Protecting our children: Investigating child abuse in Idaho

Credit: Eric Turner/ KTVB

Protecting our children: Investigating child abuse in Idaho

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by Karen Zatkulak

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KTVB.COM

Posted on May 22, 2013 at 10:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 2:43 PM

BOISE -- A child in Idaho is abused once every two hours.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare tells KTVB in 2012, they received nearly 8,000 calls of abuse or neglect. Unfortunately, some of those calls ended in a child's death.

In three of those cases, authorities were aware of a history of abuse, and the child's life was still taken.

THREE TRAGEDIES IN FOUR YEARS

In 2009, 8-year-old Robert Manwill's body was found in a Boise area canal. His mother's boyfriend had beaten him.

Caseworkers had been inside the same home checking on the safety of another child just a month before.

In 2012, 2-year-old Nakita's body was burned in a barrel outside her home after her mother, Veronica Herrera beat and tortured her.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare monitored Nakita from birth because of her mother's substance abuse, but closed their case a year before her murder.

Then in March of 2013, authorities tell us 1-year-old Joseph suffered deadly traumatic injuries inside his Mountain Home apartment.

His stepfather, Airman Richard Laubach, is now charged with his murder.

INVESTIGATING JOSEPH'S CASE

David Ray lived next door to the Laubach family and says it was common for violence to erupt inside the home.

"There was a lot of abusive conversation going on between the two, most of it involved him yelling at her," said Ray.

Authorities responded to a report of abuse at the home six months before Joseph's death.

The incident led to a battery charge involving Laubach's wife, and an injury to child charge involving Joseph.

However, both charges were dismissed.

In exchange, Laubach was ordered to attend anger management and parenting classes.

We contacted both Mountain Home Police and the prosecutor in the case, but neither would comment.

Ray said classes weren't enough. "This guy, he needed professional help. You say he had anger management class, but I don't think that quite covered it all said and done. You have little kids involved, obviously they should have been removed from the home."

He says he's shocked that more wasn't done to protect the child who couldn't protect himself.

"I think somebody did drop the ball if not somebodies," said Ray.

We took that concern to the Department of Health and Welfare, who released new information to us about their involvement in the case assisting with the Air Force Base Family Advocacy Program.

They tell us they assisted the Air Force Base Family Advocacy Program.

The caseworker reported that Laubach's wife had moved out and said she wouldn't return.

So the case was closed.

"Based on their assessment and their discussion with both parents and collateral contacts, people that were involved with the family, it was determined that there was no imminent safety issue and the case was closed, said Amanda Pena, with Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

But Laubach's wife and child did return and by March, Joseph was dead.

We asked Pena if more could have been done in this case.

"I think absent, being intimately involved. Again, the information I have is the same information you have regarding this specific case. So I don't know that I can give you an accurate answer to that," said Pena.

INVESTIGATING THE SYSTEM

We wanted to take a closer look at the child welfare process in Idaho, and went to the person who sees severe abuse firsthand. The medical director with St. Luke's Children at Risk Evaluation Services, Dr. Paul McPherson is Idaho's only child abuse pediatrician.

Dr. McPherson reports suspected abuse to the Department of Health and Welfare and says it's difficult to see the cases where abuse was noticed, but not stopped.

"It's always hard to hear that, because I just want to say, we could have prevented this worse injury, what can we do as a community to help prevent it," said Dr. McPherson.

Ron and Barbara are volunteers with CASA guardians.

They're caseworkers who investigate alongside the Department of Health of Welfare.

"We go to the homes, we go to the schools, we attend after school functions with the children. We try to develop relationships with the kids where they will trust us," said Ron.

Ron says their goal is finding the safest place for each child.

"These children, they don't have a choice, they're being neglected, they're being abused, they didn't ask to be where they are, they need help," said Ron.

He tells us the biggest problem is a big need for money and resources.

"The organizations that are trying to help them badly need funding," said Ron.

Roger Sherman with Idaho Children's Trust Fund says there is minimal state funding to address the problem, in fact the second lowest amount in the country.

"There are states that are spending a great deal more money, people have very strong home visiting programs for example that they're funding with state dollars, they are using their dollars for parenting classes," said Sherman.

In 2010, Child Trends reports Idaho spent nearly $22 million to address the problem.

In comparison, smaller neighboring states like Montana and Wyoming spent more on child abuse prevention.

In 2010, Montana spent $35,219,556, while Wyoming spent $36,748,995.

Sherman says a lack of funds means a lack of family resource centers, crisis nurseries, and in home help for struggling parents.

"We have not appropriated enough money to do the kind of job that I think that all of us would want to do, when it comes to protecting our children," said Idaho Rep. Grant Burgoyne of Ada County.

CALLING FOR CHANGE

Burgoyne admits it's something Idaho has struggled with for decades.

"I think there is a feeling in Idaho that we don't want government sticking its nose in the business of families," said Burgoyne.

Burgoyne says the answer is not just more funding, but more accountability, and says he's pushing what many other states already have, a child death registry to investigate each young tragedy.

"When a child dies as the result of abuse, it's not only a tragedy, it's a failing on the part of our state and our community," said Burgoyne.

As for Joseph's death, it has sparked an internal review of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's policies.

As many agencies look for ways to help save young lives, Idaho was the last state to get a child fatality review team.

The executive order to create one just passed last year, and the team has recently been trained.

They will look at a child death after the criminal case is complete to look for trends and ways to prevent the deaths.

REPORT ABUSE

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare says reporting child abuse is the most important factor in reducing or avoiding it. The number for the Treasure Valley is 334-KIDS or 334-5437.  The statewide number is 1-855-552-5437.

 

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