July 5, 2024

The Tragic Death of Barrett Koches: A Call for Improved Foster Care Safety

A tragic incident on March 16, 2024, ended the life of 7-year-old foster child Barrett Koches, who drowned in his foster parents’ pool after being left unattended for over an hour. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) investigated and concluded that the negligence of one foster parent led to the child’s death, as the other parent was at work during the incident, according to DCFS spokesperson Heather Tarczan. However, DCFS has not addressed its own potential negligence in this case. The agency placed three foster children in a home with an unsecured outdoor pool, apparently without verifying the presence of adequate safety measures such as locks, alarms, or barriers to prevent unsupervised access. 

The Incident  

The circumstances surrounding Barrett’s tragic death reveal a series of unfortunate events. On the day of the incident, foster parent David Yankee had left three foster children, ages 4, 7, and 10, home alone for almost an hour without access to a phone for emergencies while he went to the bank at Walmart. The other foster parent was at work during this time. Yankee reported that he took longer than expected, distracted by the clearance aisle and Easter decorations. Meanwhile, the unattended children were at home near an uncovered in-ground pool filled with murky brown water and accumulated debris. The 4-year-old child threw a brick into the pool, and 7-year-old Barrett jumped in to retrieve it, accidentally slipping into the deep end. The 10-year-old ran out of the house and alerted a passing FedEx driver, who called for help. First responders rushed Barrett to HSHS St. John’s Hospital, where he was unfortunately pronounced dead at 1:00 PM on March 16, 2024. 

DCFS Responsibility 

While DCFS was quick to blame the foster parents for the child’s death, the agency’s own role in this tragedy must be scrutinized. Illinois law requires all foster homes with in-ground swimming pools to have a fence of at least 5 feet in height, secured by a locked gate (Ill. Admin. Code tit. 89 § 402.8(h)(1)). Given that Barrett had been in the Yankee’s care for only a month, it appears DCFS may have conducted a negligent inspection of the home before placing three children in the home. This death could potentially have been prevented had DCFS properly inspected the premises and enforced safety regulations. 

The Importance of Child Safety in Foster Care 

This tragic incident highlights the critical importance of child safety in foster care settings. If you suspect a child is at risk of harm due to neglect or unsafe conditions, such as unsecured pools or lack of supervision, report it immediately to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. You can file a report online at https://childabuse.illinois.gov or call the 24-hour Child Abuse Hotline at 800-25-ABUSE (800-252-2873). In emergencies, always call 911 first. Additionally, consider contacting Julianna Walo of Justice for Kids to learn how you can advocate for improved safety measures in foster homes and hold negligent parties accountable. By working together, we can strive to prevent tragedies like Barrett Koches’ drowning and ensure better protection for vulnerable children in the foster care system.  

To learn more about Justice for Kids, visit us at www.JusticeForKids.com. 

Julianna B. Walo, Esq.
Attorney, Justice for Kids
Chicago, IL
754-888-KIDS (5437)