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Danieal Kelly
August 2, 2008 10:21 AM   Subscribe

Sadfilter: The death of Danieal Kelly. Danieal was a 14-year-old Philadelphia girl, born with cerebral palsy, who was denied care and neglected by her mother until her death of starvation, thirst and bedsores, shut away in her bedroom from her siblings. What had social services done to help her? Nothing -- until she died, and a scramble to falsify documents began. Nine people have now been indicted on various charges relating to her death and its investigation, including two case workers. The sight of one of her autopsy photos led the then mayor, John Street, to fire the acting commissioner of the DHS.

Grand jury report [PDF. One graphic postmortem photo included.]
posted by Countess Elena (65 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Chiefly, I am fascinated by this as a story, especially the untold story of Andrea Kelly, the girl's mother. Some people are born with the inner conviction that the weak are worth nothing, not a moment's worth of trouble, not even if they are one's own children. My mother, a pediatrician, once told me of making a call on a very handsome and well-groomed woman with two children. One of them was as plump and shiny as her mother, with carefully braided hair. The other was starving to death in the back bedroom of the trailer.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:24 AM on August 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


I'm still reading the grand jury report. It is astonishing. The incompetence of the DHS employees (and those of MultiEthnic) would be sufficient to get you terminated in about, oh, three hours at your average privately-owned business. How is it that bureacrats like Cheryl Ransom-Garner are never fired or disciplined or replaced until they do something that winds up in the papers? How come the fry cook ay Rally's can get shitcanned for showing up late, but at a state agency you can make two hundred grand and literally be worse than having the chair empty?

Ugh ugh ugh.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:43 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


When you stop your tears long enough to see clearly, find "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," Ursula K. LeGuin's famous (to some) short story.

I have been trying for what seems like forever to understand cruelty, trying and failing, maybe I am constitutionally incapable of such understanding.

Slavery, torture, child abuse, might makes right, conscientious objectors hanging by their thumbs a century or two ago. I wish I had a real Sadfilter so I could blithely ignore so much of what has really, truly happened.

But I don't. And I settle for what may be the next best thing: knowledge, truth, awareness, and a neverending appreciation of the capacity of mere humans to share.

Thank you for posting this. I remember reading the original article. The saddest part is how non-unique this situation seems to be.

And yes, my middle name is Meta
posted by emhutchinson at 10:43 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


In similar cases, what has been the defense of the social services people? This is appalling. I've heard that the caseload is tremendous, but here it says the case worker only had 30 cases (that doesn't sound tremendous, really). I see that the private company who was supposed to take care of this girl was basically neglecting its duties for fraud -- making money while not doing anything but falsifying documents -- but in the case of public social services, is the usual defense one of apathy? "Not my job"? How do they explain that they were able to sit back and do nothing?
posted by Houstonian at 10:56 AM on August 2, 2008


Stories like this and the local one to me about the 7 year old who's guardians starved him to death (not safe for soul) just make me sick. The capacity to do such things is just beyond my level of understanding.
posted by Octoparrot at 11:06 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've written about Philly's child welfare problems before, I also have a commentary piece about the Danieal Kelly tragedy running in the paper I think on Monday, haven't heard back from the editor yet. As a family case worker in homeless services my path crossed with DHS on a regular basis so I have a bit of an insider's perspective, have sat in on case conferences at DHS headquarters, etc.

The gist of commentary piece is that child welfare in Philly really started to fall apart when DHS, pressured by tight budgets and overwhelming caseloads, contracted out home visits to non profit agencies with no specialization in child welfare practice. Home visits are supposed to be the cornerstone of social work practice, so farming out this critical function of your agency is not a good sign. Then, when you farm out this critical function to case aids who get like $8-10 per hour, working for agencies who generally don't even do child welfare related work, you're really in trouble.

The contracted employees who do all the home based visitation are called SCOH workers (Services to Children in their Own Homes) and to be quite frank they are a joke. I've dealt with SCOH workers who spent their entire home visit making personal cell calls, who had no idea what they were supposed to be accomplishing with their client, they're just a mess. Then again, how much expertise can you expect for not even double minimum wage?

Basically, the system became rigged for failure and this kind of tragedy was simply a matter of time.
posted by The Straightener at 11:32 AM on August 2, 2008 [12 favorites]


Straightener. are you comparing this to the New Orleans levee failures in terms of neglect?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:33 AM on August 2, 2008


Thanks for coming, Straightener. I wondered if you would be around today. Your article shows a side that I hadn't really visualized. I understood that a mother under DHS supervision would probably be distrustful of law enforcement, perhaps distrustful enough to refuse to get help for a child that might look abused to a mandatory reporter -- leading to fatal consequences for that child. But I didn't perceive the depth of mistrust of DHS workers themselves.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:42 AM on August 2, 2008


I was sad reading about it, but the gravity of it really sets in when you see the pictures. Tragic is an understatement here.

What disappoints me about something like this is that it's going to give the general populace more reason to fuel the stereotype that all government employees are inefficient and lazy -- from what I've experienced, the ones working in Social Services and Child Support are there because they care and genuinely want to make a difference. A great many of them work long hours to do it (often resorting to alcohol to deal with such an emotionally taxing job, according to a friend who works for the county as a child support case worker).

It's really unfortunate that Philly's system has issues, and that it all boils down to money.
posted by spiderskull at 11:51 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Straightener. are you comparing this to the New Orleans levee failures in terms of neglect?

It was a perfect storm scenario, yes, and the fact that nobody saw it coming is just unbelievable but the level of institutional incompetence that was allowed to exist at all agencies citywide during the John Street administration was just off the charts, there was zero accountability. I mean, a homicide detective found Kelly's case file in a drawer buried under old food wrappers and unopened mail in the social worker's desk. One home visit was made by the social worker (not the case aid, I doubt the case aid ever actually went to the house) during the late stages of Kelly's physical decay and there wasn't even an attempt made to visually assess the child's health. This is just inexcusable laziness and incompetence all around, at every level of the agency.

But I didn't perceive the depth of mistrust of DHS workers themselves.

As the article I linked points out, the agency fosters this adversarial relationship with their own clients. They've got social work practice entirely backwards, thankfully most agencies no longer try to govern their clients through fear, threats and coercion.
posted by The Straightener at 11:57 AM on August 2, 2008


Why the hell didn't this girl's family surrender her to the state if they couldn't be bothered to take adequate care of her?
posted by orange swan at 12:03 PM on August 2, 2008


Why the hell didn't this girl's family surrender her to the state if they couldn't be bothered to take adequate care of her?

Because they wouldn't get the Social Security checks, probably.
posted by MegoSteve at 12:15 PM on August 2, 2008


Why the hell didn't this girl's family surrender her to the state if they couldn't be bothered to take adequate care of her?
posted by orange swan at 12:03 PM on August 2


Because then they can't cash her social security check.

I hope that the state continues to give Andrea Kelly three meals and day and a bed to sleep in, in the darkest cell PA's prison system has to offer.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:15 PM on August 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Why the hell didn't this girl's family surrender her to the state if they couldn't be bothered to take adequate care of her?

frequently there are significant disability payments coming to the parents.... often a child is a revenue stream.
posted by HuronBob at 12:17 PM on August 2, 2008


Well, shit. While I appreciate The Straightener's comments and perspective and know all too well how chronically underfunded and under-resourced children's services has been, this is still utter crap from a professional standpoint. There are standards and codes that go beyond the organization a social worker is employed by, and an ethical duty to report other members of the profession who are engaging in unskilled or unethical practice.

I'm amazed that no one has been called to task by their respective professional bodies; perhaps that is only a matter of time now that the Grand Jury process is complete. I'm pleased to see some recommendations for charges.

In short, this is a personal and professional failure on the part of many people in addition to the systems failure; both of these need to be addressed in any reform going forward. I personally think that all social workers need to be reminded of that professional obligation to report dangerous or unskilled practice that they observe; we're pretty good about talking about our other ethical obligations and how we handle those.
posted by never used baby shoes at 12:18 PM on August 2, 2008


This fills me with utter rage and anger.

I have a friend who used to work for CPS...she was a gem. She got totally burned out by what she saw and by what she had to deal with. To think this kind of gruelling work was pushed off on "contract" workers makes my blood boil. And to think a parent could do this-or let it be done to-their own flesh and blood? No wonder God created Hell.

Follow the money, people, I'm sure someone somewhere is lining their pockets with money meant to protect helpless children.
posted by konolia at 12:24 PM on August 2, 2008


spiderskull: "What disappoints me about something like this is that it's going to give the general populace more reason to fuel the stereotype that all government employees are inefficient and lazy."

Unfortunately, that's so true, when the real thought in their minds should be "this is what happens when you farm out a general-welfare function of government to a private company - the company makes a profit, and the general welfare is not provided for."
posted by notsnot at 12:25 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Straightener, thank you for linking to your article; it really helped answer some of my questions. May I ask another? What explains other peoples' inaction? For example, with Danieal there were other family members, friends of the family, and I assume others who knew what was happening. I understand that family might want to hide a lack of food or cleanliness in their homes (as you mentioned in your article), but to hide this level of neglect and abuse seems counter to even human nature. If I visited a friend who had a child like this, I am positive that I would move heaven and earth to ensure that something was done -- more than just file an ignored paper with the child protective services. It seems that the greater system was broken -- not just social services, but every person around this girl.

I'm glad to see that they are trying to prosecute the mother's friends. But, in their heads, how did they come to believe that it was OK to do nothing, and in fact hide it when it was clearly leading to her slow death?
posted by Houstonian at 12:26 PM on August 2, 2008


What explains other peoples' inaction?

You're looking at the bottom of the bottom, here, man. DHS child welfare workers tell stories that will make you want to curl up in a ball and sob yourself to death. They deal with the most vile aspects of humanity on a daily basis. One social worker told me about the 10 year old girl on her caseload whose mom liked to pimp her out for drug money. Mom would lay in bed next to her smoking rocks while men from the hit house lined up to fuck her. There's no explaining it, it's just total insanity, the kind of utter collapse of social mores and values that can happen at the fringes of society, that necessitate the existence of agencies like DHS, whose sole purpose is to keep parents from killing their own children.
posted by The Straightener at 12:47 PM on August 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


quonsar: outrage is mefi's stock in trade. it gets boring.
There was a time when I would have felt the same way. I simply could not understand how people could get so up in arms about something that really didn't affect them. As I've matured, however, I've come to realize that empathy is in fact a real thing, not just something people express because they feel obligated to do so. There are those who take stories like this to heart; who feel sympathy for the victims; and anger at a system that lets it happen. Others of us, however, can only appreciate the tragedy at a less emotional level.

That doesn't mean, however, that everyone who does express disgust at the situation are phonies engaging in public wailing and gnashing of teeth for the sole purpose of appearances (which I believe is what you're implying). To be sure, there are undoubtedly some who are, but painting everyone expressing empathy and outrage as "outraged for the sake of being outraged" displays what I feel is a telling amount of self-centrism -- that is, a total inability to recognize that people can and do react to things in a way different than you.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 12:55 PM on August 2, 2008 [9 favorites]


What explains other peoples' inaction?

Child abuse is pervasive and the odds are against doing anything about it. Sometimes it's the bottom of the bottom, as the Straightener accurately points out, or it's pure, simple denial.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:01 PM on August 2, 2008


And this is why the government should require a license for people to have children.
posted by kldickson at 1:03 PM on August 2, 2008


And this is why the government should require a license for people to have children.

And the penalty for having children without a license would be...?
posted by scody at 1:10 PM on August 2, 2008


I couldn't get past that autopsy photo. This is unbelievable.

Because then they can't cash her social security check.

That's really disappointing, mainly because it's probably true.

I hope that the state continues to give Andrea Kelly three meals and day and a bed to sleep in, in the darkest cell PA's prison system has to offer.

I never really was a vengeful person, but, really, this woman should endure exactly what her daughter did. They should provide her with just enough food and water to survive, for the next four decades or so. This is one time I'll get behind the whole idea of corporeal punishment.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 1:12 PM on August 2, 2008


the FPP includes some great links to data that wouldn't be available on a cursory search of the subject

Actually, the first two links go to the same story.

As to quonsar, I agree with his point, even though it was expressed poorly. This post is functioning more as OMG newsfilter. I wish Countess Elena has focused more on what she said interested her about the story.

This doesn't excuse quonsar's antics, but I do wish these types of posts contained more info and links as opposed to gazing like a car passing an accident scene.

but, really, this woman should endure exactly what her daughter did. They should provide her with just enough food and water to survive, for the next four decades or so.

There's a whole list of people that failed Danieal, from her mom and dad, to authorities to teachers to society as whole for refusing to care for those who need it most. Rather than extract vengeance on the mother, I'd like the system to improve and yes, I'm willing for taxes to increase a bit to pay for it. The pictures of her alive and smiling in school and the shriveled husk she became are heart breaking.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:26 PM on August 2, 2008


And the penalty for having children without a license would be...?
No free ice cream ever again.
posted by Citizen Premier at 1:27 PM on August 2, 2008


Houstonian - The PDF of the grand jury report explores your question, though I wouldn't recommend reading it unless you have a big chunk of free time and a strong stomach. There were in fact family members and neighbors that reported this girl's neglect to DHS, by the time Danieal died there were 11 complaints on file. Their efforts to help were defeated, however, by institutional failures at the DHS and they were shut out of the family's life by the mother when they tried to confront her.

A few examples:

-The case was assigned to Dana Poindexter, a caseworker who had a habit of accumulating cases and leaving them in limbo because he didn't like to do paperwork.

-The DHS had a policy that once a case had been assigned to a case worker, any additional neglect complaints would be forwarded to that worker while it was still open. Because Poindexter sat on the file for 2 years without taking any action, all the new neglect complaints that came in went into a cardboard box next to his desk that pulled double duty as a file cabinet and a trash bin for old food wrappers.

-Poindexter only had 1 supervisor at DHS that actually tried to make him do his job. The response of DHS management was to transfer him to another, more lax supervisor who had habits like backdating paperwork because "all the other supervisors did it."

-The administrator that transferred Poindexter, whom the grand jury found had no regard for following DHS procedures, was later promoted. To a position where she was responsible for investigating why DHS employees failed to follow procedures.

-The DHS was in the process of auditing the company that this girl's care was outsourced to. Their procedure to make sure a company was providing proper services was to review the company's own paperwork...with a 2 week notice before the audit.

There's a lot more there, but I was too disgusted to finish it.
posted by TungstenChef at 1:38 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


It should be noted that in his first weeks in office Philly's recently elected Mayor Michael Nutter actually camped out at DHS, he set up his own office there and pushed hard to get a bunch of solid new policies and personnel changes pushed through. It was a major statement, he's since put the reformation of DHS right next to reducing gun violence on his priority list. The system is improving, though with this kind of mass institutional failure there's a lot of changes that have to happen including huge staff turnovers and there's some lag time as new people get trained and up to full capacity in their positions but that is happening.
posted by The Straightener at 1:44 PM on August 2, 2008


Sorry about that, Brandon. The second link was supposed to go here.

I didn't have much to contribute in my fascination with the kind of life that leads people like Andrea Kelly to believe that wholesale child neglect is okay. I just wonder what her childhood was like; what her mother's childhood was like; how many generations back you would have to go to discover what went wrong. This story, by concentrating on Charlene Wise, the mother of a child who died of neglect, begins to cover that ground.

kldickson, I hear well-intentioned people say that all the time, but they never imagine who would work at the licensing bureau.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:46 PM on August 2, 2008


TungstenChef, I'm slowly getting through the PDF -- I've only gotten to Section III (page 63). I saw those things, but...

For example, her brother who did not live in the same apartment saw that she was wasting away to nothing and he gave some money to another brother.

Several people filed a report (one going pretty far with it), but others didn't want to upset the mother.

Even after she was dead, the mother's friends came over and there was a tremendous smell because she'd been dead for about 24 hours. Flies and maggots were settling into her bedsores. Still they were reluctant to call anyone.

Now, if I'd seen something like that, I would continue to contact people until I was sure that the situation was resolved. Really. Like continuously and frankly frantically. I assume that most people would do that -- contact social services, the police, 911, the local hospital, until something was done. But in this case, not only did social services fail, but the people around her failed. A few people did file reports, and follow up somewhat, but not to the point where anything was done. Which means, at some point they just shrugged and decided there was nothing else they could do? I'm having a hard time understanding that one. A really hard time. I get that systems fail. I get that some mothers are insane. But everyone in that group?
posted by Houstonian at 1:52 PM on August 2, 2008


Dear Countess Elena, (sry, been wanting to do that)

If don't mind, could you email the mods and ask them to fix the link up in the original post?

Yours in the pursuit,
Brandon
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:11 PM on August 2, 2008


But everyone in that group?

Yes, everyone.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:23 PM on August 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


I just wonder what her childhood was like; what her mother's childhood was like; how many generations back you would have to go to discover what went wrong.

I've worked with families like Danieal's, in fact one just like Danieal's, from Danieal's neighborhood. This family was living in an abandoned house with no utilities, no running water, using a single kerosene heater to keep small children warm in the middle of winter. There were layers of dysfunction, substance abuse, undiagnosed mental illness, criminal histories, outright sociopathy, prostitution...all this spread across three generations living under one roof. They had been in and out of the shelter system, had been in touch with a slew of agencies before they got to me and nobody wanted to work with them, they were routinely pawned off on other agencies (including DHS, who had been involved with them twice), kicked out of programs, had their cases closed prematurely because they were incredibly difficult to serve. This is an unfortunate trend in social work; agencies engage in "creaming," as it's called, cherry picking easy families to serve in order to make their program look effective to their funding sources while shipping any hard case somewhere else, where it can fuck up some other program's success rate.

The question isn't so much what when wrong or when but how on earth do you start to chip away at all this madness in order to even set some small goals to work on with this kind of family? They are incredibly difficult to work with, there are so many crises to handle all at once when you first encounter them that it's hard to even form some coherent plan of attack. Of course, keeping a close eye on the kids for signs of abuse or neglect is paramount, but that alone as an objective is setting the bar extremely low. You have to be 100% into doing this kind of work to make even the smallest amount of positive change, and then only over a long period of time.

This is why some agencies with intensive field components turn over their entire staff every year. Because you as a social worker have to be willing to completely immerse yourself in this madness, to sit in hot, filthy rooms in rundown houses in dangerous neighborhoods for hours in the middle of summer in order to help this kind of family achieve very basic objectives like keeping the electricity on, or food in the fridge. This is exactly why DHS social workers were perfectly happy to have this part of the job contracted out: it's fucking grueling, like drives you to the verge of tears every single day and for shit money and little respect.

Welcome to trench level social work! Even most social workers don't want to do it.
posted by The Straightener at 2:27 PM on August 2, 2008 [20 favorites]


Some DHS fallout.
posted by fixedgear at 2:33 PM on August 2, 2008


Houstonian - I see what you're getting at, a glib answer would be that that difference is why you're a productive member of society and not a sociopath living in a hellhole. The only explanation that makes sense to me is that Danieal's quality of care deteriorated severely at the end of her life, and by the time it got that bad the mother had shut out all of the people that cared about Danieal. The only people she would allow into her house were friends that were as screwed up as she was. But so much about this situation doesn't make sense to me, I'm as lost for answers as you are.
posted by TungstenChef at 2:48 PM on August 2, 2008


[Link fixed, some quonsar-vs-the-world derail bullshit removed. Dude, cut it out.]
posted by cortex at 3:11 PM on August 2, 2008


I have a question about the legal aspects of the charges against Andrea Kelly: what's the rationale for charging her with both murder AND manslaughter? Isn't manslaughter saying what she did was less than murder? How, from a legal standpoint, could she have done both to the same person?

(I'm not denying that the charges were warranted - this is absolutely sickening and I hope the legal system serves Danieal better than DHS did, I'm just confused about the legal issues at play.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:19 PM on August 2, 2008


I got to the part in the report where Danieal's younger brother begged their mother to call an ambulance for the girl, who was obviously dying, and she refused.

The horrific part is that this poor boy will likely in some fashion blame himself for her death.

I just can't read anymore. What a horrific place this world can be.

And of course what is so maddening is that with the political will and the money and properly funded social programs much of this could be changed. Child abuse may be sadly be a human constant, but poverty does not have to be.
posted by jokeefe at 3:33 PM on August 2, 2008


I'm not a lawyer, and it's just a guess, so lawyers? Don't eat me.

I think it's inclusion of a lesser charge in case the murder doesn't stick. With murder they have to prove intent, while with manslaughter all they have to prove is that she allowed her daughter to die, contributed to her death, but didn't necessarily need to have the intent that she die. So if she was charged only with murder, the jury might not believe she meant to, and since intent is essential to the charge she would be found innocent. Including the lesser charge of manslaughter means they'll get her one way or the other.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:35 PM on August 2, 2008


Wow. I thought I was too cynical to let things like this get to me, but that grand jury report has me weeping.

How the hell can people do something like this to another person - let alone a kid? I hope to all get out that there are wonderful foster homes for rest of the Kelly children.
posted by Gucky at 3:46 PM on August 2, 2008


And of course what is so maddening is that with the political will and the money and properly funded social programs much of this could be changed.

There were services that Danieal was eligible for - free - that she didn't receive and they're listed in the report; physical therapy, school, medical care. But her mother couldn't be bothered to fill out the papers, was too embarrassed for someone to see her daughter in public. Those services benefited the kid, not the mom, so the mom couldn't be arsed.

There were public employees and a private firm benefiting monetarily from "caring" for this case - they just didn't do their jobs. While I agree with the sentiment, this is a failure of empathy and bureaucracy, not funding.
posted by Gucky at 3:51 PM on August 2, 2008


Gucky, I think Straightener's comment summed up the context pretty well.
posted by jokeefe at 4:04 PM on August 2, 2008


Jail for the caseworkers and supervisors and the executives of the private care service. And for the mother.

That's how you address this: real jail time for the lot of them. Like several years.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:01 PM on August 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


Jail for the caseworkers and supervisors and the executives of the private care service. And for the mother.

That's how you address this: real jail time for the lot of them. Like several years.
Won't happen. Remember? Fortunes are rarely won by playing it safe.
posted by vivelame at 5:24 PM on August 2, 2008


I have a legal question. In the case linked by Countess Elena, (part 2) the mother was convicted of third degree murder and got 28 - 56 years in prison. What does "28 - 56" mean? Is this 56 years but she gets time off for good bevavior?
posted by CCBC at 10:59 PM on August 2, 2008


Would ready access to long term reversible contraception help prevent some of these cases?
posted by benzenedream at 11:26 PM on August 2, 2008


What does "28 - 56" mean? Is this 56 years but she gets time off for good bevavior? [sic]

I believe it means she won't be eligible for parole until she serves 28 years in prison. If the parole board determines she is ineligible at that point and at any subsequent parole hearings, she will have to serve 56 years.

I am not a lawyer, but I watch lots of Law and Order. That should count for at least one credit hour of law school.
posted by chiababe at 11:52 PM on August 2, 2008


Welcome to trench level social work! Even most social workers don't want to do it.

Sidebar!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:52 AM on August 3, 2008


I believe it means she won't be eligible for parole until she serves 28 years in prison.
Well, pace, but does anyone know for sure? If this is true, she will be eligible for parole when she is 68. In other words, this is a life sentence. I'm asking, is this what her sentence was?
posted by CCBC at 1:34 AM on August 3, 2008


I read this is the news today and my first thought was OMG, is this what society's coming to? because its not just this, what about the guy that randomly lopped some other guy's head off in a bus? like hello? wtf is the world coming to?

stepping back from the details of the situation at hand and reading Straightener's insightful sharing of the realities makes me wonder whether there are deeper or unseen systemic issues here that seem to point towards a breakdown of society at a fundamental empathetic [or human, pick a word that suits] level?

I just finished reading "Gang Leader for a Day" by Sudhir Venkatesh [NPR review with excerpt here and selflink here] and the inside look at life in the projects of Chicago was an eyeopener.

The irony of it all is that I spent the month of January interviewing myriads of people in the townships outside the main cities of Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town in South Africa. You'd think that you'd see these kind of issues there - where systemic challenges had to overcome for any kind of human dignity - but you don't. You see hope where there should be none and you see joy where it seems impossible.

Why is this so? I pondered deeply after reading the book and it seems to me that one of the differences between life in ZA and life in Chicago was that in ZA the systemic challenges were made explicit and obvious, one knew what one had to deal with, whereas in Chicago the systemic challenges are swept under the politically correct rug and we all pretend they don't exist. I'm not saying that this a simple case of the obvious i.e. "race"; what I am saying is that by not acknowledging the fundamental frameworks and assumptions made in the design of the system - something that Straightener alludes to in his comments - we are in fact perpetuating the problems in our ignorance of the real constraints and conditions inherent in the situation.

Imho, I'd prefer that my client, like in Stockholm, tell me to my face that he had challenges dealing with my dominance of the room [i am brown and female] than to have people politely and politically correctly break my spine or kneecap.
posted by infini at 3:25 AM on August 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Out of sight, out of mind.

And we fucking love it that way.
posted by fullerine at 3:42 AM on August 3, 2008


I used to work with a lot of kids who came from not-dissimilar circumstances. I wanted to share a little story about an amazing little boy. Let's call him Bobby.

I actually met Bobby after he'd been saved from his circumstance, but not before extreme physical damage was done. See, Bobby was born with a congenital heart defect. His parents were young and, for whatever reason, not inclined to get him healthcare. It's extra bad because in this state, children get healthcare regardless of insurance, period. Bobby needed heart surgery, but his parents didn't want to go through the trouble. So they just left him in his crib. For years. Yes, years.

They fed him just enough that he didn't die, but they never touched him, never picked him up, never rolled him over, never spoke to him. When family services finally got a tip-off call, the child before them seemed unsaveable. At almost 4 years of age, he still lived in a crib. A dirty, nasty, disgusting crib. No diapers, no potty training. No verbal ability what so ever. Bedsores, parasites, and general disgustingness. The amazing thing was that, because he'd been laying there literally for 4 years, he had never developed neck musculature as his bones had grown, and his vertebrae had actually fused together in his neck. Literally, he could only look to the right. His arms didn't work correctly, he couldn't walk, sit up, roll over, anything. The only thing "wrong" with him when he was born was his heart defect, but at this stage he was in pretty bad shape. On top of that, his total weight was something like 25 pounds.

He was swooped up and placed in the hospital, given very very little chance to live. One of the foster mothers in the area heard about him and wanted to meet him. Imagine what goes on in the mind of a 4 year old who has never been spoken to---held, rocked, stroked, cooed to. She fell in love with him and asked to be his foster parent.

When I met him he was 5, and had already had 3 or 4 surgeries, he had about 5 more planned. He had become able to move his head to look almost straight ahead and back to the right, but no range of motion to the left. He was able to stand and even run around a little bit, so long as he didn't get over excited. He loooooooooves hugs. He hugged me the first time I ever met him. They said "This is Melee, he works here!", and he looked at me and said "you WORK here? WOW!" and zoomed back into the gym to run more laps, then ran up to me and squeezed me as hard as he could, then zoomed back into the gym for more laps. We became buddies after that, and it will always be a relationship I will cherish.

I haven't seen him for a couple years, but he's gonna be OK. His real parents didn't fight the adoption, but also didn't get any jail time.

While cruelty will never end, and sadness will always leak in, it's kindness and charity that identify us as human. In a time when everyone's in a hurry, and focused on their career and their car and pop culture; I wish that more people could have the opportunity to meet the Bobby's of the world, and to know them instead of just talk about them.
posted by TomMelee at 8:34 AM on August 3, 2008 [13 favorites]


His real parents didn't fight the adoption, but also didn't get any jail time.

HOW? Seriously, how did your local prosecutor not throw the entire fucking library at people who would treat a child like that? Cases like this make me understand the urge for vigilante justice.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:12 PM on August 3, 2008


TomMelee, that's wonderful -- sidebar quality too. I'm glad that kid didn't have RAD from the lack of attention; it's the scariest thing that can happen to a child's mind.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:09 PM on August 3, 2008


This case demands outrage and I am sure there are many bloody hands involved. But is it common for jury reports to be written in such a non-subjective fashion? It seems to be something a group of fifth-graders would submit. Surely the facts could speak for themselves without the purple prose and emotional commentary.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:56 PM on August 3, 2008




People go to jail for possessing some drugs, but torture your child? Just give up your parental rights. Sick.
Same as with this story. Jesus.
posted by reallymadcow at 9:51 PM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


It should be noted that in his first weeks in office Philly's recently elected Mayor Michael Nutter actually camped out at DHS, he set up his own office there and pushed hard to get a bunch of solid new policies and personnel changes pushed through. It was a major statement, he's since put the reformation of DHS right next to reducing gun violence on his priority list.

And today's Inky has an article about the suspension of more DHS workers and about how pissed Nutter is.


"I am fully, thoroughly and completely pissed off," [Nutter] said.


I've seen true grief expressed by leaders who are confronted with atrocities in their jurisdictions (notably, the principle of my high school in the face of a particularly awful racist attack by some of his students), and Nutter's reaction seems sincere.

Nice piece, Straightener.
posted by Pax at 7:33 AM on August 5, 2008


Cases like this make me understand the urge for vigilante justice.

Nutter also said that if it were his child, he would have kicked some ass himself. Personally.
posted by Pax at 7:34 AM on August 5, 2008


Nice piece, Straightener.

Thank you!

And another reporter at the Metro dug around a bit, trying to figure out exactly how many contractors DHS uses to provide home visits to clients (when they asked I didn't have an answer beyond "a lot"). There are 147 different contracting agencies performing this function citywide. How on earth do you competently manage that kind of apparatus and ensure effective services? How many heads can the hydra grow before it starts eating itself?
posted by The Straightener at 9:39 AM on August 5, 2008


How many heads can the hydra grow before it starts eating itself?

A question for the ages.
posted by Pax at 9:49 AM on August 5, 2008


On a much much colder and more cynical note than my last post---the answer to the question "How many hads can the hydra grow before it starts eating itself", is very simple.

When the welfare of the innocent becomes a matter of conscience for the masses.

Until then, poor kids and the less fortunate will be shuttled around like cattle, fed for the lowest buck, farmed out for the least cost, to people with the lowest standards, with oversight by people with 5,000 person caseloads and an overall system where nobody outside the system has any reason to give a shit.

The system is broken, and we're the ones who broke it, now what is anybody gonna do about it---or is that someone else's job?
posted by TomMelee at 5:14 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


A fucked-up little coda to this story: Danieal's parents sue for damages. Parents' lawyers claim that the money is for the siblings. DA calls the lawsuit is "an obscenity." Mayor Nutter "disgusted."
posted by desuetude at 1:26 PM on August 12, 2008


How in the hell can they blame this on someone else? These people should burn in the seventh circle of hell, or whatever circle applies to opportunists. Their lawyers should be right there with them. What jackasses.

Regardless of whether or not the money would be for the siblings, the parents still have no right (IMO) to sue someone else for not correcting them for not following their natural duties. These people are fucked, or they will be. This is just low, lower than I thought people could actually be.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 10:07 AM on August 14, 2008


A few more followup articles from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Lawyer for Danieal Kelly estate hires lawyer

Danieal's mom, but not dad, out as estate administrator.

Social worker in Danieal Kelly case faces deportation

Search results for other Inky coverage of story, including various letters to the editor, columns, editorials.
posted by desuetude at 7:52 AM on August 18, 2008


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