SOUTH BEND -- On Dec. 3, 2008, a little girl died at Memorial Hospital after her father beat her. She had bruises all over her body, a crack in her skull and cuts on her face.
As a doctor would late describe in court, Maya Jane Escobedo had been "brutalized."
But in its effort to preserve families and keep children in the home, the department returned Maya to her parents and closed the Escobedo case file in June 2008, six months before Maya was killed.
"The family is reported to be doing fantastic, as are the children," a family case manager wrote in February 2008 after a monthly visit with the family.
The Tribune recently obtained the DCS case file on the Escobedo family. The file fills more than 900 pages, although a judge determined only about 300 pages were fit for review under public records law.
The documents narrate the agency's extensive attempts to repair a broken family, and how DCS came to believe, mistakenly, that the family had healed.
Records show that Maya had suspicious injuries when she was as young as 5 months old. Doctors discovered bruises throughout her body and "healing" fractures on her left elbow, collarbone and rib, generally indicators of child abuse.
DCS, unsure of who caused the injuries but unable to rule out the parents, swiftly took the infant into protective custody and placed her with her maternal grandmother in central Indiana, records show.
For six months, Maya remained in her grandmother's care, while her mother, Kristina Byers-Escobedo, and her father, Valentin Escobedo, were told they would not get their daughter back unless they submitted to polygraph tests about what happened, according to the family's DCS file.
Kristina and Valentin were permitted to visit their daughter, but only under supervision, where a family consultant took note of their interactions. In the consultant's view, Kristina and Valentin appeared affectionate and loving toward Maya, according to her notes.
When Kristina eventually consented to a polygraph -- and passed it -- the department returned Maya home, but only on the condition that Valentin move out, records show.
"Mom passed the (polygraph), however Dad did not," the family case manager wrote on July 10, 2007, one day before the girl was returned. "This does not mean Dad caused the injuries, but it appears he at least knows what happened. The parents have come up with a plan to have Dad move out of the home."
In court, Valentin agreed not to live with his wife and children.
Two months later, it appeared he was doing so anyway.
Maya was taken to Memorial Hospital on Sept. 10, 2007, with a blood clot in her mouth. She was treated and released, and records show that doctors did not consider the condition to be a cause for alarm.