Santa Clara County’s top executive, James Williams, admitted that county agencies responsible for protecting children made errors in allowing a father with a history of drug abuse to care for his 3-month-old daughter, Phoenix Castro. The infant tragically died in May from a fentanyl and methamphetamine overdose. Williams acknowledged that the county failed in its duty, stating that baby Phoenix should not have been in the care of her father.
The admission came after a troubling state report was obtained by the Bay Area News Group. The report, delivered to the county in February, highlighted concerns that the county’s legal office frequently overrode decisions by social workers to remove children from unsafe homes. The report also revealed confusion and frustration among social workers regarding the county’s updated criteria for removing children.
Baby Phoenix’s case drew attention after it was discovered that social workers had called the police multiple times to express concerns about the child being left alone with her father before her death. Williams did not provide specific details about the case but acknowledged that the assessment of the father’s fitness to care for Phoenix was insufficient.
Phoenix was born in February, and her mother, Emily De La Cerda, was sent into drug treatment due to her substance abuse. Despite the county’s child protection agency removing the couple’s two older children from their home, Phoenix’s father was allowed to care for the newborn. The county has not released records related to Phoenix’s case.
Four months after Phoenix’s death, her mother also died from a fentanyl overdose. The father, David Castro, who had a history of drug convictions, is now [information missing]. Drug paraphernalia and broken glass pipes were found on the same kitchen counter where the baby’s bottle was located on the day of her death.
The state report, which was released to the Bay Area News Group, has raised concerns about the county counsel’s role in overriding decisions related to child safety. The county defended its prioritization of family reunification, emphasizing the trauma children experience when separated from their families. However, the report’s findings have been described as a scandal by Santa Clara County Child Abuse Prevention Council member Steve Baron.