Yvonne's story: How toddler met tragic end


An undated handout photo from the state Department of Children and Families of Yvonne Bailey, who was born on Sept. 11, 2011, and died on July 9. (Submitted photo)

Published: Sunday, September 8, 2013 at 6:45 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 10:45 p.m.

Yvonne Bailey died two months before her second birthday. The toddler suffered a massive brain injury consistent with physical abuse, and authorities have charged her caretaker with first-degree murder.

While that case progresses in criminal court, more details have emerged about Yvonne's short, tragic life.

She was born at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala on Sept. 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

She died at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando on July 9, after doctors had done all they could do.

In between, Yvonne stayed in Silver Springs with her father, under whose watch she burned her left arm in a home methamphetamine lab.

She stayed in a Marion County foster home, where she thrived.

She stayed south of Belleview with her paternal aunt, who provided good care but later either blatantly disregarded social workers' instructions or tragically misunderstood them.

And, finally, she stayed in Sanford with a man whose history of crime, suicide threats and mental instability was so troubling that he was specifically ordered to have no oversight of the child.

It is this latter man, Matthew McCague, 28, who is charged in Yvonne's death. He is being held without bail at the Seminole County jail.

Yvonne's mother? She had been jailed on drug charges when she was pregnant, and then again during her daughter's first year. She is behind bars today.

Yvonne's extended family? A maternal great-uncle and his live-in girlfriend in New York state offered to adopt the child. They painted a bedroom light green and scrambled to get furniture.

“I've always wanted a little girl,” Sherrie Dibble said. “I would have taken good care of her.”

Social workers? They and the court had oversight of the case, taking Yvonne away from her father and placing her first in a foster home and then with the paternal aunt, who was on schedule to adopt the child.

Yvonne is one of 20 children who have died since April despite the Department of Children and Families' involvement in their lives. The agency and its social service partners are under scrutiny, with every move in every case being examined.

But social workers don't accept any blame on this one.

“We believe that all protocols were observed and followed,” said John Cooper, head of Kids Central Inc., the community-based care lead agency for a region including Marion County.

***

Matthew Bailey was 17 and Ashleah Hyder was 24 when their daughter was born.

They named her Yvonne. Her middle name was Isabella. Her nickname: Eva.

She weighed 8 pounds 6 ounces and was 20.5 inches long. Her Apgar score was 9.

There isn't much in the official record about Yvonne's first year of life. The story picks up on Oct. 12, one month after her first birthday.

A DCF investigator found Yvonne in a Silver Springs neighborhood with an unexplained burn on her arm. At first, Matthew Bailey said he was cooking noodles at his mother's house and accidentally scalded his daughter with hot water.

Then he changed his story: The child had touched a bottle filled with acid used for cooking meth.

“Dad could not explain why he continued to stay in the home after this occurred and did not take the child for medical treatment of this burn,” a DCF summary report said.

Bailey told DCF that, if drug tested at that moment, he would be positive for marijuana and meth. His girlfriend said she had been using meth, as well.

DCF took Yvonne, got her medical treatment at the emergency room — the burn site wasn't infected; the doctor prescribed an ointment — and placed her in foster care.

Yvonne's mother, Hyder, had gotten out of jail a few days earlier. She and Bailey were not in a relationship at that time.

When told about Yvonne's injury, she rushed to the Bailey home, but DCF had already taken the child.

Hyder went home, flipped out, and started arguing loudly with her boyfriend. Neighbors called 911. Hyder spent that night at The Centers, a mental health facility.

She would be back in jail before the month was out.

Ashleah Hyder and Matthew Bailey would be together with their daughter one more time: in a hospital room on the day she died.

***

On Oct. 25, with his daughter still in foster care, Matthew Bailey met with a family care manager and learned about the dependency court process.

The state and the court like to reunify children and parents, but only if it's safe. In the weeks after their child was put in foster care, Bailey and Hyder were given strict behavior plans to follow. But neither made adequate progress, and “reunification” never even came close to happening.

Here's one example of the trouble: As part of his plan, Bailey was ordered to get a drug screen. He showed up one month later but declined to take the test. He skipped another appointment in December.

Months later, when summoned for another drug screen, he went to the bathroom and the clerk heard odd clinking noises.

After Bailey left, the clerk found a bathroom pipe leaking.

“There are suspicions that he was looking for a metal part that is often used in meth pipes found in sinks,” a report says.

His drug screen? Positive for meth.

Although Bailey was struggling, his older sister, Amanda, was doing better in life.

She was 23, a homemaker, and had two children. On Dec. 12 she married PJ Miller.

And on Dec. 14 she met with social workers. The newlyweds were willing to take Yvonne into their home.

“Ms. Bailey reported …that she was in the process of fixing/preparing the child's room and she will contact the family care manager as soon as the home is ready for a home study,” a summary report said.

On Jan. 28, Marion County's dependency drug court program dropped both Matthew Bailey and Ashleah Hyder for noncompliance. Two weeks later Hyder was back in jail, accused of running a meth lab with her boyfriend.

***

In Marion County, DCF investigates complaints of child abuse and neglect. After that it's another agency, the nonprofit Kids Central Inc. (KCI), that arranges for case managers and oversees foster care and adoption.

KCI partners with The Centers, known primarily as a provider of mental health services, to handle case management for children like Yvonne.

And Yvonne's case, despite its gruesome beginning, was actually progressing well.

The toddler was thriving in foster care. She was drinking from a sippy cup, eating most foods, and enjoying her baths. Bed time was 8 p.m.; no night light necessary.

Her burn was “healing well with minimal scarring,” a medical report said. Her shots were up-to-date.

There were a few hiccups: At 17 months the child was making only sounds, not speaking words, as would be expected at her age. A doctor prescribed ferrous sulfate to combat an iron deficiency.

Still, “Yvonne seems healthy and happy,” a report said.

Even better, a blood relative, Amanda Miller, had expressed interest in taking Yvonne — both temporarily and, if her brother couldn't get his act together, permanently.

There was even more good news on Feb. 19. Social workers made contact with Yvonne's maternal great-uncle, John O'Neill Jr., in New York state.

He and his live-in girlfriend, who used to be his wife, were willing to adopt Yvonne.

“I had a room all set up for her,” said Sherrie Dibble, who has two sons of her own, ages 22 and 19.

She knew Ashleah Hyder as a distant relative of sorts.

“We didn't get too far” with the adoption idea, Dibble said during a telephone interview.

That's because Yvonne's mom nixed the idea.

“Ms. Hyder indicated that she did not want the child placed with this person,” a case worker reported after a February jail visit.

But Hyder was OK with Amanda Miller taking in the child — both temporarily and permanently, if necessary.

“She is very upset about it, but believes it is in the child's best interest,” a case worker noted.

Matthew Bailey had indicated the same feelings, even though his sister told a social worker that he was “working his butt off” to meet the case plan and get his daughter back.

Case managers were happy about the Amanda Miller plan, as well. In April, an inspection/interview at the family home went well. The mobile home, though small, was clean and child-proofed against danger.

“Mrs. Miller (had) a new outfit picked out and placed in the crib for Yvonne to wear home on her first day home with them,” the home study report said. “She states that she cannot wait to have her (Yvonne) in their home.”

There was one concern: The case manager was a bit worried about Miller's husband, who was quiet during the interview and had no blood ties to Yvonne. He also had some brushes with the law.

Still, the placement was approved, and on May 15 little Yvonne had a new place to live.

She might be there still if not for a tragic decision made about one month later.

***

On June 25, Amanda Miller sought permission to have her husband's cousin, Jennifer McCague, watch Yvonne for a time. Miller was set to have a medical procedure on June 28 and would be unable to care for the child.

Social workers did a background check. Jennifer McCague came back fine. But her husband didn't.

“Mr. Matthew McCague was not approved to stay with the child unsupervised, because we have concerns regarding his criminal history and Baker Acts in the past year,” a report said.

At the time, Matthew McCague was on felony probation for grand theft. Although he was living in Sanford, the crime was committed in Marion County. He also had drug and theft arrests.

While living in Marion, Matthew McCague had been detained — twice — pursuant to Florida's Baker Act, which allows law enforcement to temporarily commit someone who is a danger to himself or others.

In May 2011, law officers responded to a Silver Springs Shores home because he had threatened to harm himself with a box cutter. He told deputies he had run out of medication.

The second Baker Act was in August 2012.

Social workers said Jennifer McCague could care for Yvonne, but only in the Miller home.

“The child cannot spend the night at the McCagues' house if we don't have a home study approve, and the caregiver (Amanda Miller) agreed,” a report said.

During an interview, Amanda Miller said she knew Matthew McCague couldn't be alone with Yvonne and that he was on felony probation. But she didn't think there was any prohibition against the child being in the McCague home.

Also, “I knew nothing about the Baker Acts,” Miller said. If she did, she never would have let Yvonne go to Sanford, she said.

***

The McCagues were at Miller's mobile home on July 2 when a case manager stopped by for a scheduled visit with Yvonne. Everything was fine on the surface.

No one said Yvonne had been staying with the McCagues in their Sanford home — although that was true.

No one said they brought her back to Belleview because the case manager was visiting — although that's what social workers deduced later. Miller said the coincidentally timed visit “was completely by accident,” and not a deception.

No one said Yvonne would be going back to Sanford with the McCagues — although she did.

During that July 2 visit the case manager recalled telling the McCagues and Miller, face to face, “that Matthew was not to be in a caregiving role for the child,” a report said.

Miller said she remains furious that Jennifer McCague didn't obey.

On July 6 paramedics were called to the McCague home in Sanford. Matthew McCague had been watching Yvonne alone while his wife was working. He said the child fell and hit her head.

Paramedics said her eyes were fixed, her pupils nonreactive. The doctors said she had suffered brain hemorrhaging and her retina was detached, which was consistent with shaken baby syndrome.

During surgery she was given medication to induce a medical coma. The medical team took a picture of a subdural hematoma. She also had fresh bruising on her left leg, a swollen left buttock and redness up to the labia.

At 11:45 p.m. a social worker reached Matthew Bailey and told him what had happened.

At 12:44 a.m. July 7 a chaplain at the Lake County jail found Ashleah Hyder and gave her the bad news.

On July 8 social workers drove Bailey to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, where doctors told him his daughter was brain dead. He wept.

Later that day, accompanied by an armed guard, Hyder was transported from the jail to the hospital.

“She was inconsolable,” a social worker reported later, “and wanted to know where the child's aunt was and wanted to know who did that to her baby.”

Within a few hours, the parents agreed Yvonne would be an organ donor. Six children's lives could be saved, the doctors told them.

About 10 p.m. a social worker asked the nurse and the armed guard if Bailey and Hyder could be left alone to say goodbye to Yvonne in private.

Yes, they said. That would be OK.

***

After Yvonne died, DCF conducted a preliminary review of its work. No red flags.

KCI did a more extensive review with DCF and The Centers. Again, everyone involved in the case did what they were supposed to do.

“It's a heartbreaking tragedy and a reflection of how difficult what we do is,” said John Cooper, the KCI leader.

On Oct. 12 the child was taken from a dangerous situation and sheltered safely in a foster home.

On May 15 the child was placed with aunt Amanda Miller, who agreed to adopt her someday if that's how it all worked out.

On June 27 a social worker specifically warned that Matthew McCague could not watch the child alone.

On July 2 a case manager relayed that message in person to the McCagues and Miller.

On July 17 the dependency court was scheduled to review the progress of Yvonne's case.

On July 16 the family attended Yvonne Bailey's funeral.

Contact Jim Ross at 352-671-6412 or jim.ross@ocala.com. Follow him on Twitter @jimross96.

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