Baby Justice Death: Yolo County CPS Responds

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DAVIS -- Baby Justice Rees lived only 19 days. But it took 18 months for the public release of Yolo County Child Protective Services case notes that show why he was left with his mother, Samantha Green.

Green would ultimately be convicted of his murder.

"I would argue that we've come to the point where there's so much that's considered a privacy protection that it actually harms more kids. The public would be outraged if they knew about the cases that were beyond a death," said Yolo County Supervisor Matt Rexroad.

But, by California law, we have access to the notes in this case because baby Justice did die. He froze to death in a Knights Landing slough where his mother had taken him during a meth binge, according to law enforcement.

Since Justice Rees' death, CPS in Yolo County has new leadership -- Karen Larsen.

"It is the worst possible outcome that none of us want," said Larsen, director of Yolo County's Department of Health and Human Services.

She says the county is making lots of changes to how it handles cases of at-risk children.

Justice was born with meth in his system. They call it positive toxicology or "pos-tox." Back then, the decision was made to send him home from the hospital with his parents anyway.

But now?

"I don't see a pos-tox baby going home on a safety plan without something. I can't even think of an instance where that would happen," Larsen said.

And that challenges a core belief in children's social services -- that it's always better to keep biological families together if you can.

"I think that in terms of meth use, that's a disqualifier in terms of being able to be a good parent," Rexroad said.

FOX40 asked why a documented methamphetamine habit wasn't a disqualifying factor in the eyes of Justice's Yolo County social worker.

"Well there's a lot of people that struggle with substance abuse that are parents, and their babies don't die," Larsen said.

Larsen acknowledges that social workers should have checked back on Justice before they got an emergency call the day he went missing -- two weeks after they sent him home.

She says that's part of the changes her department is looking to make.

"How do we get to the other side of this and restore the public's faith in our department and the board's trust in our department, really?" Larsen asked.

A question she's been asking for her six months at the helm of the department.