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Policy changed after toddler drowns in state custody

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BATON ROUGE - Beginning tomorrow, the state will require all foster families to fence off swimming pools after a toddler drowned while in state custody this year.

22-month-old Michael Bananno died after he wandered into a swimming pool back in June.  The investigation was ruled an accident by the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office and the case was closed.  In the report, it was noted that there was no safety fence surrounding the swimming pool that the toddler fell in.

"Michael is the reason for this law being changed," Cheryl Bananno, Michael's grandmother said.

Bananno was removed from the custody of his home in Denham Springs earlier this year.  It happened after two people needed medical attention from an apparent drug overdose.  However, no drugs were found inside the home and the homeowners were not cited.

When News 2 started questioning the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) about why there was no fence around the pool, we were issued the following statement:

"DCFS policy has always required three site visits that identify any potential safety threats to be mitigated before certification," Spokeswoman Lindsey deBlieux said. "Additionally, DCFS is revising its policy to state that foster homes with a pool must have a safety fence surrounding. That policy will be effective August 1."

Existing foster homes will also have to comply. However, exemptions will be made if there is a structural problem on the property. 

"DCFS will consider the safety plan and the ages of the children placed/to be placed in this home before making a decision," deBlieux said.

Although changes are coming now, it's unsettling to the Banannos that this had to happen at the expense of losing Michael.

"I think there are a lot of things the state will have to learn," Bananno said. "DCFS has to be changed completely. This should have never happened."

The Banannos have hired an attorney and plan on suing the state.



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