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4-year-old Jacksonville boy dead after sustaining severe head injuries in a 'kinship placement' foster home

'It's heartbreaking': Child’s death is being investigated as a murder. Three other siblings were removed from the home.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A 4-year-old child was taken off life support Wednesday after sustaining severe injuries in what the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is calling a murder.

According to multiple law enforcement and child welfare sources, 4-year-old James Reese was brought to Wolfson Children’s Hospital last Thursday with injuries that included multiple broken bones and a badly fractured skull. 

Reese was kept alive on life support until Wednesday afternoon when he was baptized and removed from a ventilator.

The boy was one of four siblings living in what is known as a "kinship placement" when he was injured. Similar to foster homes, kinship placements put children who are removed from their biological parents with relatives. All four siblings were sent to the Westside home earlier this year.

First Coast News is not naming the adults in the kinship placement home because they have not been charged with a crime. When contacted by phone, the woman who was the designated custodian of the children said she couldn't comment. 

"It's heartbreaking whenever a child dies, it's heartbreaking," says Lynn Salvatore, a former attorney for the state Department of Children and Families. "When you have a situation where a child has been removed from a family, from parents, and placed in a home that everyone has investigated, believes is safe, the child is now 'better off' in this foster home. And then the child dies from intentional serious injuries, you'll have to question, 'How did this happen?'"

The children were placed in the home by the National Youth Advocate Program, a contractor for Family Support Services (FSS), one of the lead child welfare agencies working for the state Department of Children and Families (DCF).

Under Florida’s “community-based care” model, DCF contracts with 18 nonprofit agencies statewide to administer child welfare and family support services. FSS in turn outsources direct services, like foster care and kinship placements, to other agencies.

"There is some responsibility there from the state," Salvatore says. "Even if it was not a licensed foster care home, these individuals were approved by a state agency for placement for children who have been removed from their parents." 

Following  James Reese’s injuries, the other three children were removed from the home. Salvatore says, that’s small consolation to the child’s family.

"I can only imagine the parents how they feel. Thinking that, 'my child has been removed from me because someone believes I am a risk to my child and now my child is dead.'"

A DCF death investigation can take months. Determining the child’s cause and manner of death will also take time, and require extensive examination by the state Medical Examiner.

The incident, which happened on April 15, was officially classified a murder by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on April 22. A JSO spokesperson declined comment, noting it is an active investigation. No arrests have been made.

NYAP did not return a call and email for comment. DCF has not yet commented on the death. FSS sent First Coast News the following statement:

"Our hearts break at the news of this tragedy and right now our concern is for James’s family as well as the social services workers who are involved in the case. For those who have dedicated their lives to protecting children and strengthening families, it's the worst imaginable scenario for a child to be harmed at the hands of an adult. FSS and our partners are working closely with law enforcement to ensure that whoever is responsible for harming this child is brought to justice."