Haleigh Poutre, 11
Here’s the latest in Haleigh Poutre’s fight for her life: The Massachusetts Department of Social Services, which last week won court-ordered authority to remove Haleigh’s feeding tube, is now under fire for failing to detect and act on signs that Haleigh was abused:
Even as the Department of Social Services defended its supervision of a now-comatose 11-year-old girl, a leading child advocate said yesterday that the 16 prior abuse reports regarding the child should have prompted the state to remove her from the adoptive couple charged with nearly killing her.
“When you have multiple reports of abuse, no matter what the child’s history, alarms should go off,” said former New York State Commissioner of Social Services Barbara Blum, chief of the Research Forum at Columbia University’s National Center for Children in Poverty. Gov. Mitt Romney also raised questions about the care.
At a news conference yesterday at DSS headquarters, Commissioner Harry Spence said some of the 16 reports of abuse concerning Haleigh Poutre of Westfield were made at his department’s insistence, despite medical opinion that they may not have been necessary.
But multiple DSS investigators, a licensed social worker who saw Haleigh weekly and four psychiatrists all made the nearly fatal error of believing that the girl’s injuries were self-inflicted, Spence said. The reason, he said, was that Haleigh had been traumatized by abuse in her prior home, and that her adoptive mother, Holli Strickland, was an effective liar.
Blum rejected that argument, saying she would have placed Haleigh in a treatment facility where the child could have been monitored around the clock. “Even if you believe these wounds are self-inflicted,” she said, “then there’s no reason to believe the average adoptive or foster home would be equipped to deal with her.”
DSS came to that conclusion last year, even arranging a visit to a facility in the week before Haleigh was pummeled into a coma – allegedly by Strickland, now deceased, and her husband, Jason, now jailed. But the medical team treating her “objected strenuously,” Spence said. “They asked, and urged, that we stop the investigations because they were upsetting her and, they believed, impeding her progress.”
Asked about DSS’ performance, Romney said, “Clearly, there were mistakes made with respect to the events that occurred prior to Haleigh Poutre’s hospitalization.”
Among the signs missed:
According to a report by her court-appointed guardian, the Department of Social Services received 17 reports of abuse or neglect involving 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre — referred to in court papers by the alias “Sharlene” — in the three years before her adoptive mother and stepfather were charged with pummeling her into a coma. The guardian’s timeline includes:
# An Oct. 24, 2002, report by someone concerned about how the girl was disciplined because the person saw bruises on her and noticed she had missed nearly two weeks of school. The following day, DSS determined the report was unsupported.
# A Jan. 6, 2003, report of neglect “because mother is unable to keep child safe from harm.” DSS finds the case unsubstantiated.
# A Feb. 23, 2004, report of neglect after Haleigh, then 10, went missing for two hours before she was found in a bathroom at Noble Hospital in Westfield. The same day, DSS determines the report is unsupported: “Child did run away from home, but mother acted appropriately.”
# A June 11, 2004, report of abuse because Haleigh had bruises, was not in school and did “not look as well cared for as other children in the home.” Three days later, DSS finds the report unsupported after Haleigh says she bruised her face diving into a pool. “Mother responsive to (Haleigh’s) self-abusive behaviors by bringing her to pediatrician and following counselor’s recommendations.”
# A June 18, 2004, report of neglect. The same day, DSS finds the report to be unsubstantiated. “Mother addressing issues with child’s therapist, mother agreed to voluntary services, child hospitalized and mother working with therapist to get child placed in residential care.”
# A July 15, 2004, report of abuse and neglect by her mother after bruises are found on her arm. DSS decides the case is one of neglect, noting “mother inadequately supervised (Haleigh) in store despite prior history of (Haleigh) stealing in a store.”
# An Aug. 18, 2004, report of neglect because “child received burns during a bath.” The same day, DSS finds the report unsubstantiated “because department is currently involved with family and closely monitoring (Haleigh’s) care.”
# An April 14, 2005, report “due to concerns about the level of supervision provided for (Haleigh), given the extent of her injuries in light of her history.” The same day, DSS finds the allegations unsupported.
# A May 11, 2005, report of neglect. “Mother did not seek medical attention when (Haleigh) complained of a headache and was vomiting. Mother left (Haleigh) alone at softball game and she was hit in the head with a baseball bat.” The same day, DSS finds the report unsubstantiated. “Incident was an accident. Adequate services in place to assist with monitoring.”
# Final report, on Sept. 11, 2005, DSS receives report of abuse by an “unknown perpetrator,” based on the child’s “multiple bruises and fractures in different stages of healing.” The following day, DSS substantiates the report, saying Haleigh “sustained serious life-threatening injuries which were the result of trauma.”
The Boston Herald editorializes:
Not content to have touched off a firestorm over life and death decisions, the head of the Department of Social Services has embarked on a major butt-covering offensive in connection with the fate of 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre.
“Everybody, not just [DSS] read this wrong. If it were only my people who had gotten this wrong, I’d worry. But all of us were taken in,” said Commissioner Harry Spence.
All of us?
Certainly not people involved in reporting at least nine separate incidents of neglect or abuse – reports that DSS workers always found were unsubstantiated.
“My staff knows I will never defend negligence or dereliction of duty,” Spence told Herald columnist Peter Gelzinis. “But I will. . . always defend conscientious error. Because conscientious error is part of the human condition.”
Well, commissioner, so is incompetence.
“It seemed this was a clear case of severe self injury by the child,” Spence said Friday. “Haleigh consistently said ‘I injure myself.’ Again and again, she would claim self-injury.”
A doctor who examined Haleigh after she was brought to Baystate Medical Center with “multiple old fractures also all over her body” found “that her injuries could not have been self-inflicted.”
Couldn’t Haleigh have been examined before – say after the second or third injury?
…Legislators need to start asking some questions of Spence and his oh-so-“conscientious” DSS workers – about Haleigh, about the fate of her siblings and about competence – the competence of anyone who could look at a two-year record of abuse and see none, and of the man who would defend their conduct.
After doctors and bureaucrats acknowledged that Haleigh had responded to stimuli and is now breathing on her own after being on a ventilator for the past four months, the state has announced it will seek outside experts for help.
Radio talk show host Michael Graham, now at Boston’s WTKK, is also staying on top of the Haleigh Poutre case. Be sure to check out his website for the latest Haleigh developments.
Michael e-mailed me that many talk show hosts don’t want to discuss the story:
I fear it’s the post-Schiavo syndrome.
I think Michael is right, and that the post-Schiavo syndrome is affecting more than just talk radio. Few on either the left or right–in politics, in the blogosphere, in the MSM punditocracy–want to grapple with the moral, legal, and medical implications of this wrenching case. And as I noted before, the bleeding hearts in Hollywood–so quick to leap to the defense of every last Death Row convict–are AWOL. There’s already a jaded and shockingly callous exasperation about Haleigh’s case epitomized by the title and comments at John Cole’s blog: “Dear God, not again.”
One of the dumber platitudes I’ve seen expressed is that the case should be a “private” matter. Hello? The State–which has acted with blindingly obvious incompetence–holds Haleigh’s life in its hands. The court system gave the green light for the State–despite its glaring conflicts of interests–to pull the plug on Haleigh. The State’s agents at DSS have acted with zero oversight or accountability throughout the handling of the case. This is a public case, and it is not only pro-life fundamentalists who ought to be concerned about the unchecked power that has been conferred on the State in the matter of whether Haleigh should live or die.
Gov. Mitt Romney, to his credit (and probably to his peril), has weighed in clearly and forcefully:
”My concern is with this young girl and her current status. In light of reported improvements in her medical condition, it should be clear to everyone that no action should be taken to end this girl’s life.”
If you pray, pray hard.
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Categories: Haleigh Poutre