Today, Damon Adams, a former Brooklyn, NY child welfare worker and his supervisor were charged with criminally negligent homicide in the death of 4-year-old Marchella Pierce. The girl weighed just 18 pounds when she was found dead in her family’s apartment on Sept. 2, 2010. A known drug abuser, the girl’s mother, “Carlotta Brett-Pierce, tied Marchella to her bed, beat her with a belt and videocasette tape, deprived her of food and water, and force-fed her medication including Claritin and a generic form of Benadryl. Marchella died Sept. 2 of child abuse syndrome, along with acute drug poisoning, blunt impact injuries, malnutrition and dehydration.” The girl’s grandmother reportedly witnessed the severe abuse from March until her death and is also charged with manslaughter in the case.
Like every other “normal” person, hearing of an innocent child’s death sets my blood to boil and breaks my heart. It is senseless, unforgiveable and unfathomable that some people can and do act in such bizarrely inhuman ways toward dependent, helpless, innocent children.
Could Marchella’s death been prevented?
Yes. In an ideal world, she would have been born to a mother who wasn’t a drug abuser. Her twin would’ve lived too, despite being 3 months premature. She would’ve had optimal home care, a doting grandmother, and a loving mother and father that earned enough to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. For most children, childhood is not painful and most never hear of horrors like Marchella’s.
For those kids out there who are abused and neglected, much depends on a child welfare system that is based on law and stretched way past the point of breaking. That a child dies is proof that this system is flawed. But, it goes way beyond the typical finger-pointing that is the media’s norm. It is not until you learn the whole story, as much as can be known in circumstances like this, that you can fully appreciate the complexity of the horror.
Just reading the two short articles linked in the first paragraph, it’s possible to glean a few indicators that no doubt were looked into as far as the system allows anyone sent to investigate this family. Trust me, there are staunch and steadfast walls within the law that are meant to protect the investigated. For instance, unless a caseworker witnesses a parent doing drugs right in front of him, there is nothing that can be done. Suspicion doesn't hold up in court.
First, the grandmother was in the home, and actually shared a bedroom with the little girl. That the grandmother did nothing screams of probable elder abuse going on and her own fear of death if she said a thing about it. It is even likely that the grandmother’s Social Security was the household’s only income.
The mother force-fed the girl Claritin and generic Benadryl, both used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. There is a rampant epidemic of meth abuse and manufacture in this country, and where the drug is, there is never a happy ending. No father mentioned, which is no surprise, and the spiral downhill for this woman would have been fast and fatal.
A caseworker is bound by law to investigate a child abuse allegation made through the state’s hotline, and it happens just that way. If you take a close look at the risk pyramid diagram, you’ll see the general guidelines that frame the initial assessment with the suggested courses of action. Based on the way this case unfolded, there was no immediate threat of death for the little girl, services were put in place and the case was set to be monitored for progress toward defined goals. Protocols were followed as defined by law.
I remember reading research at one point in my career that said that the optimal case load for a family services caseworker to carry at any given time was 30 to 35. From what I understand, the is the accepted norm across the board. Yet, it is far from reality for most caseworkers. It is not unusual to find a list of cases assigned and active to reach into the 200 to 300 range! One reason that cases remain open and active is that contracted services are overwhelmed as well, with waiting lists at 6 months at the least. Add to the pile of hopelessness the fact that 26 page case plans have to be prepared and submitted to court on a monthly basis for approval and you have one fried, burned-out caseworker who has very little time to actually make home visits.
The obvious solution to put in place to effectively investigate and prevent innocent children deaths is to increase the number of caseworkers to get case loads down to a manageable number. Instead, human and social services are the first on the cutting block when it comes time to hash out the budgets, at federal, state and local levels. No one bothers to recognize that social services, including food stamps, public assistance and Medicaid are less than 11 percent of the actual operating budget!
It is an unspeakable tragedy when a child dies at the hands of an abuser, and even more tragic that it is preventable. All hell breaks loose when it happens, and social services is put on the spot, investigated and charged with negligent homicide. Someone has to be blamed, someone has to hang for the death of the child. It’s too bad that the ones actually responsible for the unspeakable get away with it scot free.
You see, the ones actually responsible for the death of this child are you and me for letting politicians spend our tax money on businesses instead of people.
Think about it. Thank hard. It’s time that you raised the hell that needs to happen now…before another child dies.