An 8-year-old girl named Relisha Rudd is still missing, hundreds of homeless kids living in District shelters and motels are still unseen by the rest of the city, and a child with cerebral palsy was invisible to authorities while his mother and her boyfriend allegedly abused him for months.
And we’re freaking out about a highly educated couple in the Maryland suburbs who let their kids walk home alone from a park? Pretty sad when that’s the child welfare case that gets a spot on “The Today Show.”
The way we routinely ignore our most vulnerable and underprivileged children speaks volumes about our society’s mixed-up priorities.
Let’s begin with the most recent, appalling revelation in the nation’s capital: a 9-year-old boy who prosecutors say was duct-taped, locked in a bedroom, beaten and starved while his mother and her boyfriend collected $700-a-month subsidy checks and never enrolled him in school.
The Post’s Keith Alexander followed this court case last week, when Betty T. Threatt, and her then-boyfriend, Lester O. Jackson, faced charges that they abused Threatt’s son, who has cerebral palsy. The family — Threatt, three of her kids and the boyfriend nearly twice her age — had moved from Prince George’s County to the District, and her son had somehow fallen off the radar screen of child-welfare authorities.
The boy’s body finally told his story to someone who could help. Threatt dropped the boy off at the apartment of his father, who was alarmed by his son’s significant weight loss and took him to the hospital. A doctor at Children’s National Medical Center found remnants of duct tape on the malnourished boy’s wrists and ankles, burns on his back and welts all over his body, according to court documents.
And, yes, this is another story where it’s easy to blame it all on a really messed-up mom. Threatt is 27 years old, she’s got five kids and admitted, in court documents, to getting high on PCP and marijuana regularly.
But here’s why we should care, rather than put our energy into raging about this woman’s awful choices. Her children didn’t ask for this life. They’ve had no say in the calamity that is their daily existence. We can all agree that there are terrible parents out there. But why can’t we agree that — as a civilized society — it is our responsibility to do right by the children of bad parents?
We pay taxes to fund child-welfare and educational systems designed to catch these children when they are in trouble. So why didn’t it work this time? Why didn’t truancy officers start calling and sending letters and demanding a visit to the child’s home when he wasn’t enrolled in school for months after moving to the District?
We need to raise our voices to demand better for abused and neglected children.
Relisha Rudd was absent for more than 30 days of second grade last year before anyone noticed she was — and still is — missing. She was in the news for a little while. Cadaver dogs searching through an aquatic park make for good TV. But in March, it will have been a year since she disappeared in the company of a janitor at the homeless shelter where she was living with her mother and three brothers. The janitor later killed his wife and himself.
Relisha has still not been found. And nothing much has changed in the months since the search for her began.
Hundreds of children are once again living in shelters and motel rooms this winter. The school bus picks them up at the shelter first, so their friends don’t see where they live. And yet we still don’t have a real solution to make their childhoods better.
Why isn’t there outrage or “Today Show” segments?
How is it possible that an abused 9-year-old with cerebral palsy won’t get a thousandth of the concern that the Patriots’ deflated balls got?
You know why. This child and others like him are poor and, too often, invisible.
And I’ve got to say, as I write this on Groundhog Day, I’m feeling a lot of deja vu.
Another abandoned child. Another horrifying case that will be soon be forgotten. Another reason to ask ourselves if we can do better.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.