Who protects our children? Maybe it is not something, as parents, we regularly think about or really worry about until we are thrown into a situation and we have to come to the realization that, horrifyingly, the answer is no one.
At least that is what I have learned after what happened to my son last year.
At the end of April, I received a phone call while at work that no parent wants to ever receive: my child was badly hurt at his day care. My husband and I immediately left work and spent the next 12 hours in two different hospital emergency rooms. Our 21-month-old, sweet, little boy suffered a broken femur and was placed in a spica cast. A spica cast is an immobilizing cast from the chest down to the toes; it doesn't allow walking, standing or even sitting. As heartbroken as we were, we were not prepared for the news that followed.
Leah Walden, 23, an employee of the Rocket Tiers Learning Center in the first block of S. High St., was taken into custody early Thursday and charged with first- and second-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault, second-degree child abuse, and reckless endangerment in the Tuesday afternoon death of Reese Bowman.
The femur is the strongest bone in the body, and because it takes so much force to break, many times femur breaks are the result of child abuse or car accidents. Breaks like this in children are always investigated. Video footage was obtained from the day care, and it was determined that our son did not trip and fall like the day care had told us; instead, the video showed his teacher grabbing him by his arm and yanking him down with such force that she broke his leg.
The police saw this video the same day the incident occurred. The teacher was not arrested; instead, she was sent home and not even questioned until five days later. During her questioning, she lied about the events, then, after being told that she was not being truthful, she said she did not want to answer any more questions. Again, she was simply sent home to go about her life normally. The day care that hired the teacher — without checking references, we learned, and ignoring warning signs on video footage — also goes about their daily operations normally. My family has not gone about our lives normally in nearly a year.
After waiting two months for the criminal investigation to be finalized, Child Protective Services informed us that they found the teacher guilty of committing both child abuse and neglect and that she would not be able to work in child care in the state of Maryland until our child is 18.
We were later called into the state's attorney's office and told that after much review, they had decided to not charge the teacher. They admitted that it was horrible, that the teacher broke his leg and that it was definitely child abuse, but they were not going to move forward with charges. They claimed that even though she was intentionally rough with our son, they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she intended for his leg to break. They went on to explain that the justice system is rarely about justice, but rather about letting guilty people go free so innocent ones do not get convicted.
If that decision wasn't discouraging enough, we learned that the teacher packed up and moved to another state, meaning she is now free to work with children again because for some inexplicable reason, there is a national registry for sex offenders but not for child abuse.
I think we, as parents, want to believe that people in power are looking out for and protecting our children, but my experience has shown me this is not the case; the system is broken. The system failed our son, and my guess is that it fails many other children every single day.
But we refuse to fail him; he deserves more than that. The fight against child abuse will always be our mission now. As parents, we have to do everything possible to protect our own children, because sadly, in this state, it seems that no one else will.