No state accountability for child abuse

December 19, 2013

Kentucky is ready to start digging into cases of child abuse deaths to decide what went wrong and who’s to blame. A panel to investigate such deaths is just getting organized in Frankfort.

It is a welcome and much-needed development.

But what about cases where the victim doesn’t die but endures unimaginable abuse as one official after another misses opportunities to intervene? Who investigates when a child comes to the attention of authorities over and over but no one with the power to do so ever steps in to save her from a life of depredation, violence and sexual assault?

This is the case of Emily Ball, 18, of Covington, who so deserved the protection of adult officials she never got before an explosion of violence culminated in a gruesome murder in her home.

Who investigates the role of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services in this case, which had been involved with the girl nearly all of her life, once had a judge remove her temporarily from the home and had three open cases of neglect and abuse on the family at the time of the 2009 murder that shocked Covington?

As best we can tell, no one. The cabinet has nothing to say, hiding behind its familiar claim of confidentiality.

Now, Emily has turned 18, considered an adult under the law, and the current focus on the case is whether a judge should send her on to a women’s prison for her role in the violent death of a 17-year-old acquaintance.

Emily was 14 when two unrelated adult men staying in her home committed the murder that ensnared her although she never delivered a single blow.

Her offense was that she brought the victim to the home and failed to seek help after the two men began beating and eventually killed Travis White.

It is a trail of repeated, botched opportunities for officials to help Emily and her brother living in the home with a single mother who allegedly offered her adolescent daughter to men in exchange for money to pay utility bills.

It represents a failure of school officials, who suspected problems; the police, who had visited the home; and the Covington juvenile court system — which at the time of the murder was supposed to have Emily under supervision for truancy but apparently had no clue she was living in execrable conditions with no parent and with two men using her for sex.

But above all, it is a shocking failure of cabinet social workers — who had received at least 15 reports of alleged abuse and neglect involving Emily and her brother — but failed utterly to provide them the care and protection they deserved.

— Courier-Journal, Louisville