It’s about damn time. That’s the first thing to be said about the arrest in the murder of Julissia Batties by her mother, Navasia Jones, and her half-brother Paul Fine Jr. It’s been almost a year since the 7-year-old girl was found beaten to death in Jones’ Bronx apartment. And it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out who was responsible.
According to the district attorney, Fine assaulted her between Aug. 8 and Aug. 10, and Jones failed to get medical help while her daughter was dying. The beatings were so bad, they damaged her internal organs and she had bruises all over her body. Oh, and she was sexually abused as well.
But even if Jones and Fine spend the rest of their lives in jail, there is plenty more work to be done to fix the system that failed Julissia.
Reports of maltreatment by her mother began when the child was only days old. Her mother had already lost custody of four other children by the time Julissia entered the world. She went to live with her maternal grandmother — until a family court judge briefly sent her home. In one of the only signs that someone at the Administration of Children’s Services was looking out for Julissia’s interests, not her mother’s, the agency appealed this decision.
“Until the mother is able to successfully address and acknowledge the circumstances that led to the removal of the other children,” the appellate judges wrote, “we cannot agree” that returning Julissia, “even with the safeguards imposed by the family court, would not present an imminent risk.”
What occurred to reverse that decision in 2021? To take this girl away from the loving grandmother who had raised her since infancy and reunify (such a heartwarming word for a death sentence) Julissia with her mother?
ACS says Jones completed mandated parenting and “anger management” classes. Since police were called to the mother’s apartment on at least six occasions over the past three years while she was being “rehabilitated” — including at least one in which she lied to police about Julissia’s injuries — one might have guessed these classes were not working.
But even the report by a neighbor of Julissia’s black eye four days before her death was not enough to convince caseworkers that their reunification plan wasn’t panning out.
And while Jones and Fine are obviously the ones responsible for her death, ACS needs to do some serious soul-searching. And don’t let them tell you Julissia just “fell through the cracks.” Julissia’s is one of a string of other deaths in the past year of children whose abuse and neglect was repeatedly reported to authorities by neighbors, teachers and even the police:
* One-year-old Legacy Beauford was allegedly murdered at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend, a violent felon who had previously come to the attention of authorities.
* Four-year-old Jaycee Eubanks was allegedly beaten to death by his stepfather after the child’s day care reported bruising to ACS.
* Ten-year-old Ayden Wolfe was found dead at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend who was arrested three months before Ayden’s death for allegedly choking the mother of his 6-year-old autistic son as the child watched. After he was barred from contact with that woman, he went to live with Ayden’s mother, who has also had contact with ACS.
And it’s not just New York City. This week the Mercury News published an expose on the murder of 8-year-old Sophia Mason by her mother and the mother’s boyfriend in California earlier this spring. Eight separate investigations by child welfare workers at the behest of relatives and other professionals found no cause for concern.
We know who these parents are and what they are doing or allowing other adults to do to their children. So why are we letting them get away with it?
For years the public has been told that ACS doesn’t have enough resources, that there are too many children to keep track of. Three years ago, ACS commissioner David Hansell told a local television station that “our average caseload is down about half,” from 14.8 files per employee to 7.2. When Julissia’s cries for help were being ignored last summer, the caseload was 5.9. Is it really true that caseworkers can’t be asked to keep tabs on six kids?
Of course not. These deaths are the result of deliberate policies put in place by ACS leadership and other child welfare agencies around the country. These so-called experts have determined that children are always better off with their parents, even if the parents have a long history of harming them and other children in their care.
The ideology of family preservation and family reunification assumes that these adults just need a little bit of re-education and some more money in their pockets and then they can safely care for their children. It assumes that we should give abusive parents years of second chances. And it assumes that when we take black children out of their homes, it is because of systemic racism.
These are myths and dangerous ones at that. Not only are they perpetrated by academics like University of Pennsylvania law professor Dorothy Roberts and activist groups like the upEND movement that seek “the complete elimination of the existing family policing system.” They are also advocated by wealthy foundations like Casey Family Programs and now officials in the federal government.
Aysha Schomburg, who worked for ACS until joining the Biden administration last year, recently compared child welfare caseworkers to “overseers on plantations” and advised the public not to call child protective services: “Save black children from that knock on the door and that tunnel of child welfare, out of which they may never see their way.”
Think it’s systemic racism that is responsible for removing a disproportionate number of black children from their homes? How do you explain that black children like Julissia are three times as likely to die from maltreatment as their white peers? The danger to these children comes from parents who either cannot or will not keep their children out of harm’s way and bureaucrats who are too blinded by politics to save them.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of “No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives.”