State child welfare officials removed 2-year-old Laila Marie Daniel from her home because of safety concerns, placing her with a family friend. But instead of keeping the toddler safe, that person killed the child weeks ago, starving and beating her with such force as to split her pancreas, police said.
On Friday, police arrested Jennifer Rosenbaum, 27, of McDonough and charged her with murder, aggravated assault and child cruelty. Also arrested was her husband, Joseph Rosenbaum, 26, charged with child cruelty.
Questions are swirling about Jennifer Rosenbaum, a woman who had been employed as an aide to a state lawmaker, was working her way through law school, and was planning to run for a seat on the Henry County Commission.
But the toddler’s death also casts yet another dark cloud over the state Division of Family and Children Services, or DFCS — the agency that placed the child with the couple.
The Rosenbaums were not foster parents, who receive training. Rather, they were a different kind of DFCS placement, in which the agency places children in danger of abuse or neglect with relatives or family friends. Such placements are believed to be less traumatic for a child.
But the tragic outcome in this case raises questions as to the state’s screening of the Rosenbaums and the monitoring of the children during their time with the couple, said Tom Rawlings, a former state child advocate.
“The whole purpose is to protect the child from imminent danger. If we do something that presents more risk for the child, then we’re doing something wrong,” said Rawlings, who had run the state Office of the Child Advocate from 2007 to 2010.
The Rosenbaum’s attorney, however, called the charges “a big mistake.”
Corinne Mull, the attorney for both Rosenbaums, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that her clients are innocent and Jennifer Rosenbaum is “extremely distraught and dismayed at the thought she would hurt a child.”
Police said little Laila Marie had broken bones in her arms and legs and bruises all over her body when she died on Nov. 17.
Arrest warrants against the couple, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday, state that Jennifer Rosenbaum struck the foster child “in the abdomen with such force the child’s pancreas was transected. The child was believed to enter shock due to the blood loss resulting from the injury.”
Laila’s 4-year-old sister also had been abused, according to the warrant.
DFCS is investigating the death and has released few details. A spokeswoman said standard policy calls for a background check and home inspection before placing children in such circumstances.
DFCS spokeswoman Susan Boatwright said the agency can only discuss the case once the child’s files are released. The AJC has submitted a state open records request for the case file.
“The No. 1 priority of the Division of Family and Children Services is the safety of Georgia’s children,” said a DFCS written statement. “To that end, each of the division’s policies and procedures is developed with the goal of ensuring children are safe and are with caregivers who will protect them and provide for them.”
The warrants state that the injuries occurred sometime between June 13 and Laila’s death, but Mull said that the Rosenbaums didn’t have custody of the children until late July.
“When you take in foster children, you don’t know what’s in their history,” Mull said. “And you’re left with the hot potato.”
Authorities have said they responded to the Rosenbaums’ home on McDonough’s Lincoln Terrace after receiving a “choking” call, but have otherwise released few details about the investigation.
Jennifer Rosenbaum is also accused of “failing to feed (Laila) in quantities necessary to sustain an adequate body weight.”
Warrants said the girl’s 4-year-old sister claimed Jennifer Rosenbaum hit her as well, and “makes her state that she fell down if anyone asks her about the injuries.”
Warrants taken against Joseph Rosenbaum accuse him of striking both girls.
“Laila Daniel also sustained bone breaks about her body that Joseph Rosenbaum knew about, or should have known about, and failed to provide adequate care for the child,” one warrant said.
Why Laila and her sister were taken from their biological parents remained unclear Monday, as did the specific relationship between the children and the Rosenbaums.
“Placing a child with relatives or caregivers who are close to the family is widely recognized as a best practice in child welfare that potentially limits trauma for children, because it offers a sense of stability in a turbulent time and allows a child to stay connected to his or her community,” DFCS said in an emailed statement. “All potential replacement resources must undergo a vigorous background review.”
Jennifer Rosenbaum was a veteran of the Army National Guard. Her LinkedIn page describes her as a juris doctor candidate at Emory University. Also according to her LinkedIn page, she previously spent time as a legislative intern, an aide to state Rep. Mike Dudgeon, and a legal intern to Henry County Probate Court Judge Kelley S. Powell.
“She (Jennifer Rosenbaum) seemed like a great person,” said state Rep. Mike Dudgeon, who employed Rosenbaum as a aide during the 2014 legislative session. “She seemed a very positive and up-and-coming person.”
Dudgeon said Rosenbaum had been a foster child herself.
Rosenbaum had announced herself as a candidate for Henry County’s District 1 commission seat. A Facebook page touting that candidacy has been taken down.
Roger Krause, who represents Laila’s biological parents Tessa Clendening and Anthony Daniel, called the toddler’s death tragic.
“My clients are grieving at the loss of their young daughter and, as of right now, wish for privacy in that process,” Krause wrote in an email.
During a brief Monday morning court appearance, Joseph Rosenbaum was granted a $10,000 bond. He was released Monday afternoon, Mull said. A Jan. 12 preliminary hearing was set for Jennifer Rosenbaum, whose bond will be addressed in Superior Court.