In a state which devalues the lives of its poorest, most vulnerable citizens, one young child has paid the ultimate price for California’s gross negligence in overseeing his care.
Dae’von Bailey, 6, was found dead on July 23 in the 800 block of East 87th Place in Green Meadows, Los Angeles. His small body revealed a series of blows and trauma which suggests horrific abuse that took place over an extended period of time. CNN described the injuries which lead to his death as “head-to-toe bruising.” A warrant for the arrest of his legal guardian, Marcas Fisher, has been issued by Los Angeles County Police. The manhunt for Fisher is ongoing, as he is still missing at the time of this writing.
Although the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services had previously received allegations of abuse from Dae’von’s school, no follow-up actions were taken to remove him from Fisher’s care. Dae’von reported being punched in the nose on one occasion and later told his first-grade teacher that Fisher had punched him in the stomach. Rather than follow standard procedures for pediatric clinical evaluations to find physical and emotional signs of abuse, social workers closed the case after Fisher took Dae’von to a private family doctor, who claimed that no abuse had taken place.
The Los Angeles Times also reports that Dae’von was the subject of almost twelve “calls to L.A. County’s child abuse hotline alleging abuse or neglect.” Once again, no follow-up actions were taken to ensure his safety. According to research from 2008, 14 children who died under the protection of child welfare agencies in L.A. were neglected because of “breakdowns in the system in which some agencies knew about potential abuse but had failed to share the information with other agencies. In other cases, investigators found that poor decisions by social workers had contributed to the deaths.”
One issue of grave concern is how exactly Fisher was granted custody of Dae’von, despite having no biological or adoptive ties to the child. Like many other parents struggling in this U.S. recession, Dae’von’s mother found the financial expenses of childcare to be overwhelming, particularly with little support from the state of California to provide food, healthcare, and other vital resources for child-rearing. Tylette Davis, 28, gave her son to Fisher, an ex-boyfriend, after she told authorities that due to her declining economic circumstances, she could no longer afford to have her son living with her.
Other children were living with relatives, but no explanation has been made public as to why Dae’von was specifically given over to Fisher’s custody. Foster’s financial assistance may have helped with the costs of Dae’von’s care, but he was clearly unfit to raise a small child without resorting to violence.
If the Dept of Children and Family Services had actually noted Fisher’s violent criminal background, including a previous rape conviction, it seems doubtful that Dae’von would have been placed in Fisher’s care. As an underprivileged child of color, the priorities of Dae’von’s health and safety were not taken seriously by the agencies assigned to oversee his transition from life with his biological mother to a life with a non-legal step-parent. Yet the system which was supposed to protect Dae’von from harm placed him, time and again, directly in the path of an abusive monster.
This week, California’s Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed a budget plan for $500 million worth of cuts to offset the state’s deficit crisis. His new plan for California’s future eliminates vital services for those disadvantaged citizens of the state. Almost $80 million dollars has been removed to pay for social services which oversee the care of neglected and abused children in California. Additionally, $16 million, or 100% of the state’s funding for domestic violence assistance programs, was cut from the budget.
With unemployment rates in the U.S. at record highs, many are learning first-hand the disparities of poverty and wealth. Lacking resources for assistance, it seems that many agencies will soon lack the basic essentials to provide for victims of neglect and abuse. Adult parents seeking asylum from violent homes, many with children in tow, will face overcrowded shelters and closed doors. Children like Dae’von, who actively report the instances of abuse and neglect which befall their young lives, are already being ignored by an overwhelmed system. What happens when that system’s resources are further depleted? Where is the safety net for those with the greatest need?
The death of Dae’von Bailey signals an appalling lack of management and oversight in his care by the social service programs of California. Perhaps the overhaul of the county’s 500 emergency cases will bring much-needed attention to the lives of those children currently enduring terrible circumstances without help. Yet the brutal budget cuts proposed by Schwarzenegger send a grim message to the citizens of California: If you need help to get away from abuse or neglect, don’t come to us.