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January 31st, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Four years ago, 10-year-old Seth Ireland died in a Fresno, California hospital from injuries inflicted by his mother’s boyfriend, Lebaron Vaughn.  Now the boy’s father has sued the county seeking damages for his son’s death.  Trial in the civil case has just gotten under way.  Read about it here (KSEE24, 1/22/13) and here (Fresno Bee, 1/22/13).

Exactly what led up to Seth’s death is a matter of dispute, but what we know is that Vaughn and Seth’s mother, Renae Ireland, are in prison because of it.  Vaughn is serving 15 years to life; Ireland was sentenced to six years in prison for failing to protect Seth from Vaughn.

But long before that happened, Seth’s father, Joseph Hudson lived together and Seth with them.  At some point Hudson moved out and sought custody of the boy.  Ireland answered with a claim that Hudson was abusive toward Seth, but subsequent events suggest that whatever abuse Seth suffered was inflicted by Vaughn, not Hudson.  I guess you could see that as a pretty neat trick on Ireland’s part.  Using her existing boyfriend’s abuse of Seth against Hudson who’d left her and threatened to get custody must have seemed like the perfect custody ploy to her.  Now she’s got a dead son, brutally beaten, and six years to think about it.

(If you think that’s farfetched, it’s not.  In fact it’s exactly the scam perpetrated on Corvallis, Oregon authorities by Sarah Sheehan and her boyfriend, Shawn Field.  Here’s my first piece about that case.  For months, little Karly Sheehan was being beaten by Shawn Field.  Her mother, Sarah Sheehan knew it, allowed it to happen and successfully directed child welfare authorities toward Karly’s dad, David Sheehan, the only person in the little girl’s life who was trying to protect her.  At almost exactly, the time those authorities began to figure out the obvious – that David was a kind, loving father - Field killed Karly.)

Exactly who knew what when looks to be the nut of the civil trial.  The lawyer for Child Protective Services claimed in his opening statement that CPS had no knowledge of Seth’s peril.  That looks patently false for the simple reason that a week before Seth’s hospitalization, Renae Ireland and Vaughn asked CPS to take him off their hands and place him in protective care.  CPS refused.

Then there were the multiple complaints by neighbors to the Fresno police about Seth’s abuse.  The police investigated, did nothing and never informed CPS.

As in so many of these cases, the boy’s actual father was left completely out of the loop.  Neither the police nor CPS ever considered him a possibility for custody of the boy.  That’s as common as dirt of course.  Indeed, according to a 2006 study by the Urban Institute, when CPS takes a child from its mother due to abuse or neglect, no attempt to even contact the father is made in over half the cases.  That’s despite policies that are in place allegedly to encourage keeping families together as well as federal government-produced instructional materials for CPS caseworkers informing them of the value of fathers to children.  All those policies and best-practices materials are in place, only to be ignored by child welfare workers.

Into the bargain, in Seth Ireland’s case, Renae had already falsely tagged Joseph Hudson as an abuser, so even if CPS had taken Seth from her, it would never have handed him over to the only person on earth who could likely have protected him from the violently abusive man his mother preferred to his father.

Year after year, the Administration for Children and Families of the United States Department of Health and Human Services publishes figures on child abuse and neglect, who does it and why.  Every year, the figures are strikingly the same: 40% of child abuse and neglect is done by mothers acting alone; toss in mother’s boyfriend and the total approaches 60%.  By contrast, fathers acting alone commit 20% of the child abuse and neglect in this country.

Do caseworkers in child welfare agencies even know those simple, basic facts?  Do the police?  For that matter, why wasn’t it routine practice for the police to report allegations of child abuse to Child Protective Services?  How can a child be killed in his mother’s “care” when CPS had at least six previous complaints of child abuse?  How can CPS caseworkers fail to see what untrained neighbors can see?

Too late, state officials investigated Fresno County and, in any event, concluded that everything there was hunky-dory.  CPS caseworkers there were “following the law,” which seems to guarantee that there will be more Seth Irelands in the county’s future and more lawsuits that county taxpayers can fund.

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