Hyperbole isn’t just for pre-pubescents. The Kansas City Star gives it a try in a story that says “Secrecy inside Kansas child welfare system can kill.” The story is one of a truth-stretching opinion series disguised as news.
The Star uses omission and mischaracterizations throughout to paint a dark picture of the Sunflower State, but the most egregious myth suggests the state is killing kids by not releasing information to editorial writers. If the Star’s writers truly cared about Kansas children, they would fess up to their own role in concealing child abuse, and they would paint a truer picture of what failed the kids mentioned in its story. Instead, the Star focuses on the failures of the state–what should rightfully be the very last line of defense for children.
The story lays out details of three Kansas children who died.
Caleb Blansett was killed by his mother. She stabbed the 10-year-old seven times and smashed his head with a rock while he slept. She’s a murderer, but the Star places blame on the Kansas Department of Children and Families. To the Star, DCF deserves blame for asking Caleb’s father Clint to sign a form saying he wouldn’t talk about DCF or his son’s death.
“It was a gag order,” Blansett told the Star. “She was there for DCF; she wasn’t there for me, she wasn’t there for my daughter. She was there to ensure that I wouldn’t speak to the press. That was her only concern.”
Though it’s a questionable practice, asking someone to sign a non-disclosure is hardly equivalent to “killing” a child, but the Star says the “agency charged with protecting kids instead focused on protecting itself.”
An incomplete sentence–“An agency where even lawmakers insist DCF officials are intentionally misleading them and providing information the Legislature can’t trust”– gets its own paragraph in the Star’s story. Was that for dramatic effect?
Near the bottom of the lengthy Star article readers learn that a judge awarded full custody to the murdering mother following Clint’s divorce from her. The Star places exactly zero fault with the judge or justice system, and doesn’t even bother telling readers whether that judge was in Texas or Kansas. (Readers learn that Clint and his murderer ex-wife met in North Texas).
At one point, Clint told DCF he was worried about the welfare of his children, but a caseworker said his concerns were unsubstantiated. A convenience store worker and a hospital worker also had called DCF regarding Caleb. Of course, all of those calls would have been unnecessary had the judge never given custody to the murderer in the first place. All of the missteps that lead to an insane mother being given full custody of her children belong in a story about Caleb’s death, but the Star apparently can’t bring itself to question the judicial system.
The Star’s primary beef appears to be that DCF didn’t give the paper all of the records it wanted. In the reporters’ minds, that is equivalent to causing the death of children.
“The Star requested information about his case — including hotline calls and any details about DCF involvement with the family — on Aug. 4 of this year. In the proceeding weeks and months, when asked for an update, an agency spokeswoman would say the office was working on the request,” the story reads.
Finally, DCF denied the request saying the department didn’t have the staffing resources to fulfill the request. Or, as the article suggests they should be doing, perhaps the agency is protecting kids instead of focusing on the Star’s attempt at a hit job?
The Star also makes no mention of family breakdowns that play a part in all three of the horrible stories of dead children mentioned in the article.
In a well-publicized case, the body of three-year-old Evan Brewer was found encased in concrete in Wichita. His grandfather, Carl Brewer, was once the Democratic mayor of Wichita. He’s now running for Kansas Governor.
As in the case of Caleb Blansett, Evan’s biological parents were embroiled in a custody battle at the time of his death. Evan lived with his mother, Miranda Miller, and her boyfriend. Evan’s body was found two months ago. Police have yet to charge anyone with his murder, but his grandfather says DCF knew there were problems in the home, but did nothing.
It’s not unusual for information in criminal investigations to be kept close to the vest until police formally charge someone. The Star’s reporters on the police beat surely know this, but the paper still uses the now politically-charged Evan Brewer murder investigation in the article about a lack of transparency.
And the writers use the heartbreaking death of Adrian Jones.
Adrian Jones also didn’t live with both of his biological parents. The seven-year-old’s body was fed to pigs in Kansas City, Kansas, after Adrian was tortured and killed by his father and stepmother. The duo bounced back and forth across the state line, and Adrian once told Missouri social workers and police this father and stepmom sometimes kicked and punched him in the head.
Missouri Children’s Division did nothing, but the Star doesn’t even mention how Missouri handled that case. Instead, reporters list concerns of a Missouri child welfare advocate who received Jones’ documentation from Kansas. She says the 2,000 pages were “disorganized.” Seriously, that’s the complaint. The Star also bemoans the length of time it took for Kansas to release the records.
Star readers are asked to believe that easier access to often private records protected by law would have prevented Caleb’s mother from picking up a rock and a knife. Immediately turning over DCF records would translate into Evan leading a happy, healthy life, and handing over more organized files on Adrian would stop his dad and stepmother from abusing and killing him.
Caleb, Evan, and Adrian died terrible deaths. In two cases, the boys were killed by their own parents and that’s likely the conclusion in the third case, too. The breakdowns that lead to their demise began in their broken homes and gained speed with questionable rulings from the courts. Children legally can’t be stripped from their parents without orders from a judge.
The Star accused DCF of killing children, because its reporters couldn’t get immediate access to records. Overworked Kansas social workers deserve an apology.
If the Star gave any cares at all about the lives of Caleb, Evan, and Adrian, the paper would cover all aspects of the systemic breakdown of the family, but that wouldn’t be as useful as a hit piece against Brownback. The Star’s hyperbole smacks of teenage bullies in the cafeteria. At least teenagers have an excuse: Their brains aren’t fully developed yet. What’s the Star’s excuse?