Did the awful deaths of Angel Hart and of Larry and Gary Bass finally fix Missouris child welfare system?
By MARY SANCHEZ
The Kansas City Star
Or, did a severely malnourished 10-year-old girl just get really lucky last week?
The system either worked heroically, or chances were missed to rescue this child sooner. Which is it? We need to know more.
Angel was 5 years old when she was drowned by her mothers boyfriend.
Larry and Gary Bass, 8, were starved and scalded in a tub by their mother. They died of untreated infections complicated by their emaciated physical condition.
These Kansas City children died when the systems set up to save them failed. Angel was murdered in 1993. The Bass brothers, two in a set of triplets, died in 1999.
Each of the deaths triggered calls for accountability, workers were disciplined, new procedures and training were devised, and a wide range of adults declared that the children didnt suffer in vain. Things were supposed to change.
And yet Friday police found a little girl living in a closet, locked away without food, festering in her own feces and urine.
Shes safe now. Rescued from the hell where her mother imprisoned her.
Police officers discovered the girl, accompanying a Missouri Department of Social Services worker answering a hotline call that reported the horrific conditions.
The mother, Jacole N. Prince, has been charged.
The probable-cause statement listing the three felony charges raises more questions. Privacy concerns could shield a great deal of information. Because of changes after the deaths of Gary and Larry, state law opens records in child death cases when the states social services director approves.
Still, with time, more of the story needs to unravel. If only as a reminder of why strong systems must exist, for the sake of other children.
The little girl told officers that she would go to the playground and park while she is at school, but she was not allowed to go outside and play while at home.
Was she enrolled in school?
If so, was it recently? How could a teacher, a janitor, parents the many adults in any school building have missed the dire condition of a child so desperately underweight?
The child is 10. She weighed 32 pounds.
Shed gained only six pounds in the last six and a half years. And that much is known because the same court document says Childrens Mercy Hospital treated this child in January of 2006. She weighed 26 pounds then.
Was she reported at that point?
Neighbors, according the police, told officers that only two children lived at the home. They only saw the mother with her other two daughters, 8 and 2 years old, who appeared well cared for.
The Missouri Childrens Division worker accompanying the police countered that, no, there are three daughters.
Had this family been visited previously?
Again, the little girl gained only six pounds in six years.
Did anyone notice?
Its an incredibly difficult decision for officials to decide when to remove a child from their family and when to continue working to improve parents skills and help address other stressors that contribute to abuse and neglect situations.
And the number of children in such trouble is shocking. There were 82,467 children involved in hotline reports in 2011, according to a state website. Of the cases that were completed in that fiscal year, 6,202 were substantiated for abuse or neglect. Thats a lot of children to monitor.
The stories of Angel, Larry and Gary feel so present here.
A doctor pleaded for state workers not to allow Angel to return home, warning she would die. Relatives also tried to intervene. They believed the boyfriend made Angel stand in a closet for days, held her underwater for punishment and hit her, leaving bruises.
After he killed her, Gary Christian shoved Angel into a laundry hamper and filled it with water and cement. More than a month later, the concrete block containing her body was dumped in a California desert.
Eight years later, it was a miracle her remains were found.
For the Bass children, teachers, doctors and relatives alerted officials, the abuse trial of their mother showed.
But Mary Bass would cancel or skip her appointment with child welfare workers. Larry had been diagnosed seven times for lack of weight gain. And his brother was noted for the condition failure to thrive four times.
A ninth hotline call brought a worker to the Bass home. Their mother claimed the boys were with their father. The official bought the lie, marked a chart no services needed, and left. Two months later the boys were dead.
Parenthood is a privilege. Some people dont deserve it. So there will always be a need to be vigilant on childrens behalf.
In abuse cases, children often are maliciously punished for simply being children.
Angel was held underwater because she couldnt recite her alphabet.
Larry and Gary Bass were starved and abused physically because they were always acting bad, siblings told an investigator.
The little girl saved last week told officers why she was locked in the closet.
She peed herself.
To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to email@example.com.