Big Island child who starved to death was repeatedly returned to alleged abusers, records show

Updated: Jan. 13, 2020 at 7:52 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A 9-year-old Hilo girl who died of starvation in 2016 — weighing just 45 pounds — was repeatedly removed from her home only to be returned despite concerns for her safety, according to state records provided to Hawaii News Now.

The Department of Human Services’ Child Welfare branch admits in a detailed summary of the investigation into Shaelynn Lehano-Stone’s death that there were safety concerns throughout the girl’s short life.

From the time of her birth in September 2006, the records show, she was taken from her parents — Kevin Lehano and Tiffany Stone — and placed in foster care.

Mugshots of Henrietta Stone, Tiffany Stone, Kevin Lehano
Mugshots of Henrietta Stone, Tiffany Stone, Kevin Lehano(None)

"One reason might be that her brother was already in foster care for abuse and neglect,” said Steve Lane, a child advocate.

In May 2008, Lehano-Stone was returned to her parents.

Just a few months later, in August, the state agency received reports of physical abuse, neglect and threats from the child’s mother, Tiffany Stone, but CWS writes that workers weren’t able to confirm those reports so the investigation was closed.

In January 2009, concern rose again because the child lost weight over two years and the state confirmed a “failure to thrive.” She was again placed in foster custody.

In August 2009, another confirmed threat of abuse by the mother kept the girl in foster care until 2011 when, the document says, she was reunited with her parents.

“Bending over backwards to try and get this kid back in the house and it’s insane,” says Randall Rosenberg, the attorney for the girl’s estate.

A month after she was reunited, the mother said she could not care for the child and arranged for her mother, Henrietta Stone, to care for her via power of attorney.

However, the grandmother was assessed as “minimally safe and appropriate" so a safety plan was put into place. The safety plan included parenting services and stress management.

In August 2014, CWS received a report of concern about all three adults but the intake was assessed at a “moderate level of risk and referred for Voluntary Case Management (not for investigation).”

A face-to-face assessment was done with the girl’s mother and father, but not the grandmother.

In November 2015, the grandmother filled out the one-page required document to home school the girl. The Department of Education’s form does not provide a way to reject a home school request and it’s been widely known that DOE and child services do not exchange information about abused children.

“What we’ve seen in other cases is that parents who are abusing their kids will often apply to home school because that way nobody notices the signs of abuse,” said Rosenberg who has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the girl’s estate, which is represented by other family members.

The suit accuses both the DOE and DHS workers of being negligent.

On June 28, 2016, emergency crews were summoned to the apartment on Kinoole Street in Hilo where Shaelynn Lehano-Stone was unconscious.

At 9 years old, she weighed only 45 pounds. She died hours later.

The investigation by CWS cited physical neglect, medical neglect, failure to thrive, psychological abuse, psychological neglect and physical abuse by her mother, father and maternal grandmother.

And that’s not all, the report also shows the adults threatened neglect of the girl’s maternal cousin.

All three adults were charged with second degree murder. Tiffany Stone, the mother, has the first scheduled trial set for March.

Related coverage:

CPS had been in contact with Hawaii girl starved to death since she was a toddler

Homeschooling rules allow abused children to slip through the cracks

Suit alleges state’s to blame for starvation death of 9-year-old Hilo girl

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