Babysitter jailed on child abuse charge while 1-year-old girl fights for her life

Syren Malone undergoes multiple surgeries, remains on life support, mother says

By Erik Avanier - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Jacksonville babysitter is accused of physically abusing an infant who was in her care while the little girl's mother was at work, authorities said.

Kala Vinson is charged with aggravated child abuse, which is a first-degree felony. 

Vinson, 23, was arrested this week on a warrant issued as the result of an incident late last month at a town home on Playpen Drive on the city's Westside.

On Jan. 30, a child, identified by her mother as Syren Maloney, was rushed to a hospital with life-threatening injuries, police said. Syren was 11 months old at the time. According to an arrest warrant, Vinson, the child's babysitter, told doctors the little girl fell down two stairs, but a medical report from the Child Protection Team concluded the girl's injuries were the result of physical abuse and not consistent an accidental fall down stairs.

The warrant shows doctors found the girl’s liver and spleen were lacerated, and she had internal bleeding, a fractured rib and brain swelling.

Necol Clayton, Syren's mother, told News4Jax she remembers the moment she got a phone call at work telling her that her daughter was seriously injured.

"I couldn't stand up when they told me," she said. “I was initially angry. Now I’m at the point where I need justice for my daughter.”

Clayton said she had found Vinson on a babysitter website. 

“I did a background check on her to make sure she was someone safe," she said. "The background check came back fine. We met up one weekend. We talked. I met her kids, saw her place and everything was good to go.”

Syren has been fighting for her life at Wolfson Children's Hospital. Her mother said Syren spent her 1st birthday in the hospital, underwent multiple surgeries and remained on life support as of Thursday. 

Photo of Syren from GoFundMe page

Clayton said she was told by doctors that if her daughter survives, she will suffer from permanent brain damage. 

“To be told that, 'Hey, maybe she won’t do more than lay in a bed and be fed,' it’s horrible because that’s not a life," she said. "It's more than difficult and more than what I feel capable of doing as far as making these decisions for my daughter because as a parent, when you have child, there is no part of you that wants to see them leave this earth before you do.”  

If Syren doesn’t improve, her mother said she may be forced to make a very difficult decision to take her child off of life support.

“When I call her name, she does not look at me. She does not respond," Clayton said. "I don’t know what the future holds.”

Clayton is holding out hope that her daughter will pull through. She’s also asking the public for help because hospital bills are adding up. A GoFundMe page has been set up for anyone wishing to donate.

As of Thursday evening, Vinson remained in the Duval County jail, where she was ordered held on $250,000 bond.

Children's hospitals see trend in abuse cases

The Child Protective Team in Jacksonville at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, as well as other children’s hospitals, across the United States are seeing a trend. 

“The ordinary physical abuse might be going down a bit, but the really bad stuff is getting a little worse," said Dr. Randall Alexander, a forensic pediatrician with the Child Protection Team, in reference to cases in which children are barely alive when they show up to the emergency room. 

Alexander told News4Jax doctors at Wolfson Children’s Hospital consistently hear the same explanation from adults about how a child ends up in the emergency room with life-threatening injuries prior to eventually being charged with child abuse. 

“We get a no history, 'I don’t know how my kid suddenly has all these problems.' Or we get the 'my child fell,'" Alexander said. 

In Nassau County, a 27-year-old man was arrested Wednesday on a charge of aggravated child abuse. According to an arrest report, he told deputies his girlfriend's 6-year-old was critically injured after falling into a truck bumper, but doctors said the injuries were from repeated blunt force trauma. The report shows the man later told a detective he had spanked the child.

That can also create problems, according to experts.

“Somebody thinks they’re spanking but they cross the line into beating and end up leaving an injury," Alexander said.

In many of the severe cases, children suffer major head injuries, but then doctors later learn internal organs are also damaged.

“The bleeding progresses or infections sets in a day later then we realize something’s going on," Alexander said. "With the abdomen, that’s pretty late and the death rate’s actually higher.”

Alexander added it’s common to hear mothers corroborate stories from boyfriends who are under suspicion of child abuse, then come clean after learning there is actual evidence of child abuse by that boyfriend.

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