Rhode Island

Death of 9-Year-Old Girl Sparks Accusations That Guardian Neglected Child

A Rhode Island child welfare worker is on administrative leave and three others are on restrictive duty following the arrest of a Warwick woman accused of neglecting a 9-year-old girl with special needs after the child died.

Emotions laced the voice of Department of Children, Youth and Families Director Trista Piccola as she spoke about the immediate changes she was implementing following the death of the unnamed 9-year-old.

Michele Rothgeb, 55, was arrested on Sunday at her Oakland Beach Avenue home and faces one charge of cruelty or neglect of a child, according to WJAR.

Court documents obtained by WJAR state that the suspect has eight adopted children with special needs in a home with deplorable conditions.

Piccola confirmed that the children were found in "entirely unacceptable" conditions, and that when social workers were investigating the family in January of 2018, they were not allowed access to the home's second floor. She said she did not have an answer for how eight children found themselves in this situation.

The documents obtained by WJAR note that the girl was left in a bathtub for three-and-a-half hours to eight hours on Jan. 3 after Rothgeb allegedly instructed her 15-year-old adopted grandson to take care of the other children. Rothgeb told investigators she was sick with the flu when she left the other children’s care in the hands of the teen.

The teen told police he helped the girl, who was wheelchair bound, into the tub. He left the girl in the tub with a few inches of water in it, then went to care for the other kids. The girl was later found unresponsive several hours later.

She was taken to Kent Hospital after the 15-year-old called 911, according to WJAR. She was pronounced dead at the medical center.

In the court documents, officials said the house smelled strongly of urine and waste. They state that garbage was spewed all over the house and spoiled bedding that looked as if it hadn’t been changed in months were in the home. Authorities say the house was so cluttered that the child would not be able to use her wheelchair inside.

The names of the DCYF employees who have been placed on administrative leave and restricted duty were not immediately released.

The investigation is ongoing.

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