Service Center/ PO Box 15114/ Wilmington, DE 19885-5114
MSNBC article “Reports detail Philly teen’s horrific death”
the story of 14-year-old Danieal Kelly has shocked Philadelphia, and brought down one of its most important, but also troubled institutions, the Department of Human Services. Danieal was found dead in a ‘fetid, airless’ room severely malnourished and covered in bedsores so deep and old that they started to attract maggots. cerebral palsy limited her actions, and she was dependent upon several caretakers: her parents, and DHS.
however, it was a combination of ambivalence, embarassment, bureaucracy and apathy that killed her. the city and DHS stepped in, when Daniael’s mother proved unwilling and unfit to care for her, Ms. Kelly provided for all her other children – they are all well and healthy. Daniael was 14 years old, but weighed only 42 pounds. A grand jury report says that DHS caseworkers in charge barely stepped into the room she lived in, some visited her once, others never filed any updates on her condition. Danieal’s case has led to Ms. Kelly charged for murder, Mr. Kelly for endangering welfare of a child and four Department of Human Services caseworkers. But this has gone deeper, many top DHS officials, the supervisors of the caseworkers, the supervisors of the supervisors, and several in a company contracted to provide DHS support have resigned, been fired, or suspended. one little girl who was brushed aside and made to be invisible for so long has suddenly started a huge ripple in a seemingly invulnerable, fortified, and honorable institution, but also the much larger social debate of parent v. society responsibility for its children.
shortly after the case broke, the kelly parents actually filed suit against DHS for failing to protect their daughter. many, including Mayor Nutter and District Attorney Lynne Abraham, were shocked and furious. these parents were the ones that neglected Danieal, which is why DHS had to step in and send caseworkers. certainly the caseworkers who were so ambivalent, and did even less than the bare minimum required of them, are just as guilty, but the ultimate responsibility is believed to lie within the parents. While the Department of Human Services’ mission is ‘to provide and promote safety and permanency for children and youth at risk of abuse, neglect, and delinquency’, the difficulty of their role is they often have to protect children from the very people society entrusts to protect them: their parents. it seems like a dizzying circle: who’s to blame, who’s responsible, who should be charged.
Danieal’s case has demanded a serious investigation and overhaul of the DHS system. social workers have some of the highest burnout rates – low pay for too much and too important of work, who unfortunately witness the ugly potential of humanity. some burn out and leave, some stay – the burnt outness turned into ambivalence and apathy, or just going through the motions to get the next paycheck b/c the reality of it all is too much to deal with.
there are so many other cases like danieal’s, children who are right now being neglected, and maltreated by those who are supposed to be there for them. i can only hope that her story will bring more accountability to the DHS, but also more light to the difficulties of parenting that more support and services are needed – education, healthcare, daycare. but what can we say to danieal? who was said to be very exuberant and happy when given some education and attention. that ‘sorry’ we failed her, but we are now trying harder? it seems almost pretentious and hackneyed, but i hope she is in a better place now