Autopsy Shines Light on Death of Child Taken by Arizona's Child Welfare Agency
He was hospitalized multiple times for diabetes while in state custody.
Arizona's Department of Child Safety (DCS) seized Jakob Blodgett from his father's custody last December. Two weeks later, the boy died of ketoacidosis—a dangerous complication of Type 1 diabetes.
While DCS has already received a barrage of criticism over the child's death, an autopsy report obtained by Reason shows even more evidence of misconduct. According to the report, Jakob had been hospitalized for ketoacidosis once before in the weeks before his death. Despite this, those caring for him at a DCS group home did not take steps to prevent Jakob from developing the condition again, leading to his death.
Jakob was taken into DCS custody after his father, Richard Blodgett, was arrested for drug possession and taken to a jail in Holbrook, Arizona. Richard, who had a different drug charge pending against him at the time of his arrest, claims that he wasn't abusing the more than 4,000 fentanyl pills found by police. Rather, he says he was using them to treat chronic pain after weight loss surgery.
"I wasn't getting high. I wasn't abusing them. I was using them to be able to work and provide for my son," Blodgett told the Associated Press. "Unfortunately, they are illegal. I can't get around that. But they were stronger than my meds, and they were working."
Jakob had Type 1 diabetes, a serious medical condition that occurs when an individual's pancreas produces little to no insulin, a hormone that helps control blood sugar. In order to manage the condition, people with Type 1 diabetes must constantly monitor their blood glucose levels and have regular insulin injections or have insulin delivered automatically through an insulin pump. When Type 1 diabetics don't receive enough insulin, death can occur in just a few days.
Jakob's grandmother claims that DCS took his insulin pump away from him after he had been "playing with it."
On December 9, the same day he was placed in the group home, Jakob was hospitalized with ketoacidosis. He was discharged six days later. After this incident, DCS records quoted in the state's autopsy report claim that Jakob "'sneaks food and candy' and is 'resistant' to glucose monitoring and insulin therapy." On the night of December 19—just four days after Jakob was released from his first hospitalization—DCS records state that he refused his insulin dose.
On the morning of December 20, Jakob's glucose was elevated, and group home workers "received medication administration instructions from his physician"; the report does not state whether DCS employees attempted to administer insulin. On December 21, the report states, Jakob "complained of headache" and drowsiness, after which he returned to the hospital. According to the autopsy report, he arrived to the hospital "with altered mental status and vomiting" and testing revealed that his brain was swelling. On December 26, after being placed on life support, Jakob died.
Though he had already spent six days in the hospital for mismanaged diabetes, those caring for Jakob don't seem to have taken appropriate measures to ensure that the child would avoid life-threatening complications again. While officials have not confirmed whether Jakob, in fact, had his insulin pump taken away, it is troubling either way that DCS workers were unable to keep a diabetic child alive for more than two weeks after he entered their care.
Failing to give diabetic children insulin injections is extremely dangerous. "Missing insulin doses places the child at imminent risk of [ketoacidosis] as well as the long-term microvascular complications of diabetes," says a 2020 article in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma. "For young children, it is the parent's or guardian's responsibility to make sure all diabetes supplies are obtained without fail and all management tasks are completed on a daily basis and in a timely manner." While most children can learn to self-inject insulin with time and patience, DCF staff should have done anything necessary in order to deliver his medication.
DCS custody is an incredibly dangerous place for kids to be, especially if they have a serious medical condition. According to the Associated Press, children seized into DCS custody in Arizona have a death rate almost twice the national average. For children with significant medical needs, being placed with caregivers who don't know how to manage those conditions—or don't care to—can result in tragedy.
"They couldn't keep him alive for two weeks, two weeks," Richard told the Associated Press. "That's absolutely insane. That was my pride and joy. I'm lost. I'm completely lost. My family is completely lost."