Something broke down.
The greatest share of blame for the plight of the Kansas City girl who spent the better part of six years concealed from view, allegedly barricaded for days at a time in a closet, belongs with the child’s mother and any other adult who may have known about the situation.
But if the broad system meant to protect children had worked well, the child known as LP, now 10, would have been spared years of suffering and isolation.
As The Star reported on Sunday, LP was under supervision of Jackson County Family Court and the state of Missouri’s Children’s Division for 13 months beginning in February 2006.
That was after the girl, then 4, showed up at Children’s Mercy Hospital severely undernourished. In the four months before that, her mother, Jacole Prince, had skipped appointments at the hospital’s clinic for children who are failing to thrive.
While LP and her younger sister lived with the sister’s father, the mother worked with the Children’s Division to regain custody of her two daughters. She achieved that in March 2007.
By that time, LP was enrolled in kindergarten at Woodland Elementary School. She stopped attending about a month after her mother regained custody, and never showed up at a school again.
According to persons familiar with the child protection system, the Children’s Division is expected to follow up on cases such as LP’s for six months after their case is closed by Family Court. Yet it appears the school district and the Children’s Division didn’t notice that a girl who had previously been near-starved had dropped out of sight.
Federal law would have prevented a school from confirming whether or not a student was enrolled, unless the Children’s Division had obtained a waiver from the parent — a highly advisable precaution. But there would have been other ways to check on LP’s whereabouts.
Also, if the Kansas City Public Schools had a reliable system in place, someone may have picked up on the fact that no one had requested that the girl’s records be transferred to another school.
We should all be thankful, as many people have noted, that an anonymous call to the child abuse hotline led police and a Children’s Services caseworker to LP last month. And it’s good that Kansas City Public Schools says it is at work on a more effective system for tracking children who leave its classrooms.
But there are still lessons to be learned and questions to answer.
Missouri leaders must ask more about how and why LP fell through the cracks, and make available all the resources needed to reduce the chances that such an appalling fate will befall another child.