the dozens of Philadelphia's children betrayed by their parents and then failed by the city agency charged with protecting them.

His name was Tymir.

But he could have been Jayden, Jaquinn, Khalil, Nyree, Nylah, Aaron, or Albert, or any of the dozens of Philadelphia's children betrayed by their parents and then failed by the city agency charged with protecting them.

It's been 10 years since 14-year-old Danieal Kelly starved to death in a squalid Mantua apartment while in the care of the city Department of Human Services.

In those 10 years, a new narrative has emerged for DHS, one of a chastened agency that has moved to correct its failures.

But beneath that narrative of reform lies another: one in which the system still - all too often - fails children.

Listen to Tymir's story.

It is a short one.

He only survived in this world 86 days.

Tymir was born addicted to methadone. After his birth last June, he suffered through seven weeks of withdrawal at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

Later, a medical examiner would say that after Tymir was sent home to his parents in West Philadelphia, he endured broken bones and fractured ribs.

Authorities believe he eventually died after his drug-addicted mother rolled over on him while he slept.

The Department of Human Services failed Tymir from the day he was born.

According to an official review of Tymir's death, released this week, DHS caseworkers and supervisors missed glaring warnings about Tymir's parents, including the fact that his mother had already had one of her children removed from her care.

They failed to properly check in on Tymir. A caseworker and a supervisor both went on vacation and neglected to tell anyone to check on the baby. It was only after he died that social workers filed crucial paperwork in his case.

And what could be done then?

I have written too many stories like this one.

So, after reading about Tymir's death, I went back through other child death reviews the city has compiled since 2009. For the last seven years, the city has prepared one every time a child was killed or seriously injured and abuse was suspected.

Here's what I learned:

Since 2009, when the city started the reviews, through the end of 2015, 38 children died after they or their families came to the attention of DHS. In those cases, the agency had received 124 earlier complaints.

That's a lot of missed opportunities.

In those same years, 40 children were gravely injured after they or their families came under DHS review. There had been 111 earlier complaints about those parents.

Overall, child deaths are down - from a total of 46 who died between 2003 and 2007, when the Inquirer's reporting on Danieal Kelly led to an overhaul of the failing agency. Prosecutors later won nine convictions against city social workers and caseworkers from an outside agency that failed to protect her.

But far too many kids are still dying.

The reports I reviewed tell a story of an agency committed to reform and no longer beset by criminal malfeasance, but one where, even after all the reform, social workers and supervisors too often fail to do what is needed to protect children.

Where, in cases like Tymir's, they fail to take basic steps to ensure that a child is safe.

The reports admit this readily.

Consider the case of Jayden Djukanovic, a 5-week-old baby who suffered brain damage when his mother beat him in 2009. The beating occurred after DHS inexplicably left Jayden at home with his parents, even though they were facing criminal charges for beating his older sister.

Or Nyree Taylor, a 7-year-old who died from an asthma attack in 2013 after the agency failed to act on seven reports about the deplorable living conditions and medical neglect she and her siblings were suffering.

Or Samuel Cabrera, a 3-month-old whose father beat him to death after DHS failed to review his parents' long history of neglect.

Or so many others.

"These types of cases - they shake my belief that true change has happened," said Ed McCann, the former first assistant district attorney who prosecuted the Danieal Kelly case, and who sat on the DHS death-review team until last month. "You wonder, 'What are the lessons we learned?' "

Yes, you do.

Before taking office, Mayor Kenney called for an independent review of whether DHS is getting better at protecting kids. He's still searching for a new commissioner to head this vital agency of 1,500 workers charged with protecting 12,000 children with a $657 million budget.

Tymir's story - and all of the heartbreaking stories contained in the death reports - must be a crucial part of that review.

These children, whose cries went ignored by their parents - and then by so many others - deserve that much.