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Disabled girl, 16, found starved down to 23 pounds by her mother

// News // Law

A 16-year-old girl with cerebral palsy weighed only 23lbs and could not walk or talk when she was removed from her family home after being starved by her mother. 

Darlene Armstrong measured just 3’10’’ tall when she was rushed to hospital in Chicago in March. 

The severely disabled girl could have been rescued four months earlier if the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) had followed set procedures, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune revealed.

Guilty: Rosetta Harris was sentenced to 18 months of probation after pleading guilty to endangering the life of her daughter, she told reporters she was a 'good mother'

Darlene’s mother, Rosetta Harris, 50, pleaded guilty to endangering the life of a child.

The mother, who had no prior criminal record, was sentenced to 18 months of probation and ordered to undergo parenting classes.

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Doctors at the Comer Children’s hospital said the girl, now 17, had been starved for a considerable period of time. 

When Darlene was brought to hospital she weighed only 23 lbs – just over one and a half stone - the typical weight of a two or three-year-old child.

A shocking photo of Darlene in hospital shortly after she was rescued was leaked to the press by law enforcement officials, as an investigation was launched into how the social services dealt with the case.  

Hospital officials did not believe the mother's story that she fed her daughter eggs and grits for breakfast, steamed rice and chicken, chocolate protein drinks and snacks throughout the day. 

On November 17 DCFS received an anonymous emergency call that Darlene Armstrong was not being fed and had not seen a doctor in ‘many years’. 

Recovering: The 17-year-old is recovering at Comer Children's Hospital in Chicago. Her 15-year-old sister was also taken into care earlier this year. Their mother, Rosetta Harris, pleaded guilty to endangering the life of a child and was sentenced to 18 months of probation

Under the agency’s rules an investigator needs to respond to an emergency call within 24 hours, and, if they do not see the child on the first visit, they are expected to return every day until they see them. 

An investigation by the Chicago Tribune revealed that an investigator into the case walked away from Darlene's home on three occasions without seeing the 16-year-old. 

Although an investigator went to the home within the required 24 hours after receiving the hot-line call she left after Harris’ brother said the mother and daughter were not at home. The social worker left her contact details at the home. 

Crime scene: Rosetta Harris admitted that she didn't know the last time her daughter had been outside or seen a doctor. This is the suburban Chicago street where Harris starved the severely disabled teenager

The same social worker returned on January 3 and when no-one answered the door, she left a note asking Harris to call. The same thing happened on February 27.

It was not until a fourth visit, on March 14, that the social worker got into the home. Harris said her daughter was not there but the investigator heard whimpering. 

After Harris carried her skeletal daughter out, the investigator immediately called 911. 

'An investigation this badly neglected is a failure of supervision and management,' Kendall Marlowe, a DCFS spokesman told the MailOnline on Monday morning. 

‘We are taking appropriate actions to right that ship and ensure this organization places the proper priority on child safety,’ he added. 

The Chicago Tribune also revealed that the investigator failed to look up the family’s history with the protection agency, as is required. 

In 1996 the DCFS took one-year-old Darlene and her siblings into protective custody after an emergency call was made that the girl was not being fed properly. 

Three years later the children were returned into their mother’s care. 

Harris admitted to removing Darlene from special education classes in 2000 because she wanted her daughter to stay at home, the Tribune reported.

Harris, an unemployed single mother of five, was unable to say when her daughter last went outside or saw a doctor. 

Harris told the Chicago Tribune earlier this year that she ‘was a good mother’ and said her daughter was ‘well cared for.’

Delichia Armstrong, Harris’s 23-year-old daughter, told the paper her mother ‘does the best she can.’

Darlene and her younger sister, 15, have been taken into protective custody. 

Darlene is recovering at La Rabida Children’s hospital, where she is reportedly putting on weight and improving. 

The DCFS investigator and her supervisors may face disciplinary actions, no formal charges have been made against them. 

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