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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Amythz “Amy” Dye - a death with important lessons

This is a case from Kentucky in the United States. The essential history is that she was murdered by her older adoptive brother. At the time of the adoption, the adoptive parents had separated although the father had a prior history of child abuse. He would continue to have a parenting role and would later return to the home.

It appears from a Franklin County Court judgement that there were at least 6 occasions when child protection received reports that Amy was being abused in the home. It appears that the workers did not act largely because the reports suggested that the abuse was being done by a brother as opposed to a parent. The school where Amy attended does not receive in the judgement the credit that is due for its repeated efforts to get child protection attention for this little girl.

While the case in the court addresses a public access for records, the judge also lets us into the case in a way that allows a view of some very important principles of child protection. Proper investigation is an obvious concern, but perhaps the most important lesson here is about the role of a parent when the abuse is being done by a sibling. Some years ago, I had a situation where I could not get child protection to be concerned about sibling abuse. In the case of Amy, the judge sums the issue up very well, stating:

"To be clear. a parent need not personally administer the fatal blow in order to be held responsible for "abuse and neglect" under KRS 620.030, if the parent places the child in danger and neglects to protect the child from on going physical or emotional abuse by a sibling or anyone else.

It is stunning to believe that the Cabinet will refuse to protect a child from repeated acts of physical violence by a sibling when the parent knows and tolerates such abuse and does nothing to prevent it. Yet that is exactly what happened here, even if we accept the Cabinet's factual assertions. This is even more perplexing in light of the fact that the Cabinet itself had substantiated acts of physical abuse that had been inflicted on the siblings prior 10 the placement of Amythz Dye in this home. Even if the parent here did not directly inflict the physical abuse, there can be no question that the failure to protect this child from the repeated attacks by a sibling constitutes child neglect, at a minimum" (p.16)

While this decision does not likely have legal weight beyond the jurisdiction, it is an important statement that should act as a reminder that protection of a child need not be related to the direct action of a parent but also what a parent fails to do.

Perhaps what is also disturbing is that the evidence adduced at the hearing suggests that the parents were emotionally abusing this child. This would be information that could have been established with a proper investigation. This acts as a reminder that abuse rarely occurs in a single form and that abuse occurs in an environment where there is some form of approval. A sibling cannot act in such an abusive way in the absence of tacit or explicit approval from a parent. Certainly in this case, the abuse was significant enough for school personnel to physically see it. 

This is not a case that should lead to some new massive drive to apprehend children in Kentucky. Rather, it is  case where social workers should be reminded that a careful look at all of the information is needed. Like the Canadian case of Jeffrey Baldwin, knowing the past abusive behaviors of caregivers matter. This is also a case where seeing the family systemically would have assisted in protecting Amy. 

1 comment:

  1. Agreed...a careful look at all of the information is needed.