Molly McGrath, the chief operating officer of DSS, said the complaints about how Javon Thompson was treated while with 1 Mind Ministries were not specific enough to thoroughly investigate. Police said the toddler was denied food and water because he would not say amen after meals.
"We cannot find any record to show that we could have intervened before Javon died," McGrath said. She said records show that DSS received one call in May 2006 - eight months before Javon died - but the caller gave a bad address. The second call came in April of this year, the same month Javon's body was found stuffed in a suitcase in Philadelphia.
But Javon's grandmother, Seeta Khadan-Newton, said she called DSS at least four times between April and December of 2006.
"I spoke to people who would not give me the time of day," she said yesterday. "They bluntly said to me during one call that they needed proof. They said they could not go out. They said I am probably just making it up, and it is just hearsay."
Khadan-Newton had concerns about her daughter and grandson for years and said she thinks the death could have been avoided had officials in Baltimore listened to her two years ago when she said first raised an alarm about the group.
"It crushed me because I knew my little baby was in danger and I was reaching out and nobody was concerned about a baby in danger," she said, adding that the people she spoke with would not even take her name or address.
McGrath, the head of the city's department of social services, said the conditions Khadan-Newton described to reporters - such as Javon surrounded by marijuana use and not getting medical attention - would have met her agency's threshold for acting. She said each phone call to her agency should prompt a record to be created.
Citing confidentiality rules, McGrath would not say who made the two calls for which there are records. But she did say that neither of those calls were made by Khadan-Newton.
There were other warnings as well. In Oct. 2006, Tiffany Smith was expelled from the group and later returned with city police to get her two children out of the ministry's East Baltimore rowhouse. Police arrested four members of the group, charging them with pushing an officer.
Smith also said she checked herself into a local hospital after retrieving her children and was interviewed there by a Social Services caseworker. She said that during this interview she told the caseworker about the other children in the rowhouse.
McGrath said her agency is still researching this incident and couldn't comment on it yesterday.