Michele Rothgeb, the Oakland Beach woman who is awaiting trial on child neglect charges after a 9-year-old child in her care was found unresponsive in a bathtub – and died soon after – is now facing an additional charge of manslaughter, related to the same incident that occurred on January 3, 2019.
The manslaughter charge ramps up the possible consequences for Rothgeb, as the felony charge in Rhode Island carries a maximum charge of 30 years in prison, while the child cruelty and neglect charge carries a maximum of three years in prison and a $1,000 fine. Rothgeb will be arraigned on June 28 and has a pre-trial conference scheduled for August.
The tragedy has since resulted in DCYF taking partial blame and committing to widespread organizational changes to the foster care system in Rhode Island. Additionally, the state Office of the Child Advocate is on the verge of releasing their own report detailing the breakdowns that allowed one woman to foster eight children, all with varying degrees of special needs, without much oversight.
Child Advocate Jennifer Griffith, reached Monday, said the report was still not ready as of press time.
In April, DCYF released a list of changes it would be making in three areas of its responsibilities – licensing prospective foster families and adoptive families; how they place children; and how they conduct safety investigations of foster homes and adoptive homes. These changes include restrictions such as no longer allowing five children to be placed in the same home, or multiple unrelated children in the same home, without express approval from the director.
The changes would also increase scrutiny on foster and adoptive families, with the hope that a “multidisciplinary team” of senior managers, legal counsel and caseworkers would be able to better assess the fitness of a home being suitable for adopted or fostered children – and this assessment would now include a “comprehensive assessment of a family’s ability to care for a child,” including financial information.
DCYF spokeswoman Kerri White said on Monday that their new regulations were under review by the state. She stated there were 940 licensed foster families in Rhode Island, that DCYF has reduced staff vacancy from 20 percent to 4 percent, and that the other children under Rothgeb’s care have been placed with other foster families.