WE MUST FIND A WAY TO PROTECT CHILDREN

Date: 1993-08-01
Source: newsbank.com

WE MUST FIND A WAY TO PROTECT CHILDREN

August 1, 1993
MAX JENNINGS
Dayton Daily News
    
Several editors were sitting around a table in the newspaper's library Wednesday wrapping up our discussion of stories for the next day's paper when our director of photography walked in with pictures from the Greene County coroner's inquest.

A senior editor took one glance at the photographs and bolted from the room. Those who looked at the pictures of the bleach-burned body of 6-year-old Hannah Carroll will remember them the rest of their lives. Only a few days before, the same editors were discussing the story of 3-year-old Da'Von Duehart, beaten to death in his home. Both Da'Von and Hannah had to have suffered horribly before they died.

And in both cases, it now seems, society failed them. The most important thing we do as members of the human race is protect and nurture our children.

What went so terribly wrong for Hannah and Da'Von?

The legal system will be sorting it out for some time, of course. When it's done, will our sense of outrage, horror and pain have dissipated? I hope not, because we have much to learn from these tragedies.

In the case of 3-year-old Da'Von, there seems to have been much warning. Montgomery County Children Services, the county agency charged with protecting children, put Da'Von into a foster home for a year-and-a-half after an incident of abuse. His mother, Shtunka Duehart, of 1950 Republic Drive in Harrison Twp., who now is only 18, was sent to parenting classes and counseling. Eventually, Da'Von went home.

That's the goal of the protective agency, to reunite parents and their children, if at all possible. Of the 500 children removed from their homes each year, about 350 eventually go home again.

It's easy to second-guess the decision of social workers to return Da'Von to his mother and her boyfriend, Glenn L. Weatherspoon, 31, both now charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Isaac Palmer, CSB's director, maintains his agency acted properly, although neighbors told reporters after the boy's death that the child was beaten frequently by Weatherspoon.

Palmer said he is frustrated by neighbors who failed to come forward and report what they had seen. But Children Services can't say it was aggressive in checking out the one suspected abuse report it did get. It didn't, for instance, talk to neighbors who might have responded to questioning.

Reporters easily found all kinds of neighbors and friends eager to talk about the case, including one woman who said Weatherspoon had beaten Da'Von into unconsciousness at a picnic.

Palmer's idea of investigation apparently is to wait for people to come to him.

Neither did Children Services check Weatherspoon's background before letting Da'Von return home. Weatherspoon once was charged with striking a 17-month-old child in the face. He was not tried because the mother dropped the charges.

What could be more basic than checking the background of people living at a troubled home where you want to return a child? What could be more basic than interviewing relatives, friends and neighbors of a family where there's been repeated trouble?

In the case of Hannah Carroll, it's clear the initial investigation of her death did not go nearly far enough. At the time of her death, members of the family said she poured bleach on herself but acted normally until she died three days later, without medical attention.

We now know from testimony at the coroner's inquest that the child, who had Down syndrome, probably suffered horribly. An expert on burns, Dr. Glenn Donald Warden, testified Hannah's pain from burns to her eye and over much of her body had to have been "almost incomprehensible."

Hannah's parents, Kathleen and Timothy Carroll, were charged with involuntary manslaughter, a felony, but were allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of contributing to the neglect of a child.

Greene County Prosecutor William Schenck says now that the circumstances seemed much different at the time of the plea bargain, before the other three children died.

"The biggest problem I have is the number of deaths. That's what caused the coroner's inquest," he says.

For a period of time, the Carrolls were caring for 10 children with various kinds of emotional, mental and physical disabilities. Because of the children's handicaps, the Carrolls received public assistance, running as much as $10,000 in one particular month.

Four children remain with the Carrolls, and Schenck says he is doing everything possible to get a court order to take them out of the home. And, he says, "I think it is a near certainty that there will be further prosecution in this matter."

I wish him Godspeed. But more important is the soul searching we all must do to find better ways to protect our children before we have to prosecute someone for their deaths.

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