Mary Sanchez

Starved girl shows the need to pull back the curtain on Social Services

Updated: 2012-07-09T01:35:51Z

By MARY SANCHEZ

The Kansas City Star

What could a mother possibly do to erase the horror of this official record?

“The child’s mother has stated that she intentionally withholds food from the sibling so that the sibling will not defecate and urinate frequently.”

The statement is in county family court documents detailing how Jacole Prince temporarily lost custody of her two daughters in 2006. Temporarily.

Somehow this cruel mother convinced state workers that her days of letting her own daughter starve were over.

But that wasn’t true.

Six years later, a third daughter had been born. And the eldest, now 10, was being kept in a closet and starved.

All of the children are safe now, after a hotline call. And Prince awaits trial on three felonies.

But the question remains: How did she get the children back in the first place?

We may never know, unless the information is revealed in criminal court proceedings.

In cases where a child dies or comes near death while under state supervision, information is released at the discretion of the director of the Department of Social Services. And that office is declining media inquiries.

Clearly, there are important privacy concerns.

But much of what we know about how the system in Missouri works has come out only because children have died while in its care. Politicians changed laws on access in certain cases because they worried privacy issues also shielded state agencies from necessary scrutiny.

And even after state laws were rewritten, it still took a 2003 lawsuit by a newspaper to get some records released when a child died. Dominic James was a 2-year-old boy from the Springfield area who was fatally injured by his foster father. Dominic had been returned to the foster family despite concerns of his biological father, emergency medical workers, his court-appointed guardian and his juvenile officer.

Social workers sometimes use checklists to address problems entwined with poverty before they return children, making sure parents meet goals like obtaining stable housing and completing parenting classes.

But plenty of people are poor. And they don’t lock their children in closets and refuse to give them food. A higher standard for reuniting troubled families is diagnosing, treating and eliminating the psychological reasons for abuse.

Taxpayers fund this system to keep children safe. In cases like Prince’s, where something went horribly wrong, scrutiny is warranted.

After Dominic’s death, many promises were made about future transparency.

But a little girl suffered for six years after the state of Missouri apparently believed she could be safely returned to her mother’s care.

And the public is left to wonder how that decision could have possibly been made.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com.

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