SANTIAGO, Chile – Lissette died under the care of the Chilean state, suffocating in her own vomit while a caretaker allegedly sat on her back while trying to contain the 11-year-old during what was described as “a crisis of aggressiveness.”
Her mother had sent her to a government shelter hoping authorities could protect her as she became increasingly violent and difficult to handle.
The former head of the National Service for Minors later said that Lisette died because she was “conflictive.” But a police investigation has shown that the child’s caretakers were partly responsible for her death and failed to administer the CPR that could have saved her life.
Lissette’s case exploded in a crisis over the care of at-risk children that has outraged Chileans. After initially reporting just 185 deaths, the government recently acknowledged that 865 children have died under the care of the National Service for Minors over 11 years.
Calling Lissette’s death shameful, President Michelle Bachelet has committed $ 3.7 million for an overhaul of the agency charged with looking after more than 100,000 children in the government’s care each year in Chile, some in their own homes and some in shelters.
“As a society and as a state, we have failed these vulnerable children,” Bachelet said.
The agency had come under fire in previous years, but remained unchanged, partly because the extent of the problems at the institutions it oversees were not publicly known. Some critics say that the latest measures come too late and that the agency is beyond repair.
“This institution must disappear to give way to a public structure that does take the responsibility that the state is taking,” said Rene Saffirio, a ruling party lawmaker who led efforts pushing the government to release the agency’s statistics on the children’s deaths.
The death of Lissette caused a public outcry that led a congressional commission to launch an investigation. It also forced the resignation of Justice Minister Javiera Blanco and Marcela Labrana, the former head of National Service for Minors.
When Lissette died, Labrana said that the girl had suffered from stress caused by being sexually abused by a member of her family. She also said the child suffered a breakdown because her family was not visiting her at the shelter.
Chile’s investigations police, the country’s equivalent of the FBI, later said that the girl suffered from bipolar disorder and was taking medicines. Its forensics department noted that “Lissette was not a healthy girl,” and that “this time the crisis was predictable.”
Lissette spent more than half of her life in and out of the agency’s shelters, including the last few years. Her mother, Juana Poblete, decided she could no longer care for her and began placing her under the state’s care when she was as young as 5.
Poblete, who lives in a wooden shack on Santiago’s outskirts, told The Associated Press her daughter was institutionalized because of violence in the family. “Her dad abused her and tried to kill her twice,” she said.
Lissette died the night of April 11, when her caretaker and a colleague were alone by themselves at the shelter. They called an ambulance after the child became unresponsive.
The subsequent police report showed that the weight of an adult on her back caused her to choke and breathe vomit through the lungs before she suffered a fatal heart attack. It also showed that the girl could have been saved if the staff had provided cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
A special prosecutor is investigating the deaths of Lissette and all the other children who died in the agency’s care.
One of the caretakers who was with Lissette when she died later acknowledged in comments to Chile’s local Channel 13 that she did not have first aid training. It was unclear whether she was the adult who allegedly sat on the child’s back.
“Perhaps I harmed her,” she said in an interview that concealed her identity. (Agencies)