Sunday, August 2, 2009
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Marcas Fisher is the prime culprit in the beating death of 6 year old Dae’von Bailey. But Fisher is hardly the only culprit in Bailey’s death. The other culprits are the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Department of Child and Family Services, medical practitioners, and an at times indifferent public.
The towering problems in the DCFS that include failure to follow up on abuse complaints, poor to non-existent record keeping, management and case worker inertia and even indifference and bungled investigations were well-documented in a dozen or more reports from investigators and in audits, as well as a slew of media exposes of agency failures. The Board of Supervisors knew of the problems in DCFS since the mid 1990s. The failure of the supervisors to immediately revamp the agency put hundreds of children directly in harms way. In 2006, 14 children in L.A. County died as a result of neglect, abuse and maltreatment. In 2007, 12 children died from the same causes. In 2008, the number of children who reportedly died from abuse or neglect soared to 32.
The reports of agency mismanagement and the deaths each time forced the supervisors to scramble. They repeatedly promised an immediate agency shake-up and overhaul. Yet the problems remained and the body count of child abuse victims continued to mount. With Bailey’s murder, the supervisors again have promised a big agency overhaul. The proposals for change look much like those that have been put on the table in the past. They include better reporting, and timely case follow-up, management accountability, more thorough and professional child abuse victim medical examinations. The proposals went nowhere in the past and Bailey and the other child victims of abuse paid a terrible price for the county supervisor’s inaction.
DCFS officials have also scrambled to deflect blame for agency ineptitude. They assure that more fail safe checks and balances will be put in place to insure that there are no more horrific deaths such as Bailey. Yet just as with the county supervisors the promises of immediate change have been made before and have gone nowhere. There’s not a lot of reason for optimism that big changes will happen this time either given the past failures and the management’s lackadaisical response to sweeping proposals put forth by the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable for immediate agency change. Roundtable officials asked for a meeting with Trish Ploehm, DCFS director, and senior staff to present and review the recommendations. Management agreed, and then didn’t show at the meeting. In the wake of Bailey’s murder, if Ploehm and other top DCFS heads fail to drastically overhaul how they handle child abuse cases child they should resign or be removed.
The private doctors and medical practitioners who examined Bailey and ultimately found no harm no foul in his injuries are also culprits in his death. That must change. Private doctors must not solely determine whether a child’s injuries are the result of abuse. Only trained, county certified, child abuse forensic examiners should make that call.
Bailey is the most horrific and shocking case of child abuse turned to child murder. However, there are thousands more children nationally who suffer abuse or mistreatment. The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System estimate that in the past decade nearly 1 million children have been victims of severe abuse. More than 1000 children died as a result of abuse or neglect. More than 80 percent of the child victims are age six and under. Bailey fit the profile of the at risk child to the letter. The abuse numbers reported almost certainly are a gross underestimate. Many cases simply aren’t reported or as in Bailey’s case the tangled web of inept reporting, bureaucratic bungling, and sloppy recordkeeping cause abused kids to fall through the cracks.
In 2005, only 20 states required that citizens who suspect abuse or neglect are required to report it. “Reasonable suspicion” based on objective evidence, which could be firsthand observation or statements made by a parent or child, is all that is needed to report abuse. This formula for reporting abuse is too vague and nebulous. It’s a prescription to insure that countless numbers of children continue to slip under the radar of child abuse danger. This also insures that when the furor about a shocking death such as Bailey’s dies down and drops from the headlines, public apathy and ignorance toward the danger again kicks in.
Bailey is a near textbook example of the child who was in mortal danger. Yet if prompt, timely action had been taken by all involved could have been saved. Marcas Fisher may have been the culprit who beat Bailey to death. But the inertia, indifference, and bungling of so many others make them culprits in his death too. They must also answer for that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles at 9:30 AM Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on ktym.com