When a State Fails to Protect a Child

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John Last 1The Lexington Courier-Journal reported in late November that 18- year- old Garrett Dye was sentenced to 50 years for the murder of his adopted sister, Amy Dye, who was 9- years-old. Amy was removed from her mother in Washington state at the age of three.  For two years she was shuffled between foster homes and relatives. Finally, at the age of five, her great aunt petitioned to adopt her, a seemingly happy ending to her ordeal. She came to Kentucky first as a foster child, into a home approved by state authorities, and then as an adopted daughter. The aunt received $550.60 a month to support the adoption.

What the state failed to do was verify that her new home would be a safe one. As is too often the case government workers did a shoddy job of keeping her safe. Across the nation kids under state protection, both in foster care and in cases of abuse that involve families, are at great risk of harm. In Amy’s case the warning signs were evident early on. Reports by school officials of suspected abuse were sent to the agency that is charged with protecting kids in Kentucky, but they went unheeded or were dismissed. School officials gave notice that they suspected abuse within a month of Amy’s adoption, but nothing was done. The judge, Tyler Gill, labeled the state’s Cabinet of Health and Family Services a “dysfunctional institution”

Garrett, who was 17 at the time of the murder, had also been abused by his father at age 10.  This was substantiated by the Cabinet, but no action was taken. The same abuser was living in the house when Amy was killed. Records show that the adoptive parents, Christopher and Kimberly Dye forced the girl to go outside in freezing weather because she soiled herself. The “mother”, according to state reports, was tired of the girl’s incontinence.  Christopher Dye also admitted to abandoning the girl in a parking lot in order to teach her a lesson.

On the snowy night of February 4th when Amy was killed, she and Garrett were outside shoveling gravel as punishment for “misbehaving.” Garrett confessed to becoming angry at her and beating her with a pick handle. Both he, as a victim of confirmed abuse, and Amy, as a foster child and then as an adoptee were supposedly being protected by the state. The same state paid Kimberly Dye

According to AdoptUSkids, nearly 500,000 kids in the United States are in foster care. These kids are more likely to have academic problems, behavioral issues, mental illness, sexually transmitted diseases, and to suffer abuse. A 2009 report by the Center for Family Policy and Research estimated that 1,770 kids died from abuse and neglect that year.

An article in Enough of Us (www.enoughof.us) claims that in California only 2 percent of foster kids attend college. One fourth end up in jail within two years of reaching adulthood. One in five become homeless. Good statistics are hard to come by, but during my time in prison I talked with many inmates who had been through the foster care systems of various states.

One in particular, Billy, told awful tales of his experiences as a foster kid in Maryland. He and his siblings were separated when he was five or so. In his first foster home he became sick at the dinner table and vomited. The foster father forced him to eat what he had just thrown up. He suffered abuse and neglect until he was old enough to run away. Finally he was sent to a juvenile facility. In Georgia he got locked up at age 16 and served 20 years. Another friend, Tim, was sent to a “Christian” orphanage in Kentucky. He was also around five. After his mother died he and his brothers and sister were all sent there. He was crying in the courtyard and the head of the orphanage picked him up by the ankle and began whipping him with a leather strap until he began to bleed. He stopped crying. As a teen he went on a robbery spree to fuel his drug habit.

These two were representative of a lot of guys I knew. They were angry at the world. They were poorly socialized. They trusted few people. They had learned to protect themselves the hard way, and they were ready to hurt others in order to do it. They were determined to never be defenseless again.

I imagine that most kids who are adopted or are in foster care don’t suffer these kinds of extremity, and I have known several people who were fine foster parents. The idea of foster care is that kids are safer away from their parents than they are with them. The truth is that this is often not true. Sometimes even a bad situation with family is better than the unknowns of an overburdened system. For Amy, and for Garrett too, it is too late. Amy’s so called mother told the social worker that she was tired of Amy “pooping herself,” and that “if she was going to act like a dog, she would be treated like one.” This same woman continued to live with a proven abuser and allowed him to discipline the children. Somehow this home was seen as suitable by the state of Kentucky.

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