New records obtained by this news organization have revealed troubling inconsistencies in Alameda County’s handling of child welfare cases, particularly in the tragic case of 23-month-old Kristofer Ferreyra. Just two days after Kristofer’s suspected fentanyl overdose, an Alameda County social worker recommended keeping his three young siblings in the care of their mother, despite the discovery of drug paraphernalia in their home. Even more disturbing, Kristofer’s death wasn’t even noted in the initial assessment of the home, raising serious questions about the county’s response to child welfare cases.
The opioid epidemic has heightened the stakes for children exposed to drugs, with fentanyl being 50 times more potent than heroin. In Santa Clara County, similar cases have resulted in child deaths and lawsuits, prompting a review of social workers’ policies. However, the issues with Alameda County’s social worker response to alleged abuse date back even further. In 2015, a 17-year-old girl died after ingesting methamphetamine, despite being removed from her foster care home following a previous overdose. Another case involving the death of 8-year-old Sophia Mason in 2022 revealed similar failures in the system.
The newly obtained documents in Kristofer’s case contain numerous redactions and omissions, making a thorough reading of his file nearly impossible. Call logs, investigation summaries, and narratives filed by child abuse call screeners were also not released, raising concerns about the county’s transparency. Ed Howard, senior counsel with the University of San Diego School of Law Children’s Advocacy Institute, expressed astonishment at the county’s concealment of documents that should be disclosed by law in child death cases.
Kristofer’s grandmother, Viviana Vera, voiced concerns about the lack of communication between social workers and the children they are tasked with protecting. She believes that better communication could have potentially saved Kristofer’s life. The circumstances surrounding how Kristofer obtained the fentanyl that allegedly belonged to his mother, Sophia Gastelum-Vera, remain a mystery. Investigators found tin foil and baggies in the house, some of which tested positive for fentanyl. Text messages sent by the mother to her boyfriend, Frank Avina, asking him to clean the room further raised suspicions.
In a baffling move, the social worker recommended leaving Kristofer’s siblings in the home, despite acknowledging the hazardous living conditions. After briefly living with their grandparents, the children returned to the home until Gastelum-Vera’s arrest on suspicion of murder. Only then did Alameda County social workers recommend placing the other children in the county’s care. The conflicting accounts and contradictory statements from the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) raise serious concerns about their handling of the case.
Gastelum-Vera has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, felony child abuse, and two drug-related misdemeanors. Her arrest came as a complete surprise to Kristofer’s grandmother, who described her daughter as a loving and devoted mother. The home where Kristofer and his siblings lived was frequented by police, with previous incidents involving domestic violence and weapons charges. Despite these red flags, the lone report of suspected child abuse at the house in November 2022 took months to be properly assessed, suggesting a lack of urgency on the part of social workers.
Viviana Vera questioned why social workers were not asked to visit the home after Avina’s arrests, and she expressed frustration that Kristofer’s surviving siblings were never formally interviewed in the weeks following his death. The lack of response from Alameda County’s DCFS and county officials raises concerns about their commitment to protecting children’s lives.
The shocking negligence and inconsistencies in Alameda County’s handling of child welfare cases have exposed a system that appears to be failing vulnerable children. The tragic death of Kristofer Ferreyra serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for reform and accountability within the county’s child welfare system.