Editor’s note: Judy Ho is a licensed psychologist, professor, researcher and media consultant. She teaches at Pepperdine University. Her professional website is drjudyho.com, and she is on Twitter @ drjudyho.com.
The latest story about the alleged severe abuse and neglect a five-year-old suffered at the hands of Bradley and Tammie Bleimeyer in Harris County will send chills down your spine. The five-year-old victim was forced to live in a closet under the stairs, was physically abused with bruises, scabs, and cuts, was severely malnourished at approximately 29 pounds, and forced to wear a diaper which suggests he was not allowed proper toilet training.
Bradley Bleimeyer is being held in jail without bond but Tammie, who was released on bail, spoke to CNN affiliate KHOU and said “I was shocked. I have never seen him look like that and I have never seen him with his shirt off recently.”
But it took more than one encounter with Child Protective Services (CPS) before they finally took the child away from these parents. The oldest child in the house was 16 years old and his persistence that his parents stop the alleged abuse of his younger brother led to a physical fight with Bradley. This altercation led to police involvement and the five-year-old child finally being taking away from this family.
Estella Olguin from CPS told HLN, that they last saw Jordan Feb 20. He didn’t look in the same state of malnourishment. They hadn’t completed their investigation and would have liked him to see a doctor and see what the pediatrician said he weighed last year because you need a point of reference. But the family got an attorney and would not cooperate. They were told the child moved to Alabama and the family wouldn’t give them an address. They claim got the run around and then this happened. Olguin said we applaud the 16 year old for telling.
These terrible stories have a profound impact on many people. Some of my patients don’t trust CPS, and frankly, I don’t either.
There’s no doubt that CPS is a necessary agency. Since its inception in the 1970s, the purpose of this agency has been to protect children by identifying and removing those that are abused and neglected in their homes. Today, more than 3.3 million referred cases are handled by CPS in all 50 states, and of these referrals, approximately 1 million children were confirmed to be victims of abuse and neglect. In addition, more than 400,000 children are currently in foster care in the United States.
While the system was established with good intentions, these government-run CPS offices are unable to do their job effectively.
I believe effort needs to be directed to fixing the system. This may take a long time, but we can still be proactive and take action individually to try to ensure that kids receive the help and attention they need. Here is how you can help:
1) See Something, Say Something. Although only certain professionals such as therapists, physicians, and teachers are mandated reporters for abuse and neglect, ANYONE can make a report if they see something that concerns them. Reporting abuse or neglect can protect a child and get help for a family—it may even save a child's life. Each county has it’s own CPS system, but if you don’t know how to go about the report, you can call the National Organization Childhelp®. It is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and all calls are anonymous. Contact them at 1.800.4.A.CHILD (1.800.422.4453). Some things which might lead to a child being taken into custody include:
a. Parents/guardians inflicting or allowing harm to occur to a child
b. Parents/guardians inflicting physical, mental or emotional abuse
c. Parents/guardians committing sex acts or inappropriate sexual behavior involving children
d. Parents/guardians willfully abandoning a child/children
e. Parent/guardians unable to provide care or supervision as a result of mental illness, substance abuse, developmental disability or arrest
Document and Follow-Up on Your Report. When you report to CPS, they should give you a case number. If they don’t give it to you, ask for it so that you can track what happened to the case and how CPS followed-up. Usually, I call CPS within 24-48 hours again to make sure that some action was taken on my case. The added accountability will usually help them to take action quicker if they haven’t already.
Try, Try Again. You can call CPS to follow up on your case number after reporting to find out if they ruled the case Substantiated (which means they found neglect or abuse), Inconclusive (they’re not sure if it qualifies as neglect or abuse), or Unsubstantiated (which means they found that there was no abuse or neglect). If you are unhappy with the results, you can ask to speak with the supervisors who actually have details on their investigation and can share them with you. The more pressure you put on them to provide the information, the more they realize they cannot put this case on the back burner.
Report the Incident to an Additional Agency. Often times, I will also call the police department after making a CPS report. If there is a reason to be concerned for the safety of the child, there are other issues about the family that may be of interest to the police such as domestic violence. Sometimes the police will open their own case file on your report, and often times they will investigate on their own or collaborate with CPS. At the very least, the case will be documented with two agencies which may give it a higher priority.
Go to an Independent, Higher Authority. If you are unhappy with the way CPS handled your case, you can contact your local government Ombudsman to file a complaint. If you are concerned they failed to put in measures to protect a child at risk of harm, the Ombudsman can investigate how the council carried out its duties.
Write your State Governor and Insist On An Action Plan. Although many people may think that these petitions to governors are largely ignored, many grassroots efforts have actually resulted in the Governor’s office creating a CPS Oversight Committee to develop a plan to improve local and state CPS agencies.