A Cook County jury has ordered a private, statewide provider of foster care and other social services to pay $45 million to the family of a toddler who authorities say was killed by his mother, as the jury found Lutheran Social Services of Illinois should be held responsible for sending the boy back to his mother with no further oversight or follow-up.

On March 27, the jury returned the verdict in favor of Herbert Hudson and the surviving siblings of Lavandis Hudson, who prosecutors have said was killed in 2011 at the hands of his mother, Marles Blackman.

Jay Paul Deratany
Jay Paul Deratany

According to a release from Hudson’s attorney, Jay Paul Deratany of the Deratany Firm, of Chicago, Lavandis Hudson had been hospitalized weeks before his death “for injuries sustained from abuse committed by his biological mother.”

Yet, despite the alleged abuse, Deratany said, LSSI, which was under contract with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to handle Hudson’s case, among others, agreed to place Hudson, 2, back in his mother’s care.

“When it made the decision to place Lavandis back with his biological mother, LSSI was aware of Blackman’s past drug abuse, including marijuana, cocaine and heroin, and a history of violence,” the Deratany firm said in its release. “In addition to abusing Lavandis, Blackman had faced multiple battery and assault charges. She had even set her own brother, a double amputee, on fire.

“In spite of these known risks, LSSI made the absurd determination that Lavandis would be safe in his mother’s care.”

According to the release, Lavandis Hudson died on July 21, 2011. An autopsy found the boy “had sustained fatal brain injuries from blunt-force trauma due to repeated blows to the head, along with signs of strangulation, cuts, bruises and bite marks,” the release said

Blackman was charged with first-degree murder in 2012, but has not yet stood trial.

Lavandis Hudson’s father, Herbert Hudson, filed suit against LSSI in 2012. The lawsuit went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court earlier this month.

“We knew that responsibility for Lavandis’ death did not lie with her alone,” Deratany said in the release. “LSSI’s negligence placed Lavandis in an unsafe situation. According to expert witnesses we retained as well as admissions made by LSSI’s own employees, the company committed over 130 violations of DCFS violations. They had failed to provide therapy services, drug reviews and home visits, and they negligently returned Lavandis to Blackman’s care despite her known history of violence.”

In a statement following the verdict, LSSI said it did not plan to appeal the verdict.

“LSSI grieves the 2011 death of Lavandis Hudson and the tragic circumstances surrounding his death,” LSSI said in its statement. “Motivated by our Gospel-inspired mission of bringing healing, justice, and wholeness to people and communities, we share the responsibility of advocating for children in our state. On any given day, approximately 16,000 Illinois children are in foster care, looking to child welfare organizations like ours, and our partners at state and federal levels, to be their voice and their protector. Serving Illinois since 1867, LSSI provides, among other services, foster care and family reunification programs designed to heal families, achieve permanency, and return children to family whenever possible—with children’s safety and well-being as our top concern.

“Lutheran Social Services of Illinois continues to be vigilant in our commitment to advocating for, protecting, and guiding the most vulnerable among us - children and their families yearning for wholeness.”

A spokesperson for the organization said the released statement would serve as the organization’s comment on the case and its resolution.

According to its website, LSSI is affiliated with the three Illinois synods for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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