Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Girl in the Closet
October 31, 2013 9:37 PM   Subscribe

From the Dallas Morning News, an 8-part profile of Lauren Kavanaugh, who was kept in a closet for six years before being rescued at age 8 weighing 26 lbs, and of the remarkable people and recovery that has followed. [Warning: this story and the accompanying photos and videos are immensely hard to read, watch and listen to, and this piece is a trigger for every possible kind of abuse.]
posted by DarlingBri (92 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't want to read it, but I'm curious what happened to the people who treated her this way? (Her parents?)

Long prison sentences, I hope?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:42 PM on October 31, 2013


This display format for online versions of long-form stories in local newspapers just locked in everywhere over the last six months or so. Where did it come from? I actually think I saw it at Pitchfork first...
posted by mr_roboto at 9:44 PM on October 31, 2013


They were each sentenced to life in prison in 2003, and will be eligible for parole in 2038.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:45 PM on October 31, 2013


Too much NOPE for this guy to process.
posted by ChrisR at 9:47 PM on October 31, 2013


Saw the photo of the interior of the closet - tears welled up, couldn't read any further. Since I became a dad I just can't stomach this kind of thing. This is and the kid found living in the car boot... I mean WTF?
posted by misterbee at 9:53 PM on October 31, 2013


Eligible for parole in 2031, though it will be a miracle if the father lives that long, not having been beaten to death or falling down a stairwell before then.
posted by mlis at 10:07 PM on October 31, 2013


This is a 1 in 10,000,000 occurence. Do we need this story?
posted by Ironmouth at 10:10 PM on October 31, 2013 [9 favorites]


Just read the whole thing. It's awful, and then it gets worse, and then even worse.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:16 PM on October 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


I read it yesterday and was amazed by the story. But this particular journalist was not a good writer. This was a complicated story and it seems like a lot of research was done, but the writing was repetitive and often shaming.
posted by k8t at 10:18 PM on October 31, 2013 [19 favorites]


Do we need this story?

If you don't *need* it, or find it of no interest, you are, of course, under no obligation to read it. Others might find it of interest precisely for the fact that it is, as you say, a 1 in 10,000,000 occurrence.

One thing we definitely don't need are line breaks between every. Single. Sentence. God, that gets tiring. And from a newspaper? A newspaper decides that the paragraph is obsolete?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:23 PM on October 31, 2013 [16 favorites]


.
posted by Snowflake at 10:29 PM on October 31, 2013


I think it's broken into sentences because it's easier to read while your eyes are tearing up.

Probably easiest to start at the 4th chapter, after she's been rescued.
posted by Catblack at 10:29 PM on October 31, 2013


Do we need this story?

Yes, we need the reminder that the compassionate acts of an individual can

(a) save a child's life--like the neighbor who made the police report
(b) be a first memory of kindness--like the Mountain Dew man
(c) create a safe space for bad memories--like Lauren's play therapist
(d) maintain a loving home--like Lauren's adoptive parents

or at least I did.
posted by warm_planet at 10:38 PM on October 31, 2013 [75 favorites]


If these people see parole, there is no justice in our system. I don't believe in capital punishment... but, man, cases like this make me wish that I did.
posted by Athene at 10:46 PM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Folks, sorry, I know it's a tough story, but we still don't do the wishing/fantasies of death/torture on people.]
posted by taz at 10:48 PM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Gosh that was a hard read.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:08 PM on October 31, 2013


Truly heartbreaking, but important to read, I think.
posted by Tiye at 11:30 PM on October 31, 2013


mr_roboto: Long-Form Journalism Finds a Home, NYT 2011
The future of the feature: Breaking out of templates to build customized reading experiences, Nieman 2012
Snow Fall, NYT 2012, about an avalanche, not the first but widely seen. Most of this material has been previously discussed.

One thing we definitely don't need are line breaks between every. Single. Sentence. God, that gets tiring. And from a newspaper? A newspaper decides that the paragraph is obsolete?

AP Style dictates short paragraphs of 1-2 sentences. I agree it works less well with longform pieces, though, which lean heavily toward feature and magazine writing style.

I was surprised at e.g. spelling errors ("unkept" for "unkempt", but perhaps merely missing a "[sic]") and research mistakes ("Hass lock", as if it were a brand, instead of "hasp lock").

Further, however, I'll note that this appears to be designed to be consumed day by day rather than all at once.
posted by dhartung at 11:44 PM on October 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


Normally I'm as voyeuristic as anyone but I also found myself wondering why exactly the world needs a detailed, explicit description of the most horrific child abuse imaginable, complete with extensive photos. Thinking of my son made it really agonizing to read this story.
posted by zipadee at 12:49 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


[A couple of comments deleted. Let's try to tread a bit carefully here guys, and not pull in terrible stuff from the story just to point it out. At the same time, people need to pretty much not follow this thread if it's too upsetting (which is perfectly understandable). Thanks.]
posted by taz at 1:06 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Its not just a description of abuse. It's a look at her life now. She turned out amazingly well considering everything. Her relationship with her adoptive mother is not perfect, in a reassuringly normal way.

It says she's in community college for remedial reading/writing and basic math. Was she in high school for behavioral reasons, and graduated without really knowing how to read?

The part with her cousin's husband is fucked up. I can't even believe it.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:08 AM on November 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


By Child Protective Services investigators, who lost track of her even though every month, her mother got a state welfare check

Big government huh?
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 1:10 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This reminded me of Genie (Secret of the Wild Child).
Home page.
Transcript.
Genie's story did not have a happy ending.
posted by y2karl at 1:32 AM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


By Child Protective Services investigators, who lost track of her even though every month, her mother got a state welfare check

Big Shit government, huh?
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 1:10 AM on November 1
[+] [!]

Totally. The case worker should be held accountable for their role in this, too.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:01 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


mr_roboto: This display format for online versions of long-form stories in local newspapers just locked in everywhere over the last six months or so. Where did it come from? I actually think I saw it at Pitchfork first...

As dhartung said, the current trend in longform is this format-- big illustration at the top, 2/3 main column width, 1/3 right column for assets like photo and video and the occasional full-width illustration to break up the text.

In general I like it, and the journalism outfit that I work for has used a restrained variation of it. It has some big positives: Just like anything else, it has its potential for abuse. The gimmick associated with the format is javascript listeners that control/reveal page assets depending on where the reader has scrolled on the page. This can be a useful tool for helping the reader keep things straight and advancing the narrative (an example of what I'm talking about here, though it's not in the longform format. Apologies for the self-link, but I didn't have to search around for it.)

Unfortunately, when it's not used to advance/refine the narrative it's a useless distraction, but like every web trend, people feel obligated to do it to keep up. There's no reason to fade in a pullquote at mid-page except to force the reader to see it, and presumably they'll find the quote in the text and judge the impact for themselves anyway. The worst of these tie in animations to the illustrations, growing or shrinking things or moving elements in compound illustrations. Not the worst trend we've ever seen in web design, but definitely faddish. I will be happy when things calm down and people recognize timed scroll events as a tool and not something to shoehorn into a page to demonstrate that they're up on trends.

I think this story is a good use of this current longform format-- the events are used sparingly and it adheres to the conventions that make the format useful!

(I heard from a very reliable source that Snow Fall, while everyone was passing it around and admiring it, was not widely read. Everyone scrolled to the bottom to watch the effects, but few people were on the page long enough to have actually read it. This story is very readable.)posted by Mayor Curley at 3:28 AM on November 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


The case worker should be held accountable for their role in this, too.

I do get this perspective, I really do, but I think it would be important to learn more about the case worker's situation; many caseworkers take on that job (which is often thankless and always underpaid) because they really do want to help, very much, and they care a lot. They're then, often, given a huge, an actually impossibly huge, caseload and told that it's their responsibility to prioritize and manage it.

If a kid slips through the cracks (and this often happens) it might just be that the caseworker is completely and totally overwhelmed because they've been given a task that no one could do. It doesn't necessarily mean they're apathetic or incompetent, just that the job is bigger than any one person's abilities. Yes, there's a serious problem here in that this wasn't caught, but the issue might be a systemic one in which we have too few people trying to do too many jobs and the responsibility might not entirely be on the one individual who was tasked with keeping track of the many, many children in horrifying situations.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 4:16 AM on November 1, 2013 [25 favorites]


As dhartung said, the current trend in longform is this format-- big illustration at the top, 2/3 main column width, 1/3 right column for assets like photo and video and the occasional full-width illustration to break up the text.

Yeah, this is something I hate, that whole candy button layout with big fonts and little content smeared out over too many pages.

In this case the splitting up the story over eight pages led to a lot of repetition at the start of each page, which didn't make what's already a distressing read any easier.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:30 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jesus Fucking Christ. This is among the worst things I've ever read about.

It is worth reading the whole way through. There are some heroes in the story. Its pretty bleak and awful and she hardly has a great life now, but Miss Kavanaugh is loved and trying to make a life for herself - something very few people expected her to do.

The story is also fascinating in that it offers insight into how we develop from children to adults, how events in our early childhood shape us forever. Her childhood was as bad as any I've ever heard of and its crystal clear how those events will always be there shaping her life. She's learned to work around some of her wounds but they're not going to heal.

I think sometimes we hear about horrific things happen to children but, as a society, we sort of mentally lock those events in amber and forget that children who survive grow up into damaged adults. We have to remember that abused and traumatized children become adults and aren't automatically fixed once they turn 18. Part of the value of this article is that it doesn't end with her rescue.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:48 AM on November 1, 2013 [38 favorites]


Dittoing Joey Michaels. Right now in Canada there is an inquiry into the death of Jeffrey Baldwin, a little boy who died after being kept in similar conditions. Maybe people don't need to hear the graphic details, but this type of abuse happens way more than people think. There isn't a story about that poor little boy that doesn't make me weep (and even writing this has turned on the waterworks) but it just serves as a reminder of how many adults and protective systems failed Jeffrey and his sister, including social workers. All it would have taken was one adult to step up to the plate (including the renters in the house), a less believing social worker or the teacher who didn't think it was strange that the sister always smelled. Society can't assume that the most vulnerable will always be protected :(
posted by Calzephyr at 5:24 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Holy crap.

That was a pretty amazing story. The resilience of humans is amazing.

It reminded me of Maus and how the dad was forever picking up bits of string and stuff because in the concentration camp, you never knew what might be valuable. And he couldn't stop doing it now. I don't know what analogy I'm trying to make, I guess how he was still there in some way in his mind and she's still in the closet in her mind in some ways.

I had to halfway skim most of it because i just couldn't read it all, but wow, the Kavanaughs were absolutely amazing people to have dealt with this without any professional training and stuff. They just did it out of love.

And I don't want the disgusting people who did this to her to die. I want them to live long long lives, never get granted parole, be unable to be part of general pop and have to be alone for the rest of their lives.
posted by sio42 at 5:25 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


The play therapist impressed me but most of all, the self awareness and courage of Lauren and the very existence of a possibility that this girl might actually have a somewhat decent quality of life at some point is wonderful. She seems unbelievably resilient to me. I hope her therapy continues and her caring adoptive mother can stay in her life for a long time, that she remains cancer-free and also maybe she can learn more about how to help Lauren as an adult. I hope Lauren will come to decide one day she can call her own caring love.

There's only so much emotional space I can give to causes--I'm a lot more limited than I'd like to be--so I completely understand a parent of young children not being able to tolerate the suffering of reading this. As for me, if there is one thing that I always care about, now that I have some of that space in my heart freed up, it is the welfare of women and children. I couldn't not read this. I always want to know how I and we as members of society can try to make sure these things don't happen, although every day my local paper has more evidence that we are failing.
posted by Anitanola at 5:43 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had to halfway skim most of it because i just couldn't read it all, but wow, the Kavanaughs were absolutely amazing people to have dealt with this without any professional training and stuff. They just did it out of love.


You might want to read a little closer:
The Kavanaughs clashed over parenting styles, but one issue — spanking — led to a split.

Bill Kavanaugh took the side of CPS workers and doctors at Children’s, who said Lauren already had suffered too much violence in her life. Spanking was off limits.

“But Sabrina was like, ‘This is my child and I’m doing it my way. I’ll spank her when I want to and y’all can come take her away if you want to.’ So, it was that kind of bravado,” said Sondra Mahoney, a licensed therapist who became a de facto family counselor.

Sabrina Kavanaugh said no other form of discipline worked with Lauren.

“I did whip Lauren, and CPS didn’t like that,” she said. “But when you have a child who has had no toys, taking toys away as a punishment means nothing. And we tried timeout, but that didn’t faze her either. She’d been in a closet for six years.”

...“It was hard not to just come across at Sabrina and say, ‘This is harsh. This is wrong,’” said Mahoney. “Because I knew she would cut me off, and then Lauren wouldn’t have a counselor.”

Mahoney said it took a long time for Kavanaugh to accept that her daughter’s prolonged starvation and torture resulted in some intellectual disabilities.

Over the years, Mahoney learned to comfort, more than confront.

“I love Sabrina because I see the warm side of her and the hurt and the tears that will come sometimes,” Mahoney said. “But it’s also been like, ‘I just wanna shake you.’
posted by y2karl at 5:45 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


It says she's in community college for remedial reading/writing and basic math. Was she in high school for behavioral reasons, and graduated without really knowing how to read?

There are plenty of people in community college who need remedial reading and basic math. It's possible to get through high school, especially in a modified program, and still need help with basics, even without the difficulties in early learning this girl experienced.
posted by Miko at 5:53 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I did read that.

I don't know what else she could have done as discipline. And there were professionals involved who would have intervened. The counselor could have reported her had it been abuse. And would have. She didn't like the method but obviously didn't think it bad enough to take Lauren away.

It's a very trying situation and if that's the worst thing Mrs Kavanaugh did, well. I don't know.

I don't think she beat her abusively and I don't she actually whipped her. It's a phrase. And I don't think Mrs Kavanaugh wanted to hit, she just didn't know what else to do.
posted by sio42 at 5:55 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The parents' names were Barbie and Ken. How bizarre.
posted by Melismata at 5:55 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a 1 in 10,000,000 occurence.

There are over 7 billion people on this earth, that means there are over 700 Laurens out there.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:04 AM on November 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


I find the coverage disturbing.

I Googled "Lauren Kavanaugh" and saw page after page of "look at this" and "isn't this terrible" - all talking about the crime. Not a single link about how to prevent it happening again (except as a minor footnote). Our priorities are clear. We just like to watch and be disgusted.
posted by EnterTheStory at 6:06 AM on November 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


I don't think she beat her abusively and I don't she actually whipped her.

There's actually a line later in the article where she admits that she regrets whipping her with a belt (alongside regretting sending her off to her niece's house where she was subsequently sexually assaulted).

I mean, yeah. On the one hand, I agree that these must have been incredibly difficult circumstances under which any adoptive parents would struggle to tread that fine line. But it kind of bothered me that there seemed to be a narrative running throughout some of the comments from therapists and whatnot saying that they were the best choice as parents because they loved her the most. Surely the next set of parents for somebody who has undergone this amount of trauma should be held to a higher standard than that?

The section where Lauren talks about why she doesn't feel comfortable talking to her adoptive mother about the abuse really hit home for me. It sounds like Kavanaugh has, to some degree, concocted an idea in her head that her way of parenting is the best, when to me, it seems super obvious that she should have deferred to the therapists' and experts' judgments on how to cope with the fall out from the abuse. That's not to dismiss the huge amount of progress that Lauren has obviously made, but you have to wonder how her adoptive mother's parenting style has impacted on her ability to heal.
posted by catch as catch can at 6:10 AM on November 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm about halfway through, and it really is a terrifying and fascinating story. But yeah, I agree with this

But this particular journalist was not a good writer. This was a complicated story and it seems like a lot of research was done, but the writing was repetitive and often shaming.

The article seems at times to be shaking up outrage over the legal system's protection of biological parents, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Obviously this was a terrible thing to have happened, but those laws to protect parents exist for a reason, in part because there is a long history of taking the children of people of color and poor people for being bad parents based on really specious reasons and double standards. There is a lot that went wrong in this story, but the fact that there is a higher legal standard imposed before individuals can petition to permanently terminate all parental rights of the biological parents is not one of those things.
posted by likeatoaster at 6:18 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are over 7 billion people on this earth, that means there are over 700 Laurens out there.

Unfortunately thats probably an underestimate.
posted by koolkat at 6:22 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think part of the repetition problem is that the article was published as a series, not as a single article as we are reading it now.

Unfortunately thats probably an underestimate.

Sadly, this is most likely correct.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:24 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Catch as catch can - yeah i see that point too. I did miss the belt part. The thing about her being assaulted at her first sleep over with family was just too much so i may have missed the belt comment.

I got the feeling that the professionals involved wanted Lauren w the Kavanaughs because she remembered them all on her own and that with all her trust issues might be easier for her.

The whole is just bizarre and I'm in no place to judge what decisions the people with expertise made that seemed to be in the best interest of a case unlike any they had ever seen.

I'm sure they all would say they would have done something differently.
posted by sio42 at 6:30 AM on November 1, 2013


“But when you have a child who has had no toys, taking toys away as a punishment means nothing. And we tried timeout, but that didn’t faze her either. She’d been in a closet for six years.”

I don't know what else she could have done as discipline.


This is a very, very challenging issue in these situations. I've worked in schools where there were kids who were locked in closets without food as a matter of routine and, while it wasn't as drastic as this, it was obviously completely horrible and totally changed the ways they interacted and the ways that discipline worked.

There were a couple of kids at the school where I used to work, a brother and sister, who had been routinely locked in the closet while their parents smoked crack. The parents did this because they didn't want to expose their kids to drugs and then they'd completely forget about them and leave them locked up with no food.

Coping with these students in any sort of disciplinary way was really, really tough because many normal consequences would be unbelievably triggering for them. If you told them to sit down or stay in the room they would just walk/run down the hallway because they didn't feel safe if they were confined to one place, even if that place was a classroom. They would also steal food from teachers or other kids or wherever and, even if they had plenty of food, they'd just keep stealing it and eating it because they'd been locked in a closet with no food.

We didn't use physical force on them other than necessary restraint when they became dangerous to themselves or other students (for a number of reasons including: we disapproved on moral grounds, we weren't allowed to legally, and it wouldn't have worked anyway), but I understand why you might because kids who have been in these unbelievably horrifying, traumatic situations just don't react the way a lot of other kids might. A lot of "normal" consequences like sitting alone/isolation or not getting a treat (like an extra apple or whatever) are disproportionately horrible, and others like time out or verbal reprimands often just don't work because the kids either won't go along with them (won't stay where they're supposed to) or don't care.

There are options here to help children who have been in these unbelievably awful circumstances, but it's really, REALLY not simple and if you believe that spanking someone works then, while I don't condone it, I do understand it, especially because you might not feel like you have any other options that aren't either ineffective or more traumatic.

Having something like this happen to you, especially over a long period of time, absolutely changes the way you think and interact and the choices you make and the priorities you have. It's very, very hard to break out of that and if you're caring for a child who has developed those patterns of thought the amount of work it takes to gain trust and establish actual boundaries and consequences is absolutely enormous. There really aren't easy answers and sometimes you just realize that, much as you love the kid, you just don't have any idea how best to help them.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:32 AM on November 1, 2013 [34 favorites]


“I blamed her [the niece] a little bit, but I blamed myself mostly,” Kavanaugh said as she sat next to Lauren at a Denny’s this summer. “So, you know those people who think I’m strict, well, they’re entitled to their opinion. You leave me to mine.” Tears leaked down her face. “Don’t even think about trying to tell me how to raise my child,” she said, her voice rising.

I don't know, Mrs. Pterodactyl. I appreciate how hard it must have been to raise Lauren, and I try really hard not to judge other parents, especially ones in difficult situations, but this is frankly some bullshit. My daughter is a great, happy, easy-going kid, and I have always, from Day 1, been eager and willing to get insight and assistance in learning how to raise her and how to do a better job as a parent. If you are going to be pigheaded and close-minded about learning and improving as a parent, then you are not doing a good job. It's sad to think that after all that Lauren went through she had to deal with a mother like this.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:35 AM on November 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


If you are going to be pigheaded and close-minded about learning and improving as a parent, then you are not doing a good job.

Yeah, that's a really good point, and I do get it; I also agree that the "just loved her so much" narrative is problematic and goes to bigger cultural issues of prioritizing passion over expertise and experience.

I agree that the mother should have listened more to the experts AND I think that it can be really easy to assume that the experts don't actually understand your experience. I've had "experts" in my classroom to help with students who just have NO IDEA what it's like dealing with that student on a day to day basis when you've got twenty-some other kids in the classroom and are making all these suggestions that you're just sure won't work because you have the actual, practical experience of that child*. It's easy to think "if you know what's best for this kid, FINE, you come in and deal with them! I'm the one working day and night on this so don't you dare tell me you know what's better for my kid than I do." It's not right and it's not true but, especially if you're under such extreme stress, it's easy to believe.

You're absolutely right, she should have been more open and I agree that there are many ways in which she did not do a good job, but I did want to make the point that it's not simple and, unfortunately, in situations this horrifying and traumatic there may not always be great or workable answers. I'm not saying she did everything right (of course she didn't!) or even particularly well, but knowing what "right" is in this kind of situation is not easy for anyone.

*In this case the experts actually gave up after two days and got him transferred to a different environment because even two of them together couldn't handle him for two days when he was their only area of focus.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:51 AM on November 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


My understanding from reading this is that Lauren's advocate and social worker felt the Kavenaughs were the best parents for Lauren not just because they loved her, but because they had a prior parenting relationship with her; she was not just an abstract, heartbreaking girl in the newspaper to them, but a whole, real, 3-dimensional person they had spent time and resources fighting for and trying to trace when she disappeared.

I think it's also worth considering that while they made decisions contrary to the "experts" opinions, those experts universally said there are no guidelines for dealing with a child that abused. Some of the decisions the Kavenaughs made against advice, like not locking up food, were the right judgement calls. Others, like physically discipling her, we would agree and Sabrina Kavenaugh would agree, were poor decisions.

I don't think the article is outraged that Barbara Atkinson's were not terminated. The journalist, Scott Farwell, says the following in the comments:

I'd like to amplify one point. The judge in this case was guided by a legal standard that says in order to take a child from a natural parent, one must essentially prove the child faces imminent physical or psychological harm. Take a close look at those 45 photos. Do they show child abuse? It's tragic, of course, what happened to Lauren, but I'm not sure the judge interpreted the law incorrectly.

I wanted to post this piece of journalism because profiles of adult survivors of this kind of abuse are very rare; it's both horrifying and remarkable and a deeply affecting story, even with the discordant serial nature of the journalism. More importantly, though, Lauren made a choice as an adult to actively participate in this piece. If she wants her story to be heard, I think it's an act of human compassion to bear witness to it, even through the remove of the internet. Reading the comments, Scott Farwell also says:

I'm relieved to say, she's pleased. As I said earlier here today, in some ways I think these stories were cathartic for Lauren. She's taking ownership of her story by standing up, face in full view, in the light, saying "this happened in my past, but it doesn't have to ruin my future."

That said, I found it hard to frame for a FPP because "Triumph! Over! Adversity!" felt like a trivialisation of what Lauren went through and still goes through, but just framing it as a terrible abuse story doesn't honor where Lauren is today or the journey she and the people around her have taken to get here.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:57 AM on November 1, 2013 [14 favorites]


The judge in this case was guided by a legal standard that says in order to take a child from a natural parent, one must essentially prove the child faces imminent physical or psychological harm. Take a close look at those 45 photos. Do they show child abuse? It's tragic, of course, what happened to Lauren, but I'm not sure the judge interpreted the law incorrectly.

Well, okay, right but that still reads to me like he disagreed about the legal standard applied, even if he doesn't blame the judge in his application. And my point is that the legal standard is actually a good thing, and there is a lot of nuance there that is glossed over by stories like this for the sake of having somewhere to direct the anger.
posted by likeatoaster at 7:05 AM on November 1, 2013


It is an unfortunate part of my job that I occasionally see some pretty horrific child abuse. The mentally ill woman who stabbed her two children to death in the bathroom of a convenience store. Doing organ harvests on toddlers who have suffered fatal head injuries at the hands of their caregivers. The boy who was transferred for emergency surgery in the middle of the night from a nearby burn center because in addition to the scalding he had gotten in the name of discipline he had been so severly beaten a few days prior that his intestines were perforated. But this still boggles my mind. I hope Lauren has the strength to testify at her abusers' parole hearings in 2031; it is fine with me if they remain in jail for life.

But there were a couple of other adults who really enabled this. The judge who returned Lauren and then apparently feels no remorse for having done so, and Doris Calhoun who apparently bankrolled the legal battle to overturn the adoption out of spite then pretty much ignored her granddaughter.

I lost a lot of warm feeling for Sabrina Kavaugh over the spanking thing and her "tough love" approach in general, but agree with those who say she shouldn't be judged by those who haven't been in her situation. And of course the one time she takes advice to loosen up a bit, the Jesse Bass incident happened. I won't say what I think of him lest this comment get deleted.

And for those who criticize the social workers for not stopping this, remember that this is Texas, described by Molly Ivins as "the national laboratory for bad government". Many people, in cluding politicians, view child welfare agencies as just another big government intrusion into people's lives, and budget cuts are the norm.
posted by TedW at 7:08 AM on November 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


I think what I found - not most horrifying, but what really just blew my mind about how awful this was is that five other children lived there that were not mistreated. I mean, imagine not just how awful that she was treated that way, but also how awful that she had to know that she was the only one singled to be treated that way.
posted by corb at 7:10 AM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


DarlingBri - i hear you on to how frame. I kept reading this thinking i was going to get to the part where she died. Or had massive something medical happen. A temporary colostomy bag and major reconstructive surgery, some mental slowness, but not retardation. I know that's a lot, and she has plenty of psych damage, but I just can't believe she's alive physically. Just absolutely insane.
posted by sio42 at 7:13 AM on November 1, 2013


Corb - yeah that is pretty crazy too. The sister who was interviewed i hope is getting her own counseling because i cannot imagine what she must be going through. She says she feels awful but was so afraid it would happen to her she did nothing. We all can say "yeah you were a kid" but that can't possibly make her feel better. Ugh.
posted by sio42 at 7:16 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Another thing that bothered me when reading the article were a couple of references to "divine intervention". It seems to me that if god were going to intervene, he could have done it a good bit sooner.
posted by TedW at 7:24 AM on November 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


corb, read the last section about the siblings. It sounds like the neglect they suffered would have been a horrible story all on its own if it hadn't been for the mind-numbing abuse of Lauren gettting the focus:
None of them, who ranged in age from 22 months to 10 years, had ever really been to school. They didn’t know how to use a toothbrush, or a knife and fork, or how to wipe themselves after going to the bathroom.

And they were brainwashed about Lauren.

posted by Dojie at 7:24 AM on November 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Or the mother of the female abuser - what the hell is wrong with her? Claiming it was the Kavanaugh's fault?

Thanks, Dojie, for the update. I am reading this really, really slowly, because it keeps being so terrible I have to stop and pause and breath for a bit.
posted by corb at 7:25 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


This also reminds me, a lot, of The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.
posted by corb at 7:38 AM on November 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


The scope of the abuse this child suffered is very hard to grasp. The massiveness of the evil makes it really hard to comment. The abusive mother has her own mental illness, her own wretched childhood. The abusive stepfather seems to have understood something of his own guilt, but. I'm stunned by reading this. I've been seeing people's bad sides a lot lately, but to starve, beat, molest, abuse, isolate a child for 8 years is mind-blowing. Lauren's resilience is literally awesome. Her adoptive Mom makes choices I wouldn't make, but I am in no position to judge her.

Humans. what the fuck.
posted by theora55 at 7:43 AM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


The writing did seem weird in places. Like when she had the birthday party and invited five friends, who were "late". He writes about how "an hour later, Lauren was still waiting" and then that's it, the reader is left hanging. Did the friends show up? Was it a nice party? What happened?

And once again, here's a rant about how the mentally ill are (not) treated in this country. The mother's natural mother was schizophrenic and a drug addict, and was apparently abused too as a toddler. This should have been stopped decades ago.
posted by Melismata at 7:50 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder about drug or alcohol abuse in the parents - I didn't see anything about that mentioned in the article, but it's hard to imagine people living in those conditions without drug addiction being an element of what was going on there. Or maybe it's just that I can't imagine it because I don't want to believe people can be that terrible without some kind of outside complicating factor.
posted by something something at 7:55 AM on November 1, 2013


The friends didn't show up. They were all getting ready for senior prom, which she was not attending because her date the previous year ditched and then she went alone and no one talked to her.
posted by sio42 at 7:58 AM on November 1, 2013


I'm going to comment on the sub-discussion about the format of this piece, because I can bear to do that.

Simply concatenating the installments into a single "article" on the web (with fake "chapters") is something I see an awful lot of still, and newspapers are going to have to stop doing this if they expect to be taken seriously by people who have never in their lives read a paper newspaper. This needed a complete rewrite, with all the redundancies removed, written in actual paragraphs. When you're taking it from serial newsprint to the web, you're now essentially in a magazine, with the opportunity to add texture via contextual links to your own and to third-party content. Just pasting it all together like they've done, in the obligatory long-form layout, is lazy and I think dishonors its subject.

And btw, ESPN's design of the recently FPP'd Devin Wang piece was a phenomenal job of longform web layout.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:59 AM on November 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm so sorry its Dr. Phil, but... Lauren did an hour-long segment on Dr. Phil awhile back. It's possibly the worst formatted website ever, but if you scroll down this page, there are various video segments from the show laid out. (I am not sure what Lauren's height is, but it's worth noting Dr. Phil is 6'4" tall.)

Lauren also runs her own Facebook page, with regular (and very normal!) updates.

I found those after stumbling on a GoFundMe for Lauren, which is sort of unfortunately buried on the DMN site. (And no, GoFundMe does not take PayPal.)
posted by DarlingBri at 8:01 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The friends didn't show up. They were all getting ready for senior prom, which she was not attending because her date the previous year ditched and then she went alone and no one talked to her.

They glossed over that too. Who was the guy? Why did he ditch? Why did he say yes if only to ditch later? It feels like some editor just went in and chopped out some important details that were connected to the rest of the narrative without paying too much attention. Either that, or they just wanted to gloss over how heartbreaking her social life was in high school.
posted by Melismata at 8:04 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I found it hard to frame for a FPP because "Triumph! Over! Adversity!" felt like a trivialisation of what Lauren went through and still goes through, but just framing it as a terrible abuse story doesn't honor where Lauren is today or the journey she and the people around her have taken to get here.

I actually appreciated the way the article framed this, believe it or not - because so many of these other kinds of cases skip straight from "the rescue" to "twenty years later she's in college and all grown up and everything!" and you don't get a sense of the hard slog in between. Or, they gloss over the fact that the hard slog is still going on. Or, they only focus on the hard "and she will never recover" slog without acknowledging the progress that has been made.

This didn't do that. Lauren had a complex series of burdens; she has been left with a complex series of problems. But I am left with the impression of Lauren as a person, not as "a bundle of complex problems". She's a person who has some shit - way more than the average person, yeah - but she is also a person who is trying the best she can anyway, sometimes doing well, sometimes not, but continuing to try, and her life is actually going to go on and she is going to have ups and downs and things.

The article looked beyond the obvious structure for these kinds of stories and gave me a person rather than a caricature, and I think that's probably the best service it could have given Lauren; her parents spent those years trying to dehumanize her, and this article underscored the very human-ness of her.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:11 AM on November 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


Humans. what the fuck.

Right?

I have this emotion a lot and really don't know what to do with it. Even saying like "well, just be as kind as possible to make up for it!" doesn't scratch the surface.

There's generational trauma at play, and at least some of that could benefit from more public health focus.
posted by Miko at 8:12 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah the Internet, where a child's 6 year rape-torture-starvation ordeal is a great excuse for some lame, drive-by right-wing "small government" dig.

Humanity should have nuked itself when it had the chance.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:38 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


That was really hard to read but what a resilient young woman.
posted by kat518 at 9:59 AM on November 1, 2013


This reminded me of Genie (Secret of the Wild Child)

It is a very similar story, both were locked in isolation for around the same periods of time during their childhood. For Genie there's no way of knowing if she already had developmental disabilities before she was neglected but she was not able to become proficient with language in her later life. Ironically from reading the articles it seems that for Lauren the country music radio that was played outside of her closet all day to help hide the abuse was critical in giving her a chance to absorb language during her key language acquisition years. It's actually really incredible and great that she is able to go to college and take remedial classes and have a normal life at this point. She and everyone who has helped her have really accomplished a lot given where they started from.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:13 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


the Internet, where a child's 6 year rape-torture-starvation ordeal is a great excuse for some lame, drive-by right-wing "small government" dig.

Am I reading the same comments you are? It seems like everyone in here has been just repeatedly traumatized by the article itself and is just kind of talking in freaked out hushed whispers, or their internet equivalent.
posted by corb at 10:42 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wrote a super long comment and erased it. I hope very much that none of you who are finding the Kavanughs to fall short of perfect parenting will ever have the tragedy of parenting a child like Lauren come into your lives.

I was at the hospital today with a sprained ankle and mentioned off handedly to my husband that I was glad not to be pushed into the wall in a wheelchair this time, something that had been done deliberately with malice to me by a child when I was ill in a wheelchair previously. It was so ordinary an event I had forgotten it until I flinched when he pushed me too close to a door.

Lauren and her adoptive parents, and Lauren's siblings, and the people who came in to help them - rebuilding is lonely and hard and difficult, and far too messy to fit into a happy ever after. This article comes very close to capturing fragments of the experience.

We don't use physical discipline for specific therapeutic reasons, but I understand Kavanaugh's reasoning because there are almost no ways to discipline a severely multiple-abused child who has survived horrific pain, a lost sense of self and has no emotional connections yet. And who is attacking others or themselves.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:49 AM on November 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


viggorlijah: I hope very much that none of you who are finding the Kavanughs to fall short of perfect parenting will ever have the tragedy of parenting a child like Lauren come into your lives.

Well, I do feel like the Kavanaughs have fallen short of perfect parenting. I also know that my wife and I fall short of perfect parenting all the time, and in fact every parent falls short of perfect parenting. I also think that it is important to talk about the ways we all fail as parents so that we can get better at it (both individually and as a society) and so that we don't have to be ashamed of our failures and keep them hidden, where they multiply and fester. I'm criticizing Ms. Kavanaugh, to be sure, but I'm not judging her, if that makes sense.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:28 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It says she's in community college for remedial reading/writing and basic math. Was she in high school for behavioral reasons, and graduated without really knowing how to read?

There are plenty of people in community college who need remedial reading and basic math. It's possible to get through high school, especially in a modified program, and still need help with basics, even without the difficulties in early learning this girl experienced.

The article mentioned that going into remedial math next semester will be difficult because Lauren still hasn't learned addition -- I think her academic deficits might run pretty deep. The article also mentioned cognitive delays, and hinted at what that might mean, for example by mentioning that the birthday venue was more appropriate for a young kid than for a high school senior, etc. In my school district, kids who had disabilities could be graduated with a "special education diploma" which didn't have the same requirements as a regular diploma (the requirements could/were adjusted for the kid). It was a way of allowing those kids to participate socially with their class even if their disabilities made fulfilling the academic requirements impossible. I suspect that Lauren was awarded a diploma like that, and isn't actually academically at the level of a high school senior. I think that when it came to issues like Lauren's social life, academic challenges, etc, the article glossed over a lot. I think it was done as a kindness to Lauren, and is probably for the best.

This is kind of the least of her worries, I'm sure...but in my school system (which is not in a progressive state, so I suspect this is a national regulation) kids are also allowed to stay in public school until they're 23. There was even one kid a couple years back who wanted to stay for a second senior year, and the school system had to let him. There are social reasons that you might not want a kid to languish in high school, but there are also budgetary reasons why a school system wouldn't want that. I don't know whether Lauren wanted to graduate with her class or not (I suspect so, because she does seem to care about fitting in), but it's really too bad if now she's going to have to pay for tuition and books to go to school, when she's eligible for public schooling for the next few years. If she's starting from a point of not knowing addition, then her chances of being able to fulfill the reqs of an associate's degree program seem pretty slim or at least like it'll take a long time for her to do so...and I'm just envisioning a long road of paying tuition fees without getting much financial return later. Of course, maybe Dr.Phil and other ways of getting her story out are helping with that; maybe she's getting paid, so if she wants to do school it's not a financial burden for her to do school.

Anyway, I think that Mrs. Kavenough sounds like a good parent, but that Mr. Kavenough's gentleness might have brought some good balance to the family -- it's such a shame that he passed, and so soon after they got Lauren back. Still, even though Mrs. Kavenough's from a pretty old-fashioned school of child-rearing, their family seems very loving and normal to me. I also don't think that the "authorities" made a mistake in valuing that the Kavenoughs had been Lauren's parents at birth and already loved her as their daughter. They could be counted on to integrate her into their family, commit to parenting her past her 18th birthday, and they damn sure weren't going to give her up to foster care. Lots of people might have been better at using good parenting "techniques" on Lauren, and those techniques might have been a lot of help, but with the Kavenoughs she was certain to have a *family,* which I agree is worth a lot in terms of emotional health and just plain quality of life.

The cruelty and just plain bad luck that literally everyone in this article was subjected to is horrifying. It's hard enough for me to imagine the circumstances of a 13-year-old drug addict carrying a child, or of kids living in filth, kept out of school, and ignorant of how to use forks or how to use the toilet, or of Mrs. Kavenough losing her husband just as she finally got her child back -- let alone the appalling horrors visited on Lauren. All of it is so far from my really very nice life experience and I don't even really know what to do with the information.
posted by rue72 at 1:54 PM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


. . . Not a single link about how to prevent it happening again (except as a minor footnote).

This could have been prevented sometime around 1971 by access to abortion and a mental health care safety net. Barbara's mother was a schizophrenic 13-year-old, and Barbara was adopted at age four. By then, she had no doubt experienced a lifetime's worth of horror at her own key developmental stage. If her mother could have been helped before the pregnancy progressed, then there would have been no Barbara, and no suffering for six children.

It's no good talking about that now in this case, but it's a reminder that the suffering we don't prevent today can last for generations.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:50 PM on November 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


The article mentioned that going into remedial math next semester will be difficult because Lauren still hasn't learned addition -- I think her academic deficits might run pretty deep. The article also mentioned cognitive delays, and hinted at what that might mean, for example by mentioning that the birthday venue was more appropriate for a young kid than for a high school senior, etc.

I'm not sure about that. I mean, I think it's clear (and normal, if we accept that the context is totally abnormal) that she has emotional maturation delays, but I would not be confident saying that she has cognitive delays that will keep her from achieving her academic goals. Her Facebook posts are literate and well constructed; she can form perfectly adequate narratives even if she struggles with spelling. She learned all of that, including the ability to read and write, after the age of 8, so clearly she's capable of new skill acquisition.

The CC she's enrolled in has an open admission policy, but seems admirably dedicated to remedial education with two programs called Developmental Math and Developmental Reading and Writing. The statistic for college success on the math portion of this programme seem really good. I don't want to honey the difficulties ahead, but she was tested on admission and this CC seems really well placed to provide her with the support she needs to learn. And reading her words, she seems very determined to do that. Maybe she'll never reach her goal of going to UT and graduating with a psychology degree, but I would place a hard money bet that the path she's on will lead her to qualifications and an employment future that is rewarding to her.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:03 PM on November 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


This was a tough read. Well worth reading, though.
The beginning of the article mentions that she no longer has to take medication for Bipolar disorder. My understanding has always been that Bipolar doesn't go into remission. I know that I am prepared to take meds for my condition til I die. Is there a sort of PTSD-like Bipolar that can get better without meds?
posted by Biblio at 3:27 PM on November 1, 2013


My understanding is that bipolar is really changeable in children and teens. It's possible (just pulling random meds examples out of my ass) she was taking a drug like Depakote for the bipolar and Lamictal for the seizures but now both conditions are controlled by the Lamictal. (She did mention on FB that she'd not had a seizure in a year, so I'm making the assumption there is at least one med on board for that.)
posted by DarlingBri at 5:18 PM on November 1, 2013


Or the mother of the female abuser - what the hell is wrong with her?

I know, corb, even in an ocean of appalling information, I too thought she sounded horrible. Those comments about how Lauren used to be "fat" and "eat like a pig"... those are disgusting things to say about any 6yo child, let alone one you know (retrospectively) has been treated as Lauren was.

In the "apology" video on page 8 of the story, can anyone tell what Barbara Atkinson is saying around 1:00 to 1:30? The audio is poor enough that I can only make out a few words.

Thank you for posting this, DarlingBri, even though it is hard to read.
posted by torticat at 5:49 PM on November 1, 2013


Okay. How to start?

Based on personal professional experience, I am shocked and amazed by what I consider a true story of triumph for Lauren. I would say gladdened but nothing about this story makes me glad.

I am not naming this a triumph while wearing rose colored glasses. I can easily see where the author of this piece glossed over some of Lauren's current academic, behavioral, and social challenges. And I'm thankful that he did so.

I work in a system that certifies and monitors foster homes for kids with cognitive delays. Most of the kids I work with have been removed from their homes for neglect and abuse. Some are actually voluntarily placed by biological or adoptive parents who can't manage the challenges of raising a child with disabilities. All of the children I serve have some sort of documented cognitive delay. Some have autism or fetal alcohol syndrome, some were born with congenital conditions that caused their delays. Some are super smart with IQs higher than mine but adaptively delayed in other ways. Many may have had normal IQs if they hadn't experienced abuse and neglect as very young children. Most have serious behavior problems that endanger the health and safety of others in significant ways. As I matter of fact, I just opened a case yesterday where a young woman's diagnoses were very similar to Lauren's.

I work in a progressive state with a better foster care system than most. A normal kid's case manager in my state has between 50-80 kids. Some states have it much worse, I've heard of numbers in the 200s.

I've worked in this field for 16 years in one capacity or another. For the past 5 years I have held the title of Behavior Specialist for these young people. (I have a new job now - in the same field) "Behavior Specialist" sounds pretty impressive, right? You'd imagine I would have some letters after my name. At least a Bachelor's Degree in Child Development or Psychology, huh? Nope. I worked my way up. I have a liberal arts type degree. My first job in the field was as a direct line staff person. I worked in a group home with kids like Lauren. I took a lot of punches and cleaned up a lot of poop and made a lot of meatloaf. I was just always pretty good at it and kept getting promoted. Five years ago, prior to writing my first behavior plan, I had a week long training in positive behavior support. A very similar training to what Lauren's social workers probably were referring too when they criticized Mrs Kavanaugh for spanking *yes I read the part about the belt.* I teach that class now. As much as I love my work, it's a crime that I've been allowed to do my job with as little formal training as I've had. Sometimes, especially in the beginning when I would be faced with a failure, I would cry because I didn't know enough. I've never been good enough at my job, although My God, I try.

Let me clarify: I'm not a therapist and I don't do therapy with these kids. Someone else does that. Someone who does have letters after their name. I get to know the kids, write behavior plans with guidelines and ideas for using positive behavior support to manage challenging and dangerous behaviors. I drive to their homes in the middle of the night and help when the kid is breaking all the windows in the house. I meet them at the hospital after their foster daughter has sliced up her arm with the inside of pencil sharpener (because all the other sharp items are locked up and nobody ever thought she'd disassemble her school supplies).

I've seen the foster system break child after child. I've seen dozens of adoptive parents dump their teenage children back on the system once they hit puberty and the shit hit the fan (sometimes literally - that's not a joke) Parenting a child with Lauren's set of challenges is a herculean task. After what Lauren experienced, I think the best decision that could have been made was to send her home with the Kavanaughs. Because the Kavanaughs were the most likely people to never give up on her.

I do not care one bit that Mrs Kavanaugh spanked Lauren and once spanked her with a belt. The parents I work with are of course not allowed to do any such thing. And that's fine too. There's really only one thing that matters: Lauren needed someone who would never, had never, given up on her. It's pretty hard to keep a kid in your house, even one you love, who breaks all the windows, right after tearing down the dry wall you put up the day before to cover last week's property damage and then threatens you with the broken glass. And last week he raped your dog. And yesterday morning he smeared feces on the all over the bathroom. And you're afraid to sleep because after you started fostering, you had your own baby and your foster child has threatened to kill her because you love her more than you love him (Whether or not that's actually true - but it probably is).

It only gets worse for these kids. Once that foster parent gives up, everything starts all over again. A new school, a new therapist, a new set of rules that don't make any sense.

As I understand it, when a kid is neglected and abused between the ages of 0-6, it significantly changes the way their brain develops. This can be seen in MRIs. There is not another developmental window in which the damaged parts of the brain can heal or regenerate. It's over. You missed the boat. Emotional regulation, reciprocity and trust are the biggest things that are affected. It's not just that the child doesn't get a chance to experience reciprocity and trust and therefore needs some extra unconditional love in order to understand those things. No. The part of the brain that actually does reciprocity and trust are changed structurally forever.

I'm being rather bleak. So let me say that sometimes, I do see success stories. Sometimes the kids do okay and leave the system and go to college or get jobs and live lives that suck less than they used to. Only sometimes though. Not most of the time, not many times. Only sometimes.

I wish I could end this with something happy. There isn't anything happy about any of this. I like that Mrs Kavanaugh, though. I wish I could clone her. I hope for the best for Lauren. I hope for the best for all of them.
posted by dchrssyr at 7:35 PM on November 1, 2013 [50 favorites]


The most remarkable thing about this story is Lauren, and her resilience. I wanted to hear more from her.

I did have one thought, when they talked about her social problems. I wonder if it might be good for her to sometimes hang out with younger or more developmentally delayed children? Then she could be the strong, competent one, not the one struggling behind. I've watched my niece, who is developmentally delayed, blossom when helping other children.
posted by jb at 8:13 AM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I find the coverage disturbing.

Good. You should. It should burrow itself into your heart and soul, so that in the future, if you have an inkling that a child is being abused, you will report it to the authorities.

I Googled "Lauren Kavanaugh" and saw page after page of "look at this" and "isn't this terrible" - all talking about the crime. Not a single link about how to prevent it happening again (except as a minor footnote). Our priorities are clear. We just like to watch and be disgusted.

With all due respect, I'm not sure how you expect to prevent these situations. People who want to abuse will abuse, and you'd be amazed at how slippery they are and how convincingly they lie and how eager the people close to them are to believe them. No one wants to believe their child or neighbor or friend is a monster. Humans have a remarkable capacity for denial.

I didn't suffer half the horror that Lauren Kavanaugh did, but still lived through many years of some awful abuse. It took my parents beating me comatose and nearly to death to finally convince CPS that I really was in a dangerously abusive household and needed to be removed. A bit over two weeks comatose, brain surgery, several suicide attempts, years in therapy - both physical and mental - PTSD, MDD...and my grandmother still named me liar until the day she died, because there was simply no way that her son could have done what he did, I obviously hurt myself to try to get him in trouble.

I'm glad that articles like this are written. The light needs to be shone on the horrors that some children are subjected to, if for no other reason than to convince people to BELIEVE that these things happen, and not be so eager to give the benefit of the doubt to the abusers.
posted by MissySedai at 3:08 PM on November 2, 2013 [18 favorites]


Mario Speedwagon: By Child Protective Services investigators, who lost track of her even though every month, her mother got a state welfare check

Big government huh?


Because obviously, if the government were smaller and didn't hand out state welfare checks, the girl totally would have been discovered sooner. By all those small-government checking-up-on-children state workers that weren't hired.

Seriously - that comment feels really good, but makes no sense. This story is an argument for more government, not less.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:17 AM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mrs. Pterodactyl: The case worker should be held accountable for their role in this, too.

I do get this perspective, I really do, but I think it would be important to learn more about the case worker's situation; many caseworkers take on that job (which is often thankless and always underpaid) because they really do want to help, very much, and they care a lot. They're then, often, given a huge, an actually impossibly huge, caseload and told that it's their responsibility to prioritize and manage it.


Agreed. It is inconceivable, having known many social workers, that they just didn't give a damn about the kids. Incompetent at scheduling and following up, perhaps, or overworked and unable to keep up with the caseload, very likely in this Tea-Party less-government-crazed era. But not that they didn't give a damn - no one goes into social work "because it's an easy way to collect a paycheck."
posted by IAmBroom at 7:21 AM on November 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


sio42: I don't know what else she could have done as discipline. And there were professionals involved who would have intervened. The counselor could have reported her had it been abuse. And would have.

If the girl's earlier life proves anything at all, it's that professionals involved wouldn't necessarily have intervened. Professionals do not guarantee safety; they merely make it more likely.

I'll judge Mrs. Kavanaugh. Unwilling to accept guidance from professionals on a tremendously difficult parenting situation, that no one on earth is just plain "parent enough" for - that's wrong. Physically beating an already damaged child is wrong (and the belt-whipping is a beating, not some "trivial spanking").

If you are raising a dog that bites, and your best efforts to stop its aggressive/fearful behaviors fail, the two options are:
* putting it down before it hurts someone (obviously unsuitable for humans), or
* seeking training from someone who specializes in aggressive dog rehab.

Beating the creature is not an acceptable answer. Period.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:46 AM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


@IAmBroom, we were lucky and were able to keep to our parenting promise of never ever hitting our kids, survivors of physical abuse. But I've had to physically restrain violent children who wanted to self harm or hurt other children and me, and I was just so damn lucky to have the physical strength to do that. There were a few very scary months where one kid had gotten enough health and weight back and had so much pain to express that we were scared for our safety as adults, mostly by accidents as furniture was sent crashing, mirrors smashed and doors broken down.

I now live in a house where one kid cannot be left alone with another child for reasons of physical safety, and that's just how it has to be. The alternative in the actual world that parents of extremely damaged kids live in is institutionalising a destructive kid, or when they hit 18, kicking them out of home to protect the rest of the family, leaving that kid even more vulnerable. The Kavanuaghs had the advantage of having only one child to parent, but Lauren - through absolutely no fault of herself - could not respond to most parenting methods.

Every time I had to hold down my kid so the kid wouldn't attack me or hurt themselves, I set back our relationship severely and had to then spend a long time rebuilding that relationship, and there are still lingering effects, although on the whole that kid is doing extremely well. But in the back of a taxi, getting attacked and bitten by a kid who was convinced that we were going to hurt them from a random trigger, what exactly were my options?

I regret plenty about my parenting, and I'm glad I never had to use physical violence. But I understand why Mrs Kavanaugh did, why she regrets it, and why she felt like she had no alternatives, or at least no good alternatives.

The article doesn't go into the threat of institutionalizing Lauren which is what weighs on the parents of severely traumatized kids I know, that if you can't successfully parent this child away of legal trouble, you will end up having to sign them into an institution where they will not get family love, however imperfect, and will likely be medicated and looked after by professionals who don't see them as kids, but as patients or inmates.

Beating Lauren was not acceptable. But the alternatives weren't there either. Blame a society that didn't fund home-help for the Kavanaughs, constant therapy (the crippling cost of specialist therapy is not just the fees - there's trying to get a regular schedule in overbooked subsidized care, there's transport, parents taking time off to take the kid to therapy and deal with the emotional after-effects, there's all the time just reading up on abuse and talking with other parents - and time spent in court or at school, defending your child again.... it adds up fast.) and most of all blame the abusers who hurt Lauren so much.

But blaming Mrs Kavanaugh for a few understandable and repairable mistakes in an entire ocean of love and good parenting is just daft. It's like yelling at the firemen for bad parking when they've just saved a building.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:10 PM on November 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


We're gonna have to disagree on that point.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:15 PM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


IAmBroom, do you have children yourself?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:32 AM on November 4, 2013


Does having children make it OK to beat them?

We're not talking about a slap on the hand here.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:41 AM on November 4, 2013


We're not talking about a slap on the hand here.

Neither was viggorlijah.

Does having children make it OK to beat them?

No, but your having children MIGHT have helped you to understand what viggorlijah was talking about was different from what you think viggorlijah is talking about.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:13 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do not have children and I understood where viggorlijah was coming from perfectly well. Other people in this thread who do have children have opinions on both sides of this issue. Pulling the "do you have children?" card is diminishing and dismissive and I wish people wouldn't do it.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:42 PM on November 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've seen people weighing in on both sides, DarlingBri; but none did so as dismissively as IAmBroom seemed to be doing. That was all. I don't have kids either, and I also like to think that I would be able to avoid striking a child if I had one, but I wouldn't dream of saying to someone - especially after they'd just told me an account of what their own struggles were like - that "I guess we'll just have to disagree" about this issue. That seems far more dismissive and diminishing to me - because I'm aware that my not having a child means that this is one of those situations that I can't know what I would do unless I were there, and I may very well fail in that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:59 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I better get out of this thread, though. Sorry.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:00 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gotcha. I'm dismissive because I am opposed to beating a child with a belt under any circumstances, and because I suggest that those who disagree with me are probably going to continue to disagree. And, unless I'm a parent I don't know what I'm talking about, just like non-dog-owners shouldn't judge people who beat dogs.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:47 PM on November 4, 2013


I thought this story sounded familiar, but unfortunately, horrifyingly, it was the Danielle Lierow case in Florida I had previously read. The circumstances are almost identical but in Danielle's case, she seems far more developmentally impaired than Lauren. Perhaps there is hope she will recover to a level similar to Lauren.
posted by auntie maim at 7:16 PM on November 5, 2013


« Older In celebration of Halloween, The Dissolve has devo...  |  The 25 Twitter people you’ll r... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments