July 9, 2012

ANIYAH BATCHELOR normally would have been at day care while her foster parents were at work. But the extreme heat had closed the child-care facility and the Prince George’s family’s 15-year-old was babysitting when 2-year-old Aniyah was beaten to death last Tuesday, allegedly by a 12-year-old boy. Maryland’s secretary of human services, Theodore Dallas, made that disclosure Monday in a welcome break from the official silence that has surrounded this horrific death. Mr. Dallas promised a thorough investigation and said that the results, as allowed by law, would be shared with the public.

“No matter how unpleasant the details, an open review of the circumstances of a child’s death is always in the best interest of the children we serve,” Mr. Dallas wrote Monday in a letter to the editor that appears on this page. We couldn’t agree more and said as much in an editorial that criticized state and county officials for not being more forthcoming about the handling of Aniyah’s case. She died of “blunt-force trauma”; the son of her foster parents has been charged as a juvenile with second-degree murder.

Privacy and confidentiality laws are intended to protect the interests of a child. But in the event of a death, they serve only to obscure the actions of officials. It’s important to know whether this tragedy could have been prevented or whether there is a need to tighten procedures. Mr. Dallas’s letter detailed the procedures Maryland uses to screen and monitor foster families. These include background checks for adults, a home safety study, foster care training and monthly visits. “Our initial review of the Batchelor case shows that all of these steps were successfully completed and that the home study, background checks and monthly visits did not reveal any danger to the child in the home,” Mr. Dallas wrote. Foster parents are allowed to work outside the home with proper child care, and Maryland law permits 15-year-olds to care for younger children.

Funeral services for Aniyah are planned for next Monday; the 12-year-old boy is being held at Maryland’s Cheltenham Youth Facility pending an Aug. 2 court hearing. There is likely no good answer as to why this tragedy occurred, but it is critical to know how it occurred.