News coverage has hinted at further stories about the child welfare system underlying the death of Hannah Grace Dowdie, the 23-month-old whose burned body was found with that of her father Michael Palmer earlier this month in a pickup truck near Sweet Home in rural Pulaski County. Authorities have revealed little about the cause of the deaths or where the investigation might be taking them.
A person familiar with the case has now sent me further details about the child’s troubled family life and more details concerning the Department of Human Services’ handling of the case. We learned the basic outline of this days ago. It has been the talk of the city in which foster parents had hoped to adopt the child
This is one side of the case — admittedly sympathetic to a would-be adoptive family. There is another side, but DHS has refused to talk about it. We do know, as a reader noted, that the law favors a natural parent in custody proceedings, which can sometimes mean an iffy choice prevails over a solid prospective adoptive parent.
Still, DHS officials hide behind a shield of state privacy law. I believe they can — and should — talk about general circumstances of apparent lapses (or at least awful consequences) in child care. A dead child has little privacy interest left to protect. The primary privacy interest here is that of state workers protected from public scrutiny.
The state will tell you that the 2009 legislature expanded the amount of information that may be released about brutalized and slain children. It is only a fig leaf, a tiny bit of additional information that is often withheld on the whim of investigators.
The four child deaths and one near death that I wrote about so often in 2008 have still never been fully explained. DHS has never spoken in detail about corrective action — if any — for workers who fell down on the job in those instances. (One child battered almost to death was returned by a DHS worker who saw the child’s bruises to an abusive home in which another DHS worker lived.)
And now, yet again, the agency is silent in response to allegations of a lack of adequate investigation in removing a child from a foster home and returning her to a natural parent who’d allegedly demonstrated little in the way of preparedness to parent.
I don’t think DHS officials are cold to children. But they are freezingly cold to accountability. Gov. Beebe could make them do better. So far, he has not.