They witnessed the scratches, the burns, the hunger and the fear in the eyes of two little boys. Looking back now, relatives, neighbors and family friends admit to reporters they suspected trouble. On two separate coasts, in communities thousands of miles apart, there is a sickening similarity between two recent accounts of child abuse. In the case of a Los Angeles 5-year-old allegedly tortured by his own mother and in the beating death of a New York City 3-year-old, the signs were ignored by people who could have intervened.
I read about both of these young victims on the same day last week. And I could not get their stories out of my mind. I still cannot.
The Los Angeles Times
chronicled the chilling saga of the 5-year-old boy
who authorities allege was systematically brutalized for more than a year. The New York Times covered the funeral of 3-year-old Kyle Smith
, whose foster mother and live-in boyfriend have been accused of victimizing the toddler with unspeakable acts.
I read these stories as a mother. My ears are primed to respond to the cries of my children -- or any children, for that matter. Even in the dead of sleep, ANY wail or whine from the nursery down the hall wakes me. I feel compelled to check, to make sure everything is all right. I cannot stop thinking about what neighbors of these tiny victims must have heard from behind closed doors. The screams they tuned out.
There were instances in each of these cases in which government agencies failed these children. And I so wanted to blame the system for what happened. In my mind, I theorized, maybe an overworked social worker with hundreds of cases, was unable to follow up? I wanted some rational explanation for what befell these kids -- in particular, the 5-year-old from South Los Angeles.
I called the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Families (DCFS) in search of some answers. I was told that while there were things authorities could have handled better, including information sharing about the victim and his mother among several public offices (the county investigated allegations of abuse three years ago but was unable to substantiate the claims), that this was not a situation that had anything to do with scarce resources -- an amazing concession at a time DCFS is facing $25 million in proposed state budget cuts. Instead, I was told it came down to the sad reality that people who knew the boy looked the other way.